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US Route 301 Archaeology Update

Written on: October 19th, 2012 in Archaeology Updates US301

10-meter deep well shaft profile. Who said it was gonna'  be shallow?


Well, well, well.  On the final day of fieldwork at the Rumsey/Polk site, we excavated a deep well.  The upper parts of the well , also known as Feature 10, were dug down 5 feet  by hand until we reached a layer of lime chunks that were tossed into the abandoned well. The upper parts of the well were filled at the end of the second, circa 1800-1855, tenant period.  Some of the interesting artifacts from the feature include a horseshoe, a brass pistol butt cap,  plus 18th and 19th-century ceramics  like yellowware, engine turned redware,  creamware, and annular ware, and whiteware.  Wells are fabulous windows to the past; a very interesting way to learn what people were doing and buying, as they typically become deep trash dumps by residents once the well runs dry. Digging a well is no joking matter though since they can be very deep. The deeper you go, the more dangerous it can be to dig.  Although the top five feet was dug by hand, we used a backhoe to dig the rest, and boy was it deep!  The bottom of the well was reached at 32 feet below ground, the same as the elevation of the creek north of the site.  When built during the 18th or 19th century, the well was dug by hand. Each well posed a danger of collapsing on the workmen.  Some wells were dug 40 feet deep just to reach water.  This really makes you appreciate the effort and danger associated with well digging during the 18th and 19th centuries.  While digging the well, the backhoe carefully removed each soil layer, which the crew screened for artifacts.  As you can see in the photograph, more than half of the well was filled with broken brick, which was probably part of the chimney to the home that stood nearby.  Even though the well was filled with brick, the actual well shaft was made of wood, either as a long wooden box or stacked barrels.  Artifacts found in the well revealed it was filled when the tenant farm was abandoned during the early 1850s.  Broken brick that could not be reused on other properties, large chunks of lime used for soil fertilization, and topsoil were tossed into the deep hole to fill the void, which archaeologists re-discovered 160 years after it was abandoned.