Archaeology Dig Weekend

Yesterday, the day finally came for the archaeology project I mentioned in an earlier post. It was supposed to be a few weeks prior, but we had to reschedule because of yet another snowstorm. Well, yesterday was a no-go as well. Why? You guessed it….more snow. So that left us with today to dig.

I honestly didn’t know what to expect. There were, I think, nine people in all, divided into four teams of two, each of which was to dig 60 cm holes at marked spots every ten meters or so in a grid system. I was very fortunate to be paired up with a professional archaeologist who recently got his Masters in Archaeology from Stony Brook. He has been involved in archaeological field work for over twelve years, and, next to the project leader, he was the person to defer to for advice and opinions. This was awesome for me, because he explained everything that we were doing and finding very clearly, giving me a good sense not only of what we were involved with at the moment, but also of the varying perspectives and methodologies of archaeologists in general. It was fascinating to hear how archaeologists view excavation sites as texts, which can be interpreted in a hundred different ways by a hundred different archaeologists. For example, one archaeologist may be interested in precontact stone tools, another in modern era ceramics, and another in agricultural production, and these personal/professional interests (together with previous experience and institutional training) will shape the way each interprets the history and significance of a site.

So, we began by 9 A.M. The site was in a lightly wooded area, squeezed between the road and the bay.

Dig Site

In the picture above, we were in the wooded patch in the direct middle. My group was digging the holes closest to the water, just above the declension that led down to the bay shoreline. This was apparently the most fruitful area of the dig. As I sifted through the first shovelful of dirt, we made an exciting find: a quartz flake, which was a fragment of a precontact Native American tool used for sharpening arrowheads and other stone tools. They also served as cutting blades. Throughout the day, we found dozens more quartz flakes. Other artifacts that we found were: 2 old nails, a bolt head, a metal button, several pieces of colonial ceramics, a few dozen pieces of nineteenth-century ceramics (including “redware,” likely made in Huntington or Northport), a few pieces of precontact pottery, some coal and fire cracked rocks, and some small pieces of brick.


A beautiful, warm morning spent digging in the snow over the bay.

The best hole of the day was our second to last one. On the first scoop of topsoil alone, we found probably a hundred fragments of shells and a handful of nineteenth-century ceramics. This was unusual, because our first scoops very rarely turned up artifacts, and we normally came out of holes with an average of probably five shell fragments. Working just in the top zone of soil (roughly 15 cm) alone, we found hundreds of shell fragments, a horse or goat tooth (showing evidence of domesticated animals and suggesting agricultural production), dozens of pieces of redware and painted ceramics, a nail, and a few bones. Deeper down toward 60 cm we found one or two precontact quartz flakes, but most of what we found was close to the surface, right in a low spot at the top of the hill/cliff. We determined that this may have been a midden for the occupants’ food and domestic waste. This made us excited for what we would turn up at the holes above this one, which would likely have been where a domestic dwelling would have been.

Unfortunately, as we were halfway through the first of those holes, a public safety officer pulled up along the road and told us that the land we were digging on was not owned by the people who gave us permission to dig there. In other words, we checked ahead of time with people across the street who claimed to own the property, and they gave us their permission to dig there, to park in their driveway, and to use their restrooms, but this officer told us that those people did not own the land we were digging on, and we were in fact (in alleged fact) digging on restricted land, so we had to call it quits and pack it up. I’m not sure whether the officer was right, or why the people across the street would claim to own land that isn’t theirs.

Archaeology Group

I’ll tell you what, though: English majors never get chased away from their research by police! Beware of hanging out with archaeologists! This was such a fun day, and even though the fun got cut short, it was an exciting termination to the fun. I have a new way of thinking about history and how we access it. Archaeology is sort of like Thing Theory in the raw. I’ve been thinking all afternoon of how I can incorporate this type of archaeological work into my dissertation, but I haven’t come up with a solid answer to that yet. I suppose it’s something to keep in the back of my mind as I move forward. In the meantime, I’m definitely going to try to do more archaeological work. I recommend it to anybody who likes history, likes hands-on work, or likes spending time in the outdoors!

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