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Field Notes 1999 "Brooklyn's Eighteenth-Century Lott House"
July 16, 1999

Click on the map for a view of the trenches.

We've begun the second field season with fourteen students and four full-time volunteers. Now that we have a good preliminary taste of what the west field has to offer (notably our paths and our shell midden), we've started excavating in the north field. The Lott House now commands only about fifteen feet to its north; beyond that, a neighbor's property occupies what was the old farm.

This northern area was the Lott's backyard, so we'd expect to find privys (you wouldn't want to put your privy in the front yard where visitors could see it!), wells, and outbuildings. Once wells and privys fell out of use, people generally discarded their garbage into the holes to cover over the refuse. It is in the study of these material remains that many research questions are answered.

The students hit the site on Wednesday, July 7th. Their excitement was amplified by the state of the site; with excavated trenches dotting the western portion of the house, the place looked every bit as authentic and archaeological as any dig in the ancient world. The many returning students filled the new students' heads with stories of what occurred in June.

We did not start the July crew in the unfinished trenches of the June crew; our four open trenches can wait a bit longer. Instead we had the students lay out five new trenches in a checker-board pattern in the north field. This way, the new students learned how to properly set up trenches and got right to work.

Unlike the trenches in the western field, we haven't found any massive shell deposits to the north. Only two trenches (N37 E7 and N39 E5) show evidence of shell layers. The majority of the trenches were comprised of two to three layers of top soil, subsoil, and sterile soil.

Post Holes
In one trench (N37 E7) we have found three post holes. Two of the posts appear to have been twentieth-century 2x4 beams, but the third was a circular post (still partially intact) with a square nail in it. Ultimately, the nail will be able to help us date the post hole. Once we get to the lab and clean up the nail we'll be able to get a better look at it's size and shape. We'll compare this to measured drawings of historic nails and date it by that comparison. So far, we've been unable to determine what the function of these posts was or when they were set in the ground. We don't have much in terms of material remains from within the trench or the post molds themselves.

Iron Pipe
Trench N39 E12 had an interesting iron pipe running diagonally away from the house and going north. Based on the diameter of the pipe (about two inches) it does not appear that this was a waste pipe. Perhaps it carried water to a well or a cistern. Maybe it even ran to the barns about half way down the modern block. If we followed it, perhaps we'd find our well. Alas, the pipe disappears into the property of the neighbor to the north; the pipe will remain a mystery. The end of the pipe is in the baulk (the unexcavated portion of the trench) between this trench and its neighbor, N39 E15.

Sandy Pit...and Two Stone Slabs?
From the sandy pit two slabs of mica schist--not native to Brooklyn--emerge. What are they? (Courtesy Brooklyn College)

The last of our five initial trenches (N39 E15) revealed no material remains, but in the northeastern corner a sandy pebble-filled deposit began to appear. A pit! We excavated a half meter down until we reached the sterile soil--a hard-packed red clay. But in this northeastern corner, the sandy soil continued. As we continue to excavate the little pit, the dimensions are becoming a bit tight! With the exception of one piece of blue transfer-print pottery at about the 1.5 meter mark, absolutely nothing came out of it. But just as the students were begging us to move them to a more interesting spot, they hit a piece of mica schist rock. This type of rock does not occur naturally in southern Brooklyn. Someone put that rock there. We now see that there are two rocks (both of the same mica schist) next to each other. We'll be extend the north and east portions of the trench about 1 meter to see what this may be.

House Foundations and a Flagstone Path

A flagstone path appears to have run around the house. (Courtesy Brooklyn College)

We decided to try again to find a builder's trench to determine when exactly the house was constructed as well as see the differences in the construction techniques used on the house. We decided to place a trench (N38 E22.5) against the wall of the house between the lean-to section (which appeared not to sit on a foundation) and the 1800 section of the house. This trench immediately revealed at its outer edge a blue-stone path that appears to have led around the house. After photographing and mapping flagstones we removed them to bring the whole trench down a few centimeters. As soon as we'd cleared the top soil away we discovered that the lean-to did indeed sit on a foundation: apparently flat field stones dry-laid on top of each other (but we can't yet tell for sure). The 1800 section's foundation is formidable. In fact, the exposed foundation sits on wider foundation stones that flare out, a construction technique still used today. Slipware and whiteware pottery are emerging already along with very large oyster shells.

Ash Pit

Who lost his gold watch in the west field? (Courtesy Brooklyn College)

By the end of Tuesday, two teams were preparing to re-open trenches in the northwestern area where in June those mysterious wooden planks and the ash pit were uncovered. We're hoping to find out what's going on in these trenches and still crossing our fingers for a privy or a well.

Planting Fields
In the coming week the site will become an open house. Groups are scheduled to visit from a local school and the South Street Seaport Museum will hold its annual Dig Camp at the Lott House. We'll put the kids to work along the western property line to help us find the planting fields. Stay tuned!

Discussion Questions:
What do you make of those post holes?
What characteristics might indicate how a pipe was used?
Where does mica schist naturally occur?


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