19th century

Fighting for survivial: PhD student experience at the University of Manchester

This final Day of Archaeology finds me busy and distracted. I am roughly at the half way point in my part-time PhD at the University of Manchester, but as the department falls quiet with academic staff dispersing across the globe to introduce undergraduate and post-graduate students to archaeology as diverse as Convict era Tasmania, Neolithic Herefordshire and the multi-period site of Ardnamurchan, Scotland, senior managers at the University are busy trying to decimate the department by getting rid of 50% of the already small staff of 8.

The M2020 ‘vision’ includes making 171 members of staff redundant, including a spectacular attack on the department of archaeology, which is due to suffer a disproportionate cut to staff numbers. If we are left with just 4 members of staff, the department is likely to merge with Classics, and unlikely to be able to continue running the single honours BA degree. The MA course has already been scrapped from 2018. With 15 PhD students currently enrolled, 4 members of staff are unlikely to be able to offer appropriate supervision, let alone provide the breadth of expertise expected, or needed.

The staff at Manchester have been vocal in their opposition not only of the plans, but also the way in which they have been implemented. In correspondence the M2020 project team have insisted that the changes will ‘improve the student experience’ yet it is difficult to see how slashing staff numbers will achieve this. The Archaeology department has an unparalleled reputation for positive student experience and at the moment is the only subject in the University to have 100% student satisfaction. It is also the only Archaeology department in the UK to achieve this figure. In recent years, our staff have won four University wide awards for teaching excellence, in the fields of Social Responsibility, Mental Health Champion, Best E-Learning Experience, and Best Communicator. From the perspective of the PhD students the proposed cuts will do nothing but irreversible harm to the department. 

So on this day of archaeology I urge you to please sign our petition against the planned redundancies and have a look at the letters of support for University of Manchester staff and in opposition to the proposed staff cuts at https://resistrestructuringmcr.wordpress.com/

In other news, my day has also involved the more normal activities of a PhD student. I’ve been reorganising my methodology chapter, written a bit of book review and been trawling through some 1891 Census records. I am looking for the people who lived close to the Chelsea Embankment shortly after its construction. I’m interested in the differences in the socio-economic make up of the community in the pre- and post-embankment periods, trying to work out how the Embankment construction and associated removal of working class housing and waterfront businesses affected them. I’ve been creating maps, based on historical maps and documents, to visualise where people lived and worked, looking for the places they may have moved around, between and within. The map below plots out residential buildings-coloured according to Booths Maps of London Poverty, blue = poor, red=well to do/comfortable, yellow=independently wealthy. In addition the multi-coloured blocks on Royal Hospital Road, formerly Queens Road, indicate a variety of businesses and shops, whilst the coloured areas on the foreshore relate to archaeological remains I surveyed last year.

 

2017 OS map with 1891 residential buildings, businesses, parks identified. 19th century archaeological remains on the foreshore as surveyed by H. Steyne 2016.

Whilst I’m unable to make any conclusions yet, I’m encouraged by the diversity in the population close to the river front, and to the co-location of archaeological remains with former businesses on the waterfront. The impact of losing these sources of employment must have been enormous for this community.

So, whilst on the one hand I despair and worry about the future survival of my department, I am steadily plodding through data for my own research. All the while wondering whether I’ll still be a Manchester University student this time next year. Let’s hope so.

Please sign our petition. Thank you.

You can find more about me here and my research here

 

“Whose Stuff Was This?”: Creating an Outreach Activity for the Day of Archaeology Festival

Last weekend was my second year participating in Washington, DC’s Day of Archaeology Festival at the Dumbarton House in Georgetown. For both years, I helped with the DC Historic Preservation Office’s outreach activity table, which is always popular with kids and adults alike. Two years ago, when I first attended, I was just learning about the types of outreach activities the HPO has created, which include “What is This?” (prehistoric and historic artifact identification), and “Mend Me” (broken ceramic mending), among others. This summer, I’ve been interning for the Office of Planning which contains the Historic Preservation Office (HPO). The City Archaeologist, Ruth Trocolli, asked me to create a new outreach activity for this year’s festival.

