Posted by: signalhillarchaeology | July 23, 2010

What a Difference a Few Days Makes

It’s been a few days since I’ve written a post about what’s new with the excavations. I last described some interesting differences between the fireplace base that we uncovered this year, as compared to the one we uncovered last year.

Since then, we’ve completely exposed the south side of the fireplace base, which you can see below:

The chimney base at the North Range Barracks. It's not as well preserved as the other base that we found in 2009, in part because the site is much more shallow in this region. But it's still well-preserved enough to delimit its boundaries during excavations, and measure its dimensions.

It’s not as well-preserved as the fireplace base we excavated last year, because the site is much shallower at this part of the site. The fireplace base was laid on bedrock, which is only found at about 40-50 centimeters below the present day ground surface.

We’ve also been working on delimiting the northern face of the fireplace, though it’s much more disturbed in this area. We had a breakthrough yesterday, though, and it looks like we’re coming down on a much clearer set of stones that form a reasonably straight wall face.

What’s the most interesting, though, are the artifacts that are being recovered from beside the north face of the fireplace.  For the first time, we have a deposit that post-dates 1840.  We’ve often wondered what happened to the site after 1840– we know the building stood until about 1880 or thereabouts, but archaeologically we found no real indication of any use of the building after 1840.  Well, that’s all changed now.

We have deposits here that contain ceramics typical of the mid-1800’s, rather than the early 1800’s, as we are accustomed to finding elsewhere at this site.You can see one such ceramic fragment below– it’s a decorative handle, perhaps a drawer pull (it seems a bit small to be a doorknob). This is made of whiteware, which is first developed ca. 1820, but becomes increasingly popular by mid-century, virtually displacing all other kinds of tablewares.  In fact, we aren’t finding any other types of ceramic other than whitewares in this area, and the decoration that we find on them is entirely typical of the mid-century period.

A decorative ceramic drawer pull, typical of the mid-nineteenth century, as we uncovered it in the ground.

Now, of course, the next job is to explain why this deposit occurs here, but not elsewhere on the site. Was only part of the building in use by the mid-century? Were these occupations swept away from other parts of the site after the building fell down? (I think if this is the case, we’d have found some evidence of this, but as yet we have not).  Furthermore, does this more recent deposit sit on top of earlier nineteenth century deposits? The only way to answer that: more digging.

And speaking of more digging, we’ve also opened up a new trench at the south end of the site to try to find that elusive gable (end) wall of the building. Right now we’re digging through a good bit of compacted fill, which takes a bit longer, and so I’ll update you once we get down to the nineteenth-century levels at the site.

We’ve also been dealing with some unusual weather this season. We were rained out yesterday morning for a while (it’s not that archaeologists are allergic to rain– it’s just that heavy rain means our ability to see artifacts in the ground is greatly diminished as the soil turns to mud).  By late morning, the clouds had retreated, the raingear had been removed, and the sun came out in true summer rock-splitting fashion.

This sunny weather was also accompanied by some of our favourite visitors to the site: whales. We can see (and hear) them close to our site quite often… and it’s days like this that make me love my job even more than I already do. This is the view from my office window, and it’s a pretty amazing one:

One of the many humpback whales that we've seen from our site.

–Amanda Crompton (Instructor)

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