Saturday, June 13, 2009

Found: stratigraphy, interpretation needed

Today we opened two new units to further look at the stratigraphy of the area we have been working in. Katharine's unit uncovered more of the gravelly feature that had shown up in yesterday's excavations while Allison's unit showed a continuation of complex stratigraphy. We plan to remove Katharine's feature tomorrow to explore it's contents and to see what lies beneath it. As for Allison's unit, we will test to see if certain layers are features or of they are strata. We are looking to finish up this area soon so we can move on to look for the Indian King Hotel where the Union was encamped during the Civil War when George Atzerodt and his fellow conspirators were planning the Lincoln assassination. Today we found evidence of the Union encampment when a Civil War military button was found. Magen spent the morning photographing and cataloguing artifacts like this from a union encampment just outside of Port Tobacco. Thank you to everyone who came
out to help us today! And a special thanks to Brent for providing us all with ice water, a luxary item these days for a few of us!

Katharine, Allison, and Magen

Surprise Gift from the MAC Lab

Last Tuesday Rebecca "Becky" Morehouse, Curator of State Collections at J. Patterson Park & Museum, spoke to the Charles County Archaeological Society. She brought with her a collections box packed with artifacts collected from Port Tobacco by Gerald Braley in the early 1970s.

I just signed the loan agreement and we will examine the collection over the next few weeks. Although there is no paperwork associated with the collection, I am confident that we will figure out the proveniences of some of the material. This is our first opportunity to make some sense of the digging that local avocational archaeologists engaged in during the 1960s and 1970s, work that has left precious little in the way of collections and even less in documentation.

Work by April, the Heidelberg Three, and our dedicate volunteers proceeds apace and all are welcome to visit or lend a hand. Remember, though: the ladies take Tuesdays off.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Fun in the sun

> In response to yesterday's question, we dig down until we hit soil
> that has not been disturbed by human activity, what we call
> subsoil. The top layer of soil where we have been digging is
> generally the plow zone, where farming has disturbed the soil and
> the artifacts it contains. This is about a foot deep more or less,
> and we usually find artifacts like fragmented container glass,
> ceramic pieces, nails and other metal, small brick pieces, oyster
> shell, and coal. We also get some surprises like today's hard
> rubber comb, and a small metal type set with what Dr. Beisaw
> believes was the letter "w". Below the plow zone we generally find
> the subsoil. Subsoil is generally where we find features, which are
> disturbances caused by humans in the soil which cause a color
> change. These can occur before the subsoil, but not in the plow zone
> because the plow would have destroyed them. This could be a post
> hole, a hole for something else, or even what is left of a building.
> We will generally excavate this, however, if there is no feature in
> the subsoil the unit is done.
> Brent joined us today for a dig in the sun! We opened a third unit
> in the same area we have been working for the past few work days to
> try to better understand the complex strata in the other two units.
> Tomorrow, with the help of the many volunteers we are expecting, we
> plan to open two more units to explore a possible feature and to
> extend our search for the blacksmith shop. Join us tomorrow for
> more fun in the sun! Thanks Brent for all your help and for
> bringing us pasta salad! Also thanks to Mark for the new
> microwave! Our next attempt at making popcorn should go much better!
> Katharine, Allison, and Magen

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Complex Units

Today excavation continued on the two prospective blacksmith shop
units from Monday. We discovered multiple stratigraphic layers in
each unit, different soil colors and with differing levels of gravel.
Much of the day was spent trying to interpret our findings, which
became difficult at times due to the complexity of the layers.
Tomorrow we plan to take down more of the layers to hopefully make
more sense of what is going on. Many thanks to Carolyn for coming out
to help us today!
Katharine, Magen, and Allison

Wednesday, June 10, 2009


The interns are all enthralled in works of contemporary literature
this evening. We did not work in Port Tobacco today so I will let them
read while I sneak in my own blog post.

The rain is on it's way again and continues to threaten our fieldwork
on a daily basis. Unless tonight's storms flood our excavation units
we will be back in the field in the morning.

After last night's storms I attended the Charles County Archaeology
Society's meeting here in Port Tobacco. The speaker was a curator at
the Maryland Archaeology Conservation Lab which is about an hour away
from here. After the talk we spoke about bringing the interns down to
the MAC lab for a day to do some research on some of our more
interesting and unusual artifacts. That may happen next week.

First order of business is to make up for lost time with our Port
Tobacco excavations. We need the rain to stay away for the rest of the
week so we can find the blacksmith shop and move our search to finding
the Indian King Hotel, one of the places that Union soldiers were
encamped within Port Tobacco.

With more exacavtion progress I can begin my side project of
photographing the artifacts we have collected to date so we can get
back to illustrating this blog.

April M. Beisaw

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Carriage Shops

First: a reminder to all that the Charles County Archaeological Society will hold its monthly meeting at the Port Tobacco courthouse at 7:30 PM today. Rebecca (Becky) Morehouse, from Jefferson Patterson Park & Museum, will bring some materials from Charles County that are in the state collections at the Museum. Among these are objects reputedly excavated by Gerald Braley in Port Tobacco in the early 1970s.

On the subject of carriage shops, they are complicated affairs. Some manufactured vehicles on a regular basis while others, particularly after the Civil War, focused on repair of mass-produced vehicles and shoeing horses. Carriage making includes not only general carpentry and blacksmithing, but wheelwrighting, upholstering, and fine painting.

Expected artifacts include worn wheel bearings (called thimble skeins or wagon boxes), fragments of iron tires and springs, a variety of hardware including rivets, and small brass manufacturers' plates (similar to the 'FORD' or 'TOYOTA' name plates on automobiles). We expect to see piles of scrap (metal intended for reuse) and metal refuse and slag. Refuse metal frequently exhibits cut marks and voids where the smith punched out discs and other shapes for repairing or making new tools. Worn and broken smithing and carpentry tools are possible, but are likely to be few in number. Most competent smiths reworked broken and worn tools into other objects.


Monday, June 8, 2009

New units

Today we had more sunshine, so we could continue our excavations. We finished our first three units, then opened two new units to further our search for the blacksmith and carriage shop. Data collected from test units helped us decide where to place these new units. So far we have recovered metal pieces, ceramic, and bottle glass among other artifacts all of which are good signs.

In regards to the question"what types of artifacts would you expect to find associated with a carriege shop". Basically we would be looking for artifacts such as horseshoes, horseshoe nails, bits, and possiby parts of bridels. That being said, according to an advertisment posted in the Port Tobbacco Times, George Atzerodt not only built carriges but also did blacksmithing.Therefore we are also looking for artifacts related to the blacksmithing such as slag,coal, and metal.

In other news, we will not be excavating tomorrow. Thanks to all of our wonderful volunteers who helped us today!

Sunday, June 7, 2009

The sun is back! Yay dirt!

First, we had two questions we need to address. First, the bell in the
courthouse is not the original. The bell that is there now came from
the Laplata courthouse. The second question was what happens to the
artifacts after they are catalogued. After they are catalogued the
artifacts are curated and analyzed further. This means they are put in
storage and later studied.

Today the sun was finally out, so we got to dig. We had many
volunteers come out to help us open up a new unit and work on ones
started earlier in the week but that had been put on hold due to rain.
The great weather also brought out visitors (some from as far away as
England) who were interested in seeing what we are doing. We are still
looking for the carriage shop, getting closer every day.

We plan on being out there tomorrow, so please feel free to join us.