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Archaeology Dig at Taylor-Bray Farm - October 2013

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A three week archaeological dig at Taylor-Bray Farm got underway on October 15, 2013. This fieldwork built on the site survey done in 2011 when evidence of Native American presence on the property was discovered. The purpose of this dig was to help better understand what Native people were doing on a day-to-day basis in this area of Cape Cod and specifically on the Farm site.

The work was done under the supervision and guidance of archaeologist Craig Chartier. Craig is an independent archaeologist with over 20 years experience. His organization, Plymouth Archaeological Rediscovery Project (PARP), offers an extensive range of cultural resource management services. He was assisted at the dig by several other local archaeologists from the Cape Cod Museum of Natural History and other organizations including Dan Zoto and Dave Wheelock.

Community involvement is important to the Farm and a significant number of Farm volunteers participated in the dig. Students from Dennis-Yarmouth High School, the Lighthouse Charter School in Harwich and the Riverview School in Sandwich observed or contributed to the effort.

The following pages describe the work done during the October dig. A definitive report of the findings and conclusions drawn from this work will be available shortly.

With one exception, the photographs in this presentation are the work of Bill Low. The exception is the photograph of the Atlantic point in slide 9 which was taken by Dan Zoto.

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The work was done in all four Taylor-Bray Farm pastures. During the 2011 site survey, transects of test pits were dug on a 10m interval grid pattern. Based on the evidence of Native American occupation found during the survey, promising locations were selected for more detailed study and 1 square meter test units were dug at those. If you look very carefully at the photo above, you can see pink flags marking the places to be investigated during the fall dig.

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A dig day begins at 8:00 AM. By that time Craig Chartier and Farm volunteers have laid out the tools needed for the day's work. Experienced volunteers were assigned pit locations and were able to begin the day's work immediately. New or inexperienced volunteers were given an orientation before being partnered with archaeologists or experienced volunteers.

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Volunteers open a test pit then systematically dig down layer by layer to recover artifacts and document soil features. A few 50 cm pits were dug. For these, the entire 50 cm square is dug layer by layer. Larger 1 m pits are divided into four 50cm quadrants, with each quadrant dug independently of the other three. Here a new pit is being laid out using a template.

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With a new pit boundary determined, excavating begins. Pits are dug in 10 centimeter layers. At the Farm, the first layer is almost always a sod layer. Regardless, care is taken to be sure to find and collect whatever artifacts that may be found and to carefully note any features that might give evidence of past occupation and use of the site.

For each level in the pit, soil color, texture and composition are recorded. Texture and composition are as described by the individuals doing the documentation. Soil color is determined by comparing a soil sample to standard colors using the Munsell book of soil color charts. Here a sample of soil from the top layer of a pit is being compared to the color samples in a Munsell book.

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Recording dept of soil horizons or strata.

Properly recording soil color, composition, and depth are important. Different soil layers are called horizons and are identified by soil type, mostly based on color and texture. Horizon A is top soil, usually organic and brown; B is subsoil and is usually yellow-brown in color and a mix of silt and sand; C soil is glacial till and is usually sandy and can be very rocky. The C horizon is actually soil deposited by the glacier.

We usually excavate to the C level to make sure all soils on top of the glacial deposit (all plant growth in last 13,000 years) are examined for evidence of human occupation. It is not necessary to go into the C level because the nature of glacial action is such that there is no chance of finding evidence of habitation from before the glacier. While it's generally accepted that no people were here before the glacier, many Native groups believe their ancestors were.

The plow zone (AP horizon) is a mix of A and B soils resulting from churning by plows. This horizon is almost always a homogenous brown color, the result of dark brown loamy top soil and yellow brown B subsoils being mixed. Artifacts recovered from the plow zone are still local to the area and are probably within a few meters of their original location in the soil. The plow zone does churn up the artifacts and their vertical significance is lost. Finds in disturbed soils have lost their context but they can still be important to the record.

In an undisturbed context older artifacts are generally deeper but that is not always so because bioturbation (activity of roots, rodents, even ants) can move artifacts within the soil. Frost heaves are another factor here in New England. That being said, artifacts found in the B or subsoil are generally believed to be in the location where they were originally left, lost, or discarded.

The STP profile in the photo shows a grey brown fill layer over a brown plowzone and then yellow brown subsoil.

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The 2011 site evaluation revealed possible evidence in the form of soil stains called post molds of structures called wetus, buildings Native Americans built. Post molds are the dark stain left behind when a post, or dwelling support pole, rots in place in the ground. The dark organic stain will stand out in the yellow brown subsoil. One of the objectives of this dig was to find more of this, if possible. Therefore, the layers of a test pit were carefully scrapped to reveal soil features.

