This week our field school began our part in the ongoing excavations at Valley Forge’s Washington Memorial Chapel, where we are seeking new information on the Continental Army’s stay during the American Revolution. The past five days have been our class’s first collective experience of archaeology’s physical application in the field. Thus, our fearless leaders, Carin and Jesse, have begun to impart upon us their wisdom and knowledge of the techniques, theories, and intellectual potential of the discipline.
We have learned many of the skills necessary to partake in a scientifically sound investigation of the material remnants of the past. By learning to lay out grids and take elevation measurements our group has been introduced to the use of spatial organization of the site for greater contextual understanding of the remains. We have learned proper excavation techniques that allow us to uncover materials and information in a systematic manner that will prove useful in site description and interpretation. As we have explored the soils and made finds we have learned much about the recognition and identification of the artifacts and features left behind by previous human inhabitation and activity. Most importantly, we have been given instruction on record keeping and data organization, so that all the information gained from the site can be preserved and utilized for a greater understanding of our research subject.
Over the past week we have also learned some things that can’t be understood through pedagogical processes. My fellow students and I have all participated in the discovery of things left behind by the soldiers who fought for American independence. We now know the joy and excitement of finding things touched, created, or used hundreds of years ago by people we have previously only read about in history books. The site has yielded charcoal, bone, nails and other metal objects, shards of ceramic wares, pieces of glass, a lead musket ball, and a fancy ceramic and metal button. We have also found human altered lithic fragments that indicate the production of stone tools in the area, potentially by natives that lived here long before Washington’s Army. These discoveries have showed us both what archaeology can provide us intellectually as well as the romance of uncovering the material culture lost by the people of the past. Thus far our class has not just been enlightening, but immensely enjoyable as well.
As we learn about the archaeological process our anticipation of future finds fuels our excitement and inspires our efforts to find out more about both archaeology and the people it tells us about. Our first taste of the soils trod upon by the heroes of the Continental Army during the famous winter of 1777 has left us with an insatiable hunger for more.