I was excited by the opportunity to teach non-archaeologists about archaeology and to flex my creative muscles. I knew I wanted to create an activity that featured many cool and interesting artifacts and taught people about the work that actual archaeologists do. I came up with a matching activity that I called “Whose Stuff Was This?” which asked participants to match descriptions of real people with the artifacts they once used, all of which were excavated from Washington, DC archaeological sites. Below, you can try out this activity yourself and learn more about my experience in creating it.

 

Try the Activity for Yourself

Do you think you can match the people to the items they once used and eventually discarded? You can find the answers at the bottom of this section. First, here are the four sets of artifacts, all of which were excavated at real archaeological sites in Washington, DC.

Now, here are the four descriptions of the people who occupied each site. Try to match the people with their belongings.

Option A: Based on the finds from this site, archaeologists have documented that African-Americans were living at this location since the Civil War. This includes Sarah Whitby and her family, who rented a two-room farmhouse on this site in the 1890s and once used the items pictured. According to the census, Sarah worked as a laundress, which means that she washed clothing for a living. Sarah had nine children, and we know from the census that Sarah was illiterate, but of all her children could read. Although the census told archaeologists some basic information, without the intact archaeological remnants from her house, Sarah would have probably never been studied and her story might have been lost. Archaeologists used the artifacts from this site to learn and teach others about Sarah Whitby and her life.

Option B: Thomas E. Dant, a tailor, and his family lived and worked here during the middle of the 19th century (1840s-60s). That is over 150 years ago! He lived with his wife, Martha, and their three children: an adult son named Thomas, who was also a tailor and was 33 years old, and twins, age 10, named Mary and George. Documents told us about this family and their ages and occupations, however many different people had also lived on this site during the 19th and early 20th century. Archaeologists used what they learned from the artifacts to determine that these objects were mostly likely from the Dant family, and not from previous or later residents of the house.

Option C: By studying the artifacts from this site, archaeologists determined that Native American people had been living at this location from at least the Late Archaic period (2500 BCE-1000 BCE) until the Late Woodland Period (900 CE-1600 CE). That means that the earliest artifacts were from over 4,500 years ago and the later objects (such as those pictured here), were from over 1000 years ago! Based on the artifacts and the location of the site near a waterway, archaeologists believe that people were using this location for as a camp or workstation to procure, prepare, and preserve seasonal resources, especially fish and shellfish. A large fire pit was probably used to dry fish for storage and to prepare other foods. While we may not ever know about specific individuals who made and used these objects, archaeologists used the artifacts to learn that people were staying in the area and using local resources such as fish, shellfish, plants, and animals, for thousands of years.

Option D: After the Civil War, the Freedmen’s Bureau created the Barry Farm/Hillsdale neighborhood, which developed into a self-sufficient and thriving African-American community. The Taliaferro family was an African-American family that moved to a house in this site in the late-19th century. Olivia and her five brothers grew up on the site, and when they were adults, their mother divided up the property and gave each one a lot on which to build a house. Olivia was given the original house where they had grown up, which was the site for this archaeological project. Based on the dates and what we know about Olivia, archaeologists believe that most of these artifacts belonged to her. She was a trained nurse and midwife, and she helped to care for many people in the community. Olivia had a foster son, Luther, and since Olivia’s nieces and nephews all lived within a few houses, they likely also came by to play.

Make your guesses! The answers are below the following pictures of the activity in action!

Answers:
Site 1 = B; Site 2 = C; Site 3 = D; Site 4 = A

Did you get the answers correct? Some of them are easier than others, and many people had trouble correctly matching the tailor’s assemblage (Site 1) and the laundress’ assemblage (Site 4), which could easily be mixed up. Next, I’ll explain why I chose these sites and explain why each site could only belong to its correct match.

 

Real Archaeologists Do This Activity Too!

