Trowels out Thursday

At the beginning of field school, our students were very eager to get right to trowelling because that is what we always associate with archaeology. I think some of them were surprised and maybe a wee bit disgruntled that we started shoving shovels at them, but really, the shovel is an archaeologist’s best friend (James would argue that the mattock should be promoted as well!). Our crew have been learning (sometimes grudgingly!) to love their shovels but for some tasks nothing but trowels will do.

Tim and Sebastian painstakingly trowelled out sections of two possible features today.

When documenting a feature, we sometimes take a section of it. This allows us to see the volume and shape of space that the possible feature occupies in the surrounding matrix, and the soil recovered is bagged and taken back to the lab for flotation. There might be small finds in there that would ordinarily pass through our screens. The point and sharp edge of a trowel is perfect for following the sometimes complicated contours of feature soil as it is removed.

Mel has been working on isolating some sections of what we think are layers of wood planking and plaster or mortar in her unit.

While the structure we have been chasing has been a bit elusive this season (where are you little log cabin in the woods?!), we have found some wood planking and mortar layers that might have been associated in some way with a structure. This has required some careful trowel work to isolate it from the surrounding soil so we can investigate what it is and how it relates to what we know about the stratigraphic layers of the site.

This unit has had a beautiful trowel back to make a nice clear surface for planning a potential feature (the dark stain visible).

While shovel shining is an absolute top skill for the aspiring archaeologist to attain, good trowel skills are also important. Our students have probably heard us say “that needs a good trowel back” many many times by now, and what we mean by that is that the walls are neat and vertical, we don’t have bathtub corners, and the area under excavation has had a good clean scrape to expose a fresh surface that isn’t all mucked up by boot prints or crumbs of soil. This allows us to clearly see the edges of potential features in plan view, and also to see the stratigraphy in the wall profiles.

Sebastian and Josh have been trowelling around a section of this drain feature so we can see how it is constructed.
Lorna, Steph and Abigail have been painstakingly clearing around these individual rocks that seem to be connected to the start of this drain feature somehow. There is also another potential feature in that dark stain in the lower right of the drain.

Bit by bit, with trowel and dustpan, shovel and bucket, we are unpacking what this site has to tell us! Only three full days of excavation left!

Student Blog — Field School Reflections

Here’s a post from Kelsey, where she shares some of her field school experiences so far. — Kate

As we are about halfway through our dig I thought I would reflect on some of my favourite elements of this site and its people. Firstly I wanted to touch on just how much I have learned from this course. I have some (limited) archaeological experience on a site in Ferns, Ireland. It was more of a -throwing you into the deep end and hope for the best- kind of dig, with loosened guidelines and less standardization. Although It did help me hone my archeologist’s eye, I was at a loss for the absolute organization and standardization of Ontario archaeology. The BcGn-17 site has helped me learn these standards like the back of my hand. 

I was nervous about all the elements that come along with Ontario archaeology at first but through practice and our amazing supervisors, I feel ready for anything. Mapping was something specifically intimidating to me at first but with the help of my group members we crushed it, I would say.

Our site <3

Much of my time lately has been devoted to the new 2×2 unit Adam and I opened up. This unit was under several piles of spoil soil, towards the northern end of the site. After shovel after shovel, we reached the ground level and began to measure out our unit, with the help of Kate. This unit began in a bit of a negative light, with compacted, rocky and root-filled soil. But after we reached the subsoil the unit began to prove itself. The highlight finds we have collected so far include a mother-of-pearl button, a (possibly young Queen Victoria penny) coin, and an abundance of nails and ceramics.

The finds of pit E7039 N4938 last Friday
The coin found May 17

Much of the success of this pic is due to my dig partner Adam. We sieve and dig in turns while playing 20 questions and listening to ABBA to pass the time. Sometimes the whole site even joins in on the guessing games. Befriending the members of this dig is one of the main elements that has made this course so special. We have such a wider variety of people from many different walks of life, all united by one passion.

Flower crowns with Kyla
Mapping with Adam

— Kelsey Counter