Back in the Pit.

Image of the current excavation area, looking north.

Recently, the Roving Webcam has been covering early weeks of the 2013 archaeological season at the back (or south end) of the Armoury property.  This spring’s project picks up where archaeologists left off last fall, with the exploration of a large, rectangular pit feature that we are tentatively calling a sawpit.  Whether or not that identification holds water remains to be seen.   

Archaeological excavation is not always easy to decipher, and so for those of you wondering what has been taking place over the last three weeks, the following serves as a bit of explanation.  The image above (looking a little like a Rorschach test) shows the site as it appeared on Friday afternoon, before the late March snow and rain. (We hope that it will eventually dry out so that it looks this way again!).  You should be able to see a variety of colors…predominantly brown, but with some variation.  Below, the same image identifies modern “features” that have been removed in recent weeks as archaeologists have made their way down to earlier chapters in the site’s history.  Among the intrusions are 2 modern fencepost holes filled with cement, remnants of diagonal trenches dug in 1941 as excavators engaged in early efforts to find brick foundations, and two backfilled archaeological units dating to 1975.

Modern features identified.

Modern features identified.

This week we will turn our attention to a few interesting forms that that have just appeared.  If your eyes are quite good, you may be able to use the unmarked image at the top of the page to identify the outline of the remaining “sawpit” fill extending northward from the 2012 sand backfill (hint: it’s easiest to see along the east side where it seems to be lined in black).  If not, we have dotted the edges (in the image below) of what we believe to be the pit’s extent.  Over the course of the next few weeks we will be excavating the fill, layer by layer, to see if the “sawpit” diagnosis seems plausible, or whether this hole proves more cellar-like in the final analysis.

Areas of current interest.

Areas of current interest.

Also intriguing is a rectangular area west of the sawpit which appears to be filled with brick rubble and artifacts.  In the image above it is marked with a “?” ….which sums up what we currently know about this feature.  It was a mystery in 2012 when we encountered the same “shelf-like” extension cut into the side of the pit (see white arrow, in the image below).  Perhaps the next few weeks will provide  answers.  As we get deeper… literally, and figuratively….into these questions, we will provide updates on what we’ve found, and what it tells us.

2012 excavation showing the “shelf” cut into the side of the sawpit.

Meredith Poole, Staff Archaeologist.


  1. Kerry Lancaster says

    My questions are, since there was a war going on during the Anderson
    Armoury period what was mostly eaten by the workers ? I would think gardens would be scarce at certain times and the duty of the kitchen folks non stop. Second Were there under ground cellars for storing food included?
    The third question. Who was assigned to take care of the sick in CW
    at that time of the war? The number of hours,loss of sleep and adding
    black smoke to the workers must have taken its tole.
    Last question. Do you think we could we see the front side of the tin shop siding and porch? Many thanks as always

    • Garland Wood says

      The Revolutionary War records from the State of Virginia tell us that the workmen at the Armoury were paid a wage, provided with housing and given a military ration as part of their contract. The rations varied a bit, but always included about a pound of meat and a pound of flour per man, per day, supplemented with fresh and dried vegetables, and some kind of drink. In the field, soldiers were expected to cook their own rations, but at the Armoury, the State provided a cook to prepare the rations for the workmen in the kitchen next to the main workshop. The State employed a Public Gardener at the Palace to grow vegetables for the troops. We suspect that the Armoury workmen ate better than their comrades in the field.
      When Archeology dug in the area around the Tin Shop they uncovered enough beef bones in a trash heap to do a nice analysis of the cuts of meat provided to the workmen. Beef and bread, bread and beef…
      In terms of storing food, there were multiple storehouses on the Armoury site, and a full cellar under the old tavern on Duke of Gloucester street that served as a barracks for the workmen. Certainly that cellar had been used to store food in the tavern days and was probably the best place to place stores during the war.
      As for caring for the sick, Williamsburg had both a Continental hospital and a separate hospital built for State troops. I don’t recall any specific record of care being provided for sick workmen, but James Anderson could have sent workmen to the hospitals for care or paid a local physician to treat his men and charged the expense to the State treasury. The latter scenario seems more likely – it was usually a good idea to keep sick people away from those military hospitals.

  2. jackie vilt says

    We have just returned from visiting Colonial Williamsburg this past week. The town was bustling with spring break visitors. It was so interesting to see all the progress on the armoury project. We always learn something new when we visit. This time was no exception. Thankyou for the great work you are doing. We look forward to return in the late fall to see all the finished work at the armoury site. We will be buying lots of Mars chocolate in appreciation of the generosity of your benefactor.

      • Christine Hansley says

        We’ve been eating Mars for a very long time. But we have been eating Dark Chocolate M’s and Dark Chocolate Peanut M’s in honor of the Coffeehouse and the Tin Shop donations by Mr. Forrest Mars. I hope he is able to attend the Grand Opening in November, to see what his M’s have been used for.

  3. says

    Good Day Meredith,

    I have noticed much progress on the Armoury site since the first pictures were posted. Could you give all of us who are fascinated by the work of the archaeology staff an update as to what has been found and the conclusions from those findings?

    • Meredith Poole says

      Ron and Ed (below)~
      You are quite right. There has been lots of dirt moved over the last few weeks. While we have few answers at this point, we have new information. The “pit” measures 12′ x 16′ (not the 12′ x 20′ that we anticipated based on some coring last year). This is interesting in that the hole is more “square” …. almost cellar-like….in its appearance now. It appears never to have been lined, however. So we are still puzzling over its function. Outside thoughts are always welcome!

