Saturday, October 31, 2009

St. Nicholas Cemetery Finished!

Although there are a few monuments to repair and re-erect, and some others that have to be re-plumbed, for all intents and purposes we finished the St. Nicholas Cemetery restoration fieldwork on Friday. And no lives or limbs were lost in the process...not that there weren't some close calls.

After six years of muscling stones out of the ground, Scott and I are broken, but wiser men. Scott raised some money to pay for a machine to excavate and raise the last four monuments which we knew to be very large and heavy, or deeply buried beneath construction fill.

See the large stone exposed in the photographs above and to the left...that's just the base. Granite markers became very popular in the early 20th century as cutting and polishing technologies developed and the Vermont monument makers became more innovative in marketing the 'rock of ages.' Although virtually indestructible and requiring no repair, only resetting, the granite markers at St. Nicholas posed a problem. They were generally much larger and far heavier than the marble monuments. We managed to re-erect several over the past six years using a chain pull and sweat, but just barely averted severe injuries to the foolhardy crew. Machinery allowed us to recover and reset the monuments Friday with minimal risk. It would otherwise have taken us an additional day or two, and we might not have returned Pete in the same condition as when he arrived on site.

The actual marker for the Freeman family, which sat on the granite base from 1935 to 1943, appears in the photographs to the right and below. If lifted into the bed of my small pick up truck it would just fit. Of course, given the weight of granite, it would have crushed my pick up truck, eliminating the need for that overdue oil change and brake cleaning.

It took Scott, Pete, and I, Cory the machine operator, and Laurie (she took these pictures) six hours to complete the work.

Over the coming months, Scott and I will prepare a report and a website for researchers, and Scott also will work with a genealogist on a book about the cemetery and the families buried there. We'll announce through this blog the completion of those tasks with information on how readers can access those final products of this project.

My heartiest congratulations to Scott Lawrence who conceived the project and navigated the often resistant State and Federal bureaucratic systems to make the project a reality, and who then sought the training and developed the expertise needed to repair scores of damaged marble monuments. It was a lunatic idea for Scott to undertake this volunteer project, although in retrospect it doesn't seem so hair-brained. Success alters memory.


Friday, October 30, 2009

Dubious Origins

Click images for larger view, Christine Hopkins (left)

Mochaware is a favorite type of ceramic for many people because of its unique look and unlikely source. Mocha describes a decoration that appears on annularware; usually creamware, pearlware, or whiteware. It looks like trees or bushes and is often called 'dendritic' by archaeologists. The most common color is black, although the dendrites also come in pink, blue, and green. We have found pieces of mochaware in both Compton field and Jamison field

The vessels are decorated by dipping them into or painting them with diluted clay called slip. The dendritic designs are added to a slipped background by placing a drop of solution on the slip. The solution runs and spreads into its distinctive shape. The earliest known vessels date to 1799, but the design adorned factory made ceramics were produced well into the 20th century.

It is this solution that makes mochaware so memorable. While it may contain coffee, vinegar, turpentine, and metal oxides, the most commonly known ingredients are tobacco juice and stale urine. How would you like a set of dishes decorated with that?


Thursday, October 29, 2009

In the News

A busy and somewhat hectic day at Port Tobacco. Anne and Kelley spent an hour or more with a photographer from the local newspaper showing some of the artifacts that we have recovered. The photographs will accompany interviews conducted by journalist Nancy McCanaty regarding Charles County's important artifacts and how they are cared for.

Pete has written a short blurb about the PTAP and Swann House work for the Society for Historical Archaeology Newsletter, a publication for professionals.

Today we began the tedious job of carefully documenting the exposed foundation of the Swann House, drawing each brick and stone. We should complete that work next week when we return to the site.

I spent some time with Dr. Dorothy Barbour, owner and occupant of Stagg Hall, one of three surviving 18th-century buildings in Port Tobacco and one of the best preserved in Maryland. It has been Mrs. Barbour's dream to see Stagg Hall become a museum in a larger outdoor museum celebrating the history of Port Tobacco.

Anne and Kelley will be in the office tomorrow working on technical reports and writing a blog, while Pete and I join Scott in finishing the cemetery restoration at Patuxent River Naval Air Station. I'll blog on that work this Saturday.


Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Swann House Update

In some of the last posts, we have talked about the work at the Swann House site. The team has been clearing brush and exposing the foundation walls. We have photographed and documented our work and will be out again tomorrow to expose a bit more of the foundation and do some detailed drawings. In the meantime, I digitized a sketch that Jim drew in the field. It is not to scale but should give the reader (that's you!) a better look at the building footprint as we see it today.

