Poetic Archaeology 7

red-flecked soil, first hint

neat corner of sandy brick

once-lost home now found

Previously we left our poetic archaeologist in the field, nursing a sore back and struggling to get up to check out the commotion at the other end of her site. Through the miracle of fiction (and maybe time travel), she’s feeling better as she reaches the backhoe and her crew.

Features are “popping up” around the site. And while the surface collection showed both Native American and historic period artifacts, most of the features are yielding artifacts from the 1700s. This one, though, is a big one.

The backhoe has revealed a rectangular outline of bricks, with a “bump out” and gap in the bricks. It’s probably a cellar. Our archaeologist may have found the remains of the original kitchen. Or maybe it’s a work building. She’ll learn more as she excavates it. If the artifacts are mainly items like broken dishes and crockery, cast iron kettle fragments, and animal bones, the cellar was probably under the kitchen. Different artifacts would mean the cellar was for another building, such as a “wash house.”

We’ll have to make do with the plan map prepared in the lab. I don’t have a field photograph. This cellar isn’t related to the Addison family mentioned below.

This is the “stuff” that brings history and dry documents to life. To her (and me), there’s something special about holding the tangible remnants of the past in her hands. You can feel a connection to people who came before.

If she’s lucky, the “1798 direct tax” still exists for her project area. That was the first federal property tax, and there’s a wealth of information about plantation size and buildings on it. Sometimes we’re able to match up a building description in the direct tax with features found in the field.

A sample entry from the 1798 Direct Tax, Prince George’s County, Maryland, Piscataway and Hynson’s Hundreds

If you click on the image above, you can read the building descriptions. Anthony Addison’s house (1,800 square feet at least; more if there was a loft or second story) was huge for the time. Henry Addison’s home (384 square feet) was far more typical. Imagine a family of four (or five, or …) living in a home that size. Granted, there was probably a loft where the entire family slept. And a kitchen could have been in a separate building—or not. Bathrooms didn’t exist. Weather and light permitting, certain bodily functions were attended to in an outside privy. Chamber pots did inside service during the night or in really bad weather. Our modern American ideas of privacy and “needed” space were unknown in Colonial times.

But we can’t get ahead of ourselves. Our archaeologist has been doing background research, but she needs to excavate this feature before she can jump to any conclusions. The plan map above shows where her test excavations will go. These seven test units would be overkill for a Phase II excavation. She’s just planning ahead. She’ll just do a couple of units in the cellar in this round. Each unit will be 1 meter by 1 meter in size (about 3 ft by 3 ft).

Even at this point she knows the site is important. There will be another, more extensive round of excavations when this stage is done. Her crew has some digging to do. It’s getting hot and humid. But they know this is a good site. They’ll handle it. They’re an experienced crew. Some of them are off to gather shovels, buckets, and other excavation supplies.

At the office today, so I can’t reply to comments until I’m home. Hope you’re enjoying the archaeology tour. :)

S*pamm*y Smiles

“I have been examinating out many of your posts and i can state pretty good stuff. I will definitely bookmark your website.” — And I can state you need to improve your “English-generating” programming. But I hope you never do. I like you for the recognizable s*pa*m you are. :)

“I’m just writing to let you know what a incredible experience my friend’s princess went through checking your web site.” — The friend has a princess? What kind of gift could you possibly give someone like that? Talk about having everything!

And last, but not least, Winfred Snoozy will also watch out for brussels. I’d find that hard to do with a name like Snoozy.

54 thoughts on “Poetic Archaeology 7

  1. I really enjoyed your post; the layout of test units and documents, the bricks. I loved the field but the humidity and heat in those test units were attrocious. It is now that I appreciate “armchair archaeology.” Thanks for taking me on the site and letting me look around. Wally

    • Thanks, Wally. :) We hit low 90s today, but luckily there was no fieldwork. And I’m not in the field very often these days—just once in a while and preferably for the good sites. ;)

      We’ll have to see what else comes out of this fictionalized site. :)

  2. How exciting to find cutlery or crockery pieces or bones! I can see how holding the items gives you a connection to these people who came before us. Thanks for the post.

