Posted by: signalhillarchaeology | July 14, 2009

Finding Archaeological Treasure

I’ve been lucky enough to spend two days of field school in a garbage pit which approximately dates to sometime in the early 19th century. For some this might not the most desirable locale to situate oneself, especially given the sublime weather we’ve had lately, but I couldn’t be happier. These garbage pits are referred to by archaeologists as middens and this one is filled with treasure.

Digging in the midden.  Other people's trash is archaeological treasure... we can learn so much from broken bits of bottles, bones, and pottery!

Digging in the midden. Other people's trash is archaeological treasure... we can learn so much from broken bits of bottles, bones, and pottery!

This is not the treasure one goes hunting for with a metal detector, pirate ship, or leprechaun assisted rainbow. Nor is what I refer to as treasure magnificent artifacts that one would find housed in fine museums around the world. Instead what I consider to be treasure are broken sherds of ceramics, shattered glass, and rusted hunks of iron. While these pieces may have no longer been of value to those who discarded them, they can provide insight into what was once thought of as valuable. Furthermore some ceramic sherds can help us figure out an approximate date of deposition.

The slate pencils we find can tell us about what some people were using to write during this time period. One such pencil I found this morning was still rather long and I am left speculating as to whether it was thrown away intentionally or lost accidentally. Such deliberations over broken pencils are likely never to be answered, but the fun is sometimes simply found in the question.

My own pencil forces me from time to time to stop digging and write down a few notes. When I pop my head up from the midden I am taken aback by how much of the site is now exposed. There is much more to the Ladies Lookout site than the little pit in which I’ve recently been consumed. Hannah and Tamara have been digging at the other end of structure and have found some pretty fascinating artifacts themselves.

But finding artifacts is only a small part of archaeology. Others on this blog have done a great job in discussing many of the other engrossing subjects we are continually examining. Currently one of more confusing subjects is the actual building we are excavating. This structure may not actually be the North Barracks which we had previously thought it to be. It might have been an attachment of some sort or a separate building. Some are speculating that it may even be a privy. As I stated above, this is a topic covered in recent posts so I won’t go into much greater detail than to add my own scratch to the collective head and say, “hmmmm I wonder what this thing actually is?”

–Andrew Holmes (Student)


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