Young Archaeologists' Corner

First impressions are often the most vivid. That's why we asked high school senior Kate Swanson (left), to jot down some thoughts about this summer's archaeology at Weston. Previously, Kate had spent several weeks at an archaeological field school in Illinois, but she was still relatively new to archaeology when she began working with the crew this July. This semester she has begun a year-long internship project with us, analyzing artifacts. At this point, then, Kate is well qualified to share the flavor of the daily routine of archaeology, both in the field and the lab. We are sure her story will be of interest to other aspiring archaeologists.

Read Kate's paper (pdf) about her research on a collection of bottles from Hopewell.

Kate SwansonMy Summer As An Archaeologist

by Kate Swanson

Since I was in second grade, I knew I wanted to be an archaeologist. Growing up, I participated in every field day, archaeological event, and dig I could. This past summer, I was given the opportunity to work with the William & Mary Center for Archaeological Research at Weston Manor in Hopewell, VA. Although I had been on several digs and done many hours of lab work, this was the first time I had participated in an excavation from beginning to end. I am now officially hooked!

On this particular excavation, my co-workers and I were looking to find traces of the many outbuildings that would have been part of Weston Manor during the 1800s when the site was a plantation. In order to determine where to place our rectangular units, we began by digging 106 round pits, called shovel test pits, evenly distributed over a grid on the property. These pits helped us locate concentrations of artifacts and therefore determine the most likely place to find a building. Once we had determined where to dig our units, we set up our screens, measured the units, and let the dirt fly. The site was loaded with artifacts that ranged from an 1848 penny to a screw top of a beer bottle that dated to the 1970s. After a month and a half of work and three test units later, we had discovered a building on one side of the house and possibly another structure on the other side.

In looking back, I realize that I was spoiled by having such a perfect site for my first full dig. The whole time we were there, a constant stream of visitors stopped to see what we were doing and ask questions. Kind locals dropped by with food, and some stayed to help us screen the dirt for artifacts. At lunch, we had a bench in the shade with a breathtaking view of the Appomatox River. For two of the weeks we were there, an art camp was taking place in the basement of the house, and by the end of the camp, over twenty children were convinced that they wanted to be archaeologists rather than soccer players or ballerinas "when they grew up." We were constantly amused by the antics and questions of these young guests. One even asked, "Are you going to dig until you find the door and then go in?"

Having been at the site from the beginning, it was exciting to see how the dig progressed and to watch the foundations of a building being uncovered. Through my summer as an archaeologist I learned that archaeology is not quite what Indiana Jones would have you believe. The "bad guys" are massive tree roots, and the race is against the weather. Archaeology is, however, very thrilling and incredibly addictive.