Archive | Historical Archaeology

The archaeology of historical periods.

2013 Day of Archaeology Festival Thank You!

The D.C. Historic Preservation Office (DC HPO) would like to thank everyone who came out and supported the 2013 Day of Archaeology Festival!  Thank you for stopping by our table and participating in our activities, we really enjoyed having you.   We would also like to thank Archaeology in the Community, for hosting the D.C. festival. 

It was a very successful event!

For those of you who wish to learn more about the DC HPO, within the Office of Planning, please navigate to our website.

The DC HPO presented on Prehistoric Pottery and Historic Ceramic assemblages, found in DC archaeological sites.  Displays were complete with signage and artifacts.  Visitors were engaged in a variety of activities, such as the “What is This?” game, where visitors had to guess the identity and function of artifacts on display.  The Stratigraphy Exercise, where visitors matched artifacts to associated soil contexts.  And, finally, the Pinch Pot making station, where visitors make their own clay Pinch Pots using prehistoric-themed tools and techniques.  It was a huge hit with the kids!

Scroll down to view photos!

Photos and Captions Blog Photos and Captions


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A day with Macedonian archaeology – “Neolithic settlement Tumba Madzari” (VIDEO)

This short documentary was recorded for the project celebration of international day of archaeology “Day of Archaeology 2013″ by association “Archaeologica” ‘with the support of Ministry of Culture of Republic of Macedonia.

association Archaeologica

Elena Stojanova Kanzurova

Camera, Assembling, Music:
Jane Kacanski

Radomir Ivanovic
Elena Karanfilovska

Skopje, July 2013

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Growing up with George – A Day in the Field at Ferry Farm

Excavation at Ferry Farm, George Washington's Boyhood Home

Excavation at Ferry Farm, George Washington’s Boyhood Home


By Ashley McCuistion,

I spent my Day of Archaeology this year at Ferry Farm, George Washington’s boyhood home in Fredericksburg, Virginia.  I have been working at this site as an intern in the field since May, and have loved every minute of it!  We are currently excavating behind the site of the Washington home, seeking any evidence of outbuildings and trying to gain a better understanding of how the land was used during their occupation there.  George lived at Ferry Farm from age six to twenty-one, but the land was occupied by his family for 34 years, making it an incredibly significant part of his life’s story, and our history!

Though the majority of my summer has been spent excavating the site, I took on a considerably different role in late June when nine students from Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) arrived, ready to begin a five week field school.  I was hired as their teaching assistant, a job that required me to instruct the students on how to excavate, keep records, and identify artifacts.  This was a very special opportunity for me, as I completed my field school at Ferry Farm just last summer and had an incredibly positive experience that lead me to pursue archaeology as a career.  I was very eager and excited to guide these new students through their experience here and share all I have learned with them, though I will admit that I was terribly nervous as well, as this was my first time teaching and I was not sure what to expect.  As the first week began, however, my nerves very quickly disappeared and I became quite comfortable in my new role – a development that was very much influenced by the enthusiasm and abilities of this great group of students.  I was constantly impressed by their positive attitudes and responsiveness to my instructions.  I truly could not have asked for a better bunch of students, which is what made this year’s Day of Archaeology so bittersweet.

Excavating with the VCU students on the 4th of July, 2013

Excavating with the VCU students on the 4th of July, 2013

Friday was the last day of the VCU field school, which began rather quietly as the students spent the morning inside taking a ceramics test.  I kept busy in the field by helping fellow interns Allen and Katie quickly fill a few wheelbarrows with soil in preparation for a kid’s archaeology camp that was coming out to help us screen.  Unfortunately, last week was our final week of excavation, so we only had one mostly excavated unit left to produce soil from, and what was left did not have much in the way of artifacts.  The kids arrived about an hour after we opened the site and went straight to work at the screens to see what they could find.  I was working with a particularly animated group, and I loved how excited they became every time they found something, despite the fact that all we had was a couple of nails and some lithic debitage!

After the kids left, the field school students returned and I joined them in scraping the base of the units they had excavated so that we could begin mapping them later in the day.  Once that was done, I dismissed those who needed to leave early and asked the others if they would mind helping us draw profiles of the southern wall of the site.  They very happily accepted the task and got to work, and before the day was done they had helped us complete every drawing, as well as begin the map for the block of the site that they had excavated.  Before I knew it, the time had come to close the site and head home.  I said goodbye to the students and thanked them for all of their hard work, and with that another wonderful chapter of my life at Ferry Farm came to a close.

