November 20, 2012
Wrapping Up for Winter
Early in November archaeologists began wrapping up work at the back of the Armoury lot. It has been a long and challenging field season, culminating in a heavy soaking by hurricane Sandy (and earlier, by some of her lesser-known cousins). The image below, a final photo taken on November 2nd, after the final clean-up, shows some of the fruits of our labors. It should also help you to visualize the site’s layout.
Curiosity about fences was the primary motivation for this summer’s project…not just where they stood and how to rebuild them accurately, but how the margins of the Armoury were treated. Were they well-maintained or left untended? Did workers cram activity onto every inch of available space, or did the Armoury’s busy core peter out toward the edges? And with 40 Armoury workers employed on half an acre, how seriously was the property boundary regarded, anyway? Is a fence really important during wartime? And what was happening on the other side of the fence? Was the grass really greener?
The archaeologists in the image (at left) are acting as props. They are standing in postholes that once supported a fence at the western edge of the Armoury property. To the right of this human “fence” is the Armoury lot. To the left is Lot 17, the mid-18th century ownership of which is still unclear. You’ll notice, as well, that there are lots of “unmanned” holes. Over the course of the summer we encountered, excavated, and recorded many, many, (many) postholes representing numerous incarnations of a fence that marked the same boundary over hundreds of years. Only one of those fences was standing between 1778 and 1780, when the Armoury was in operation. Sorting out which is the “right” fence..the one that James Anderson might have claimed… has been a considerable puzzle, and one that we think we are close to solving.
Perhaps the most curious aspect of this dutifully maintained fence is that it was virtually disregarded by those who worked at the Armoury. This summer’s excavation showed that both sides of the fence were used for Armoury activities. On the west side of the boundary, on land whose ownership in 1778 has not been clearly established, we discovered a large pit, now half-excavated, but tentatively identified as a sawpit. We hypothesize that it was used by teams of sawyers to prepare plank for the Armoury’s construction…one sawyer above the pit on a platform, and another below, with a pit saw in play between them. Once construction of the Armoury was complete, the pit was no longer needed and was filled. Indeed, we found that the pit was filled soon after its abandonment with an assortment of the Armoury’s waste… clinker from the forges, French gunflints from the repair of weapons, and partially completed iron objects.
Next summer we will return to complete the excavation of this feature, and to determine whether our working hypothesis about its function holds up to any additional information we might uncover. In the meantime, we have filled the sawpit with sand to stave off any mid-winter collapse…and to provide us with a healthy warm-up activity for next spring!
Another “Armoury related” feature is a privy that was discussed in a recent blog post (as you may recall, it was the raspberry seeds in the fill that gave its function away!). Like the pit feature, the privy, was located on the adjacent property. And like the pit feature, it contained Armoury garbage. So it seems clear that the Armoury was making use of space beyond what James Anderson owned.
One final discovery that bears mentioning: the southern end of the Armoury lot was notable for the number of 18th century dog burials it revealed. The remains of seven dogs were uncovered along the Armoury fenceline…on both sides of the fence. Three of these (and likely a 4th that was not completely excavated) were found in discrete, purposely dug graves. The remains of three other dogs were found in a single pit. They ranged in age from less than a year, to mature, to “older-mature” (with evidence of arthritis, and significant tooth wear). In our experience, it is uncommon to bury dogs in the 18th century, so this unusual treatment. The dogs have been removed from the site, and are now being studied in the Zooarchaeology Lab.
Like many archaeological endeavors, the Armoury project has answered some questions, and raised others. The end of the excavation hardly signals the end of the research, however. Over the winter, artifacts recovered from the site will be washed, numbered, counted, measured, and evaluated. We will use them to help us to affix dates to soil layers and to postholes, and to help us to identify the function of certain features. Iron artifacts encrusted in rust (and there are many, given the nature of work on this site) will be x-rayed and conserved in an effort to better understand the nature and variety of work taking place at the Armoury. Soil removed from pits of all sorts will be tested for plant remains and for chemical signatures that provide information about landscape and land use. Individual field maps will be digitized and transferred to site maps where larger patterns may become evident. And the dogs…all of those dogs….will be studied some more.
In closing, and in the spirit of Thanksgiving, it seems appropriate to express our gratitude for the dedicated and determined archaeologists and interns who helped to excavate the Armoury site this year, often under adverse conditions: Lucie, Matt, Wes, Jeff, Andy, Meredith, Sarah, Loretta, Walt, Mike, Ron, and Dessa. We are grateful for the opportunity to conduct this research, and for all of you whose interest and investment in Colonial Williamsburg allows us to move forward. Most significantly, we are grateful to Mr. Forrest Mars for his commitment to the Armoury project. Thank you….and Happy Thanksgiving!
Meredith Poole, Staff Archaeologist