Hello hello! While the field school part with the students is now over, there is still a lot of work to be done. We need to finish cataloguing and then we need to photograph representative artifacts and write the report.
But it won’t end there, as students this fall in Dr Marit Munson’s Advanced Lab Methods course will be developing original research based on this material. I’ll post updates on this process as I am sure it will be fascinating!
Eventually we would like to publish a book on our work exploring sites related to Nassau Mills.
A little bit chillier today than it has been all week! I thought I was going to have to start doing laps around the site (I am sure that would have been supremely amusing to our crew), but we persevered and made some good progress today before we break for the weekend. Here are a few snaps from our day:
We didn’t pick an official Artifact of the Day, but there was part of a green-glazed ceramic high voltage threaded pole insulator buried beside the basement entrance. Funnily enough, just as we were identifying it, Jolyane’s crew had found a small ceramic piece from across the field that could have been from the same object! It was really serendipitous, and funny, as James walked over with Jolyane and said “Hey, do you know what this is?” and I turned around and said “Yes, it is what Anthony is holding right there!”.
This insulator probably dates to post 1901 when Canadian General Electric was leasing and then later purchased the property for generating stations to send power downtown to their main manufacturing plant on Park Street!
We decided to swap lab day to today as it looked like rain for most of the day and tomorrow is supposed to be clear. Our first order of business was to start washing the masses of material we have been recovering from our excavations. The targets that Jolyane is investigating with her crew are providing a lot of domestic material, which suggests they are in close proximity to one of the other houses we are looking for.
We hadn’t found much yet in the Old Plaster House this year, but yesterday Mary and Sarah were digging in part of the midden, and Danny, Stephanie and Collette were digging at the face of the south wall where we know there were lots of artifacts last year, so we have started accumulating material.
We divided up half the group to wash, and half to catalogue. The purpose of cataloguing is to sort and organize the artifacts in a way that we can use them to tell us interesting information about a site. While you have seen us focus on certain artifacts and what they can tell us individually, we also look at the artifacts as a collective. When we have 12000+ artifacts, there is no way for us make sense of them unless we organise them into categories.
These categories are relatively arbitrary, and there isn’t only one way to catalogue things. Our system has been refined and modified over the years depending on the kinds of site we excavate. It is important to have a system that works with the kinds of artifacts you are finding, and it also needs to be flexible.
The first thing is to note the context and number of the thing we are cataloguing. This forms a unique identifier that we can use to trace and relocate the artifact when it is packed away in boxes. Next, we need to describe the material class of the object. So for our site, we are using these categories:
Depending on the type of site, we might have more categories, or in the case of ancient Indigenous sites, we might only have the categories of: Bone, Shell, Lithics (Stone), and Ceramic!
The next important decision when cataloguing an artifact is the material class. This is a category based on the function of the item. It allows us to group items of different materials into behaviour functions. So, for example, we have a class called Architectural, which is everything relating to the structure of a house. So within the larger category, we can group different materials in sub-categories like so, and further divide them into objects:
Object: Window Glass
Object: Door hardware
Object: Frogged brick
Object: Chimney brick
Another important class for us is related to Food and Beverage. This catch-all bin collects all the various types of artifacts relating to the cooking, storing, and serving of food. Within Food and Beverage, we can catalogue things like ceramic tableware, metal flatware, stoneware crocks, kitchenware like mixing bowls, along with things like metal cans and glass bottles and jars that contained food.
In particular, the glass and ceramic items are going to be our best date indicators for the site.
It is kind of a fun exercise to hold something in your hand and try and catalogue it. Today, I had some students who found it hard to make a decision about what category to put something in…the main thing is there is no real right answer, the secret is being consistent with the rules that you are using to classify stuff. I think it’s fun, but I agree its not everyone’s cup of tea: (Ceramic > Food and Beverage > Tableware)!
I have a couple I-Spy images today — we didn’t get through all of the material with some of the really fun objects, but here are some things for you to look for:
Tomorrow is Day Nine of the field school, and we are back out on site to see what we can get done before the weekend!
