Friday, November 23, 2012

The last entry on my decidedly abridged list of favorite sites is the Mary Peck Yard.  This is probably not a site that you've heard of (or so you think), but it holds a special place in my heart.  The Mary Peck Yard, located in what is these days the Colonial Quarter, did not hold any earth-shattering discoveries.  As such, it provided the perfect space to give fourth graders hands-on experience with archaeology. 

From 2007 through 2010, I collaborated with the City of St. Augustine's Department of Heritage Tourism to conduct archaeology camp (initially as an employee of the City's Archaeology Division, and later with FPAN).  We offered two one-week long sessions that featured field trips to the Castillo de San Marcos, lessons on scientific principles like context and classification, and a little time each day to work on a real archaeology site.

Campers work on site at the Mary Peck Yard.


Luckily, City Archaeologist Carl Halbirt was on hand to determine where we should place units, having carried out a shovel test survey previously.  We placed a single 1x2-meter unit (typically one per summer) for campers to excavate in pairs.  Each group rotated through a few stations: excavation, wet screening, artifact washing, and field skills.  

Campers excavate a unit as volunteer Nick McAuliffe provides assistance.
Wet screening artifacts made for some muddy fun!
FPAN intern Sarah Bennett advises a camper washing artifacts with a toothbrush & water.
Counselor Rosalie Cocci & FPAN volunteer (now intern!) Jennifer Knutson help campers lay out a test unit.







































The great thing about this site for use with a camp is that, because of prior testing, we had an idea of what to expect.  We did not have the gift of clairvoyance, though--after the first year's unit (near what was then the No-Name Bar) became a little too interesting, yielding an early 20th-century trash pit, we moved to the west, placing units in part of the site that was known to have been disturbed by garden activity.  We found lots of artifacts and could detect some changes in the soil (one notably from prior archaeology), but very little would be threatened by our activities. Our campers got the excitement of discovery, the rigor of scientific fieldwork (eventually we even had them keep field notes), and we did document the site as we would any other.


Measuring depth at the corners of our unit.  Gotta keep it level!

It was rigorous work--only at each station for about 15 minutes, campers stopped to measure depths of their units at least twice when they were excavating.  But despite the requirement for meticulous methods, we did still allow them to have a little fun.

Shhh!  Don't tell them, but I'm probably having even more of a blast than the kids.

I know that some archaeologists have recourse to greater organization, so it wouldn't matter so much what the site was.  But for the manpower we could pull together, the Mary Peck Yard made the perfect setting for our camp.  Those kids had a once-in-a-lifetime experience, doing archaeological excavation in the nation's oldest city.  I guess I had an eight-times-in-a-lifetime experience, and I wouldn't give even a day of it back.

Oh--and the thing that makes me most thankful about summer camp in the Mary Peck Yard?  That Carl didn't situate us a little farther east.



All photos courtesy of the Florida Public Archaeology Network.

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