Archaeology of American Life

by Kellie White Archaeological Field and Laboratory Intern

“…the vast majority of cultural remains are buried and must be dug up. But the excavation of archeological sites, though an obviously essential first step in studying past cultures, is just that. Only after the material has been excavated can we begin to study it.” (Deetz 1996)

As a 2015 Summer Intern working with the Colchester Archeological Team (C.A.R.T.), I have traversed a series of processes that lead eventually to the completion of a summer long project. The experience allowed for exposure to a number of archeological techniques and lab methods of which I held no prior knowledge or experience. The ultimate goal is to complete an analysis and comparison of three separate units to a significant feature. The first weeks of my internship were spent familiarizing myself with the Historic town of Colchester through academic reading and reports written by C.A.R.T. staff, washing artifacts in the Lab with Assistant Lab Manager Erica D’Elia, and excavating in the cemetery site with the field team: Jean Cascardi, Jonathan Brisendine, and Megan Veness.

Following this period I began focused work involving my summer project. This began with water screening soil samples on a rainy day at the Enyedi property. The soil samples intended for use in my analysis were scheduled for water screening later that week by Jean. After trying my hand at water screening, I returned to the lab to begin picking through dried samples. Picking involves concentration, an eye for detail, and patience. Picking archeological material also requires frequent breaks- these prevent inattentiveness and the loss of important and minuscule sized artifacts. Due to my inexperience, it took a period of time to become accustomed to the level of detail and attention that must be paid to master the skill. BroocheditWith the use of graduated screens, I was able to better find the smaller artifacts that I previously had been overlooking. Some significant artifacts that were found through picking include- a partial metal glass gem brooch, lead shots, a large amount of fish vertebrae, and a few pieces of tin glazed ceramic with an unidentifiable hand painted blue design.

I spent a significant amount of time picking, but without the aid of others I would not have finished picking the proveniences I required for this project. The completion of picking required the next course of action which was re-bagging and categorizing the objects found by artifact type. I spread my treasure hoard onto a large white piece of paper and began dividing and categorizing. The categories that I began to divide into involved the nature of the material- what was its most basic identifier- “Metal? Glass? Ceramic?” These larger categories were then divided into types of decoration, color, size, quality of preservation. For example, aqua colored glass was separated from aqua colored glass that was patinated or degraded.

GlassKellieThis was done in such a way so that when cataloging occurred, the distinction between aqua glass and degraded or patinated aqua glass could be recorded. Small sized bones were divided between those that were identifiable and separated from others that were too fragmented to identify; these various designations and separations applied to every category of artifact that was found throughout the picking process. Following the process of dividing and identifying artifacts I learned to catalog artifacts. In the process, I configured an abbreviated cataloging sheet and system for the purposes of my project, this required the identification of important or even identifiable characteristics about the very small artifacts that are being examined. With the help of Erica D’Elia, I was able to input my data into a small and simplistic database to help in understanding comparisons between multiple artifacts, amounts of specific artifacts, and varieties of different artifacts.

The final stages of this project involved dedicated time to writing about the artifacts and analysis concerning their use and function. This portion especially helped me to acquire skills that I previously had not been exposed to in field school, classroom education, or personal exploration- nor was I previously aware that they were necessarily required for archeological work. I chose this internship at the urging of my Archeology professor Justin Lowry at George Mason University and as a desire to continue growing as an archeology student. Upon meeting Elizabeth Paynter and Aimee Wells for my initial interview, I could tell that the C.A.R.T. team was full of like-minded and engaging people that I would be very fortunate to intern for. I thoroughly enjoyed my time as a C.A.R.T. intern, enjoying my tasks, the furtherance of my education, and especially interactions with the individuals who mentored me. I could not begin to imagine a better way to have spent my time this summer, and I would encourage those who seek to further their archeological education to apply for an internship with Fairfax County Park Authority’s C.A.R.T.

Deetz, James.
1996. In Small Things Forgotten: an Archaeology of Early American Life. Anchor Books, New York, New York. Originally Published 1977.


About cartarchaeology

We are the County Archaeological Research Team, part of the Archaeology and Collections Branch, Resource Management Division, Fairfax County Park Authority. We are tasked with understanding and managing the cultural resources on Park land throughout Fairfax County.
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