04 Jun Royal St. Dig Update #1
Our full field crew began excavations on Monday, June 1st, 2015. Getting started on an archaeological dig is always a slow process, but things have proceeded relatively quickly at 810 Royal. We established a grid over the site to help us keep track of the spatial locations of finds and gives us a quick way of describing them. Initially we opened up 3 different excavation units measuring 1 m x 2 m in size. Each of these will be excavated to what is termed sterile subsoil: the clay that represents the ground prior to any human occupation in the vicinity.
The first unit (designated N 1 W 0) was located in the back corner of the lot, in an area where many artifacts were visible at the ground surface. We now believe that this is the location of a privy shaft associated with an outbuilding constructed in the early nineteenth century, as there are brick walls located within the unit that would have lined the shaft. This unit has been the most productive so far in terms of artifacts recovered, with large fragments of animal bone and of late eighteenth and early nineteenth century pottery occurring within it. This includes both English pearlware and creamware and French ‘faience’ (or tin‐enameled pottery). One of the most exciting finds so far was a large fragment of pottery of Native American manufacture, a piece with a red slip or film on the exterior. Pottery like it has been associated previously with the Apalachee of Florida, who migrated through the New Orleans area in the eighteenth century, but its wide distribution in the 18th century city may suggest other sources for it as well.
The second unit, designated N 3 W 17, is located at the very front of the lot. This unit has proceeded somewhat more slowly. Hundreds of visitors pass by the site every day, and many stop to ask questions; this is great, as it allows us to share information about the city’s history and about our project, but it also makes excavation a little slower! The students working on this unit serve as our ‘public relations’ team on a daily basis.
The unit at N 3 W 17 has so far been interesting for a different reason. For much of the 1900s, the 810 Royal property served as a plumbing shop, and the debris found in this unit so far represents that twentieth century use of the property. We’re just getting through this material and into the earlier layers, but we suspect that there are many more eras of use represented beneath this!
The third unit, at N 6 W 4, is intended to get as close as possible to two different buildings shown on eighteenth century maps, structures that predate the building that collapsed on site. There are still some slabs from the ca. 1801 building on the lot, so these had to be avoided for the time being. In this area, we found large amounts of burned debris, including slag, cinder, and clinker, probably dating from the early twentieth century. Beneath this was a layer that we estimate as dating from the 1870s in which we found a number of copper clothing buckles, probably relating to an earlier commercial use of the property. We’re currently exposing a brick foundation and floor surface that appears to date to the one of the outbuildings of the ca. 1801 complex. Eventually, we may remove this to determine what earlier materials it has sealed and preserved.
Just as of Wednesday (June 3rd), we have opened a fourth excavation. During testing, we exposed a herringbone brick surface at the rear of the lot, which abuts another brick shaft at the corner of the property across from the N 1 W 0 unit. We defined the edges of this brick shaft, and it seems to either represent another privy or a subterranean storage chamber referred to as a cave. We began a small excavation to bisect it; it’s just getting started, but we expect that much more will be coming soon from the area!
More image of artifacts recovered so far will follow soon. Thanks for following our dig!