VCU students Mariana Zechini (left) and Lauren Volkers (right), profile a unit

VCU students Mariana Zechini (left) and Lauren Volkers (right), profile a unit

This was my second Day of Archaeology at Ferry Farm.  Last year I wrote about my first day in the field after my last day of field school, and I could not have been more excited to continue my experience there!  I had no idea where my pursuit of this field would take me, but I knew that I had found something special at Ferry Farm, and I wanted to hold on to that for as long as I could.  I suppose it is somewhat poetic that I would spend this day in such a similar place as I did last year, this time as a teacher instead of a student…  I feel so incredibly fortunate to have had the opportunity to learn and grow at this site, and to work with such incredible supervisors, teachers, coworkers, and students.  It has been a wonderful summer at Ferry Farm, and though I will be sad to leave as this final week comes to a close, I look forward to my next adventure – and to next year’s Day of Archaeology!

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Nimrud for Museums and Mobiles

“Just as this bug stinks, so may your breath stink before god, king and mankind!”
– one of the chilling curses invoked in the treaty between King Esarhaddon of Assyria and his vassals in 672 BC.

I’m curator of cuneiform collections in the Department of the Middle East at the British Museum. No two days are the same for me. One of the more predictable parts of my schedule is project work. Today I’ve been working on a collaborative project called Nimrud: Materialities of Assyrian Knowledge Production, funded by the AHRC and directed by Eleanor Robson at the University of Cambridge.

The Nimrud project explores how scientific and historical knowledge is made from archaeological objects. We’re tracing the biographies of inscribed artefacts from their manufacture and use to their current locations in museum collections and their virtual representations on the web. As part of the project, we’re assembling online resources related to the ancient Assyrian capital city of Nimrud (Kalhu/Calah), especially the finds from excavations by the British Institute for the Study of Iraq in 1950’s and 1960’s. We’ll also be hosting several related events throughout 2013.

Our resources are designed and licensed for re-use by museums in mobile gallery guides. The technical focus is on the development of Linked Data, to encourage meaningful connectivity between previously isolated resources, and to bridge the gap between the museum case and the online world.

Today I’ve been writing web pages about the “Vassal Treaties of Esarhaddon”. King Esarhaddon drew up a remarkable treaty to ensure that his chosen son would succeed him on the throne. His own experience showed that a smooth succession could not be taken for granted. My biography of this object will go live on the Nimrud website in August. In the meantime, you can read the text – and all the fun curses – on the SAA website (it’s no. 6).

BM 132548. The treaty between Esarhaddon and Humbaresh.

The treaty between Esarhaddon and Humbaresh, ruler of the city of Nashimarta. BM 132548. Copyright Trustees of the British Museum.

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A Day in the Cells of Kilmainham Gaol, Dublin, Ireland

A lady gazing by the window

My ‘Day of Archaeology’ has been, since April, making my way slowly around the old (West) wing of Kilmainham Gaol in Dublin. For at least four hours a day I have been recording the graffiti remnants that I locate as I move systematically around the dark cells. This does not include the hours of downloading often hundreds of images per day, transcribing text, annotating images with notes and providing unique filenames for each image. Since I started fieldwork exploring this fascinating heritage site, which was in use as the county gaol for Dublin from 1796-1924, every day has been consistently different and altogether fascinating beyond my wildest hopes!

The Wing of the gaol that I have been recording stretches over three corridors and three floors, with the exception of the top floor, which only has two corridors. Each floors contains around 25 accessible cells, which up to now have included a ‘bathing’ room and the remnants of a padded cell. I have been funded by the Irish Research Council through the School of Social Justice (only archaeologist on staff!) to record the graffiti. What makes this recording ‘archaeological’ is that the graffiti is not just treated as text but its dimensions are important – is it engraved or surface written? Where is it placed? How does it relate to other pieces of graffiti? How was it made? These are among some of the questions I ask in my recording of this varied, extensive and precious source. The project was undertaken in order to add to our knowledge of women’s experiences of imprisonment during civil war. We know that the prison held a large number of women during the Irish Civil War (1922-1923 were held in Kilmainham. Guestimations number these in the few hundred, this was the first period of mass-imprisonment of women as political prisoners in the state’s history. Unfortunately, no registers from this period survive so we do not even have a full list of who was held here, when and why. Fortunately, the women – and their predecessors in the cells – liked to graffiti the walls of the cells, often with their names, dates of imprisonment and even home address. A fabulous source of information that this promises to be , I have encountered much more variety of graffiti remnant and these are increasingly adding to the narratives of those last years that the jail functioned as a de facto political prison. This includes the graffiti of soldiers who were held here during WWI, remnants of earlier prisoners scratched under the layers of whitewash and remnants of ex-prisoners returning many years later to note their previous habitations.

