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This blog follows the reconstruction of the Revolutionary War Public Armoury on the James Anderson site

Reconstruction of the Blacksmith's & Public Armoury

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. 

Armoury Fenceline.

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

 

Comments

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  1. Hi Meredith and dig crew,
    It has been a long season of great infomation. I hope you will be able to continue giving us the great information through the winter as you decide what it all means.

    Thank you for a great dig season.

    I wish everyone on the dig crew and the Armoury a very Happy and Safe Thanksgiving!

    Chris

  2. Thanks, Chris!
    We’ll be sure to share new information as we make additional discoveries in the lab. It is safe to say that for every hour spent digging, archaeologists spend another 4-7 hours in processing, analysis, conservation, and write up…so the Armoury project is far from over! Keep watching for new developments!

    In the meantime, have a good holiday, and thanks for all of your support!

  3. Hi Meredith! Great photos, especially of the crew standing in as fence posts. Good luck with all those postholes. Miss you a ton!

  4. I had hoped to visit in October but am glad to see the latest results here. Thanks for the post and all the good work.

    • Chuck~
      It’s always good to hear from our readers. Thanks for the positive feedback…and I hope you get to see it in person, soon!

      • We were in town last week to see the progress at the armory and to watch the brick firing. Missed my archeology fix this trip, however. Your post gave me a good look under the tarp.
        Looking forward to the upcoming tinshop construction.

  5. Great article and pictures. Ken “showed” me the dig site (which was covered up for the weekend) when I was there in July. He explained a few things to me, but it is good to see the whole site. Glad for the overhead perspective. Thank you to all of you at CW working hard to reveal and share the past, lest we forget.

    Meredith- I finally read your article in the CW journal. I had no idea a body was found on the armoury property. I missed that one! The article states she was found along the fence-line. Which fence line? Would you please give an approximate location in relation to the buildings that are now reconstructed? Oh, and where has she been reinterred? Found the article to be very informative.

    • Mimi~
      You didn’t miss anything! We did find two human burials at the Armoury, both of them at the end of 2010. We removed the first from the ground in November/December, 2010, and the second one in March 2011, after the threat of a freeze had passed. They were sent to the College of William and Mary, to Dr. Michael Blaikey for analysis. Unfortunately, their conditions were such that a positive identification of sex and population affiliation (race) was difficult….some of the bones needed to make those determinations were either missing, or in poor condition. It seems likely, however, that we have one male, and one female. Circumstantial evidence (including their placement along an out-of-the-way fenceline oriented north-south, and the heavy muscle attachments indicating hard work) suggest that they were enslaved.

      The fenceline is, indeed, the same fenceline that we worked on this summer. In fact, part of the reason that we returned to this area was to be certain that there were no additional burials. And there weren’t…for which we were very glad. Both burials were on the “Armoury side” of the fence, under what will be the South Storage Building. That building has not yet been rebuilt, but you can find it on a schematic drawing of the Armoury.

      Remember that the fact that they were under the foundation means that they were buried before the (Armoury-period) storage building was constructed. In other words, these individuals died before the 1778-1780 Armoury period. In fact, by the time the storage building was constructed, one assumes that the locations of the graves had been forgotten.

      We try to excavate human remains with a great deal of privacy and respect. For this reason, we do not “advertise” such a find while it is being worked on. Plans for their reinterrment, though in progress, have not been finalized. The goal is to find a spot where they will not be disturbed in the future.

      Hope this helps. And I hope you’ll visit again when please visit again….. when the site is not covered with plastic.

      • How sad to think that 2 individuals were forgotten in a relatively short period of time after their death. I hope some type of marker will be put on the site to acknowledge their original burial and reburial.

      • Dave~
        I agree. And it is probably not so uncommon. We do believe that at least one of the graves had a marker, initially. There was a vertically placed piece of wood inside the “grave-stain” near the head, but wood (as you know) does not make a good permanent monument. We are still working out our plans for commemorating the two individuals found at the Armoury. You can be sure, however, that they will be carefully considered.

