Student Blog — My First Test Unit

In this post, Joel takes you through one of the student exercises of digging a Stage 3 test unit. — Kate

On May 14th, 2018 I started my first archaeological stage 3 test unit at Trent University’s Archaeology site (Nassau Mills research site BcGn-23). This first test unit was strategically located through the use of a ground penetrating radar whereas through the GPR we located a area where there high possibility of archaeological significance. In this area we, as a team, dug roughly 9 test units among this area. Specifically this stage 3 test unit of mine and my partners proved to be quite the challenge, as it turned into a 1mx1mx1m cube of a unit without ever excavating deep enough to find the natural soil. The test unit started off like any basic test unit where it was simple matter of digging, context detection, and recording of context changes. This all changed when we began to hit a fill layer from early Trent university construction.

It begins!
It begins!

Early on in Trent University history the faculty bulldozed and landscaped the area around the corner of Nassau Mills Rd and Water St intersection and continued inwards towards what is now the Blackburn building. This bulldozing and landscaping resulted in a mixmash of cultural material from the 1960’s which included a very dense layer of solid asphalt from the previous road that linked earlier residences along the Trent bank to Water St. Upon finding this layer of asphalt myself and my partner Anthony began to struggle with the digging as it required extensive use of the mattock/pickaxe to remove this dense 60s fill from the contexts. This dense gravel and asphalt fill took the majority of a day to excavate properly, and throughout this dense context there wasn’t a single artifact found. Once we made it through this dense context we were sadly at the end of day.

Still innocent.
Still innocent.

 

 

 

Going down further.
Going down further.

Two days later May 16th we came back with high hopes of completing this test unit within a matter of a few of hours, sadly we were proven wrong. We were proven wrong because our unit proved to be a seemingly never ending jumble of contexts and transitions which made it much more complicated then your average test unit. Towards the end of the day we continually were tricked into the idea that we had hit natural soil, but we would make it down and find a small chunk of brick or terracotta and have to go another 10cm deeper, this happened until we made it down to 103cm deep. At this point we ended up stopping due to lack of materiel evidence and lack of time to continue excavation of the whole depth of the unit.

Still descending.
Still descending.

In order to finish the site we then had to draw the stratigraphic layers accurately to describe the contexts which we had removed, this was in my perspective the most enjoyable part of my first test as it as it involved a rest from all of the digging. Overall my first test unit was a great learning experience on how to properly excavate test units and accurately record contexts, and I am sure that I will remember that asphalt layer for years to come.

Completed!
Completed!

— Joel Tucker

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