Alternative Mitigation of the Polk Tenant Site (7NC-F-111) April, 2014
One of the things archaeologists are interested in is what archaeological sites can tell us about how people organized their space. We took a look at where the wells in our sample were located to see how far they were from the nearest buildings or structures. What we learned is that most wells were very close to at least one structure on site. First we looked at the distance to the principal structure or dwelling recorded on the site. Figure 1 shows the average distance between excavated wells and the site dwelling by material. All of the well types averaged between 30 and 56 feet away. However, there was substantial variation in the distances recorded. The greatest variability was found among wood frame lined wells, which were found as far away as nearly 200 feet from the dwelling.
Then we looked at the distance between the wells in our sample and the nearest structure of any kind, which included not only dwellings, but working structures such as smokehouses, dairies, wash houses, and stables. When we did, we found that the average distance and the variability in that distance were both less than with the distance to the main site building. With the exception of wood box lined wells, excavated wells averaged just 20 feet from the nearest structure. Water isn’t just necessary for people and animals to drink, it’s also necessary for many kinds of work. It makes sense that in the days before indoor plumbing, people arranged their homes, farms, and places of work so that needed water was never too far away.
We also took a look at the material used to make wells for outbuildings and compared those to wells nearest to the main structure on site. The percentage of outbuilding wells made with barrels or brick do not seem to differ much from main building wells. However, the percentage of wells that are made of stone or wood framing does differ. It seems that barrel and brick wells were no more or less likely to be associated with an outbuilding than with the principal structure on site, but that stone wells were more likely to be associated with a dwelling or other principal structure and wood-lined wells were more likely to be associated with an outbuilding. This is unsurprising given the relative effort to build a stone-lined versus a wood frame well that stone-lined wells would be reserved for the most important structures on a site. They might also be expected to last longer, and need repair less frequently.