Today was a typical day – I move systematically down each corridor left to right as likewise I move through each cell left to right as I record it. My only equipment includes a relatively unsophisticated collection of digital camera and stand, professional lighting with stand (courtesy of UCD AV department), a notebook for describing the deciphering the graffiti and graph paper where I can represent the location of my graffiti finds!

As I’m currently working on the ever-popular ’1916 Corridor’ (the corridor that held a significant number of leaders of the Easter Rising of 1916 who were executed in the aftermath of the failed rebellion) I have to time my entry to the corridor carefully. Due to the noise and disruption my entrance of cells entails I need to coincide with a period in between guided tours of the corridor. Once desperate narratives of executed men and their bereft families have been provided by the exellent guides I shoo straggling tourists and use my key to access the cell of one of the executed – my first cell today was that of Thomas Clarke. The cell was dark, gloomy and very dusty. Sadly, the floor was scattered with debris of careless visitors who had pushed pieces of paper and tissue through the large spyholes. Who knows what they gain from such actions? I shake my head. The only such remnant I have come across that I can begin to understand its depositions was a small laminated photograph of three ladies – evidently related – with a message on the back noting that it was in memory of when they were all together. I found this by chance under a heating pipe in the cell of the most famous of all the executed leaders – Padraig Pearse. Evidently it was a memento for the depositor of happier times past, unlike the scraps of paper and wrappers that most of the other cells contain. The cells have been locked and closed to the public since the 1990s due to the tendency of visitors to drop litter and especially add to existing graffiti on the walls. These later additions are usually swiftly scrawled, aesthetically unpleasing and uninformative scratching but I have taken care to record some of them – particularly if they are of early date or the writer was from an unusual location. There have been additions from as far afield as the Basque Country and Russia. They may not be desired additions by the custodians but they do add a strand to the many narratives of the site.

The graffiti that interests me the most are the portraits that frequently appear on the walls. The majority are small, side-profile images of men with as varying degree of skill and charm, as can be imagined. They are very infrequently identifiable but add a degree of personality and individualization with their uniform, hats, hair styles, facial hair and even smoking apparatus that is often lacking from the rest of the more text-based graffiti. Those pieces written in pencil are usually the oldest examples, most walls have at least some that are identifiably from the early 1920s. The most numerous examples are names, address and dates – some even detail when the author was arrested, by whom and how long they have been in prison. The majority include at least a name (in English and / or Gaelic), home address and county. Sometimes they finish with a slogan ‘Up the Republic’ or somesuch but this will depend when they were written and by whom. Today’s walls had alot of graffiti that had been drawn or engraved in more recent times – most dated from when people started to visit the site more frequently after it reopened to visitors for the 50th anniversary of the Easter Rising in 1966. But almost every wall has glimmers of pencil text and drawings peeking through the whitewash, which was probably liberally applied in 1920. Through the use of professional lighting these images can be easily decipherable, other times only a trace of a stroke, a letter or number glimpses through. I don’t record every mark – it depends on how photographable it is and how many are on that particular wall, cell, corridor – I suppose there is a degree of subjectivity in this aspect. However, a large number are photographed, described and plotted to provide evidence of the representative as well as the exceptional.

Today there was evidence of small, animal paw prints on the bottom half of the wall under the window and some scratchings consistent with bird activity. This is not uncommon, even on the middle floor. I have started recording these marks- they may not be intentional, readable, human graffiti but they reveal another tale of the site. That of abandonment in the aftermath of civil war and for decades after when noone quite knew what to do with the site, when it meant to much to some people and to little to others. The remnants of animal occupation reveal these stories more succinctly than any other trace.

