Digging in, part two: UVM archaeology survey completed at Stannard House

University of Vermont student Cat Dey works the sifter at the Stannard House survey site last Thursday afternoon. (Photo by Tom Marble)

The General Stannard House Committee took another step last week toward meeting Act 250 requirements and gaining approval to move ahead with renovations on the property.

John Crock, director of the University of Vermont consulting archaeology program, and his four-student team completed a two-day survey last Thursday of the approximately 150 by 80-foot area on Route 7 – a known Native American site – where the committee hopes to build a parking lot.

“The state required this work here because of the broad sensitivity in this area,” Crock said. “Nothing has been found related to the Native American occupation. We found some historic artifacts but nothing significant.”

Although the group did find small glass shards and pieces of metal that are likely old, Crock said nothing was unearthed that would be concerning to the Act 250 board or that would cause the committee to have to change or adjust their plans.

He will eventually summarize this in a formal letter to Act 250 and the State Historic Preservation Office.

Over two days, Crock and his students, who participated as part of a summer internship, chose sample sites in the grassy, overgrown area using a grid system with the Stannard House as the reference point.

After excavating each site, they plotted coordinates on a map and a GPS, a process that served as good practice for his students, Crock said.

“This is actually a well-developed area for us to work in. Sometimes we’re out in the woods and it’s just the GPS that we’re really depending on to figure out where we are on the landscape,” Crock said.

The goal was to dig below the historically disturbed plow zone – a layer of dirt that was churned by farmers in the past – and get down into the intact soil.

“We could find and we have found significant sites in plowed areas. It’s just part of Vermont’s heritage,” he said.

The group worked in teams of two, marking each randomly chosen location with bright orange flags. After carefully peeling back the top layer of sod, they dug square holes approximately 60-70 centimeters deep, tossing each shovelful of dirt into a large sifter.

VM senior Cole Guerriere makes notes during the excavation of a survey pit at the Milton property.

“If anything catches our eye, we usually ask John to give us a second opinion,” said Cole Guerriere, an anthropology major headed into his senior year at UVM.

“After we dig the full pit, we go in and we take a profile of the pit. We roughly sketch it out and describe the soil,” he added.

The dirt was then shoveled back into the hole and the sod replaced to recreate the level ground, Crock said, emphasizing the archaeologists aim to not unnecessarily disturb land.

Any small pieces of material that were found were put in labeled bags, and students carefully recorded a detailed description of the item as well as where it was found.

Stannard House Committee member Janet Richards was impressed by the process, which she called “very documented” after seeing students take photos of each item when she stopped by last week.

The students then created a profile that included a rough sketch of the hole and its location as well as a description of the soil, Guerriere said.

Soil is evaluated according to color and grain size, which allows archaeologists to explore the depositional history. On the Stannard House property, the team dealt with mostly sandy soil – one of the reasons farming is successful in Milton and Colchester, Crock said.

Although they didn’t unearth any arrowheads, Haley Parry, a junior anthropology major, said she was glad to get fieldwork experience after having been in a couple other archaeology classes where the fieldwork portion was cancelled.

“Not a lot of archeologists get to have that hands-on experience as early as we do, which is nice,” she said. “It’s just really interesting to see the space before it’s developed and try to get a view point of how it was before we came here.”

From a professor’s standpoint, Crock said bringing his students to real survey sites is an entirely different kind of learning that allows them to gain experience and knowledge in ways they couldn’t inside a classroom.

“They’re learning skills that … are pre-professional training,” he said. “This is work that people are employed to do, and they are learning the skills that will hopefully, in their case, lead to employment that’s what they choose to do.”

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