The life of a Field Assistant, Part 1

The beginning of my Field Assistantship was not the traditional one. Usually, the field assistant helps to place the units, for us five foot by five foot squares, and then struggles to find things to do for a week until the students arrived. This year, however, the field school was not digging where it had been for the previous ten years, but was in another location, one that has not really been explored, only 50 five by five squares which might seem like a lot, but in a large field, it is next to nothing. Anyways, the real challenge was not so much placing the units, but finding where the old ones were. You see, back in the eighties, Historic St. Mary’s City had a surveyor working for Maryland come out and lay in some points. These points were meant to allow archaeologists to know exactly where they were digging, giving context to the artifacts. Alas, the surveyors were wrong in their placement, by a grand total of 50 feet. Thus, the units dug in the nineties were also off by about 50 feet. And so began the great hunt for literal nails in a hay field. The long story short is that, after much math, frustration, more math, more frustration, finding the right surveyor nail, then realizing it was the wrong nail, and then actually finding the right one three feet south, we finally found the correct error and adjusted it into the correct grid. That process took about five days to do. So, the first week was anything but normal and in the end, that was the best way it could have been. This is one of those jobs in which the more you put in, the more you get out. Instead of doing something I already knew how to do, the beginning of this Assistantship was more akin to the setup of a place that has never been dug before, a critical skill in the realm of archaeology.


  1. Thanks for the questions! The site involving all the setup was a followup to some digs done in the 90s, so we kind of knew what we would find. Most of what we did was skirting around the outside of a late 17th century house, so we expected to find some really cool ceramics, such as manganese mottled wares and staffordshire slip wares. If you have not seen them before, definitely google them! They both have some phenomenal designs, in fact Staffordsire is by far the best, in my opinion. Because the area we are digging in was once a field, we really expect to find bit of everything. That field has gone through over 300 years of agricultural plowing, so all the artifacts are jumbled together. We found everything from tobacco pipe stems to nails to brick to pork bone to shell to lead shot and everything in between. It was a really cool site! What I really want to do is Marine Archaeology. I am interested in ship and shipping culture, as the framework for the movement of people, goods, ideas, germs, etc.. in the 17th and 18th centuries, so my dream site would be a shipwreck of that nature.

  2. pwvolante says:

    This sounds absolutely amazing! I know it can be irritating when you want to dig in (no pun intended) to what you are doing, but little things keep getting in the way before you can start. It will just make the results of your dig that much more gratifying! What kinds of artifacts are you likely to find at this site? What would be your dream find? Best of luck!