Posted by: signalhillarchaeology | August 5, 2010

Rubble, Rubble Everywhere

Not too long ago I mentioned that we had opened up a large new excavation trench in order to locate the gable wall of the building. Well, we’ve been digging there for a while now, and we’re near the bottom in the north end. We’ve moved a lot of dirt, and I can say as a result that there is a lot of rubble in this trench. I mean, a lot of rubble:

None of this rubble seemed to form any sort of wall-like structure, but was jumbled about with various layers of fill. But that didn’t mean we were confused about what happened at this part of the site.  We found later nineteenth century artifacts (including porcelain electrical insulators) which must post-date the barracks building. These later nineteenth century artifacts were mixed in with artifacts that can only date to the twentieth century– including some sort of metal foil. If it’s aluminum foil, it is definitely a twentieth-century invention… which would mean that this part of the site was heavily altered sometime during the twentieth century.

The obvious explanation lies in the Second World War, when the U.S. Military erected defenses on the top of Signal Hill.  They constructed a gun emplacement at the north end of the site, which is still visible today as a prominent mound.  We suspect that during this occupation, heavy equipment was brought deposit fill to level out the land at the south end of the terrace, and perhaps to level out any stone walls from the barracks that might have still been visible on the ground surface.

Digging in the rubble disturbed during the Second World War.

In our trench, to the south of the heavy rubble deposit, layers upon layers of fill are visible.  The bottom layers start to trail off downhill, probably following the natural contours of the hillside that existed prior to the twentieth century. This clearly indicates that the twentieth-century fill events were an attempt to make level ground at the south part of the terrace.

However, we still kept hoping that some small part of the foundation lay undisturbed at the bottom of the trench.  Even if we didn’t find the gable wall of the building– if it had been disturbed beyond recognition– it’s still pretty clear that the very southern extremity of the terrace was not occupied by the barracks building in the nineteenth century- the ground just wasn’t level enough to be part of the barracks. So even without that smoking gun– the unequivocal remnants of a wall foundation– we could still be pretty sure where the gable wall used to be.

Sorting out puzzles like this– these ‘what happened to the site’ stories– are a key part of archaeological interpretation. They lead to great conversations in the field, much collective headscratching, and a lot of half-baked ideas tossed around throughout the day. Even though we weren’t sure what was going on at this part of the site, we’ve still been having a great time digging.

All that changed before noon yesterday, when we finally found an intact portion of the barrracks foundation, below about a meter of hard-packed, rubble fill!  Here’s the photo of the foundation as first exposed:

The first three stones of the foundation that we uncovered. We've since found an adjoining wall, and several courses (or layers) of stones underneath these.

By the end of the day yesterday, we had found more sections of this wall, running north south, and found where it takes a turn to the east…. in other words, we’ve found the gable end of the building! We’ve only got a small corner of it in the trench we’re digging, but the deposits inside the foundation are undisturbed, and they run deep– I’d say we have another 20 cm to go, at least.

Days like yesterday are great days indeed.  More to follow at the end of today!

–Amanda Crompton (Instructor)



  1. Good to see Dan finally working!

  2. Hi Mrs. Pedder– we took that photo just for you 😉
    –Amanda (Instructor).

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