Friday, June 11, 2010

End of Week 5: End of the Road

Five weeks have come and gone and so has our time at the Fairbanks House. Although our final week of excavation meant that we spent much of our time cleaning, photographing, and drawing the various excavation units, we also managed to squeeze in some very interesting discoveries.

One of the main tasks we wanted to accomplish this week was to explore under the cobble floor of the barn. We hoped that by removing some of the cobbles, we might locate evidence of previous architecture below the floor or, at the very least, find some artifacts that would assist our efforts to date the building's construction. In this respect, we half-succeeded. No evidence of any other structures existed under the floor, but we did find a small collection of ceramic sherds (creamwares and early transfer-printed pearlwares) that date to late 18th or early 19th centuries.

Below: How do you clean a cobble floor? With a vacuum, of course! (left); Alex and President of the Fairbanks Family in America Board of Directors Al Blood excavating beneath a section of the cobble floor (right)

In the interest of sampling under multiple sections of cobble flooring, we removed some of the boulder scatter present in the northeastern corner of the building (the corner in which we found the large amount of intact bottles and other artifacts). The stream of material culture did not dry up, resulting in the recovery of 25 bags of artifacts in a single day. Included in this haul were large fragments of stoneware jugs, yellow ware chamber pots, small glass vials, and a bone-handled knife. However, my personal favorite find was something different. Check out some pictures of it below...

Below: Front side of the flask showing the American eagle (left); obverse side of the flash showing the gateway with Masonic imagery (right)

This bottle is a Masonic flask made by the Keene-Marlboro Street Glassworks in Keene, New Hampshire. It features an American eagle on the front (note the flag chest piece and the arrows and olive branch in its talons) and a gateway covered in Masonic symbols on the back (my personal favorite is the combination of the skull and crossed bones and a trowel to the left of the doorway -- pretty much sums up archaeology!). These flasks were manufactured primarily between 1810 and 1830, although they continued to be produced up until 1840. Our next step will be to research the production, sale, and use of these bottles. Would/could they be purchased only by Masons? If so, were any of the Fairbanks House occupants Masons during the early 19th century? If these flasks could be purchased and used by anyone, was the Masonic imagery legible (in the social sense) to non-Masons or was their secrecy entirely impenetrable? Whatever the answers to these questions, an artifact with such vibrant details is always a wonderful find.

We were also quite fortunate this week to be visited by a reporter and photographer from the Boston Globe. You can read the article and view a short video documenting the field season here.

Of course, all good things must come to an end. As much as it pained us to do it (literally...), we had to fill in our excavation units, resealing the barn's foundations and floor. Now it's time to head into the lab to wash and catalog all of the finds from the summer season. However, before I sign off for now, there are a number of people that must be thanked. First, I'd like to thank Frank Carvino, Al Blood, Lee Anne Hodson, and the entire Fairbanks Family in America Board of Directors for their continued support. You really know how to make a guy feel welcome. I'd also like to thank Ellen Berkland and her crew of volunteers for their frequent assistance. Thanks to John LaRosa of JCL Excavation for his interest and his generous donation offer and thanks to Brian MacQuarrie at the Boston Globe for taking an interest in our work. Last but not least, thanks to all of the wonderful volunteers who came out to help our project, especially Brittany Boesenhofer, Alex Kara, Nason Sinkula, and Meg Thibodeau. Most of all, thanks to Alex Keim -- without his constant enthusiasm and good cheer, we all would've had much less fun.

And thanks to you for spending the time to read these occasional posts. I hope you've enjoyed reading about our excavations as we did completing them.

Friday, June 4, 2010

End of Week 4: Bottles!

The fourth, and second-to-last, week of excavation was our of busiest and most exhausting to date. We were visited by a number of large school groups, which gave us the opportunity to share the pleasures (and workload) of field archaeology. We also started to feel the crunch of time as the season's end began peering at us from around a corner. As a result, we ratcheted up the intensity of our days and were rewarded for our efforts.

We began the week faced with the task of exposing the northeastern corner of the barn in an attempt to explain the large boulder scatter covering a few of our units. While this area was chock full o' rocks, we were able to find the point where the northern and eastern walls met. In this corner space, we located a small patch of cobble floor on top of which were deposited a HUGE number of exciting artifacts, including large fragments of ceramic pitchers and chamber pots and a number of intact glass bottles of all sizes (see below).

Without outlining all of the finds from this area, I'd be remiss without showing one of our favorites: it's a glass bottle embossed with the words "BURNETT'S/ COCOAINE" (see below). Naturally, we were all quite tickled -- here was evidence of drug use at the Fairbanks House! Of course, as I've mentioned previously, self-medication was common in the 19th century and included all manner of drugs that are now illegal. However, we continued to be puzzled by the curious spelling until a quick Google search revealed that Mr. Burnett was not actually peddling a cocaine product, but a coconut product. Burnett's product was a coconut oil used for the treatment of balding or damaged hair. He may have been attempting to capitalize on the popularity of cocaine and cocaine products when he concocted such an evocative name.

Below: Brittany working on the northeastern corner of the barn, revealing a bunch of interesting finds (left); a bottle of "BURNETT'S COCOAINE" hair oil (right)

Our other major task for the week involved opening up a large unit in the center of the barn (see below). Although we determined that time would not allow us to expose the entire barn in plan, we measured out this large unit, the excavation of which will signify that we have revealed just over half of the barn's remains. The fill layer on the top of the unit yielded a massive quantity of artifacts including ceramic fragments, a pair of scissors, a number of buttons, a kitchen hook, and more.

This will be the last unit that we'll open for the remainder of the season. Next week will be spent cleaning, photographing, and drawing the existing units, after which time we will remove a section of the cobble flooring to see if evidence of any previous activities exists. And then of course, it's everyone's favorite time -- backfill day! Stay tuned for more as the season speeds to a close~

Below: the large center unit showing a section of cobble flooring and the building's southwest corner in the background (left); Alex taking elevations with Kyla, a frequent visitor to the site (right)