Archaeologists excavating by a brick church

As is often the case, the most compelling features surface after our annual summer field school, and students and interns have departed. This year was no exception, with the discovery of several important features dating to the early 17th century. In August, archaeologists expanded the 2016 excavation site, and as units to the east were opened, a square posthole was identified that seems to align with the east wall of James Fort several yards away. This is the first evidence of a structure in the area that predates the 1617 church. To the west, archaeologists discovered the south end of a small pit containing a large concentration of early 17th century material, which appears to relate to a fort-expansion period structure. Finally, archaeologists excavated a test trench through four planting furrows that the field school students discovered.

“Weekend warriors” Lee McBee, Kelsey Watson, and Chuck Durfor excavated two units east of the Ambler-Lee cemetery wall. They identified more planting furrows, a grave, and a pit full of archaeological rubble from the early 20th century excavations of the former churches. They also discovered one posthole, approximately 1½’ square, which was characteristic of holes dug for other early James Fort post-in-ground structures. The fill contained mottled orange and tan clay mixed with dark brown topsoil, and no artifacts. The circular-shaped post mold was filled with a mix of loam and ash. Indicating it was dug post 1607, it sealed two planting furrows.

No matching post holes were found to the north, and it was thought that post holes to the south would probably have been demolished by reoccurring church construction, which began in 1617 and ended in 1906. Despite this, Director of Archaeology Dr. Bill Kelso sent the crew west, in the hopes that the 4’ x 10’ unit directly next to the Memorial Church wall might reveal a portion of the next post. No post holes were uncovered, but an undocumented archaeological test next to the church’s exterior north wall was discovered! Dug in the 1970s or 1980s, artifacts from the test included bits of plastic and an old film wrapper.

With no postholes to the west, the team re-examined the brick rubble-filled pit to the east for evidence of a post hole. In 1901, founder Mary Jeffery Galt recorded that there was “a large sycamore tree growing partly in the northeast corner of the chancel, one root of which extended across the chancel and the minister’s and Knight’s tombs.” When the tree was removed, the pit was filled with Galt’s archaeological till. Rediscovery archaeologists removed the rubble, and despite the pit’s depth of approximately 2’, the very bottom of a 17th-century posthole was found. It is hoped that future excavations to the east and inside the memorial church will reveal more of this structure, which likely dates between 1608, when the palisade expanded, and 1617, when the church was relocated in this site.

As area excavations to the west progressed toward the 1607 east palisade wall of James Fort, the crew noticed a distinct change in the material culture in the overburden. The layers contained less brick rubble and many early 17th century artifacts, including a large sherd of Spanish olive jar, a Venetian glass Nueva Cadiz trade bead, and two clay tobacco pipe bowls. Handmade of local clay, one pipe is covered with its maker’s fingerprints, which may be those of pipe maker Robert Cotton who arrived in 1608. The other pipe, mold made of white ball clay, was manufactured in England around 1610. Among the small metal finds recovered from the area are a copper alloy Krauwinckel jetton and a Groningen token dated 1583. Also uncovered are 73 sherds of a contact period Native American pot are among the finds. These have been mended to form more than three-fourths of the original shell-tempered, smooth surfaced vessel with notched rim. Another significant ceramic item is a small lead glazed Surrey-Hampshire Border ware cheese-making strainer, which indicates the presence of English women, and also of the cattle that first arrived first in 1611.

Finally, a remarkable cache of iron artifacts appeared in the test unit directly adjacent to the palisade. Among the items recovered are a sword pommel counterweight and a stock lock tumbler. Most of the iron, however, consists of numerous brigandine armor plates. These narrow, rectangular-shaped plates with rivets once lined the inside of a cloth garment. All of these artifacts came from the northern limits of a small pit that may be an early fort-period cellar, and four nearby postholes seem to be associated. Rediscovery archaeologists plan to investigate this intriguing structure during the 2017 season.

Before finishing the area near the church foundations, archaeologists placed a 10’ x 1’ x 8” test trench through four planting furrows in order to get profiles. The test revealed only the bottom two inches of each furrow, and that they were filled very early because they contained only prehistoric artifacts. For video footage of this test trench and the furrow profiles, please check out our August 2016 dig update video!

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