Posted by: signalhillarchaeology | July 8, 2009

Learning about dirt

Hello, my name is Andrew Holmes and I’m an undergrad student at Memorial
University currently studying Archaeology and Biology. Being a relative
newcomer to Newfoundland I would like to preface this blog entry by clearly
stating my ignorance. I know very little about Archaeology and even less about
the history of this province. To me field school is not only about learning the
techniques of the archaeological trade, but a method to learn about the past of
the place I now call my home. What better way to learn than shoving a trowel
into the dirt and seeing what pops out.

So far I’ve spent two days on the Ladies Lookout site. During this time I’ve
done some digging, photography, mapping, measuring, and other assorted
paperwork. As Professor Crompton has stated in previous blog posts the Ladies
Lookout site was once a military barracks. Over the past two days we’ve begun
to see part of the wall of this structure slowly emerge.

Making sense of dirt

Here, students try to make sense of the site's stratigraphy--the layers of soil that accumulate on an archaeological site. These layers build up like layers in a cake, and each layer tells a part of a site's story. In this case, students are working on layers that date to the collapse of the North Range barracks, sometime in the later nineteenth century.

What I lack in archaeological and historical knowledge is complimented by further obtuseness in the field of geology. The pictures of stratigraphic profile I’ve seen in classrooms and archaeological textbooks show a comprehensible side view where one can easily make the distinctions between the different strata. It’s much different when looking down from above and attempting to determine where one layer ends and another begins. Luckily there are others around with far greater knowledge which prevent me from digging too deep. The removal of soil and documentation of this process is one which not only requires knowledge, but multitudes of patience. Left to my own devices I’d probably just keep on digging arbitrarily as my desire to see what lies beneath my trowel intensifies with each dustpan of soil I dump into the metal bucket by my side.

Tomorrow I’ll be away from the field in the shelter of the lab. While I am
equally excited to learn about cleaning and persevering artifacts I imagine my
mind will likely, at least in part, be wandering to the top of Signal Hill
wondering what else is being unearthed.

–Andrew Holmes (Student)


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