Saturday, August 20, 2011

2011 Day 6: Backfill Day and Saying Goodbye

Yesterday began with a rush.  We only had the morning to complete excavations and maps before we had to backfill the entire site that afternoon. 

Here is a shot of the large area we opened up this week.

As you can see, we were scrambling to finish mapping one half while the other half was getting filled in.

The reason why we backfill a site is to protect it.  If we leave it open, it will not only deteriorate from exposure to the elements but also from human activity.  By reburying the Joseph Howland site, we can preserve it for future research. 

Backfilling is hard work and we stayed a little later than usual to get everything back into place.  In a few short weeks, nature will creep back over the areas we excavated and you'll never know we were there.

While we did locate another area of the previous excavations, once again we were not successful in discovering the foundations.  After six years of excavating at the Joseph Howland site, we have decided to take a hiatus from digging in order to focus on the data and artifacts we have collected since 2005.  Through a careful look at the maps we have made and by studying the artifact distributions throughout the site, we hope to have a clearer overall picture.  We also hope to have a better idea of where those cellars may be.  In time, we may return to "the dig" again, but for now we are going to say farewell to the excavations at Rocky Nook.

These seasons at Rocky Nook would not have been such a pleasant experience without all our wonderful volunteers.  Thank you to this year's team:  Pam, Alex, Connor, Carolyn, Betty, Dick, Melody, Randy, Tatiana, Tyler, Evan, Kristin, Elizabeth, Michael Go., Joann, Ellen, Jane, Martha, Vicki, Bill, Sarah, Mike, Jon, Eldon, Malka, Tracey, Jan, Jim, Michael Gi., and, of course, Ray.

A huge thank you goes out to the two guys that never missed a season and always beat the rest of us to the site in the morning, Jonathan and Richard!

Of course none of this would have been possible without the amazing archaeologists who volunteered a week of their vacation to lead the excavations.  We cannot thank them enough for their patience and helpfulness with all of us over the years.  Thank you so much, Dave, Beth, Jesse, and Anna.

Most of all, we thank Derek for his incredible dedication and leadership of the Pilgrim John Howland Society's excavations at Rocky Nook for the past thirteen years.  We are so blessed to have had him heading the project.  Thank you, Derek!

For those of us who are descendants of John Howland, the opportunity to excavate his and his son's properties at Rocky Nook has been an amazing experience.  It is a rare thing to pull something out of the ground and know that the last time it was held, it was in the hand of one's ancestor nearly 400 years ago.  That experience personalizes the story of the Mayflower pilgrims and this county's beginnings far more than any reenactment or museum could.  Those of us who have spent one week or many digging at Rocky Nook have had the experience of a lifetime.

Now, this isn't the end of archaeology at the Pilgrim John Howland Society.  There are artifacts needing conservation and everything we have done over the last six years will go through intense study.  Archaeology isn't just digging square holes to find treasures.  It also involves countless hours in the lab, analyzing all that we have uncovered.  After six years, we have a lot to analyze.  As we learned on Monday, the conservation process can uncover new things about the artifacts too.  Perhaps, after a few years of studying the data we can return to learn even more from the Joseph Howland site.  Of course, the site will continue to be maintained and surveyed regularly.

Thank you for following this year's excavation.  If you want to learn more about the archaeology at Rocky Nook, please visit the Jabez Howland House in downtown Plymouth, MA to see many of the artifacts from the previous excavations.  In time, artifacts from our excavation will be added to the exhibits.  In the meantime, check back occasionally for updates.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

2011 Day 5: Nearing the End

Today, we opened some more units and dug deeper in others with the hope of distinguishing the areas that were previously excavated in 1959/69 from areas that were not.  We have definitely located one of those spots, but the cellars have yet to reveal themselves.

The yellow soil in the far unit is untouched, sterile subsoil, and therefore the bottom of the unit.

Derek and Michael map a profile of this unit's sidewall.

The massive backdirt pile that has accumulated this year.  Tomorrow we throw it all back in.

