Independence National Historical Park

Archaeology from the depths of the Delaware River to high atop Philadelphia’s Skyline

Today, I coordinated the activities of two groups of faculty and students working on archaeological related projects at the Antoinette Westphal College of Media Arts & Design, Drexel University, Philadelphia, PA USA. One project supervised by Erik Sundquist, Director of the Westphal Hybrid Lab and being produced by Riley Stewart, a Digital Media sophomore is an 11 ft. replica of a cheval de frise, an American Revolution era underwater weapon used to prevent British warships from sailing into Philadelphia. The artifact was recovered in the Delaware River in 2007 by maritime archaeologist J. Lee Cox Jr. and donated to the Independence Seaport Museum. Shortly after the artifact was recovered,  Craig Bruns, Chief Curator, Independence Seaport Museum, asked if my team of faculty and students could make a 3D scan of the cheval as part of the Museum’s effort to preserve it. Then Digital Media faculty member Chris Redmann and Digital Media sophomore Mark Petrovich scanned the artifact and produced a 3D model. Recently, Craig asked if we could produce a replica of the cheval from our scan data. Craig plans to use the replica as a proxy for the actual artifact as the Museum prepares to exhibit the cheval de frise. Before producing the full scale replica, Erik and Riley printed a miniature replica of the cheval to test the integrity of the scan data. Satisfied with the model Erik and Riley plan to produce the replica next week.

For the second project I reviewed storyboards for two Public Service Announcements (PSAs) that will be used in October to alert the public to two archaeology events. The first entitled, “Explore Philadelphia’s Buried Past” is a one day celebration where archeologists explain to the public ongoing archaeological work being conducted in Philadelphia. The free event is held at the National Constitution Center and is sponsored by the Philadelphia Archaeological Forum and Independence National Historical Park (INHP) Archaeology lab. The other PSA will announce that October is Pennsylvania Archaeology Month. The storyboards are being produced by Digital Media freshman, Ryan Rasing. Both PSA’s will feature 3D models of archaeological artifacts from the INHP’s archaeology collection. The artifacts were scanned last week at INHP’s Archaeology Lab by Digital Media graduate student Jonnathan Mercado assisted by Ryan. Both are working to produce the PSAs that will appear on the upper floors of the Pennsylvania Energy Company (PECO) Building high above the city of Philadelphia for all to see.

Ryan (left) Jed Levin, Chief Historian INHP (center) Jonnathan (right) examine 3D scan data at INHP’s Archaeology Lab

Ryan (left) Jed Levin, Chief Historian INHP (center) Jonnathan (right) examine 3D scan data at INHP’s Archaeology Lab


A Day of Catching Up

Patrice L. Jeppson, Ph.D. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania USA

Today I am digging into the ‘middens’ covering my desk in my home office. In other words, tackling the pile of ‘things needing to be done’ that got sidelined during a heavy teaching load this past spring. First thing I did was organize materials dating back to my Ph.D. dissertation research days. I’ve been gathering slides and papers about that research for scanning so that I can send the information on to a postgraduate student studying at the University of South Africa. This student is researching metal and glass found at several archaeological sites that I worked on in the Eastern Cape region of South Africa – a Methodist mission station, a British fort, a hinterland (British) settler fortified farm, and a town dump site. I am very excited about her project and look forward to seeing what she discovers. I have been promising this material for months but have not had time to get to it.

I next compiled a list of conference papers, publications, courses, and public presentations related to a recently completed National Science Foundation grant. This list was requested by a cultural resource manager at Independence National Historical Park, here in Philadelphia where I live. The park is doing one of its periodic updates of research implications — exhibits, publications, presentations — related to excavations at the site of the National Constitution Center (NCC) in Independence NHP. The grant research, a computational archaeology study based at Drexel University, made use of a ceramic assemblage recovered from the site of the NCC. I have been trying to keep the park and its archive up to date with titles, and if possible, copies of reported findings resulting from our work with their collections. The senior researcher publications are easy to find and forward but I’ve been behind in getting copies of the various undergraduate student research papers and posters. I also added to the list in my capacity as web master for the Philadelphia Archaeological Forum. Our local archaeology society has posted popular write- ups of NCC artifacts as part of its ‘Artifact of the Month’ feature (http://www.phillyarchaeology.net/philly-archaeology/artifactindex/july-2013/, http://phillyarchaeology.org/artifacts/feb2011.htm and http://phillyarchaeology.org/artifacts/may2011.htm). I also added to the list several recent publications based upon my own, long-term research at the park. I research how the public makes use of the park’s archaeological resources overtime for national and other social identity uses.

Lastly, I re-edited a few paragraphs I wrote up yesterday for possible use in a small grant proposal that would provide a small sum of money for a project I recently joined up with. The project involves the Dennis Farm Charitable Land Trust which is a two-hundred year old property. This property is the oldest privately owned piece of land held in African American hands. My involvement = aims to help make the farm’s important history of free blacks after the American Revolution more widely available. One aim of the Trust is to introduce African American high school females to the non-traditional career choice of heritage preservation. My proposal paragraphs are toward this end, trying to secure some funding to help bring female African American high school students together to learn about archaeology as a career – using archaeology at the Dennis Farm as a case study.

