Tag Archives: Stephens City

Historical Archaeology at the Stone House: Week One

This weekend the historical archaeology class I am enrolled began a three week dig in Stephens City. We are excavating portions of the historic Stone House, owned by the Newtown History Center. As part of an ongoing project to open the Stone House to the public, the history center is conducting archaeology and architectural research. My professor, Dr. Blanton was able to work out an agreement with the center to conduct historical archaeology. We as a class have two objectives. First is to try to locate the original stone foundation to an addition placed on the Stone House circa 1800. Secondly, the class wants attempt to understand the socio-economic makeup of the household through artifacts and material culture. Before we began digging the class has been actively analyzing a probate inventory of the Stone House. As someone with little archaeological experience, I as excited to take part in this process.

We began early Saturday morning. My partner and I were assigned a 1×1 meter unit that abutted the outside corner of the original Stone House. Before we started to dig, we had to fill out necessary paperwork. We drew a sketch of what we saw, including large and small stones in the ground. This was a measured drawing as we plotted the stones precisely inside the 1×1 meter unit. After this was drawn, we took elevation measurements at each corner and the center of the unit. We hypothesized at this point the large rocks we saw could be a portion of the original foundation to the addition.

What our 1x1 meter unit looked like when we arrived. Notice the large stones.

What our 1×1 meter unit looked like when we arrived. Notice the large stones.

The first task was for me to excavate all of the loose dirt in order to reach a lower soil strata. In doing so, I had to make notice not to undercut the large rocks. Our unit was extremely disturbed by groundhog holes. Therefore most of the top layer of soil was loose. I put the soil inside a five gallon bucket and handed this to my partner outside. She in turn screened the soil and bagged any artifacts inside the soil. We found numerous red earthenware sherds, glass, nails, and even a button with the thread still in tact! We continued this process for most of the day. We switched shift half way through the day and I headed out to do the screening. All the artifacts were placed in labeled bags to be taken back to the archaeology lab at JMU. My partner Megan reached a lower soil strata of hard clay. When this was reached we took scaled photographs. We finished the day by taking final elevations at each corner and center of the unit.


Class screening and organizing artifacts

Beginning to excavate our unit

Beginning to excavate our unit

Sunday morning was cold and snowy. To our benefit, our unit was semi-enclosed. However when it began to rain and sleet we had to call the day finished earlier than planned. But before the day was over we reached another strata. This srata was mostly clay and mixed with charcoal. The interesting part was that the other two groups in the class found the same clay esque strata sprinkled with charcoal. It was in this strata one of the groups found a whole horseshoe and large sherds of ceramics. Dr. Blanton suspects that this strata is representative of a trash pit as it is located behind the house. More evacuation and artifact analysis will help answer this question.

Our finished 1x1 meter unit. Notice the revealed stones and how deep the unit goes.

Our finished 1×1 meter unit. Notice the revealed stones.

Before the day was called because of the weather, Megan and I finished our excavating our unit. We took elevations at each corner and center, and took a final scaled photograph. We concluded that the stack of rocks we unearthed was a foundation pier. To confirm our suspicions we began to work on setting up another unit on the opposite end of the Stone House. We suspect that once we begin to excavate this area, we will uncover evidence of a similar stone foundation pier.

Preparing the paperwork for our new unit.

Preparing the paperwork for our new unit.

Whole class outside the Stone House.

Whole class outside the Stone House.

We will begin work on the new unit next weekend.

Photos by myself and Newtown History Center. 


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