Tomorrow we will continue to excavate in the morning before we backfill.  Its amazing how quickly the week has flown by.  However, due to the hard work of all the volunteers, we were able to accomplish quite a bit in just a few days.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

2011 Day 4: Finding Cool Stuff

Today we accomplished quite a bit at the Jospeh Howland site.  Several of today's volunteers are from Plimoth Plantation and had participated in the 2010 excavation.  Before we got started, Derek explained to the group what had been done before and what we were hoping to accomplish this year.

We had a few more people than yesterday, so everything was moving pretty quick- much to the chagrin of our screeners. 

Its was a bit congested at the screens today.

But, it looks like we are in a good place.  This  year, we are hoping not only to find the large foundation stones of the structures, but also areas that were previously excavated in 1959 or 1969.  At the very end of the day, it looked as if we may have found one of the locations of the previous excavations.  Jane and Melody's unit had quite a few rocks, but once they moved the rocks and got down into the next level, a very interesting pattern in the soil appeared.

Don't see it?  How about this?

Back in the 1959/69 excavations the archaeologists left unexcavated spaces between each unit called a bulk.  The bulks at the Joseph Howland site are areas of dark soil surrounded by areas of artifact free, light colored soil.  By finding these bulks we are able to align our excavation with previous excavations.  This is very encouraging.

Of course, no excavation is complete without a few cool artifacts here's a selection of what we found today:

A buckle
A book clasp (like what you usually see on diaries today)
Neck of a medicine bottle
Pewter button.
And the star, a thimble!
Of course, with only a week to excavate we often need to expidite the process.  So, we untilize a technique called "shovel scraping."  Instead of digging straight down, we still dig as level as possible...with shovels instead of trowels.  It requires special care and some practice to get it right, but under a trained hand it allows us to excavate more quickly.

Michael Gi. demonstrates correct shovel scraping technique.
Here are some overhead shots from today:

From left:  Michael Go., Joanne, Muriel, Pam, and Anna

Eldon (white hat) and Jonathan dig while Brad (blue hat) and Jim supervise.

From left:  Dick, Betty, Randy, Tatiana, Dave, and Jan handle the screens.
While many of the volunteers are descendants of the pilgrim John Howland, the success of "The Dig" depends a great deal on all the other volunteers (and most especially the archaeolgists from Virginia) that particpate in the annual excavation:

Thank you, everyone!

From left: (Top Row)  Dick, Tatiana, Vicki, Bill, Anna (archaeologist), Dave (archaeologist), Michael, Jane, Derek (archaeologist), Mrs. Gorham and "Harry"
Bottom row:  Martha and Jim
Tomorrow is the last full day of excavating, so hopefully we will be able to answer several questions that still remain concerning the Joseph Howland site.

Only time will tell...

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

2011 Day 3: Excavation Begins

We were able to begin excavating today, despite a few sprinkles here and there.  We had a large crew of 20 volunteers who opened 7 5x5ft excavation units.  This year, as in previous seasons, we are in search of the foundations of the the Joseph Howland homestead.  Most of the excavation units are located in an area where we believe one of the foundations may be.  We are also searching for evidence of the previous excavations of 1959 and 1969.  Therefore we are not only looking for definite foundations but also for areas of sterile, previously excavated soil.

Clockwise from top:  Mike, Sarah, Michael, and Ellen excavated the northeastern units.

In the foreground, Carolyn, Alex, and Pam excavate one of the southwestern units.
Dave, one of the professional archaeologists, explains the plan of attack in Eldon's unit.

It is still too early in the week to determine if we are in the right spot, but the crew made excellent progress.  Of course an important part of excavating is the screening process.  Soil from the units is put into a bucket and taken to one of the screens where it is sifted in order to find smaller artifacts like nails, cermanic sherds, and glass fragments.