I also corresponded with two colleagues today. I wrote to the President of the Philadelphia Archaeological Forum in regards to a letter I prepared on behalf of PAF for sending to a local Congressman. We are inviting him to visit a local project during his legislative summer recess. The other email came from a colleague who wrote with a links to a student paper on line at StudyMode.com and a YouTube video of a sock puppet play (see the end of this post for the video, both of which deal with the life of James Oronoko Dexter, an early free black resident in Philadelphia whose house site was excavated here in Philadelphia. Also sent, which I was so interested to see, was a liturgical lesson web site (African American Lectionary, a collaborative project of the African American Pulpit and American Baptist College of Nashville) that references an online video short of a feature video about the archaeological search for James Dexter. The video segment, which features multiple archaeologists and historians, is provided as a talking point for the subject of “why the full history of America, positive and negative, is important”. I found the content of these emails very touching. They help prove that our work is worthwhile – and they make the goal of this Day of Archaeology project all that more relevant! They also lead me to do a google key word search for the Dexter site which led me to a term paper on Dexter that is available for sale at one of those college paper mills!

http://youtu.be/giGHz_yAPbk

 

My day of archaeology…

By Jed Levin, Chief, History Branch Independence National Historical Park Philadelphia, Pennsylvania USA  (Posted by the Philadelphia Archaeological Forum webmaster)

Did I really spend over an hour today trying to arrange for a technician come to the park and install a tape backup drive on a new computer server…and then, spend additional time trying to figure out where we would house the darn thing once we finally go it set up? I did, and it is hard to reconcile those efforts with my job title.

I work for the US National Park Service where I serve as Park Archeologist and Chief Historian at Independence National Historical Park in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The park’s mission is to preserve sites associated with the founding and early history of the United States, and to interpret to those sites and their associated history to the public. In support of those goals Independence Park has had an active archeology program since the early 1950’s.

My day today was fairly typical, which is to say it was filled with tasks that often ranged far afield from what I thought I’d be doing when, decades ago, I first decided to become an archeologist. Also typical is the fact that, like many of the archeologists I know, I wear several hats. I split my time between managing the history program, which involves overseeing historical research conducted to fulfill the parks mission and coordinating the park’s efforts to comply with federal law and regulations related to the preservation of both cultural and natural resources. We have to carefully consider how what we do might affect everything from historic buildings and landscapes to archeological sites and air quality. And, yes, I am also responsible for the park’s archeological studies.

I started my day by checking my e-mail, then I gave a presentation to a group of high school students who are participating in a summer program here at the park that offers students the opportunity to explore history as they develop their writing and artistic skills. We talked about the President’s House site, one of our recent excavations here in the park.

After my adventure in IT, which I mentioned at the start, I spent much of the rest of the day reviewing two construction projects: one planned and one on-going. In one case I had to determine if a list of proposed last minute changes to the renovations to the underground museum in Franklin Court, a project nearing completion, might adversely affect archeological or historical resources on the site. The other project involved the same kind of review for a new underground power line the electric company wants to install.

Before the day was over, I did get to visit the park’s archeology lab were the staff and a dedicated group of volunteers are working to complete the cataloging and analysis of artifact recovered during excavation at the National Constitution Center site, here in the park. I went specifically to review the progress of our efforts to scan the thousands of pages of field notes and thousands of photographs that document the excavation of the National Constitution Center site. Once digitized, an electronic copy these irreplaceable paper and film records can used in the analysis and report production, while a complete backup copy of the data can be stored safely off-site, in case of a disaster. We still have a long way to go, but accumulated data for this project currently exceeds 275 gigabytes. Hence the need for that new server we are installing.

My days always end happily if I get to spend at least some time, however brief, in the lab (or, when we have an excavation underway, in the field). When I see the freshly turned earth or the trays of artifacts that the soil yielded up, it never fails to reignite the sense of excitement that first drew me to archeology. These tangible connections to the past fill me with wonder and raise countless questions.

Jed Levin

Betsy Ross’ Pitchers

I have been an archeologist in the U.S. National Park Service for 24 years (can it really be that long?), where I now serve as head of the History Branch at Independence National Historical Park (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania). Today, June 27th, I spent several hours working with colleagues preparing a small exhibit commemorating the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812. This temporary exhibit will feature two ceramic pitchers we recovered in Independence Park during the excavations at the site where the National Constitution Center now stands. The pitchers were found in the bottom of a privy pit (outhouse) that once stood in the backyard
behind the house where Betsy Ross spent her last years.  Did Betsy throw them away?

Pitchers found in the bottom of a privy pit

Made in England between about 1816 and 1820, the pitchers bear images of two War of 1812 naval engagements in which the fledgling U. S. Navy was victorious over the mighty British Navy.  English potteries produced many such designs specifically for  export to the American market. In so doing, they were helping an adversary celebrate a victory over their own navy. I don’t know if they appreciated the irony in that. I do know that they were glad to find a willing market for their goods.  Whatever they meant to the British potters, for Betsy Ross’ family they probably marked the stirrings of national pride sparked by the War.
During the course of the day I also spent time meeting with a colleague from our maintenance staff trying to figure out the safest way to remove an obsolete 1970’s ventilation duct from inside the vault that protects some of the remains of Benjamin Franklin’s house at our in-ground archeology exhibit in Franklin Court. There was yet another meeting today. This last one involved deciding on how the archeologists and the museum curator in the park could best assist a team of faculty and students from Drexel University’s Digital Media program in adding accurate details to a 3D digital reconstruction of the 18th century house in which a African American coachman lived. The reconstruction is base on another site we excavated within the park.…and of course, as every day, there was lots and lots of paperwork to fill out. I do work for the government, after all.

Jed Levin
Independence National Historical Park
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA