This is the first in a series of posts that will highlight student participants in the excavations at Old Fort Erie. Students have been asked to discuss each day of the project and the first week is highlighted below.
Day 1: May 15, 2017 (by Antiy-Demian Savov)
Day 1 of the Fort Erie field season was pretty successful. Initially my group and I got lost on our way there but after an exciting encounter with the border patrol we managed to get back on track. Shortly after we got transported to Bertie Hall to settle in. The house itself is quite grand with many elements from its Victorian past highlighted. I especially liked how spacious it was, however it is quite cold. It feels like it belonged to a member of the local elite during the 19th century. After lunch came the first task of the day. We had to mend broken equipment such as dirt screeners and the tripods that go with them. The crew I was working with was fairly good at carpentry. After an hour of figuring out how to repair the equipment efficiently, we were able to make good time. In total, we fixed over five screens and two tripods. I would say that it was a successful first day.
Day 2: May 16, 2017 (by Lauren Yates)
Today was officially the second day of our field school at Old Fort Erie. It was the first day actually working in the field. The interpreters who run the Fort gave us a tour in the middle of the day, after lunch. It was a great way to provide context to what we were looking for and some insight on what life was like for people who inhabited the Fort in the 19th century.
When we left this morning at 8:15 am, we were told it might rain. It began to rain as soon as we stepped on the site. It never really poured or did anything more than a drizzle, but the rain combined with the wind that comes off of the lake meant my partner and I were freezing and had two sets of hoods over our hats all day. This is when I learned the lesson to wear hiking boots regardless of the weather. Rain boots do not provide the same support in an archaeological dig setting.
We started today with test pitting. My partner and I had managed to do four test pits and as a combined total, the group had managed to tackle around 60% of the pits we had set up for us. We were told that tomorrow we would finish up before moving on to our designated spots where we will work for the remaining 5 weeks.
In general, my partner and I did not have the best luck when it came to our pits. The first pit was great and very exciting; right away we found lots of pieces of brick and mortar. We also managed to find a few small fragments of different types of ceramic. The most exciting artifact we managed to find all day also came from this pit, a modified musket ball. The next pit however did not go as well. The second pit we tested was about 1 meter in depth which was deeper than our first and had considerably less in it. The pit was predominately charcoal, which was found near the top, but also featured a few pieces of ceramic. Despite not finding as much we ended up spending just as much time on it as the first and towards the end it was just clumps of dirt and rocks being found. Our professor noted that this pit in particular pit was part of a hill, which explained the lack of different layers found in it.
The third pit we tested was much smaller than the first two, only being around 40 cm deep. It also had a clay subsoil which differed from the sandy subsoil of the previous two pits. If we thought the last pit was disappointing than this one would set a new standard. In this pit we found only a piece of glass, a nail, creamware ceramic, and two pieces of brick. This is also the point in time that it stopped raining which meant for most people, thankfully not me, got sunburns. Our fourth and final pit ended up being the very last pit of the day. As I was digging it there were a few roots that one of the supervisors had to help me with. In the end we had found a piece of glass, and a “classic fragment” of chert in the words of my Professor. This dig also was short in depth, around 30 cm, and had a clay subsoil. This was a pattern among all of the pits as we moved west downhill. This pit was by far our fastest because we got help digging it.
Some final thoughts about Day 2 include that I am very glad to finally get out in the field even in my body is already hurting (which I am sure will only get worse). Also tomorrow is going to be 30 degrees and I’m not too excited for that, but anyway: on to day 3!
Day 3: May 17, 2017 (by Steven McPhail)
Today was a day of heat. We learned how exhausting digging in hot weather is. Thankfully for us, the final test pits tend to be in shaded areas, at least for my partner and myself. Although test pit digging was fun the day before, we quickly realized that the entertainment was due mostly to the plethora of interesting finds from those initial pits. For my partner and I, the major finds were chert, chert, wet clay, and surprisingly more chert. Another digging duo found a piece of earthenware that had patterning resembling the “Butterscotch” pattern.
Additional test pits were marked, which gave us all a short break, leading to a much-wanted Tim Hortons break, giving us a chance to enjoy a respite before finishing the final test pits.
Today, however, was the day that marked the first day in our excavation squares. We didn’t get as much time in them as we probably all hoped to. We did get to begin stripping off the sod layer on our squares. Coming to the site, there were only two areas (which contained the two metre by two metre and two metre by one metre), but from the test pits, to my understanding, a third area was plotted based on the frequency of artifacts found.
Day 4: May 18, 2017 (by Brooke Harrison)
The day started with finishing sod stripping the units and since Graham and I finished sod stripping our unit the day before, we helped others until they finished. When all units had their sod removed we plotted unit points for the units of Area 3. This was done using the Pythagorean Theorem and finding the sweet spot of the 2m and 2.36m point of our right triangle. A little math in the morning never hurt anyone. Doing this I along with Kelsea, Graham and Simonetta contributed to plotting what would become Unit 17R of Area 3 with the help of Owen. Dr. Triggs gave us two lessons today, one was explaining how the lot forms work and the other later in the day on properly sharpening your trowel and how to effectively use it during excavation. Owen also showed us the proper information to put on our artifact bags and how to do a nifty and effective archaeology fold. To make further progress on our units today we took opening and closing elevations of our Lot 1. After this we had photographs of out Lot 2 taken and when this was completed we began excavation. A lot of prep work finally completed. There was not anything to exciting to happen in Graham and mines unit, other than his unexpected nosebleed. There was an interesting find in Karolina and Dawns unit, a possible British Royal Navy button.
The soil that my Unit 17D and the rest of Area 1 were working in was sandy loam, and although I can’t speak for everyone else, I do believe that this is what the majority of us were working with today as we were all working just under the sod layer. The weather today was quite nice, however, quite hot and a little troublesome while working in it for the full day. The high was around 28°C, and there was a nice cool breeze that came in off the lake every now and then in which we all enjoyed. When this breeze wasn’t present however, we often attempted to stick to the shade as much as possible. There were plenty of sunburns as a result of the day.
Day 5: May 19, 2017 (by Ty Martinec)
Today was a much needed shortened day to end the first week of digging. Weather has cooled off from the previous few days to a much more cool and comfortable temperature which made it much easier to work, especially while adapting to the physical workload of a dig.
A 10 year old boy named Chase also joined the dig for the day and made the day more entertaining. His bright smile and squirrel-like cheeks had most of the girls talking about how cute he was all day, although a few people had arguments with him over how talented of a battler Ash, the main character from the Pokemon anime, is. Perhaps they didn’t find him as cute as the argument heated up.
For me digging went much slower than the earlier days. I didn’t have any gloves yet for the earlier day so the hands had gotten pretty blistered from troweling so hard all day. So now that I have gloves I went a little lighter, hoping that over the long weekend they will get the time needed to at least somewhat heal. My unit has been fairly interesting, although definitely not the most exciting. My unit was placed with the goal of finding the outside wall of the officer’s quarters, and based on the findings it seems that this is the case. I have found a large amount of brick, mortar, nai ls, and some window glass – all building materials. Additionally, I’m finding these materials in a certain area of the unit which would outline the shape of a wall. So the early findings are indicating that I have found the wall, something very important for the site, but unfortunately, a little less exciting than the coins and buttons found in other units.
Around 2:00 our day finished, we drove back to the house to quickly pack things and then headed back to Waterloo for the long weekend. I’m looking forward to coming back for next week.