Betty and Alex screen soil from the unit Alex is working in.
Dick and Jan screen through soil from Jan's unit

We excavate units in layers or levels.  We determine that we have reached a new level when there is a noticable color or consistency change in the soil.  The only way to notice these levels is if we dig slowly with trowels and keep the unit as even as possible.  Once a new layer is reached, the unit is cleaned of any loose soil and large roots and looks like this:

Then, measurements of the depth and composition of the soil are recorded.  If necessary, a plan or map will be drawn of the unit.  It is imperative that we take all these detailed notes so we will have a complete understanding of the site.  Also, these notes are invaluable for research because once something has been excavated, it can never be excavated again.  There are no re-do's in archaeology.

Sometimes, there will be what we call a "feature" in the unit.  A feature can be a number of things such as a ring of stones, a foundation, a trash pit, a hearth, or even a circular section of soil that is darker in color than the soil in the rest of the unit.  When that type of feature is discovered, it will often be excavated seperately from the rest of the unit in order to determine what it is.  These circles of different colored soil usually indicate a hole or depression.  These holes could be evidence of a post hole, a looter's pit, or even an animal burrow. Any of these things could be present on the Joseph Howland site.

Melody investigates a feature in her unit that was close to the surface.  This may have been a looter's pit.
Looting has been an issue on the Howland property over the years.
Tomorrow we will continue to take the 7 units down to the next levels.  However, one unit gave us a glimpse of what to expect.  In this case, a large tree stump needed to be removed and the hole which it left was excavated. It seems that two large rocks may be in the next level.  Only more time will tell what that may indicate.

To be continued...

Monday, August 15, 2011

2011 Day 2: Rain Day

As expected, we were rained out today.  It was the first time in many, many years that we lost a day due to rain.  So far this is our progress:

But, the rain turned out to be a blessing because it provided us with an opportunity to look at the artifacts that were conserved during the past year by DATA Investigations.  Several items from the 1939 and 1959 excavations were removed from the display case on the second floor of the Jabez Howland House to be treated after years of continuous display.  Some of these items include a fish hook, a key, a spur, and an ox shoe.  Here are some pictures of other items that went through the conservation process and are now back on display in the Howland House.

This is a toy plate with two fish.  It is about the size of a silver dollar.  The fish weren't visible until after conservation. 

The famous Howland Spoon

Howland Spoon reproduction.  Copies of these are available for sale at the Howland House.

This interesting piece is a pocket sundial.  It was only identifiable after treatment. 
Additional items were removed from display this year to go through the treatment process.  They will be returned to the Howland House in 2012.

Tomorrow, we will be back out working at the site.  Hopefully, the weather will be more cooperative!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

2011 Day 1: Clearing and Laying in the Units

Well, the 2011 season has begun!  We are still in search of the elusive building foundations, but we believe that we will locate them this year.  Of course, since we've excavated everything else, the odds are with us.  Just like every other year, a few of us came out on Sunday to do any needed clearing and to plot in the new units.  This year, it took a little longer than usual since our datum (a standard position or level that measurements are taken from) was MIA for most of the morning.  Many of us spent most of the morning on our hands and knees poking around in the thick grass looking for something the size of a nail head.

Thankfully it turned up, just when we were ready to give up.  Using this datum and notes from previous years we determined where we will be digging this season.

Once we determined the unit locations we raked and trimmed back the brush.

Tomorrow the forecast looks pretty bleak.  They are calling for 100% chance of rain with an expectation of 1 to 2 inches.  More than likely, we won't be digging, but at least the site is ready to go for Tuesday.  Of course, we had to take a look at the John Howland homestead across the street near the large monument.  Our last season at that site was in 2004, and as you can see it didn't take long for nature to take over again.  One would never know there was a site there.

Everyone its itching to see what this season will uncover at the Joseph Howland site.  Hopefully, one of those things will be a distinct foundation so we can finally make a link from our excavation to the 1959 and 1969 excavations.

Keep your fingers crossed!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

2011 Dig Dates

The 2011 excavation will be taking place August 15-19.

We will continue to excavate on the Joseph property to follow up with what was discovered at the end of last season.