fleur2.gif - 1.3 KFairfield Update 8fleur2.gif - 1.3


Cris Clifford and others, Photo

Chris Clifford of Riverworks, helps archaeologists Thane Harpole (l) and Tony Smith during the excavations south of the manor house


Hey everyone,

We've passed through the midpoint of the summer and with each day new discoveries continue to add to the history of colonial Fairfield. We've found a "new" building south of the manor house and expanded our analysis of the long lost wing discovered last month. All of this work has been a double-edged sword, though, as the need to study and analyze the material we've found has brought us out of the field and into the lab at Rosewell's Visitor Center.

Our most exciting moment this month centered on a new excavation technique. We realized at the beginning of this project that to begin understanding the landscape of buildings, trash pits, and fencelines that made up the Burwell's estate we needed to focus on excavating large areas. This unfortunately took considerable time and labor to excavate. How could we speed up the process?

After a visit to Jamestown last year, we saw a mechanical screen that the APVA's Jamestown Rediscovery archaeology team had put into action allowing them to rapidly sift through soils they were excavating above James Fort. They explained that the screen's design came from the University of South Carolina's Institute for Archaeology and Anthropology (SCIAA). Developed and refined over the last twenty years, the screen had helped with excavations throughout South Carolina, most notably at the early sixteenth- and seventeenth-century site of Santa Elena.

Dr. Bruce Rippeteau, director of the SCIAA, sent us detailed schematics of the screen along with suggestions for improvements and excavation strategies. The screen was designed to be strong enough to take a load of excavated soil directly from a backhoe. Without the funding to build the screen or hire a backhoe operator though, we couldn't put the plan into action. And so we continued to excavate by hand, averaging about 2-3 test units a day.

This changed in late April when Carl Barr visited our excavation. As the owner of a construction company, Mr. Barr had experience working with archaeologists and was interested in our excavation techniques at Fairfield. After discussing the mechanical screen process, he agreed to fund a pilot program to see if the process could be increase our rate of excavation five fold without an increase in labor. Ashland Machinery, a local machine shop run by Howard Fields, took the schematic plan and produced an amazingly well-crafted machine. With the help of Chris Clifford of Riverworks, a local company that constructs docks and stabilizes shorelines, we had a flat-bucket excavator on site and ready to work by the end of June.

We chose an area just south of the manor house, beyond the confines of the tree ring and within a concentration of wine bottle glass and window glass we'd identified during shovel testing. With the very first square, we knew the process would work. By the end of the first four hours we had excavated twelve 5 ft. x 5 ft. test units and discovered a half dozen features, including post holes and a trash pit filled with wine bottle glass, nails, ceramics, and even a couple of beads and straight pins on the surface. In a nearby unit we'd also recovered another wine bottle seal with the letters LB and a merchant's mark. This was identical to other Lewis Burwell II seals we'd found in the clay borrow pit in April.

We excavated 47 test units over the next 20 hours averaging a test unit every 25 minutes. Over the following week, we cleaned and mapped over 100 new features, most significant of which was a humongous post-in-ground building. Built with timbers at least 10 inches square, set in post holes measuring 4 ft. x 4 ft., the structure we uncovered must have been massive in size. With at least four repair posts erected next to each of the original beams, the building was definitely built to last. We've only found one corner of the structure at this point and the artifacts above and on the surface of the features indicates that it existed during the mid- to late eighteenth century, probably around the time of Lewis Burwell, son of Nathaniel. There are at least another six posts waiting to be found and, we hope, more evidence of the building's design and use. At this point, we think the structure was a barn or possibly a warehouse measuring at least 20 x 40 ft. We're still confused though as to why it is so close to the main house?

As we continue to examine the new structure our focus has switched to catching up on inside work. Our amazing team of volunteers has responded to the ever-increasing supply of artifacts to wash with great interest and enthusiasm. Every test unit seems to have a surprise or two hidden in each bag, either in the form of a beautiful ceramic shard, fragments of a carved knife handle, glass trade beads, or a lead bale seal. The continued analysis of these items next month will hopefully add even more detail to the lives of the people at Fairfield.

Renewed investigation of an area just northwest of the main house will be conducted by our intern Ann Wilkinson, long-time volunteer and recent graduate of the College of William and Mary. The site is a concentration of early eighteenth-century features (two post holes, root cellar, burnt clay area, others as yet undefined) that may prove to be a slave quarter. Analysis of artifacts found in the plowzone and three layers of the root cellar has begun. In the next month more surrounding units will be opened, hopefully revealing more postholes, root cellars, etc., to help define the building. Some of the most interesting artifacts are a pair of scissors, a plethora of straight pins, more than 20 beads, a cowrie shell, a 9" iron spike, and a raccoon baculum. >p>Pictures of these and other artifacts can be found in this month's Gloucester-Mathews Gazette-Journal article on our work at Fairfield. The Journal's support of this project has been crucial to our success and we will be forever grateful. The fifth article in the series is again written beautifully by Kim Robins and was published this last week.

I would like to invite all of you out to see the site when we're working. Everyday we're finding new information about the manor house and about early life at Fairfield Plantation. Feel free to contact me at the address or phone number below and we can arrange a visit. We're never too busy to talk and share some of the discoveries we've been making everyday. For those of you who would like to volunteer, we have opportunities both in the field and in the lab. We need your help and welcome anyone who is interested.

Dave Brown, Assistant Director,
Fairfield Division, Gloucester Historical Society,
P.O. Box 157,
White Marsh, VA 23183
Lab Phone: 804-6944775
EmailDavid Brown

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Copyright © Jane B. Goodsell, 2001