Things are starting to wind down on site. The students have mostly finished their assessment units and we are focusing on tidying up the open exavations on the structure. The fourth-year students have finished their excavation in the second operation area.
Although we didn’t have any rain, there was a constant steady wind which meant we felt a bit flayed by the end of the day!
Here are the answers to last Thursday’s I-Spy:
Tomorrow we are in the lab, there’s a lot of cataloguing and artifact processing to be done!
Due to the rain, we spent May 25th in the lab, and the students began learning how to catalogue artifacts systematically. This involves dividing the cleaned artifacts into types of material such as glass, metal, bone, ceramics, plastics, brick, etc. and then further subdividing these categories into groups of material. This is where we really can start to see the kinds of artifacts they have recovered and try to think about what they can tell us about the site we are excavating in terms of what the site was used for, when it was used, and who was using it.
On Friday, we headed back out to site, and continued work there. We are at a point now where we need to start documenting the walls we have uncovered. This involves drawing plans that are to scale on graph paper, and also photographing them so we can enter those photos into computer software that will let us do photogrammetry with them.
Photogrammetry is using photographs to measure the distance between objects when surveying or mapping. Here is a site detailing how photogrammetry can be very useful for archaeological excavation.
Not everyone was planning today, however, as there is still a lot of excavation that needs to be done. Bjorn and Faisal have been working steadily at removing bulldozed fill from a section of what be believe is a basement to the structure.
We haven’t been recovering as many artifacts lately due to the phase of where we are in the excavations, but here is an interesting I-Spy tray!
We have come to the end of three weeks of the field school, halfway done already. I don’t know about anyone else, but the time seems to have flown by!
With Victoria Day weekend upon us, Professor Conolly decided to give the crew Friday off so they could enjoy an extra long weekend. While they are off enjoying themselves, this gives us some time to regroup and figure out what needs to happen in the last half of the course. As a result, we decided to have a lab day today instead of Friday and try and get caught up on artifact processing.
We had another visit by Marketing and Communications today. As they got to see what we do in the field, we invited them to see the lab work as well. I don’t claim to speak for them, but I think they found it very interesting and illuminating to shadow our progress.
Today in lab was more artifact washing, and bagging by material type, being exceedingly careful to make sure material excavated from the same context stays together. You can spend ages painstakingly excavating a site and have it all come crashing down if you don’t take care to keep the integrity of the material intact. Mixing artifacts across contexts means the interpretive potential they can give you is almost worthless.
In a site like ours, where there has been so much mixture and disturbance over a long time period, clues as to the location of certain types or ages of material is going to be crucial in giving us an interpretive backbone for the site.
Trevor spent some time designing a database to record the context information of the different parts of site we have been excavating. Each time we excavate a portion of the site, it is transformed into a paper record. From there, we transfer the information from paper to a digital format. Sam also started digitising aerial photos of the site and area around the site to create a site map.
Selena began photographing representative samples of the artifacts to include in the reports we need to submit to the Ministry of Tourism, Culture, and Sport. At this point we have managed to wash all the material excavated to date, and most of it has been bagged by context. The next task is to start looking at the different material types and cataloguing the artifacts we have recovered.
Here is some I-Spy to head into the long weekend!
Check back tomorrow for a posting about an interesting artifact I discovered in lab today.
This was our first full week in the field, and Fridays are our scheduled lab day. The main task today was to wash as many artifacts as we could so that we can start analysing and cataloguing them.
Our crew is absolutely amazing and we powered through most of the artifacts we have recovered to date! I mentioned before that for every day in the field, there are at least two lab days needed. Washing the artifacts is the first step—next we have to catalogue and analyse this material. When we get to that point we’ll let you have a peek into that process.
So, it is crucial that we stay on top of things, but with this crew I don’t think that will be a problem. I think all of us were ready for a break from digging, and it was a great chance to chat and get to know each other better and take a closer look at what everyone has been finding.
To lead into the weekend, here is some more Friday I-Spy. As usual, answers will be posted on Monday.
And that is two weeks completed of our six-week program! See you Monday.