After two weeks into the field school, my “squad mate,” Josh Eads, and I finished the second level of our unit. After the floor was leveled, and all the loose dirt was cleared away, we noticed something peculiar about this level: there is a large black rectangle that starts at the northern wall of our unit and extends 108 centimeters southward into the middle of the unit. This unusual area has been designated as Feature 1, or FEA 1. Unlike an artifact, which is considered to be portable, a feature is a non-portable object or area – such a as a wall, a pit, or our interesting black rectangle – that represents a past human activity.
On Friday (6/9/17), Josh and I began excavating the eastern half of the feature and finished clearing it out on Monday (6/12/17). Our goal here was to find the boundaries of the feature — to determine how deep it was and how far east it stretched. We left the western half of the feature undisturbed so we could examine any stratigraphy (changes in soil type, color, or texture) that may be present, and perhaps use a different technique to further analyze the feature. Excavating this half of the feature proved to be exceedingly time-consuming. It goes without saying that since we wanted to determine the exact shape of the feature, we had to be extremely careful while looking for the diagnostic change in soil color that told us where the feature ended. Finding the eastern boundary of the feature was rather simple, but determining its depth was much more difficult. After nearly four hours of fighting tree roots, clumps of an unknown burnt substance, and large chunks of coal, I finally started to reach the bottom of the northern half of the rectangle. Rather than a simple flat floor, the floor of this area gradually slopes inward from the eastern wall of the feature. After some interesting attempts at finding the best place to sit while excavating this awkward slope, I was finally able to reach the lowest point of this fascinating feature, which turned out to be at a depth of 34 centimeters. Josh also had to fight tree roots and coal while excavating the southern half of the feature. He was able to determine that the floor in this area was relatively flat and had a depth of about 30 centimeters.
Even though excavating the entire eastern half of this feature took up the bulk of our day, Josh and I also carefully screened the soil we removed from the pit. We found quite a few rusty nails, some of which were bent at a near right angle, some large pieces of glass, a couple of paper clips, and a sizeable amount of an unknown burnt substance — possibly clay or plaster. But the most substantial amount of material found was burnt coal. It was not burned to the point where it had become charcoal; it was more like lightweight, brittle chunks of carbon. While shovel skimming both the first and second layers of our unit, we found a large amount of coal, both burnt and not burnt. However, FEA 1 is primarily composed of the substance — it is essentially a deposit of used coal. Needless to say, our hands had a nice black hue to them by the end of the day.
The significant amount of used coal in the feature led Josh and I to hypothesize about what this feature was. We believe it may have been the location of a furnace or chimney. Another classmate, Cooper Duda, suggested that the feature could even represent the location of an old fireplace. All of these theories could also explain why we recovered so many nails — old pieces of wood containing the nails might have possibly been disposed of by being placed in an incinerator located in this area. However, we need to investigate the feature a little further before we can draw any definitive conclusions about it.
Although excavating this feature is taking such a long time, I am enjoying the task since it is giving us the chance to explore something a little more specific about Station Terrace.