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As each 10cm layer is dug, the soil is sifted through a screen to find any artifacts in it. The screen used is made of hardware cloth with a 1/4 inch mesh. After shaking out the soil, what remains must be carefully picked through to find artifacts.

What are we looking for?

This is a known historic site thought to have been occupied by Native Americans at least as long as 4,000 years ago and known to have been used by Europeans starting about 1639. In the case of the Native Americans, we are looking for evidence of what they did here, and to the extent possible, when they were here. By when we mean both how long ago and also whether the site was occupied seasonally or year round. So for them, we are looking to find tools they may have made here and used. This could include spear points, fish net weights, axes and other stone or bone tools. It would also include debitage, the flakes that indicate that some of the tools were being crafted here. We are also looking for evidence for what they were doing here. So fire cracked rocks, evidence of cooking fires, and soil features that show signs that dwellings were built are important.

For the European inhabitants, we look for implements and other objects that can be dated or traced to a point of origin..

Atlantic Spearpoint

With luck you find a projectile point. This is an Atlantic point from the Late Archaic period and is a true spearhead. Alternatively, this object could also have been employed as a knife. This type of point usually dates to 3,600 to 4,100 years ago. This particular one is made of rhyolite, which is a volcanic stone that has excelent fracture properties and durability. Rhyolite can be picked up locally in cobble form on the beach or from an eroding hillside.

We found several Atlantic points on the dig, all made of rhyolite. The one pictured is the largest. Other points were found elsewhere that were made of quartzite, a metamorphosed sandstone.

Another type of projectile point recovered was of the Wading River type, part of the Small-Stemmed Tradition which was a technology that spaned a much longer period than Atlantic points. These are dated as far back as 6,000 years possibly up until 1,000 years ago. These points were consistently made of quartz, a silicate that can also be found on the beach or picked from areas of exposed glacial till.

The only projectile points found that did not fit into the previous categories were one example of a Cape Stemmed point, and two that were possibly of the Stark type. Cape Stemmed points were confined to southeastern Massachusetts south of the Boston Basin, the Cape and Islands, and west to Narragansett Bay. Cape Stemmed points date to between 2,500 and 1,500 years ago and were used as knives or a gravers, an engraving tool used on wood or bone. The two possible Stark points could push the date of human occupation in this area back some 6,000-7,000 years. The condition of the points made it difficult to determine their diagnostic type in the field; hopefully further laboratory analysis will be conclusive.

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At several locations across the site, both Atlantic and Wading River point types were found in association with clusters of fire-cracked rock which are the remnants of Native American cooking activities. The rocks may be cracked from once lining a hearth or cooking fire, or from a cooking process known as stone-boiling in which stones are heated and dropped into water. As the stones cool they are replaced by freshly heated stones, and the heat transfer brings the water to boil. The thermal pressure created by the rapid heating and cooling of the stones causes them to break in a distinct manner easily recognizable to archaeologists. Some of the fire-cracked rock clusters found at Taylor Bray Farm were in loosely circular groupings.

In one instance, a pair of units encompassing two square meters contained a fire-cracked rock feature and both Atlantic and Wading River points. This association places both point types in contemporaneous use at this site constricting the possible time of settlement to between 3,600 and 4,100 years ago. Small amounts of charcoal collected from one of the sites were sent for radiocarbon dating to Geochron Laboratories. The analysis revealed that the actual date is 3680 +/- 130 years before the present. That dates the site back to the Late Archaic period, probably just before the Atlantic Phase occupation. This is exciting as it helps to sort out the association between the Atlantic Phase and the Small Stemmed phase.

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2013_10 quartz pointAn archaeology student is in the process of uncovering a stone chopper or scraper (below, left) from the same period as the Atlantic spearpoint shown earlier in slide 9. This stone tool was found in the same unit where a small stone adze (below right) was found. The adze was so small that it is speculated that it could have been a toy! In the same pit there was also the small quartz point shown to the right.

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All archaeological sites present problems of one sort or another. At some sites, there is time pressure. For instance, the owners of a property want to build on the site but are required to do a historic survey before they can begin. In other cases, there may be extreme weather. At the Farm, time pressures are non-existent and last October the weather was generally good. However, workers at the dig had to endure the scrutiny of Scotty and Fiona.

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Community outreach and education are part of the mission of the Taylor-Bray Farm Preservation Association. To this end, students from Cape schools were welcomed to participate in the dig under close supervision of the archaeologists.

Above: Students from the Lighthouse Charter School with teacher Daniella Garran and with Archaeologist Craig Chartier learning about documenting their work.

Below left: Cliff Miller's students from Dennis-Yarmouth High School with a Farm volunteer and right, with the archaeologist.

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Students from the Riverview School with teacher Phil Gerard in the blue cap in the middle of the students.