Posted by: signalhillarchaeology | July 10, 2010

The Hunt for Chimney Base #2

Yesterday I posted that we have a plan for this season’s excavations– and our plan is to answer some architectural questions about  the site.  The North Range Soldiers’ Barracks occupies the length and breadth of a terrace just below Ladies’ Lookout. One of our goals is to determine just how this structure fits onto the terrace, which is not really much larger than the building’s footprint.

The terrace where the North Range Barracks site is located (outlined in red). The terrace is not that much larger than the footprint of the building.

This summer, we want to find a few key structural portions of the building, and one of these is a second chimney base.  The North Range Barracks had four chimney stacks in total. There were two chimney stacks at either end of the building, which were built for single-hearth fireplaces.  Two more chimney stacks, located in the middle of the building,  were built for double-hearth fireplaces (the hearths were built back-to-back).  In 2009, we found one of the stone bases that supported the hearth and the chimney itself.  The hearth and chimney had been dismantled or demolished at some point, and have not survived, but the large mortared stone platform that was built to bear their weight certainly has.

The historic map of the North Range Barracks, showing where the location of chimneys are. I've posted this map a lot on this blog... but that's because it plays an important part in our interpretation of the site. I find myself consulting it so often in the field that I ought to get it laminated... my paper copy is currently covered in pencilled notes, dirty fingerprints, and squashed mosquitoes.

In order to find the location of a second chimney base, we consulted the historic map of the building (as I discussed in yesterday’s post). The chimney stack bases should be 50 feet apart. So, when deciding where to dig this year, we ran a measuring tape 50 feet to the north from the approximate centre of the 2009 chimney base. Here, we laid out two trenches in a T shape. If the chimney stacks aren’t aligned in a perfectly straight line, or if the position is offset from that recorded on the historic map, our trenches should catch them.

And so, we’ve begun excavating in these two trenches, in the quest for the second chimney base.  In one trench, we found a jumble of displaced stone rubble, brick, and mortar fragments. We were clearly digging near the right place, but none of the stones appeared to be laid one on top of the other in an intentional fashion.

In the second trench, we had greater hope of finding the chimney base from the moment we removed the sod. At other places on the site, the sod is deep and difficult to remove, but here, we began hitting rocks directly beneath some much thinner sod. It didn’t take long for us to realize that we had found the chimney base…and there was much rejoicing. I have to say, the luxury of finding a large structural part of the building right away and (most importantly) knowing its function was really gratifying. We set about cleaning off the top of the chimney base and trying to delineate its northern and southern boundaries. It didn’t take too long to find them– though they’re absolute extent is not certain right yet, as we’ve only exposed the top course of mortared stone.

I consulted the field notes and maps from the 2009 excavations to remind myself of the other chimney base’s north-south dimensions. I couldn’t remember the exact dimensions of the 2009 base off of the top of my head– and this serves as a really good example of how important it is to take detailed field notes, maps, and photographs as we excavate… Nobody’s memory is perfect!  That’s why when we excavate, we place such an emphasis on documenting what we do, as a means of creating a permanent record of what we found at the site.  So, our field notes and maps from last year showed that the 2009 chimney base measured about 2 meters across, in a north-south direction.

…and that’s where things got interesting. As near as we can tell, right now, the north-south dimension of the chimney base that we’ve uncovered this year measures over three meters across.

The second chimney base at the North Range Barracks. We have only uncovered a portion of it here, but the base begins at the far edge of the trench in the background, and ends just in front of the sign in the foreground.

How to explain this? Well, right now, we’ve only uncovered the very top of the chimney base, and we’ve got to dig down beside it some more to confirm that we have in fact found its correct northern and southern boundaries.  But if this turns out to be correct, we’ve got some thinking to do, to try and understand why one chimney base is much larger than the other. I’ve got some ideas percolating in my head– weekends are great for brewing ideas– and I’ll save them for a post next week once we do a bit more digging.

Let’s hope the lovely weather we’ve had this weekend extends into next week so that we can get some more serious digging done…oh, who am I kidding. Even if it rains we’ll be digging, because I need to sort this mystery out! (Students, repeat after me: “I will bring my rain gear to work”).

–Amanda Crompton (Instructor)



  1. […] I mentioned in a previous post that we’ve uncovered the base of a second chimney base at the North Range Barracks.  It was […]

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