Friday, November 02, 2007

Lab and Field Work @ Cheney House

Where else can you go dig a small test pit for a few hours and then run off to class?
My first weeks at Berkeley have been full of decisions and acclimation. The URAP program gives undergraduates so many great opportunities to hit the ground running, and with the Cheney House Project we get the chance to get our fingernails dirty at a dig right here on campus. Working on the Cheney House project is a great match for me as I get the dirt under the nails part, with the essential lab experience, as I get settled into Cal. The shovels, pickaxes and Munsell Color Charts get a good amount of use on dig days. The fieldwork has been a ballet of comings and goings at the Cheney house, just when someone has to leave for class another student show up and gets right to business, with an ebb and flow that seems almost orchestrated.
The discussions while we dig are of the past finds at Cheney house and the excitement we share of being in a position to contribute to Berkeley’s historical past. Enough has been written about May and Warren Cheney to lay out a good foundation in which our discoveries can be placed. The information that is brought to light by this project continues to add to the important record of this university’s inception.
In the lab I see information from my ‘Analysis of Archaeological Ceramics’ class spilling over into the lab, funny how that works! The ceramic sherds that I have cleaned, sorted and bagged are beginning to speak to me. To see and understand the basics of ceramic evaluation adds so much to both my lab time and class time.
I worked with Kim Christensen, the lead for the Cheney House project, on some Gage House artifacts that were being sent back East to the Gage House Historical Foundation for display. This was particularly fun as we were “cherry picking” the most interesting items for their yearly fundraising party. Kim reminded me that this is not the way we usually handle artifacts, but to work on an ornate brass doorknob, china with searchable (!) British makers mark, and other unusual items was an exciting introduction for me.
I look forward to the day when the Cheney House is counted as a registered historical landmark, and we can hold fundraisers to fix the ol’ girl, paint her up proper, and return her to her former glory.
If we can dig then we could certainly paint!
Cross your fingers!

Frances Bright


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