Trench 1

Location

In determining where to excavate at the women’s league cabin site, our class took a number of factors into consideration. Locations of interest included those areas which we presumed to have a high flow of traffic because this would increase the likelihood of finding artifact evidence of the activities taking place at the cabin. Specifically, we hoped to find small personal items like lost buttons or jewelry, evidence of outdoor recreational activities, food or beverage related items, and building materials from the cabin itself.

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Tom Garrison shows Trench 1 members how to align the trench corners.

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Tom and the Trench 1 crew mark the trench boundaries.

Trench 1 was set up where we approximated the entrance of the cabin to have been located when the structure was still standing, using measurements of the landscape with respect to existing features (the patio) and original blueprints. We presumed that this location would yield an interesting assortment of artifacts given its proximity to the front entrance as well as the patio.  Alex Knodell’s friend and colleague from the University of Southern California, Tom Garrison, assisted in the layout of the trench. It was decided that Trench 1 would be two by two meters in size, in the hope that we might discover traces of the cabin’s foundation in addition to the wide array of artifacts we expected from the location. In order to ensure that our measurements were precise for recording purposes, Tom showed us how to measure two sides of the trench and verify that they formed a right angle by measuring the diagonal between them. For a two by two trench, the hypotenuse should measure 283 centimeters. Another method we employed to accurately set our trench boundaries was to use a compass to lay out the trench along a north south axis that roughly corresponded to the direction of the paved footpath leading to the patio. Archaeology is a science that requires precision when taking such measurements, so that accurate records of this destructive activity may be maintained.

Trench One Model

A screenshot of the model made of Trench 1 (link  below) More information on 3-D models can be found on the photogrammetry page.

Trench One Model PDF– right click and download file to view model

Stratigraphy

Stratigraphy is the study of the differences in soil and rock layers. Knowing how the soil changes within an excavation trench is important for estimating the age of artifacts, and understanding the natural (and human) processes occurring on a site. A simple application of this is the principle that the lowest soil layers are older than the topmost, and this can tell us the relative ages of the artifacts found within a set of stratigraphic layers. However, stratigraphy is often more complicated than just recording the depth of artifacts; natural and human processes that disturb the soil can cause soils from different time periods to mix. Thus, stratigraphy presents an interesting puzzle for the archaeologist to sort out.

In our excavation of Trench 1, we encountered three distinct soil types, which we separated into four separate excavation layers, or contexts. The surface covering of our trench was a uniform mixture of soil and organic materials such as leaves, twigs, and weedy plants. Beneath this, we opened our first context, which consisted of a few inches of dark topsoil. Context one was excavated by troweling, and we did not sift the soil that we removed because we did not think it likely to encounter many significant artifacts so close to the surface. Glass shards dominated the findings from this layer.

Elizabeth collecting loose soil

Elizabeth troweling in Trench 1.

In the northwest corner of our trench a new soil type became evident beneath context one. This soil was a visibly lighter brown color and had a sandier, clayier composition than the dark loam of context one. We named this context two, and proceeded to close context one, although the dark soil type persisted in the southeast corner of this plane. Initially, we perceived a gradient between these soils, and named the transitional soil context three. It was later decided that this soil was not significantly different enough from the surrounding soils, so the context was split half into context two and half in context four (the continuation of context one).

Professor Mary Savina of the Carleton Geology Department revealed to us that abrupt soil changes like the one between contexts two and four are indicative of soil disturbance. For example, significant quantities of soil were probably moved during the cabin’s construction and subsequent demolition. In particular, we suspected that the light sandy material of context two may have resulted from sand used to level the ground surface for paving the front porch. This hypothesis could be validated by determining the soil material under the stone patio tiles. A similar soil type there would indicate that sand was used to lay paving stones at the site.

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This photo of Trench 1 shows the clear division between contexts two (the light soil) and four (the darker soil).