    • I’m glad you’re enjoying it, Anne. :) It’s fun to put this poetic/fictional twist on the day job. Someday, it would be fun to excavate a site where my ancestors lived. It probably won’t happen, but I would really enjoy that. :)

  3. You are right! It is exciting! I am looking forward to the rest of the tale as it comes along.
    Have you read Kathy Reich’s? She wrote several books (all names of which escapes me at the moment), but is a forensic anthropologist. Good fiction based a lot on truth.
    I hear the story teller in you, too! Keep it up.
    PS- check my post today. You have been nominated for an award.

    • Thanks, Scott! I haven’t read Reich’s books, yet. But they sound interesting. I’ve just started reading Elly Griffith’s books about a forensic archaeologist in England. So far I’ve enjoyed the first one.

      Thank you, I will get to your post in a bit! There are a “few” new post emails waiting for me, and they keep coming in. ;)

  4. How interesting this is jm! It sounds very much like ‘digging for gold’. Equally fascinating is piecing together the kind of lives they led back then…Your writing side could go wild…:)

    • I have to be honest—I’ve never found any gold. :) But my husband did find a “piece of eight” on an 18th century plantation here in Maryland. That was cool.

      Archaeology has so many good twists for fiction. Other writers have series about a particular character. Maybe I’ll end up writing a variety of different books featuring different archaeologists….!

  5. I’ve always loved exploring homes, and an underground, archeologic abode would be no exception (albeit in bits and pieces :) ). Very cool to think you could match up the building description through the tax issue.

    I’m glad your fictional archeologist’s back is better. I hope yours is, too. :)

    • Both backs are much better, thank you :) That’s a relief! Looking at 18th and 19th century handwriting on microfilm readers is probably as responsible for my needing glasses as looking at computer screens. But there’s some interesting information in there—although it’s most fun when you’re looking for your own ancestors. Like when you find out your GGGGG grandfather had 46 gallons of whisky on hand when he died. (He ran an ordinary, which was similar to an inn.) :)

      I will be getting to your new post soon!

      • 46 gallons! Impressive. But at least he had an excuse. :)

        I know you’re bombarded after having worked all day, but when you get a chance, will you let me know if your WordPress notifications tab is working? Mine isn’t, and I can’t tell when bloggers have responded to the comments I’ve left on their site. I want to know if it’s just me or if it’s happening to everyone. I’ll check back in here later to see what you said. Thanks!

        • I just noticed the same thing myself! It’s only by checking my email that I know when people are commenting on my posts. For now it looks like I’ll have to check the “comments I’ve made” on the dashboard, but that only works for some that have recently gotten comments, too. Grr. Hopefully that gets fixed soon.

          I hope it’s not related to a new change they made to it—which is only available if you use IE9 (I’m still on IE8). The old way is supposed to keep working for the rest of us….

          • Thanks for letting me know. Glad it’s not just me, but it is an annoyance as I won’t know when others have responded to me on their sites. Hopefully it will be fixed by tomorrow. I believe I have IE9, so I don’t think it’s that.

    • You’re very welcome! :) As I mentioned above, I’d love to excavate an ancestor’s old homesite. It’s interesting when I don’t have a connection to a site. I can’t imagine how incredible it would be to hold something my GGGG grandmother might have dropped in 1800…. Maybe someday…

  6. I was thinking that it sounds a lot like sleuthing, then read some of the comments about forensic archeology. Would they be involved in very old cases? Or arson sites? Or just any time a body got buried?

    • When to bring in a forensic archaeologist probably varies from country to country. In the US, you’d usually see it when bones are unexpectedly found somewhere. An archaeologist can usually determine if the bones were recently deposited (likely a murder victim) or older (an accidently disturbed grave). Of course, in peat bogs such as you have in Great Britain and Scandinavia, a very “recent” looking body can turn out to be thousands of years old!

      Some police departments have trained officers who can do the excavations, but others will bring in the archaeologists. They’ll also work in former war zones, excavating mass graves and helping to identify the victims as much as they can. In the US, I think most arson investigation units have their own trained team members.

      I know an archaeologist who was surveying an old field that had a junk pile on it. But when they approached the pile, they saw a skeletal arm sticking out. They called the police, who in turn had them handle the “excavation” of the body from the junk pile. Not what they typically did!

