Archaeologists, field school students, summer interns, and a few seasoned volunteers fanned out across the Armoury site in early June with a laundry list of tasks and questions to address before reconstruction begins. As many of you know, it was not an easy summer for outdoor work. Extreme heat and a lack of rain baked the soil…. and archaeologists alike. Nevertheless, the Armoury excavation attracted tremendous visitor attention, and steady progress was made toward ferreting out new information about the property and those who worked here.
Topping the summer agenda was uncovering the Armoury’s kitchen, the first building slated for reconstruction. Though explored and recorded by two previous generations of archaeologists (in 1931 and 1975), this third encounter provided a modern team with the opportunity to examine and weigh in on the kitchen remains: a large chimney base and an arched brick drain (see photo). Brickmakers’ careful measurements became the wooden molds from which 10,000 bricks have been made for the kitchen reconstruction. Engineers evaluated the chimney base and, in collaboration with architectural historians, devised a plan to incorporate the original brick into the reconstructed kitchen. And the drain, which served to carry debris from inside the kitchen, under the yard, and into a nearby ravine, became the focus of architectural attention.
While the kitchen’s “twice-dug” status left little room for major archaeological surprises, there were bright spots. Discovery of an 18” strip of unexcavated soil within the kitchen provided evidence that the floor was of clay composition (still under analysis), rather than wood. Recovered plaster samples, according to Architectural Paint Analyst, Natasha Loeblich, revealed that frequent limewashing kept the kitchen walls scrupulously clean.
To the west of the blacksmith shop another archaeological unit probed the site’s terrain. Popular belief suggests that a deep ravine bisecting the Printing Office property once continued south through Anderson’s lots. Ravines are convenient repositories for trash, and the location of this one, adjacent to the forge buildings, raised hopes of finding discarded products of Anderson’s shop. Ten weeks of investigation by archaeological field school students has revealed, however, that the term “ravine” may be an overstatement of this terrain. While it is clear that the land flanking Anderson’s shops to the west was low-lying, and perhaps even marshy, this was hardly a formidable landscape feature. Excavation of the ravine units will continue, and the eventual discovery of blacksmithing debris remains a possibility.
Currently archaeologists can be found along Francis Street searching for postholes that marked the property’s south boundary. The challenge is not finding these soil stains, but teasing apart the Revolutionary War period fenceline (recorded on the 1782 Frenchman’s Map) from multiple generations of replacement fences in the same location.
While digging fencelines may sound mundane, the objective of this project is larger than the accurate placement and spacing of fenceposts. During the 18th century, those doing business at the Armoury would have entered through a gate on what is now Francis Street. We know little about the “front” of Anderson’s lot, an area that lies concealed by Mrs. Ryland’s wildflower garden. The search for fences, gates, and other features is a step toward better understanding how the property was oriented during Anderson’s tenure.
In upcoming months, attention will shift from postholes to the “tin shop,” a building whose fragmentary remains were discovered during two earlier excavations. Digging will continue through much of November. Visitors are always welcome!
Contributed by Meredith Poole, Staff Archaeologist