      If you are wondering about the pit’s strange configuration, we have excavated only 3/4 of it. We often leave a part of an archaeological feature, especially one that might be better understood at a later time with future technology, for our successors to explore. We were the beneficiaries of this practice in 2010 when we found an unexcavated baulk (preserved from the 1975 excavation) just outside the Armoury kitchen. It was from this baulk that we were able to extract and test samples of the kitchen’s plaster. We hope that we are doing the same for future explorers of the “pit”

      Off to the left side of your screen, a couple of us have been digging a meter-wide trench through a pit that seems to be filled with brick rubble…destruction debris from a building. Above the rubble are large pieces of ceramic including punch bowls and chamber pots, and wine bottle glass. So far we know that this pit cuts into the “sawpit” making it more recent. The exact date is not yet clear. The trench that we are digging will provide a profile, so that we’ll have a sense of this feature’s depth and edges, even if we are unable to dig as much of it as we would like.

      We hope that the next 2 weeks will bring some clarity to these, and other, matters. Thanks for coming along!

  4. Meredith Poole says

    It was a pleasure! And you were good to visit not once, but repeatedly over the time of your stay. The only thing better than visitors is repeat-visitors!

    We look forward to your return as well. And if you need anything cleaned…..

    Happy Easter!

  5. Larry Dewey says

    Thanks Meredith for the update. I was able to visit with you last week on my visit to Colonial Williamsburg and really enjoyed my time there. Just want to comment during my visit (while I was standing there) one the diggers found a 1773 Virginia Half Penny coin. Not being sure at the time it was actually a coin you graciously volunteered to clean off the coin by spitting on it. Got a few laughs from the other diggers and me who was still standing there. (We all know you were just kidding) I also thank you for taking the time to show me what you had dug up in your meter square and explaining how you come up with the time line and age of the ceramic pieces. It was very informative and I enjoyed visiting with you, Andy, Mr. Brown and Loretta. I’m already looking forward to my next visit to Colonial Williamsburg. I wish you all a great Easter. See you soon.

  6. Dick Meredith says

    As another CW geek, I enjoy checking your progress at least once everyday and sometimes several times and always look forwaed to reading your blogs.
    We are looking forward to our next visit and personally checking the progress.
    Dick Meredith

  7. Dave Sams says

    The sawpit is a mystery to me too. The size of the hole would take quite a bit of labor to dig. I would think once one was established, it would be used for multiple buildings, not just for one. It seems easier to haul sawn timbers and boards rather than spend a few days to dig a pit. What you actually have found is quite interresting! Perhaps we are watching another “tin shop” being discovered. Thanks again for the cam and the efforts to keep us informed.

    • Meredith Poole says

      Kerry and Dave~
      You both make good points. If our pit is indeed a sawpit, then it is an exceptionally large one. We are basing our interpretation on the possibility that it is a double, or gang, sawpit that would have accommodated more than one pair of sawyers. Such an animal did exist. The question is whether that’s what we’ve got. We’re still mulling. The only new information (as of this afternoon) is that our pit measures approximately 12’ x 16’….not as long as we expected.

      Dave, you mention that it would seem to take a lot of effort to dig a sawpit. I can tell you first-hand that you are correct! If you need to saw long plank, however, you will need a pit wherever you prepare your materials. Whether it is on- or off- site is immaterial….the labor requirements would be the same. Preparing them on-site has the advantage of proximity, which might be useful in a situation where there was simultaneous construction of multiple buildings.

      I do have images of sawpits that may be useful in helping you to understand how they work. I will dig those up (no pun intended) and post. Thanks for the great questions. They keep us on our toes!

  8. Kerry says

    I know little of saw pits but based of what I am seeing on the site photos it
    looks somewhat wide for a sawpit. Can you shed some light on this?
    Second what would be the reason a pit would be so close to the blacksmiths and tin workers? Last could you give us a little history on sawpits in CW and perhaps show us a picture from one of you sources like Diderot. Thanks to you and all the Archaeologist for your service. You are truly a hardy group of dedicated folks.

  9. Mike Lebsock says

    I am such a CW geek! I teach in CA, but my daily routine includes checking the CW webcams each morning as I prepare for class. I have been fascinated by this archaeology project… Of course I have been bugging my CW friends as to just what is going on. Thanks for providing this update. I shall continue to watch (and read) with great interest.

    • Meredith Poole says

      There is nothing we like quite as much as a CW geek! Thanks for wearing the badge with such pride. If you can think of a way that our digging might intersect with your teaching, please let us know. In the meantime, keep watching ….and we’ll keep “updating”!

  10. Christine Hansley says

    Hi Meredith,
    Thanks for the update. The photos really help.
    Is there any indication on the old military map, I think it was called the “Frenchman’s map” of any kind of a building in that location? Maybe just a shack without a real foundation, but used as a root cellar or storage for something that needed some protection from the weather but didn’t need a permanent structure?? All speculation at this point.
    Has Supervisor Kitty been on the job? She looked nice and cozy in recent pictures.
    Thanks for sharing your knowledge.
    Have a great, safe and Happy Easter,

    • Meredith Poole says

      Hi, Chris~
      The Frenchman’s Map shows nothing where we are currently digging, which means only that that there was nothing in that spot when the map was drawn. I think we’ll need to get further into the pit before we decide whether this is building-related, or something less substantial. Keep watching.

      Eleanor has been giving us a bit of the cold shoulder this week. The kitchen just reopened following the floor replacement…and Eleanor prefers supervising a simmering stew over a bunch of muddy archaeologists. Who can blame her?! I would choose the same way…

  11. says

    Thanks Meredith for the pictures and the in-depth (no pun intended) explanation as to what progress is being made on the Armoury site. Hope to see first hand the progress in early June.


    • Meredith Poole says

      We’ll look forward to your visit in June. As you can tell, we’re trying to get the wet weather out of the way before then!

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