  6. Nice to see the paint on the new storage building. My question is.Did smaller structures not use beaded siding like those of larger ones.?Also there was much activity about the paint on the kitchen.Is the white correct for these small buildings also and what color will the tin shop be?
    thank you

    • Kerry~
      We liked your question so much that we decided to make it the next “Readers’ Question” blog post. Watch for a thorough answer next week!

  7. Good Day to the archaeologists.

    Thanks for the informative dialog and the accompanying pictures pertaining to the Armoury summer dig. I look forward to next years finds and narrative as you indicated in the recent blog entry.

    Ron Trabandt

  8. I was wondering if one of the webcams will be moved since the Armoury dig is over now?

    • Marie~
      Yes, the Roving Webcam will move next week (if not sooner)to the Tin Shop where the sills will soon be laid for frame raising on December 21st. That camera is presently focused on the North Storage building which is now complete. We recognize that fresh vantage points are always appreciated!

  9. Hi Meredith,
    Being a dog lover, I’m curious about the burials. When the Zooarchaeology Lab conducts their research what will they be looking for? Did the dogs appear to be the same breed? Is there anyway of discovering what breed any of them were? It would be interesting to know what breeds were in CW in the 18th century. Could they have been watch dogs?
    Please give “Lady” Eleanor a good scratch for me. I suppose she’s hanging out closer to the Armoury kitchen now that the weather is getting cooler? And the prosect of warm food would also be enjoyable?
    If you’re on “Linkedin” please link. There are too many Meredith Pooles listed for me to find you? Thanks.
    Have a great and safe Christmas Season,
    Chris

    • Chris~
      We’re constantly amazed by what our zooarchaeologists can discover by looking at animal bones. Young animals can be identified by the un-fused epiphyses of their long bones. At the other end of the spectrum, old age can be seen in bony spurs that constitute arthritis, and by wear on teeth. Unfortunately, breed is more difficult to identify. Most of the characteristics that we associate with breed (coloring, and coat type, for example) are not apparent on the bones. Unless you are looking at a breed like a bulldog, with obvious characteristics, the best that can be done to identify general size. And remember that most dogs were not a single breed. We do know that there seems to have been an “issue” with dogs in Williamsburg in the early 1770s, and that there were proposals..presumably enacted…to force dog owners to have them collared and under control.

      But enough about dogs….Eleanor has been pleased over the last 24 hours to see her improved tinsmith shop taking form. She accepts, gratefully, your scratch.

      I am not “LinkedIn”, at present….so if there are too many Meredith Pooles, I’m afraid I’m not among them!

      • Hi Meredith,

        Thanks for the response. One more dog question. Do you think the dogs you found at the Armoury property were possibly used as guard dogs? It was war time and even if the dogs were on a long rope they could still guard and of course bark a warning that someone unknown to the dog(s)was at the property.

        Have a Merry Christmas,

        Chris

  10. I just got caught up on this dig. great info and mysteries! As a local dog groomer in Williamsburg for over 20 years, I too was interested in the dogs of colonial era. From what I have read they could possible be rough coated sheep dogs, as some sheep were brought over and the dogs with them. they know they looked similar to the old english sheepdog of today. this is not to say that is what these dogs looked like and they could of been mixes of hounds and sheepdog. from paintings one can get a possible glimps. I think as more room was needed for livestock the other type of sheepdog that is of herding type may of replaced it..and then there are the hounds!.. keep up the good work, enjoy reading about it all. Bless the two souls found last but not least. michelle

  11. Good Day Meredith,

    The latest edition of The Colonial Williamsburg Journal arrived Monday and the article pertaining to putting faces on skeletal craniums caught my attention. Was there any thought about doing such a reconstruction with the skulls of the two remains found on the Armoury site or were they so deformed it would not have been possible?

  12. Ron, you’re correct….decomposition of the craniums recovered from the Armoury lots made facial reconstruction impossible. Good question!


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