As well as recording the graffiti I always take a cursory look around the cell to see if there are any large gaps in the floor boards, around the walls or the cavities around the heating pipe that travel the length of the corridor through every cell. Today was one of the lucky days when I did locate something interesting – in an unnamed cell (many of the cells in the 1916 corridor have plaques above them noting who had stayed in them prior to execution or release) a piece of paper had been pushed into the cavity around the heating pipe. On closer inspection it didn’t look to contain writing (with the exception of a possible solitary ‘J’) but it had definitely been intentional secreted into that hole – why? when was it meant to be recovered? It can join a small and select group of artefacts that I have found in such locations include a cotton handkerchief, which had suffered an almost identical fate!

Today, like most days, I recorded two cells (moving myself and my equipment between the cells in the few minutes of quiet I have between guided tours!). I try to ignore the tours as much as possible for no other reason than it detracts from my concentration in searching out graffiti. When many examples are mere traces to the naked eye this concentration is important. I can’t say I’m ignored quite so much by the visitors to the site – many are fascinated by ‘the lady in the cells’ but I let the guides deal with explanations, I prefer to be a silent presence!

Like most days, the graffiti I located today included both engraved and surface drawings, it included mainly text, some numbers and a small number of drawings. Like each day the exact ratios of these graffiti forms and the exact wording of the text was unique to that cell. Until I finish the fieldwork in the next month I won’t know for certain how I am going to interpret these scratchings, writings and drawings but I already know there is a huge number, variety and range that will add to our existing knowledge of the site. And hopefully many more of those forgotten ladies of the civil war will be located and their names added to the lists of political prisoners who transitioned through this infamous prison site.

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LIPCAP Team – why we do what we do!

(Investigating C19 – C20 everyday life: creating community connections through standing buildings and garden finds)

A previous post outlines our community and public ‘DIY’ house and garden surveys. This post briefly discusses why the project has been developed, and what we hope will be some of the benefits. More information about LIPCAP (Living in the Past Community Archaeology Project) can be found via these links:





Kirst (Project Director)


I started to develop what has become LIPCAP a few years ago, when confined to the house by illness and consequently prevented from pursuing my usual archaeological research and fieldwork. Unable to contemplate not ‘doing’ archaeology for any length of time, my immediate surroundings – a house built in the late 1920s – early 30s – inevitably drew my attention. I began to think about how those without archaeological knowledge or experience might be enabled to recognise the numerous traces of past domestic life just waiting to be discovered – and to record and share this information, potentially making a valuable contribution to studies of histories of the home.

Although specialising in the Roman to early medieval transition (c. AD 350-600), I’d been interested in early 20th century housing and domestic material culture for some time; my research and fieldwork into early historic (for my studies, 1st century BC – AD 7th century) households often inspired me to investigate late historic contexts to ask comparable questions. More usually associated in the public imagination with the excavation of ancient remains, the role of archaeology is to investigate the material traces human behaviour in the past – whether prehistoric or historic. And similar techniques can be applied to standing buildings or buried sites to examine, record, and interpret relationships in time and place between people and the material world. Historical Archaeologists commonly analyse archaeological evidence in conjunction with other historical sources, such as documents, in order to understanding of past life in more depth. When studying earlier periods, I often consulted texts in an attempt to explore the interaction of material culture and beliefs; in this way, I was able to investigate social and cultural identity – particularly ethnicity, ‘tribal’ identity, and ‘national’ identity. By adapting approaches developed within sociology, anthropology, and psychology, archaeologists may begin to consider how material evidence both creates and reproduces ideologies, such as those fundamental to religious, social, and political organisation.

My tentative archaeological investigations into the archaeology of early 20th century domestic life (some of which I have shared on a blog elsewhere) made me aware of several issues. Firstly, that many old standing buildings – not ‘listed’ as being of historic worth, due to their commonplace survival – are likely to retain traces of everyday life in the past; the extent to which such traces do survive – even within substantially altered (‘gutted’) houses – may surprise some. Secondly, that DIY is probably eroding and erasing those traces at an unprecedented pace; conversely, renovation and modernisation provide excellent opportunities to explore these remains. And thirdly, that archaeological analysis may reveal information that will enhance interpretations of the domestic historic environment.