  7. As usual, I love your archaeology posts and your poem! I completely relate to your sentiment about the connection you feel when you’re holding pieces from another time. I feel that way anytime I go to a museum or tour an historic place. For obvious reasons, I don’t get to hold the kinds of artifacts that you do in your profession but the spirit is the same. Have a funtabulous day :)

    • Thanks, Kate! There are days I take for granted what I do or wish I did something different. But when I put these posts together, I remember how lucky I am to do something that most people find interesting.

      Landry came back from his vacation—I spent the morning working on major rewrites to the final part of the book, including some of his scenes. I’m not done, but I’ve got a better idea how to work things. Fingers crossed the changes are good ones! :)

      And I’m liking the changes you’ve made to Spark! I should have that back to you this weekend. :)

      • Gosh, you are so busy! I didn’t expect you to get through my revisions that quickly, actually. I’m happy you’re liking the changes. It’s funny what happens to my mindset when my ms is out of my hands and in someone else’s–I worry! It’s like I sent one of my kids for a sleepover and hope he/she behaves well and is asked back, lol.

        Gosh, I really need to post about this dysfunctional relationship :)

        Glad to hear Landry has returned, and I’m sure he’s in better hands now that he’s with you. Can’t wait to see what you’ve changed…

        • I can relate to a dysfunctional relationship with the characters….! And there’s no need to worry about the revisions. I think you did a great job on those areas. :)

  8. This is fascinating! Growing up, I was fascinated by paleontology and Louis Leakey and the Olduvai Gorge digs. And I have old notes and letters describing my ancestors’ homes.

    Really interesting work – and reading!

    • Thanks, Eloise! I took a number of courses in paleoanthropology in graduate school. The Leakey family and their work were a major part of those courses.

      I wish I had such notes and documents about my ancestors’ homes. But either they didn’t leave many photos and records behind, or other branches of the family got them. Sigh. I’d love to find more information about them all. Maybe someday. So much to do and so little time to do it!

  9. That’s amazing how you can figure things out from just digging. I didn’t realize archeologists used tax records and other things like that to get a bigger picture. Cool. Thanks for sharing all your knowledge…and your spam.

    • Historic records are great when we have them. Although the projects can get more interesting when the archaeology and records don’t match up well. Did somebody do a little rewriting of history…?!

      It’s a lot harder for sites that predate writing systems. We have far fewer clues to start from. It’s taken years of work to put together our interpretations of those groups. And all it takes is some new find to turn some of those ideas upside-down. And there’s a lot of argument sometimes about how to interpret new data…. Keeps it interesting! :)

      • Sounds like a lot of science…new theories shoving old ones aside as more is learned. It sounds like you have a lot of fun with it though. You have scads of materials and mysteries to throw in your novels.

  10. In another life I shall be an archaeologist. Till then, I will read your words and keep percolating the book idea I have had rumbling around in my head for several years. It came to me while visiting Chimney Rock in southwest Colorado and hasn’t left me. I don’t have the expertise to do the topic justice but you make me dream of it :-). Wonderful post!

    • Thank you so much! But somehow, I know you have an amazing idea for a book and you would write it well.

      The “nuts and bolts” of archaeology play only a small role in my novels. The real stories are in the events that happen and the characters’ interactions as they deal with the events. A good basic introductory book to archaeology and some input from an archaeologist would be all you need to add that “touch” of realism. :)

      I would want to be one of the first to read yours. :)

  11. I love this kind of thing – piecing history together, imagining what might have been and what these people’s lives were like. Can’t wait to read your book!

  12. Thanks for sharing your work and the excitement of touching the past through the remains of artifacts.
    Last November my daughter and I found an old shack filled with artifacts left from 1940′s and 50′s. It was fascinating to be there and soak in the remnant of a living presence from ages past. I wrote a poem about it posted with a slide show on my Blog. The poem is called “Terminal Skeletons”.

    • I just stopped by to look at your poem. I think you captured the essence of our attraction to the past beautifully. Maybe part of it is the hope that if we remember the past, others will remember us in the future. But for me, there’s also an innate curiosity to understand what came before.

      • I totally agree with you. As we were rummaging through the site, I was careful to respect the remains. Almost as if the owners may come back. That feeling was so odd. The best moments were those intuitively feeling everything: the numerous passing seasons that weathered the site and it’s contents, inspecting the articles for the souls that inhabited them, used them, arranged them, wore them…I found myself wanting to intimately reconstruct the presence of the era as if a fly on the wall watching the reality play out in detail.

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