Man-Made Disaster

100 Degrees, High Humidity — Field School in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley

Carole Nash writing to you from Virginia’s beautiful Shenandoah Valley, where I’m finishing up a week-long field school at a ca. 1760 Rhenish stone flurkuchenhaus, the White House, on the South Fork of the Shenandoah River.  I teach at James Madison University in Harrisonburg and co-direct the Archaeological Technician Certification Program, an effort of the Archeological Society of Virginia, the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, and the Council of Virginia Archaeologists.  This week’s field school was created for Cert students — we have over 70 grads and almost 90 active students who commit to 60 hours of lab work, 60 hours of field survey, 60 hours of excavation, 20 hours of public education, 12 courses, and a reading list a mile long.  Our students range in age from 16-83 and all share a remarkable dedication to archaeology.  The White House field school is but one of our 2012 Cert programs.

What started as a very clear, cool week ended with a blast of summer — today’s temps reached 100 degrees at the site — and we have one more day to go.  Anyone who has spent a summer digging in Virginia knows what this means:  start early, drink lots of water, and take a LONG lunch!  Fortunately for us, we’re working in an amazingly beautiful location in the shadow of Massanutten Mountain, we have shade trees and canopies, and we have a clean portajohn.  We have an outdoor lab set up to wash artifacts.  Actually feels pretty luxurious.

So….the White House:  built by a German immigrant family in ca. 1760; now part of the White House Farm Foundation, which has put 270 acres of land in conservation easement and is working toward a National Register nomination for the structure.  A flurkuchenhaus is a Rhenish (German Rhineland) design, with three rooms downstairs and two rooms upstairs, plus a vaulted basement.  They are sometimes referred to as ‘stone forts’ because they were constructed during the French and Indian War years on the Virginia Frontier, but they were not defensive structures.  They’re beautiful stone houses, though.  This one was covered with skim and stucco at least three times.  We have been reading Valley documents and know that the house was called “White House” as early as 1769 and used as a Mennonite and Baptist meeting house.

Our goals (in addition to getting our students solid archaeological training):  confirm the date of construction; learn about the evolution of the house; determine the impact of flooding on the landform (first terrace, South Fork of the Shenandoah); and learn whether the terrace was occupied by Native Americans prior to the Kauffman family.  A tall order for a week of work!  Gotta aim high, right?  We did, indeed, find evidence to assist with each of these goals, although admittedly, the heat slowed us down today.

I am so proud of our team — today’s crew included six Certification grads (Laura Wedin, