January 13, 2012
A Fresh Perspective.
“Roving webcam” viewers may have noticed that they are no longer in the Armoury building! On Wednesday morning this movable camera was relocated to focus on new excavation inside the Mary Stith Shop.
As many of you know, archaeologists spent the majority of 2011 trying to determine whether a building that stood in this location served as the Armoury’s tin shop between 1778 and 1780. We now feel confident that a building in this location did, indeed, house Nathaniel Nuthall and the other Armoury tinsmiths, and we are beginning the process of rebuilding this 1940 reconstruction.
Before the building can be renovated, all remaining archaeological evidence will be recovered, which is what you see archaeologists working on. Unfortunately, we are not the first to dig here. In 1932, excavators addressed the same bit of land, hoping to find brick foundations in the narrow trenches dug for that purpose. We have good images of that activity, as you can see below. They were successful in their search, and by 1940 the Stith Shop had been rebuilt on the basis of those foundations. Regrettably (because of the way the site was approached) no one knew how the building was used in the 18th century…until now.
Archaeologists read history backwards. We begin at the ground’s surface with evidence of recent events, and work our way back toward evidence of the 18th century. This week you have been watching Andy, Mark, and Meredith re-excavating the trenches dug in 1932. Those trenches look different from the surrounding soil, and must be removed as modern intrusions. As the weeks progress, you’ll see us working back through successively older phases of the site’s occupation. By the way, the foundation wall that should be visible on the webcam is a 20th century structure…perhaps a chicken coop.
The tin shop excavation is the first “indoor archaeology” we have attempted. The lights are on, as is the heat! The project will last approximately 5 to 6 weeks, and depending on what we find, we may keep the roving webcam in this location for the duration. At the very least, we will keep you posted about what we’re finding. Please ask questions!
Note: It has been brought to our attention (by one webcam watcher who recently visited the tin shop excavation) that the Roving Webcam does not give an accurate sense of what is happening around the edges of the excavation. True, we have a sink and a microwave at our disposal, but conditions may not be as swish as that admission might imply! The images below provide a better sense of how the site is set up. The second photo shows the location of the webcam on a pole near the left edge of the window frame.
Contributed by Meredith Poole, Staff Archaeologist.
Update: February 7th
Excavation inside the tin shop is quickly drawing to a close. In fact, we anticipate that we will be finished by week’s end (Feb 10th). Over the last 5 weeks our digging in this small unit has revealed (sequentially): 1) Colonial Williamsburg’s 1940s reconstruction of the shop, 2) the 1932 search for this building’s foundation, 3) plow scars from the property’s agricultural use after the Civil War, 4) thick deposits of brick rubble — evidence of the fire that destroyed this building (and most others on the block) in 1842, 5) relatively clean (or artifact-free) layers that accumulated before the original tin shop was built (ca. 1760), and at the bottom, 6) what we call “stable ravine fill”– the natural, loamy accumulation in the bottom of this low-lying gully. You’ll notice that there was no mention of tin shop activity. That’s because the building had a wooden floor, allowing no accumulation between 1760 (when the building was constructed) and 1842 (when the building was destroyed). Although this is a shame, it is what we expected.
This week we have been removing the next-to-earliest layer (see #5, above), representing the first couple of decades of the 18th century. There are very few artifacts in it…mostly animal bone, a few ceramic pieces, and an occasional nail. The image below shows a few of the more interesting finds from a 1 meter square. See if you can identify the pig jaw, tobacco pipe stems, delft (ceramic) fragments, a bit of wine bottle base, and our most unusual find: half of a silver shoe buckle.
February 9th: The tin shop excavation has now been completed. Because it makes such a nice picture, and because the chapters in a site’s history are rarely so well defined, we’re including a final image showing the tin shop’s stratigraphy.