Thursday, August 15, 2013

Continuing work at the William Kaulehelehe House Site

 The Queen Anne's Lace is still blooming in the area around the William Kaulehelehe House site and we are still finishing up excavations there, although most of the activity has been at the Little Prouxl site.  I spent a bit of time last week doing some finishing up work to close out the small 1 X 5 meter trench that tested the Hawaiian preachers house (Block K).  I had expected to find a few subsurface post and stake holes like we often encounter in the area beneath the dirt floors of the fur trade houses at Fort Vancouver.  After carefully troweling the floor and finding a few minor stains that had little depth and may have been associated with natural processes, I decided that the western-most unit needed at least one more level to make sure that we had not missed anything.  As often happens, this decision led to an increasingly more complex excavation challenge and some very interesting finds.  The eastern margin of the unit contained a nice gray clay, similar to the house floor at the Little Prouxl site, although this was on the outer, western edge of a shallow pit feature that we had excavated earlier in the summer.  Importantly, this clay seemed to dive to the east.  Following this clay proved to be very surprising as what had been thought to be culturally-sterile sediments below the floor turned out to be a fill with a similar color and texture, but that contained a number of artifacts from the house construction including square nails and window glass.

Gilt ring found at the William Kaulehelehe house site.
Interestingly, on the western margins of the clay-lined pit or trench, a man's gilt ring was found. While not of much real value (the gilt is all but gone), this ring is somewhat more fancy than the typical trade rings found at the Fort.  While far from a priceless piece of jewelry, it is intriguing to think that this may have been the personal property of the Hawaiian minister that was lost one day.  One wonders if it had any meaning to him or if he even mourned its loss.

The clay dipped further east into the hole requiring some time to clear.  Surprisingly, a small ceramic sherd was found that has very
rounded edges.  While the transferprint pattern is quite distinctive, the rounding and the small size of the object suggest that it may be an artifact that was subjected to a unique formation process after it was deposited.  Another site associated with the Catholic Mission that we dug on City of Vancouver property about 9 years ago contained similar objects that we interpreted to be gastroliths, or gizzard stones, probably from chickens or some other domesticated fowl.  Birds don't have teeth and to compensate for this, they injest small rocks and other objects (sometimes glass and sometimes ceramics) to help in grinding down their food.  These gizzard stones have been found on archaeological sites before and give a clue, albeit diminutive in size, as to the presence and sometimes the processing of fowl.  

Gastrolith found at the
William Kaulehelehe House Site

On a related note, the clay beneath the ring appears to contain a great deal of bird shot although it is unknown if this represents an area where birds were processed or simply the loss of many very small objects.  In a small test of the clay, I found nearly 50 pieces of shot.

As we had some cloud cover today, I spent a bit of time cleaning up the features of Block K including the newly exposed clay-lined pit/trench and then took photographs to create a 3D model of the test trench.  I made a short YouTube video that you may access at the link below.
YouTube video of 3D Model of Block K

Monday, August 12, 2013

Working with the Oregon Archaeological Society

Oregon Archaeological Society Volunteers help out at the Little Proulx site. Staff Elaine
Dorset and Katie Wynia are training the volunteers on the first day.
 Well, the field school is now over and we have begun the next phase of excavations with the Oregon Archaeological Society.  This is a less frenetic pace, as the lecture series is now over, the work at the Spruce Mill is completed and we have volunteers out on Wed, Friday and Saturday. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, we catch up on paperwork and finish work that the volunteers have left us.  We have been working at the Little Proulx site with the volunteers and are completing the removal of the clay-lined house floor.  There is a significant concentration of artifacts in the eastern part of the house and appear to have encountered the western edge of the house floor in units pictured above. Surprisingly we have not yet encountered the hearth.
Key and hardware found at
 the Little Prouxl House Site.

We found a very interesting cupreous fragment that may be part of the lock for a large key found in the adjacent unit.  The size and characteristics of the key appear to match that of a very large door key. This may match the time period when a U.S. Army Surgeon, Levi Holden, occupied the house (early 1850s). The Army rented some of the buildings from the Hudson's Bay Company, including the Little Prouxl house.  Additional information on Holden is listed in an article that was prepared by one of our volunteers last year, Jason Ainsley:

Royal Coat of Arms of the United Kingdom, found at
the William Kaulehelehe house site.

We are also finishing up work at the William Kaulehelehe house site.  A feature that lines up with the hearth may be a footing feature, which also incidentally lines up nicely with the southern wall of our reconstructed House 1 (the Engage' house).  We appear to be on the north wall of the structure.  On excavation of the area immediately west of this feature, a bit of clay house floor was identified and a curious set of metal fragments.  These appear to be part of a tin (perhaps a tea tin) or the lid to a can or jar.  At first they appeared to have an Irish theme, with a harp and possibly a clover, but on closer examination we have discerned it is the royal coat of arms of the United Kingdom.  As noted by Meagan Huff from the Fort Vancouver Facebook page, "The top fragment is half of a crown, the second from the top contains part of the phrase "Honi soit qui mal y pense," the motto of the Order of the Garter. The fragment third from the top has two barely-visible lions, which represent England. The bottom fragment has a harp, representing Ireland. The banner below it would have contained the words "Dieu et mon droit," the motto of the English monarchs. Research into what this object was for will be ongoing although its presence at a Hawaiian minister's house is quite intriguing with its statement on colonialism and identity with the British empire.

The change in pace has also given me the opportunity to work more closely with the digital forms and iPads to directly explore their use in the field.  A couple of thoughts after a week.  I found the same issues with the glare from the iPads that the students did, particularly when holding them level over the excavation units to attempt to get a plan view of a level or feature.  Even with the brightness increased to maximum, it was difficult at times to get a view of the unit and snap the picture and not lose part of the unit in the image.  This usually required a few shots to get the images I wanted.  Not a huge issue but an aggravation.  The nice thing is that the camera is available at any time for photographing, so I am taking many more images than I would normally.

Another benefit is the ability to use photos to help draw shapes.  Last week I was unhappy with the way in which a mule shoe had been drawn on the house floor by one of the students.  In order to get a better drawing, I took an image of the artifact in-situ, imported it into my level form, then scaled it to the correct size and location, zoomed in and traced the edges of the artifact.  This was done much more accurately and quickly than the hand-drawn method.  I have since tried this method with unit level rocks and the edges of surfaces/floors to improve the quality of the drawings.  I think this has been done to good benefit.  Once the image is traced, the photo is deleted leaving only the line drawing work.

I have been working on some fairly complex levels, with a variety of objects, sampling locations and artifact recording.  The forms seem to take a lot of time, probably longer than a paper form in the field.  The good thing is it is the result is quite legible (a chronic problem for some researchers and students) and the data can be extracted out of the form.  I think I like the annotation  capabilities the best. 

In reviewing the notes from the field school, I have seen that some of the students were quite unhappy with the iDraw program for drawing profiles, and felt they could draw the profiles much faster using paper and pencil (in fact some of them did).  While this may be a factor of unfamiliarity with the program and use of a tablet computer as much as frustration with the speed of entry, there are likely some valid thoughts.  I will explore the use of iDraw to annotate some of these student profiles this week and will report back on its use later.  Regardless, the longest time expended in the field, however, is still the bagging and recording of artifacts, particularly when there are a lot of artifact bags (a typical problem of historical archaeological sites). I will need to think about a means to improve the speed of this process with tablet computers.