Dig Update #3

Our investigations at 810 Royal have entered a new phase, as the first session of the UNO summer field school has ended. The bulk of our work will shift to the lab for the next couple of weeks, though we will be tying up some loose ends at the site as well. Then, we’ll conduct a second phase of field work in the first week of August, to further explore some of the deposits we have already identified.

Recent field work has been productive, although it has been complicated by the occasional downpour. Dealing with the weather is an inevitable part of doing excavations in New Orleans… We try to protect the units with plastic, but, when it rains hard enough, the units will inevitably fill with water, which must be bailed before excavating. As long as one takes care not to track outside soil into the units, it doesn’t harm anything, but it does slow down the process. And now that we are down to over 3 ft in most of the units and into very clayey soils, it makes things pretty messy!

The unit at the front of the lot was our smallest excavation area, and it reached the pristine French Colonial levels first, producing significant amounts of both French and Native American pottery. The other regular excavation units also eventually reached these levels from the first half of the eighteenth century, with other artifacts including a lead baling seal, pipe stems, ornate table glass, and so on. We likely won’t know the true significance of all of these finds until we have a chance to assess them in the lab. We are also taking samples of soil to process off-site, to recover botanical remains and small artifacts like beads and fish bones.

There are still some surprises in these early levels… The unit in the front has revealed an unexpected early midden layer underneath a layer of sterile clay. This may be associated with an extremely early structure, perhaps the one on the 1722 De La Tour map, or perhaps predating it. In the rear of the lot,
here also seems to be a French-era poteaux-en-terre structure, one corner of which is exposed in the unit at N 1 W 0. This structure extends out of the present lot, and thus may also predate the known subdivision of the property; it could also be related to a storage building rather than a residence.

Initial exposure of early Colonial level, with organic staining and large piece of French faience visible at base of unit

Initial exposure of early Colonial level, with organic staining and large piece of French faience visible at base of unit

Some of the most photogenic finds of the recent excavations have come from a complicated series of superimposed features in the rear corner of the lot. Initially, this feature appeared to be a simple brick shaft, probably a privy associated with the ca. 1801 outbuilding; this seemed to be confirmed by the initial bisection of the feature, which exposed a fairly regular brick lining down to the clay subsoil underlying it at just over a meter in depth. However, when we began to excavate the other side of the feature, things took a rather dramatic turn… First, the south edge of the feature was not uniform, including an apparent archway of brick continuing towards the street frontage. This would indicate that the brick shaft was part of a cave, a subsurface storage cellar. The opening in the arch had been bricked over historically, but the brick within it was obviously collapsing inward. When this occurs, it suggests that there are looser, unconsolidated soils further down in the ground. Eventually, we were able to confirm that this was the case, and that the brick feature had been built over (and possibly cutting into) an earlier unlined cess pit. This cess pit contains a wealth of ceramic material, much of it tightly dated to the period from 1790-1800, when this pit must have been filled. Getting to the rest of the cess pit is going to be somewhat trickier, as it extends underneath a number of other brick features in the vicinity.

Brick shaft with archway and slumping infill

Brick shaft with archway and slumping infill

English mocha pearlware and ‘china glaze’ pearlware, from ca. 1790s cess pit

English mocha pearlware and ‘china glaze’ pearlware, from ca. 1790s cess pit

Many more photos of artifacts are coming soon, once we have time to do more washing and processing in the lab!

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