 One of the main goals of an archaeological project is to learn about past people through their artifacts. Sometimes, as with the case of Site 2, archaeologists may have little or no information about the people who used these objects beyond the objects themselves. Many archaeologists work in places or periods without written records, and use tools such as artifact typology, comparisons with other excavated sites, and interviews with descendant populations to help them learn more about the people associated with the site. In the case of Site 2, archaeologists found a collection of fire-cracked rock and ceramics, indicating a large fire pit or hearth. The archaeologists working on this project also used the site’s location near a waterway together with the artifacts to determine that people were likely spending part of the year here to access fish, shellfish, and other resources found in this area. They believed the fire pit was used, in part, to dry and preserve fish for storage. Some of the most unusual artifacts on this site were from a burial, but I chose not to use these artifacts. You can find more information about this site and see pictures of the grave-context artifacts here (the burial was found at “Ramp 3”): https://www.nps.gov/rap/archeology/ROCR_phl.htm

Historic Archaeologists, who study sites like Sites 1, 3, and 4, often have documents that can help them learn about the people who lived in a particular place. However, the documentary record is often fragmentary and incomplete, so archaeologists still need to analyze the artifacts to determine to whom they belonged. For example, Site 1 was located on a lot that had seen numerous residents over the course of the 19th century. Without a way to closely date the site, it would have been impossible for archaeologists to know whether the objects belonged to one family or another, who both may have lived in the house within a 10-year period. In this case, archaeologists knew the occupations of various residents from the census, as well as the ages of their family members. Archaeologists determined these artifacts were most likely from the Dant family because two of the family members were working as tailors and many of the artifacts were sewing tools or tailor’s tools. The toys also made sense given that two 10-year-old children were living on the site at this time.

Site 3 presented a similar issue. Although members of the same family had been living on this site for many years, the medicine bottles and equipment pictured in the activity most likely belonged to Olivia Taliaferro, who was a trained nurse and midwife. While medicine bottles are found at many different sites, the quantity of bottles and types of medicines helped archaeologists determine that these objects belonged to Olivia, rather than her mother, Annie, or her siblings. More about the Taliaferro family can be found in this blog post written by one of the archaeologists who worked on the site: http://cdi.anacostia.si.edu/2015/12/06/the-taliaferros-of-stanton-road-se/

Of all the historical people featured in the activity, Sarah Whitby and her family, who lived at Site 4, are the least well-recorded in the documentary record. Unlike the other two families, the Whitbys were tenant farmers and rented rather than owned their home. Archaeologists don’t know much about the other individuals living in the nearby homes, nor is there much information about who lived in the home prior to Sarah and her children. Based on the location, time period, and types of artifacts, archaeologists believe the ones pictured were owned by Sarah. The mismatched buttons may have fallen off some of the items of clothing she washed, which explains why there are so many different types. Also found here was a penny from 1883, which helps to date the site. Archaeologists analyze artifacts together with the context in which the were found; the coin was found in the same soil layer (or stratigraphic layer) as other objects, so archaeologists determined it was deposited at the same time as these other objects. You might imagine the coin means the site dates to 1883, but actually it means that it dates from anytime afterwards. If you looked in your wallet today, in 2017, you might have a coin from 1993 or even earlier, but you certainly couldn’t have a coin from 2023. This is another clue in the activity that this collection of buttons couldn’t have belonged to the Dant family who lived on their site from 1840-60. Learn more about Sarah Whitby and the archaeological excavation that uncovered her belongings here: https://www.nps.gov/archeology/sites/npsites/rockCreek.htm

I chose these four sites because I wanted to showcase the diversity of Washington’s past and the many different types of archaeological sites that have been excavated. I also wanted to pick sites that had interesting artifacts and associated people and would be familiar to most people so that non-archaeologists could match them correctly. Eventually, I’d like to expand the game to include more sites and to use real or replica artifacts instead of pictures. This was my first attempt at creating an outreach activity, and I really enjoyed putting it together. People at the festival seemed to enjoy it too.

 

What do you think? If you have any suggestions or ideas, you can e-mail me at jenniferporter-lupu2022@u.northwestern.edu. Thanks for reading and I hope to see you at next year’s Day of Archaeology!

All of the Factory Chimneys are Gone. What’s in your Neighbourhood?

The small English town of Kidderminster is internationally renowned as a 19th century powerhouse of carpet manufacture. Sir Roland Hill, a son of the town, published his 1837 work, Post Office Reform: Its Importance and Practicability, which ultimately led to the World’s first self-adhesive postage stamp, the Penny Black. Other boasts include 17th century Christian rebellion and Led Zeppelin…well, one member specifically.

