About 5 weeks ago, at the outset of our spring excavation, we posted the picture above. It was intended to help readers see what we saw…areas that piqued our interest as we resumed exploration of a large pit discovered in 2012. The dotted lines indicate differences in soil color. The question marks identify those things we did not yet know, but hoped to learn before the end of April. Now, with the “Sawpit Excavation” behind us, it’s time for some preliminary reporting on what we’ve learned.
The image below is our “after” picture, illustrating what was found beneath all of those question marks. As you can see, we called the “shapes” pretty well. The “large pit” turned out to be smaller than expected: 12’ x 16’ instead of 12’ x 20’ (probing is not always an accurate indicator of a pit’s extent!). We know that it has a rectangular shape, although you may notice that we left ¼ of the fill for future archaeologists to explore with their improved technology and different questions. The pit measures about 3.5’ deep.
None of these characteristics is inconsistent with our original theory that this is a sawpit- a pit dug into the ground to enable pairs of sawyers (with a pit saw between them) to cut long plank. Master Carpenter Garland Wood believes that 16’ is long enough to serve the purpose, and that the width of this pit would have accommodated at least 2 pairs of sawyers. We hypothesize that, under pressure to the Armoury complex quickly, carpenters may have opted to prepare materials on-site.
While this interpretation may still make sense, there are some unanswered archaeological questions. If this is, indeed, a sawpit, where is the evidence for a framework? At the very least we expected a trestle…represented in the ground by postholes… to support a platform above. More significantly, where is evidence for a cover? We have learned through cruel experience that a single hard rain can spell collapse for a hole such as this, and yet the sides of the pit are straight and crisp indicating that they were never exposed to the elements. Did later construction obliterate the posts we were looking for? Admittedly, our confidence in the sawpit interpretation waivered a bit during the course of this project.
And then we found a second one.
Just to the west of the first sawpit, the second pit looked (initially) to be a basin-shaped depression. The upper layers produced large ceramic fragments, principally (and strangely) chamber pots, and below that, quantities of brick rubble. As excavation proceeded, the basin became a neat rectangular hole, straight-sided, flat-bottomed, and with a drain cut through the center to channel rainwater. Unlike the first pit, it exhibited the expected postholes—two on the east and two on the west—indicating that a trestle was supported over it. While our 4 man sawpit might remain in question, there is no doubt that the small hole is a 2-man sawpit. And (of course) there is guilt by association.
At present we feel comfortable interpreting both of these features as sawpits, though there are still some details to work out. We know that they were not there at the same time. The smaller pit cuts into the larger one, making it more recent. The bottom layers of the larger pit are filled with trash from the Armoury: clinker, gunflints, and half-completed iron objects, suggesting that it had become a handy trash receptacle by the time the Armoury started to function. That the smaller pit comes later is verified by the fact that there are very few “industrial” artifacts in it. Instead, the fill consists mostly of household refuse. It is possible that the brick rubble comprising its fill represents the demolition of a house shown standing on the Frenchman’s Map (1782) just to the south.
What else did we find? Although we are still a long way from having a clean and completed inventory of artifacts, we have formed some impressions of what was in the pit. There were certainly lots of animal remains ….not just the butchered remains of Armoury meals, but the articulated skeletons of a cat, and what appear to be two ducks and three roosters. Given that they were “whole”, it is unlikely that they were eaten. Some readers remember that last year’s excavation produced 6 dog burials. And so begins our next round of “question marks.”
Here are some other artifacts that we stopped to photographed along the way…..
-Contributed by Meredith Poole, Staff Archaeologist.