The most exciting aspect of these realisations was that such traces are accessible to many, with no need for destructive and expensive explorations: by adopting basic archaeological methods, anyone living in an old house might begin to explore the material histories of their homes – and contribute towards the historical record in the process. Being an industrial centre, hundreds (probably thousands) of small terraced houses, built mostly in the late Victorian and Edwardian periods for workers of local mills and factories, form line upon line of Derby streets (LIPCAP’s base); most are still lived in today. These houses are an untapped historical resource – not least for the children who occupy them, who may ‘get more out of’ history taught at school through practical investigations or their surroundings. But also, outside formal education, such houses provide opportunities for inhabitant to ‘make’ history through their own explorations, and find out about how previous generations of their own families (who perhaps occupied similar houses) may have lived.

In themselves, the findings made at individual houses might seem to be so fragmentary and divorced from wider society and culture that they are of little use or meaning. However, when studied with and compared to findings from other, similar, houses, analysis has greater potential to yield valuable information (perhaps revealing significant patterns), particularly if examined alongside other historical sources (such as documents and maps, photos and oral history), and in combination with the findings of individual and group Local History and Family History research.

My main objective for the project is to provide easy (and hopefully fun) opportunities for engagement with Derby’s rich historic environment; I intend to (and hope others will also) assess the findings from family homes in relationship to wider social and cultural networks. Each household was (and is) an integral component of a neighbourhood, several of which together made the town, which with other towns and villages comprised the region, which in turn combined with other regions to make up the country as a whole. The decisions and movements of the powerful few that controlled and managed the affairs of the nation (as well as those leading more local authorities), through this network of local communities, effected – and often were affected by – the individuals and families inhabiting each household. Therefore, in coming together through the project to pioneer new ways of exploring very specific and localised histories, our investigations may contribute towards understanding the wider and varied pasts of those outside and beyond the individual home, as well as providing a picture of life in the past in our own home.

A couple of members of the project team will now say a few words for the DoA about the project, and why archaeology appeals to them:

Debra (Secretary and Family History Co-ordinator)


I have always been interested and fascinated in archaeology and when asked to become part of the project, I was both grateful and excited. As a child, I was always fascinated in ‘how we used to live’. What also excites me about the project is the possibility of sharing oral and family histories (adopting an ‘archaeological ethnographic’ approach), which enables a wider range of historical resources to be expanded to give meaningful interpretations and accounts to local communities.

Sarah (Youth Rep.)

Sarah K

It is very hard for me to explain why I love archaeology, I just enjoy it extremely. One of the things that interests me about archaeology is finding out how people in the past survived in the conditions they lived in, I also enjoy discovering new and exciting artefacts when excavating. I think that it is fascinating to discover how our ancestors used to live.

I am looking forward to this project because I would like to experience what it is like to do fascinating archaeological fieldwork and get some idea of what it is like to be an archaeologist. I really want to be involved with this project because history is my passion and I want to do as much history related things as possible.

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Day of Archaeology 2013: Norfolk Monuments Management Project

Medieval moated site, South Norfolk © Norfolk County Council

Medieval moated site, South Norfolk © Norfolk County Council

The Norfolk Monuments Management Project was established in August 1990 to encourage the sustainable management of Norfolk’s field monuments and their conservation for future generations. From the start it has been a partnership project, with input from Norfolk County Council, English Heritage and a wide range of land managers, organisations and local authorities.

The project primarily focuses on sites with surviving earthworks, although below-ground archaeological remains, historic buildings and landscapes regularly fall under its remit. Advice is provided on heritage management and meetings are often held with land managers. With support from English Heritage the project is able offer grant funding and management agreements to support positive work on selected sites. In addition, every Higher Level Stewardship applicant with land in Norfolk can benefit from project advice and guidance. The project also involves volunteers in monitoring the condition of earthworks.

As Project Manager, my work can vary considerably day to day. Today has been a relatively typical day with a range of activities:

0830 – visit to medieval moated site in South Norfolk. With the farm manager and a Natural England adviser, I discussed the future management of the site under a Higher Level Stewardship scheme. Issues considered included sheep and cattle grazing, fencing and the coppicing of bushes.

1020 – delivery of environmental sample from a field investigation to an environmental specialist.