Kidderminster is now representative of what is commonly described as a ‘post-industrial town’. It is a town that has traced a bumpy road of decline since, at least, the 1970s and has yet to recover. Some years ago a ‘new’ town centre was built on the site of Brinton’s carpet factory. The former site of one of the great engines of carpet production is now redbrick, herringbone and chain stores gathered into an awkward ‘anytown’ and devoid of community focus. The ‘old’ town centre is now a place of many empty shop buildings punctuated by the odd chain store or thrift shop. Remnants of 1980s modernisation now look worn. The colours of post-70s optimism bled dry and lichen covered. Even graffiti art is absent; so often a symbol of gritty urban spaces devoid of Gentrification. Where is Banksy in this time of need? Could not one of his signature apparitions lift a dark corner of this once cultural hub? Would a local artist paint Vulcan ears and comedy spectacles onto the subject, should it be a figure? Perhaps.

On this Day of Archaeology, 2016, I am working on guidance for Neighbourhood Planning, the current vehicle for empowering local communities with a degree of control over how development will be integrated into their town, village or parish, and protect what is special. In its application, there is a perception of what constitutes archaeology and the historic environment. For many it is about historic buildings or areas designated with a high level of protection. Views, vistas and streetscapes are valued as too the mature trees and hedgerows that frame the skyline or sinuous country lane. However, in conversation with residents, talk will often turn towards the comparatively mundane yet magical places of a long passed childhood: the ancient stone cobbled alleyway used as a short-cut home; the ruinous Victorian shed with its ghosts lurking within the Ivy covered walls or the pasture field where a searchlight once swept the night sky in search of Heinkel HE111 bombers. These are the un-Designated and easily lost monuments of experience that define the spirit of place. Planning policy requires quantification, constraint and values defined by methods that will stand up to scrutiny. Nonetheless, value built from experience often thrives at the places in between grand designs and manicured landscapes. Perhaps however, it is an inevitable consequence of change that such places are conserved only in memories and the stories told. The short-cuts and dark corners are erased; the derelict buildings, all swept aside by the ‘masterplan’.

Kidderminster, February 2016 © A. Mindykowski

Ghost sign, Kidderminster, February 2016 © A. Mindykowski

Back in Kidderminster, in February, under a featureless winter sky, a window briefly opened back to a time when family run shops occupied almost every corner of every street. A modern advertisement hoarding had been removed after years of disuse revealing part of a painted advertisement from the golden age of residential streets as urban markets. With shaking hands, the modern urban explorer Tweeted about a ‘ghost sign’ #UrbanEphemera #CarryOnFlaneur. By contrast, for long-time residents – a now dwindling number in population – eyes became bright with memories of the old corner shop, Penny Chews sold by the genial shopkeeper who always had a smile on winter days. For this neighbourhood, at least, archaeology suddenly became tangible in a few faded letters.

A Snapshot of Discovery

Life as an archaeologist often starts like anyone else’s day, an early morning, a hearty breakfast, reading the news online, and getting dressed. Where it differs is, I am going to uncover objects that are lost and buried sometimes right beneath your feet, or right under your garden. I look at neighborhoods not as they are today, but as they were, perhaps a hundred years ago, or perhaps a thousand years ago. My thoughts are locked in a mode where every fragment of brick raises questions, and every piece of stone a new discovery. Perhaps you’ve walked right past an archaeologist in the street, his or her eyes gazing toward the ground, examining every detail, looking for something out of place. This is just the start of the day.

I’m a different kind of archaeologist, while I have studied Native American sites in the Northeast, and I have dug sites in the west, my primary focus is on industry and workers. I am an Industrial Archaeologist, I study class development with my focus on riverworkers in the Monongahela Valley in Pennsylvania. Namely, I study 19th and 20th century steamboat workers.

My day for the past few months has been to meet with my archaeology volunteers from the Society for Pennsylvania Archaeology Mon/Yough Chapter #3 (www.mon-yougharchaeology.com) and head out to a site that is offering a great window into the 19th century steamboat industry, a captain’s house! Actually we’ve excavated two steamboat captain’s houses from different time periods in the 1800’s.

Community involvement is important to the future of archaeology in the United States as federal and state monies slowly dry up. The community must value their past and take ownership of it, and archaeology is a great way to get the community involved and get them to value their past! You will see in these photos 3 age groups from Zander who is 6 years old, to Carl who is a venerated senior, archaeology has brought these different people together.

Here are some pictures from those excavations, we are in Brownsville, Pennsylvania.