Jigsaws.  Sometimes archaeology is all about jigsaw puzzles.  

Are you a puzzle afficionado and intrigued by this idea?  Well, read on.

In one of my last posts I talked about "everything and the kitchen sink," or the idea that archaeology applies multiple threads of evidence in the exploration of the past.  Historical documents, scientific analysis, anthropological research, psychology—all turned to explore the lives, experiences, and minds of people that lived hundreds or even thousands of years ago.  When it comes to the methods of identifying these structures in the ground and excavating them?  Well, then the same methods you might employ in a jigsaw puzzle provides the basic gist of how archaeologists approach the excavations.

Last year, as noted in a previous post, archaeologists excavated the Tobacco Barn and, with the aid of documentary research from the Curatorial Department, revealed a story of a structure given over to tobacco agriculture before it was converted to a short-term domestic quarter/home and, then, a wheat-threshing barn.  This year archaeologists are concentrating on the domestic site located a short walk to the south of the Tobacco Barn.  

Originally identified through metal detector survey, the initial excavations in 2012 revealed large quantities of domestic artifacts such as ceramics, glass, bone-handled knives and forks, and animal bones.  What they did not reveal, however, were the structures that formed the actual homes of the enslaved field laborers.  Geophysical survey, when coupled with archaeological observations of the topography of the site (so-called "reading the ground"), have revealed a number of areas that are the most likely locations of log cabin homes.

Thus far we have opened around 20 units, which barely scratches the surface of what is otherwise a very large site.  Most of these units have yet to be fully excavated because, when archaeologists find a feature—a subfloor pit, a post hole, or something similar—we need to understand the physical size of it.  To do this we open up adjacent units on a checkerboard pattern to identify the edges of the feature, with the ultimate goal to excavate the features on the "inside" of those edges so that we can begin to excavate it and, thus, understand it.  This is exactly the same principle as finding the edge pieces in a jigsaw puzzle and assembling them together to make the middle of the puzzle eaiser to understand.

Archaeology is all about those edge pieces.  

This is exactly what is happening at the Field Slave Quarter at the moment.  We have revealed several clusters of feature that are suspected to be within or near structures/homes, including two roughly rectangular features about 6- or 7-feet square, and about 12-14 feet apart.  We're still finding the "edge pieces," as it were, but once they are fully exposed we can begin to bisect them (excavating one half at a time so that we can determine the shape of the feature as well as look at overlapping layers to understand when and how it was deposited).

The image to the right shows eight open units excavated down to reveal an historic feature.   We first started in the second row, middle unit, then expanded into adjacent units to identify the edges of the feature.  Next we will remove the baulks and, from there, begin to excavate the feature. 

To get an idea of what one of these "edge pieces" looks like close up, click on the bottom image and try to define the exactly line between the fill of the feature (top) and the subsoil (bottom).

It's early days yet, but it means that our Archaeology Expedition and Historical Archaeology Field Schools are arriving just in time to figure out what these features are and how they might relate to the homes and yards of the enslaved field laborers.  At present we're very optimistic that the area being excavated is the location of at least two homes that are themselves part of a broader complex of 5-6 structures.

For those readers that have signed onto Google+, direct your browser to:


We will be making updates about the most recent artifacts and features that are coming from the site.  Since the posts will be made in 80-100F temperatures, you may have to forgive the odd typographic, but for those that need to know right now it is going to be the place to find out if you don't have the opportunity to visit the archaeology site.  If you are not signed on to Google+ we will be updating this 'blog in the coming months with a summary of our finds.

Mark A. Trickett