1115 – arrival at the office. Completed my paperwork and downloaded photographs relating to site visit. Checked emails. Assessed woodland grant scheme application for historic environment implications.

After lunch – work on brief for a condition survey and specification for repairs to a medieval cross. Checked emails. Discussed archaeological implications of a river management scheme with an archaeological contractor.

David Robertson, Historic Environment Officer (Countryside), Norfolk County Council

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Researching the oldest residential street in the USA

By Deirdre Kelleher Doctoral Candidate Temple University Department of Anthropology Philadelphia, Pennsylvania USA

Today I spent the morning reviewing and revisiting copies of historical maps of Elfreth’s Alley in Old City Philadelphia (Pennsylvania, USA).  The Alley is considered one of the oldest, continuously-occupied residential streets in America and is a National Historic Landmark District.  As part of my dissertation research at Temple University, I have conducted fieldwork at Elfreth’s Alley the past two summers.  This summer, with the help of fantastic volunteers, we began exploration of the back portion of two properties owned by the Museum of Elfreth’s Alley (124 & 126 Elfreth’s Alley).  In the afternoon, I met with my advisor Dr. David Orr to discuss my research plan for the rest of the summer based on the results of shovel test pits in the back lots.  This evening, I am going to review more paperwork and field notes in preparation for the field work next week.

I (Deirdre Kelleher) spent the morning reviewing and revisiting copies of historical maps of Elfreth’s Alley in Old City Philadelphia (Pennsylvania, USA)

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Archaeology for the I-95 Project

Kristin Swanton, MA RPA Archaeologist at URS Corporation Burlington, New Jersey USA

Archaeology for the I-95 Project

Fieldwork for the I-95 highway expansion project in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (USA), has been going on for several years now and in various phases of research. Thus, this project requires our crew (from the cultural resources division of URS Corporation, Burlington, New Jersey, USA) to work year-round and in all types of environmental conditions. Work for the I-95 project starts bright and early at 7AM when our crew gathers on site. For the past several days I have been working with 2-3 other crew members excavating an unusually large 5’ x 7’ test unit. This unit straddles a historical period rock wall foundation that is likely associated with a 20th century domestic structure. Adjacent units have revealed both historical and prehistoric artifacts from fill as well as intact soil layers. Today we were hoping to learn more about the interior of the historical era building as well as understand the relationship between our prehistoric artifacts and ones found in surrounding excavation units. While I was digging, the remaining crew members were screening for artifacts. The soil was very compact and required time and patience completing both activities. Screened artifacts were placed in plastic bags that were labeled with their corresponding location information. Thus far, no unique artifacts were found today, but there is still more work to be done tomorrow and research questions to be addressed!


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Not a bad day of work

Louis Magazzu, URS Corporation Burlington, New Jersey USA

Normally my weekdays consist of digging features or test units underneath I-95 in Philadelphia (Pennsylvania, USA).  In the two years I’ve been working there I have seen such a wide variety of materials that you never really know what to expect.  This week however I’m seeing how the other half lives; I’m working in the lab getting a little taste of everything.  It’s Tuesday.  Jen Rankin, one of the field supervisors, asks me to set up a display featuring some of the I-95 project’s finest prehistoric finds.  We walk to her cubicle where she gives me a goodie box that would excite any prehistorian.  Some of the highlights include unifacial tools, bifacial blades, a broken atlatl weight, a handful of pot sherds, some clay pipe fragments, two tiny beads, dozens of projectile points of diverse types and materials, and finally taking center stage is a beautiful gorget of burnished slate with incised decoration broken rather neatly into two pieces.  I go upstairs to my case, clean it, and lay a black table cloth inside. At lunch I get a phone call from Kevin Donaghy, a Temple University graduate student whom I have been helping out on Saturdays on his site at the Revolutionary War battlefield of Brandywine (Pennsylvania, USA).  He excitedly tells me he thinks he’s found something important.  We are going back this weekend to check it out.  After lunch I place groups of artifacts on slabs of timber, place labels with each artifact type, and put a few sketches in the case showing some objects as they would have originally looked.  The case is complete but there is still a bit of space on the surrounding desk.  I take a bag of some experimental stone working fragments and set up a display showing successive stages in lithic reduction from chert cobble to several different blanks that might become projectile points or bifaces.  Not a bad day of work.

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