-The North wall appears to be the most severely damaged at the exposed level.
Once we have finished exposing and drawing the foundation, I will post a more complete and accurate drawing.
- Peter

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A Rainy Day Update

Hey folks,
Another rainy fall day has confined us to the lab, though there certainly is plenty to do here (report writing, report writing...and more report writing). So, while I could regale you with tales of creating excel tables, analyzing soil profiles, and deciphering field notes from this past field session, I will not--you can thank me later. Instead, I figured I would go ahead and let you all know about Anne's and my visit to the Maryland Historical Trust last week.

The purpose of this journey to Crownsville was to meet with Maureen Kavanagh, Dennis Curry, and Charlie Hall to discuss the aboriginal pottery and projectile points found at Port Tobacco. Now, I know I have inundated our readers with blogs about these artifacts, so I promise I will be brief. After everyone had a good look at the artifacts and passed around several typologies, we were able to identify most of the points (though the broken points still remain a challenge). As for the aboriginal pottery, my goal was to confirm my identification of the different ware types, and inquire about a few sherds that gave me a bit of difficulty. Here are two of the highlights.

First off, this particular rim sherd of the Moyaone type from Stratum 2 of Unit 54 (to the right) stood out because of the added lip and interesting coloration. It is likely that the reddish hue and dark smudge are just a result of the firing process. As for the added lip, this piqued everyone's interest because of its resemblance to European ceramics. This stimulated much discussion about the changing characteristics of aboriginal wares post-contact, and would support the argument that aboriginal groups were living in or near Port Tobacco at the time of contact. This suggestion has also been supported by the discovery of trade beads during our excavations.

The second interesting discussion focused on several sherds of aboriginal pottery that I have been having difficulty identifying. Almost everything about these sherds would lead me to label them as Moyaone, including the micacious clay, compact paste, and soft to silty texture, but the presence of bits of oyster shell did not fit the description (see images to the left). Initially I figured these stray shell bits were just accidental inclusions. However, as I continued to sort through the sherds I began to find more and more of them, suggesting that these shells may have been intentionally used as temper. It is possible that these sherds are more similar to the Yeocomico type, though even then the micacious clay makes them stand out. For now these sherds will continue to remain a bit of a mystery, but serve as an important reminder that identifying aboriginal ceramics is not as simple as checking off characteristics--sometimes a sherd will have the characteristics of multiple types, and thus is best described rather than labeled with a particular name. Nevertheless, it is also crucial to identify some sherds for certain as a whole mess of indeterminate sherds can make it quite difficult to interpret a site.

Now I promise I will refrain from any more posts about the trials and tribulations of identifying aboriginal pottery. You all should be experts by now...or just hopeful that we will be back to reporting on our progress in the field rather than in the lab!

I hope to see you all down at Port Tobacco on Thursday!


Monday, October 26, 2009

Swann House fully exposed...needs cleaning

By lunchtime today, the team completely exposed the foundation of the building we think is the James A. Swann House. Elsie and Carol joined the GAC team, as did "Mr. Backfill," Mark Thompson...he used his front-end loader this past spring to backfill our units, saving time and our backs. He helped us make new backfill today.

The excavation exposed most of the hearth and two closet-like areas on either side. The hearth measures 8 ft wide on the exterior and around 5 ft wide on the interior. We haven't fully exposed it, but it looks like it may be close to 5 ft deep.

Thursday we will return and start drawing a detailed map of the structure while cleaning the last few bits. Hopefully we can begin excavating three test units in the interior next week. We'll just sample the most recent deposits and probably delay deep tests until next spring.


Sunday, October 25, 2009

Building Exposed

Our crew of six found a third corner of the stone foundation (partially illustrated in the photograph), thereby allowing us to determine the size of the building's footprint. It is 17 ft wide and 31 ft long, and oriented nearly east-west (about ten degrees north of west, or azimuth 280). The wall is about 2 ft thick.

But wait...there's more! At the west end of the building we found a 5 ft wide brick chimney that appears to extend the full width of the building.

My initial impression is that we have a classic Colonial period floor plan consisting of two rooms, side by side, with a chimney on one of the gable ends. It is referred to as a hall and parlor plan, the hall being the kitchen and general congregation room with the fireplace, the parlor being the sleeping room and formal room of the principal occupants. Other members of the household would have slept in the hall or in rooms above. We should have an initial drawing ready by the end of this coming week.

The artifacts recovered today are consistent with those recovered last week, although we seem to be finding more creamware and we collected a large shoe buckle.

I anticipate working at the Swann House site tomorrow (Monday) and Thursday...Tuesday looks like a rain day and we have other projects to work on. Friday Scott and I hope to finish the restoration of St. Nicholas Cemetery and I haven't made any plans for next weekend...Saturday is a possible field day at Port Tobacco.