Spade & the Grave

death and burial through an archaeological lens

Tales from the Trenches: Fieldwork Week 1, 2017.

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It’s time.
The trowels are cleaned*, the boots are dusted off**, and the car is ready and full of excited and bright eyed volunteers***. The fieldwork season has begun!

*it’s never really going to be clean again, is it?
**Same goes for the boots, they are as dusty as ever
*** No one is that bright eyed at 6:30AM!

If you remember from my last post, I had indicated where I was going to be excavating this summer by a large circle on the map. Of course, I’m not going to be digging literally all of the space inside that circle but a few select trenches to get a better idea of what is going on in the subsurface.


The first trench laid out over the gravel slope. It’s mostly slopewash and debris from above, and parts of the area were previously excavated so the ground lever was actually much higher than it currently appears to be! Photo by author, 2017.

The first trench we laid out is running E/W, mainly to clear out the debris. All of the trenches I dug last year ran N/S in order to cross-cut any potential grave features with as much frequency as possible (if there were graves at all). This one is E/W because of the awkward space that we have to work in right now, to chop into that giant pile of gravel.


An assortment of ceramics which came out of the topsoil of my unit. Photo by author, 2017.

We started out digging down through the modern top soil, which was chalked full of 19th-century ceramics, modern plastics, and a vague assortment of other artefacts. This is because it was all washed down the hill over time and built up. Not too far down we hit a layer which dated to the 17th century, which sloped at an angle which didn’t match up with the modern surface, making it confusing to dig through!

The aim of a trench this deep is to dig down to the glacial subsoil which, in this case, appears to be a lot of angular gravels and cobbles mixed with iron-rich silty sand, is to clear off the subsoil in order to look for soil features which would have gone down deep enough to still be intact underneath potential modern disturbances to the soil (such as farming and construction). Graves would penetrate this layer and thus be preserved as well! So far though, I’m only 90% sure that we have found the subsoil layer in one out of the 4 units that were opened over this first week of the excavation (unit = 1x1m square). Every time we think the two middle units have hit subsoil, someone says ‘Robyn…I found this!’:


Three 17-century smoking pipes

So we might have a bit of a ways to go in the trench next week in terms of locating the subsoil, but for now we are still troweling through one of two 17th-century layers.

Another interesting thing that appeared this week is what we have been dubbed the ‘Mystery Pit’. Once that layer had been reached we found a piece of North Devon oven, a terrible ceramic used in the 1620s which was thrown out during a later renovation of the brew/bake house structure we are digging to the south of. If you saw my tweet about the pit, you’ll already have been the photo of me jamming my entire arm inside, but I didn’t tell you all that even when I did that, I still couldn’t feel the bottom!! It might just be a space created by rocks falling there, but maybe it will turn out to be something exciting?

There are several more pieces of North Devon oven in the side of the Pit as well, and I’m looking forward to seeing the extent of the oven pieces we might have. Just to the north of this unit as well, a stack of tiles and other, larger pieces of slate was uncovered and identified by my supervisor, Dr. Barry Gaulton, as likely being pieces of the 17th-century brewhouse beside us. The structure was modified by Sir. David Kirke when he arrived in the 1630s and these stones could have fallen down during the modifications, or afterwards during later changes or destruction of the Kirke house (the structure was incorporated into the Kirke house).


Trench looking NE. Small slates to the left of the large central boulder are likely from the brewhouse, just visible in this image. Photo by author, 2017.

This is very exciting because it means that while we still haven’t hit the subsoil in that area, that there are very diagnostic and accountable objects and structural pieces from the 17th-century coming out of that space, and that there still is a chance there are burials in that area!

It was an awesome first week at Ferryland this year, and I’m very much looking forward to seeing what sort of interesting features week 2 has the potential to uncover! I am hoping we can identify the subsoil across the open units during week two and determine if it is positive or negative for grave cuts, as well as record and remove the 17th-century slates in order to get that boulder out of the way, recover the oven pieces, and get to the literal bottom of that pit.


Author: Robyn S. Lacy

Archaeologist / Cultural Heritage / Burial Ground Restoration

One thought on “Tales from the Trenches: Fieldwork Week 1, 2017.

  1. Pingback: Canadian History Roundup – Week of July 9, 2017 | Unwritten Histories

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