Recent Roving Webcam views have focused on the Anderson Kitchen floor installation. For some, it came as a surprise that the floor would be clay instead of wood, but it should come as no surprise to blog readers that this decision was thoroughly researched.
Discussions about the kitchen floor began long before the current reconstruction. Partial excavation of the kitchen in 1975 led archaeologists to speculate that the patches of clay they’d uncovered could have been remnants of a floor. Last summer’s excavation provided the opportunity for a new generation of archaeologists to examine the evidence for themselves, and to make an independent assessment. After locating an 18” swath of the kitchen floor that had not yet been explored, archaeologists collected samples of clay, turning them over to Architectural Conservator, Matt Webster, for analysis.
While it was clear that the clay encountered inside the kitchen was not naturally occurring, it was analysis that demonstrated how, and of what, this mixture was concocted. Unlike the mortar samples from the Anderson kitchen, which closely resembled samples taken from, and recreated at the Coffeehouse, clay flooring material had never been sampled before. After being carefully weighed, the clay samples were broken into their basic components, by first dissolving the lime, then separating and weighing the remaining material to provide percentages for mixtures. The results showed that the floor of the Anderson kitchen was composed of clay, a very fine sand (most likely collected from local creeks and rivers), quick lime (made by burning oyster shell), and brick dust. Adjusting for differences in the weight of each material, the “recipe” worked out for this mixture is 4 parts clay, 2 parts sand, ¾ parts quick lime, and 1/10 part brick dust.
“Off camera” at the Armoury property, the Building Trades team prepared both the component ingredients, and the final clay floor mix that has been applied in the kitchen. While analysis may have provided the list of ingredients, there were still unanswered questions and the need for experimentation: How much water was necessary to make the clay workable without making it too wet? Would it be possible to lay sections of the floor without having it crack? All of these have been learning experiences. And there has certainly been the opportunity to practice, as more than 566 gallons of the clay mixture have been required to cover the kitchen floor.
On camera, Webcam watchers have seen the final clay product being tamped in place. After some initial fears that the clay would crack, Jason Bill, Josh and Harry seem to have worked out the kinks. We hope you have enjoyed watching their progress!
Contributed by Meredith Poole and Matt Webster