As we excavated context four, we found that the dark organic soil was pitted with pockets of black clay and orange sand, making it indeed distinct from context one. Our finds within context four were restricted to glass, nails, and charcoal (see the table below for more information on artifacts). Context two, however, yielded some finds of particular interest, including a bottle cap, a ceramic sherd, and a bone fragment (see the object biographies below). Both the bottle cap and the ceramic sherd were discovered near a large tree root, indicating that they may have been uplifted from lower soil layers. The smaller artifacts found in contexts two and four were discovered by sifting the soil that we removed through a quarter inch wire mesh. Sifting is an efficient way to sort through large quantities of soil, removing any material that is smaller than the mesh and (hopefully) leaving behind any significant artifacts.

Ceramic find in trench one context 2

Ceramic find in Trench 1 context 2

The excavation of Trench 1 was brought to a close just as our trowels reached a new context beneath context two. Designated context five, the soil here was even lighter and sandier than context two. Even within this context there was a gradient between more sand to the southwest and more clay material to the northeast. We concluded our excavation by opening context five, but leaving it unexcavated.

Methodology

As you may have observed from the prior sections, we paid particular attention to archaeological methodology during this project.

Not only was Trench 1 carefully placed and measured, but it was also excavated with specific procedures in mind.  Our method of choice for soil removal was trowelling, or scraping away soil layer by layer with a trowel. This is probably the classic image of an archaeologist’s excavation work. We also tried some shovel shaving early in our dig, but we found this method to be clumsy and difficult. Scraping away soil layers is much more challenging to do with a shovel than it is with a handheld trowel. It was necessary to remove soil gradually in a controlled way in order to monitor the trench for soil changes. You may have noticed two paving stones sticking up from the bottom of the trench in the trench model. These stones represent a method known as pedestalling in which features and artifacts that are not part of the soil are left in place until all of the soil around them has been removed. Pedestalling is important because it prevents cross-contamination of the soil layers and permits the excavator to see how the item relates to the surrounding stratigraphic contexts. Only once an item is entirely exposed may it be carefully removed from the trench.

Due to the destructiveness of the archaeological process, it is necessary to be careful and precise in all stages of an excavation. This is why we kept accurate records of our activities in Trench 1. Archaeologists have an ethical duty to document and publish their work, as there would be no point to excavating in the first place if the insights produced were not made available to the academic and civic communities.

Artifact Catalogue

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Below is a detailed list of the items found at the Women’s League Cabin site, sorted by material and trench context. Additionally, the last column provides more information pertaining to significant artifacts.

 Trench, Context Metal Glass Ceramic Charcoal Concrete Organics Other Notable Finds
T1, C1 1 (whole nail) 8 (shards, flat, clear), 2 (shards, rounded, brown)
T1, C2 4 (whole nails), 2 (nail fragments), 1 (bottlecap), 1 (unknown) 2 (shards, clear, flat), 4 (shards, clear, rounded) 1 (sherd), 2 (fragments, orange), 1 (fragment, brown) 1 (large chunk), 34 (small fragments) 1 (~2 inch bone) 2 (unknowns) The ceramic sherd has a blue patterned varnish. The bone is approimately 2 inches long by 1 inch wide.
T1, C4 4 (whole nails) 1 (shard, rounded, patterned, clear), 3 (shards, flat, clear), 4(shards, rounded, brown) 2 (small fragments) 2 (rounded fragments, ~1 inch long) 1 (electrical wire), 3 (unknowns) A shard of clear paterned glass, most likely from a car headlight. Electrical wire, with exposed wires at both ends.

Object Biographies

Ceramic Sherd

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This small ceramic sherd was found in context two of Trench 1. It is quite notable for the green-blue pattern on the surface of the sherd. It is clearly the edge of a vessel, as the edge is rounded, and curves quite inconsistently. Because of this, the fragment is most likely not a sherd from a ceramic kitchenware, as the rounded edge would indicate a more precise circular shape. The vessel that the ceramic fragment comes from was probably more decorative in its purpose. The design covers the exterior, and it appears to be more concentrated at the edge, as it fades farther down. The inside of the sherd is simply white, and the material, as observed from the broken edges, is a cream color.

This sherd appears to be creamware, which was created to rival porcelain. Which goes along with the inhabitants of the cabin being college students seeking economical decorative options for their living space. The whole ceramic piece may have been demolished during the demolition of the cabin, however, if that were the case, it would have been located where the interior of the cabin was, probably in the lounge. Rather, it is more probable that the vessel broke, and the shattered remains were thrown away. Thus, its location near the entrance and exterior of the cabin is more plausible.

