Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Archaeology Camp at Howell Living History Farm

As a mom I admit to drooling while looking over camp and after school activities for Ashley. There are so many options out there today that were not available when I was a child, or just not on our family RADAR at the time. Over time Ashley has explored horseback riding, singing, being in plays, drawing, painting, gymnastics, dancing, a circus class in silks, a trip to Europe with People to People, history camp at Upper Canada Village, and other activities that are not coming to mind at the moment. I look through the catalogs and think "that looks like fun," but most often the same camps are not available to adults.

A few months ago we read that Howell Living History Farm was going to have an archaeological dig near the school house. It was open to high school and college students ages 14 to 21. I'm too old and Ashley is too young. While at the Barn Dance during our time without Ashley I asked if they still had any openings. I learned they were expanding their pool in both directions -- meaning Ashley and I could both attend.

The camp was spread over three weeks of three-day camps. We went the last week. The Trenton Times had a nice article and photo spread about the first week. We recognize one of the campers. We went the third week.

In 2013 Hunter Research conducted a preliminary study of the ground near the Pleasant Valley School. They determined the cemetery next to the school house had about 94 bodies buried in a family plot. That is NOT where we were digging. Their goal was to find the original foundation for the John Phillips House that pre-dates the school house by at least 100 years. John Phillips was one of the earliest European settlers to the area. His house would have been erected circa 1732 directly across the street from the mill (which they discovered on a different archaeological dig). 

This was REAL archaeology. Not the pretty version sometimes presented to children. The week earlier Ashley was exposed to archaeology at Upper Canada Village Time Traveler's Camp. The campers were given a tub of dirt and were educated in the proper way to dig for artifacts. In her tub they found a skull and other really neat artifacts. After three days of real archaeology she realized they had been set up. Our finds were not nearly as jaw dropping.

On our first day we got excited every time we found a scrap of coal. Then we learned we were digging in the area where the school house dumped their coal. We got excited over bits of slag. Well, the mill was across the street from the school house.

Our "before" shot. We picked up at a potentially promising site unveiled by campers during the second week. Within a day, they expanded this 10 foot x 2.5 foot trench and added a 5 foot by 2.5 foot trench. 

Day two we had this:

Day three we ended with this hole:

The professional archaeologists, Jamie, Jim, and Josh, were ecstatic to find what appears to be the corner of the house. They will use this, plus other data, to try to determine the size of the foundation. Farm historian Larry Kidder was on hand to offer the historic perspective and follow along with progress.

What did we actually do during camp? The professionals were very patient with us and exposed us to all aspects of archaeology.

We dug:

We sifted and identified artifacts:

We took measurements:

We cleaned and sorted artifacts:

We played "is this a rock?" Most of the time it was.

The archaeologists talked to us about what we found, and guided us to interpret the findings. 

In addition to the corner of the house (their true goal) we also found 18th century artifacts including pieces from a wide variety of plates (different patterns, different styles, different quality, etc.), a silver spoon, many necks to bottles, animal bones, a hinge, pieces of metal, lots of coal, a couple of buttons, some bricks, nails, roofing slates (with holes), shells, etc. Together they tell us the family was probably fairly wealthy (the silver spoon was the biggest clue in that), and that the house was made out of wood with a slate roof.

After we left Jamie, Jim, and Josh were going to finish up what we had worked on and bury it all again. It is not safe to leave open holes where people can get hurt. They will return to the office to finish cleaning and sorting our finds. Josh commented for every one day in the field (this project was nine days, plus their wrap up day) he spends five days in the office cleaning, sorting, and doing paperwork -- the less glamorous side to archaeology. In the end, Howell receives all of the artifacts found and can decide if they want to create a display with them or keep them in storage.

Howell Farms is hoping to continue the project next summer after they find more funding. In life, it often boils down to funding. The archaeologists were happy to work on this project because the hope is once completed, this will turn into a site where people will see the stone foundation and learn about what happened in the 18th century. Often they are hired to do a quick archaeological study before a gas station goes in, or a highway (such as Route 80) is extended. Those jobs are then buried in macadam. This one, at least, is only covered in dirt. 

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