Student Blog — My experience and tips

Sebastian shares his experiences and lessons learned during the field school to date. — Kate

Since Nassau Mills was the first archaeological site I’ve ever worked on, I had no idea how I would manage, and what to expect from the work. After three weeks I am glad to say that fieldwork is rather rewarding work. The main project I have been working on is digging up a tarp that contained a feature that was originally excavated in Stage 3 back in 2009 with my friend Josh. 

Tarp appearing during excavation.

To our surprise, the feature was originally thought to be a wall, but turned out it was a drain! Removing the rocks to see the inside of the structure showed that there was no mortar binding the rocks together and they were placed loosely. The reason that the rocks were placed loosely in the subsoils is so that water could easily flow in between the rocks. 

Sebastian sitting beside the top of the drain.
Drain after top layer of rocks removed.

The drain has been discussed at length, but the common opinion is that it was a basement drain, built to prevent flooding. Right now Josh and I have the feature down at least 60 cm and the rocks continue to go down. Kate told us that drains at this time could be 3 to 4 feet in length. Regardless I hope that our last week of field school shows just how deep the structure goes, and perhaps where the drain connects to. 

In conclusion, I wanted to give some point-form tips on things I’ve learned that helped with productivity and techniques to do while digging and screening units.

Learn how to draw at least the basics: I had a professional archaeologist tell me once that if I wanted to be an archaeologist I needed to learn how to draw, and they were so right. A significant part of archaeology is drawing plans of the units, features within the unit and artefacts of significance. While there is a saying that a picture can describe 1000 words, it cannot provide as many required details as a drawing possibly could. An example is this unit here, the right side is 30 cm deeper from the left, but the picture could never tell you that. 

Bisecting excavation unit and isolating the drain feature.

Trowel using your elbow and not your wrist: hours can be spent within a unit troweling away which can put significant strain on the wrist. Using the elbow to trowel relieves the stress on the wrist, and improves overall work performance. 

Get a keen eye for the smallest details: especially while screening some of the artefacts are quite small and can be encapsulated by dirt and mud. Especially nails, that are quite small and often blend right into the dirt. 

Work like a scientist, not a labourer: Archaeology is a science through and through. The reason we dig units is to gain as much information as we possibly can about the periods we aim to learn about. This means slower, very methodical digging of units, with shovel shining removing 1 cm at a time and screening every centimetre of dirt being excavated. Digging units is not about getting down to 30 cm deep as fast as possible to get the job done. If units are dug too fast or with little care, stratigraphies can be lost, artefacts displaced and potential critical historical information destroyed without proper documentation. 

Have fun: Let’s be honest, Archaeology has to be one of the most interesting and fun jobs in the world. We get paid to find, learn and share history with the world. Everyone that I have worked with has been wonderful and all have similar interests. Never in my life have I been so enthralled with work, and I recommend anyone interested in history to try archaeology. 

— Sebastian Smith

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