Bone Fragment

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A 3-D model of the bone was created (file below). More information on 3-D models can be found on the photogrammetry page.

A 3-D model of the bone was created (file below). More information on 3-D models can be found on the photogrammetry page.

Model of the Bone PDF-right click and download file to view model

The bone was found within context two of Trench 1. It is roughly two inches in length and one inch in width, and from an unspecified species. As seen in the images, the bone is short and flat. This can indicate that it is a rib, cranial bone, or scapulae, as this form of bone is often used for protection and to provide a wide surface area for muscle attachment. It appears to be a fragment from the midpoint of the shaft, as the cortical bone has formed a circular shape around the marrow. There is a clean cut on one end, while the other end of the bone has a jagged edge, indicated a forced break or some form of impact.

Its location on the site may give some insight into its use and relationship to the cabin. Trench 1 was presumably placed where the general location of the entrance to the cabin would have been situated. Thus, artifacts lodged within Trench 1 could have been several things, including waste strewn from the front door, items misplaced as individuals entered or exited the cabin, or waste from activities on the porch. Although the bone does not have any prominent marks of gnawing upon the surface, it is most likely food refuse from the inhabitants of the cabin. The general lack of other bones found within Trench 1 indicates that this was either a very small meal, or the bone may have been misplaced by an animal following its initial contact with the surface of the soil.

Rounded Nail

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This nail was among many found in context two within Trench 1. This nail was distinct though because of its short length and rounded head. It appears to be hand wrought, as the shaft is quite jagged and imperfect, however, this could be attributed to the rust covering the nail and thus weakening the exterior of the iron. Despite of this, it can be gleaned from the overall shape that the rounded head and narrow point are aspects of an older type of nail.

The nail is most likely from the exterior of the cabin, but the length of the shaft indicates that it was not used to secure aspects of the heavy parts of the cabin structure. Rather, the nail is probably from the door of the cabin or a nearby window, being used to secure a hinge. The uncovering of additional artifacts in Trench 1 supports this notion, as one closely resembled a door hinge.

Conclusion

The relative lack of artifact findings in Trench 1 (especially compared to Trench 2 and 3) was surprising since we expected a correlation between the location and the material distribution (i.e., an area of high traffic would contain higher concentrations of artifacts). We later learned from Nancy Braker that, at least in later years, the cabin was in fact only accessible by the back door, while the front door was kept locked from the inside. This would indicate that considerably fewer items would have been deposited in the front of the cabin, because less traffic would have been moving through the front door. Retrospectively, it also seems unlikely that larger items would have accumulated in the front area because front areas of houses and living spaces tend to be better maintained for appearances than rear spaces.

Despite the relatively low quantity of materials that were found in Trench 1, these materials still offer an informative view on the Womens’ League Cabin history. The presence of the bottle cap as well as rounded glass shards, in addition to the bone are all evidence of the patterns of consumption that occurred at the cabin over the course of its history. These small items align with our original expectations to find waste from food and drink, corresponding to time enjoyed by the residents spending time eating and preparing meals outdoors. Our beautiful little creamware sherd attests to a frugal, yet comfortably decorated lifestyle. Likewise, the nails, concrete, and smooth glass shards paint a picture of the work that went into the cabin—both in the course of building it and in taking it down.

Probably the most unique feature of Trench 1 was its unusual stratigraphy, which tells a tale of the sculpting of the landscape surrounding the Womens’ League Cabin. Although we have some theories as to how the cabin may have impacted local stratigraphy, these only open up new questions to investigate in further classes.

Bibliography

Beisaw, April

2013 Identifying and Interpreting Animal Bones: A Manual. Texas A&M University Press, Texas.

Cherry, John F.

2011 “Still not Digging, Much”. Archaeological Dialogues, 18(1): pgs. 10-17

Renfrew, Colin, and Paul Bahn (editors)

2005 Archaeology: the Key Concepts. Routledge, NY.

Roskams, Steve

2001 Excavation. Cambridge University Press.

Weldrake, Dave

     First Steps in Identifying Pottery. West Yorkshire Archaeology Advisory Service, Wakefield.

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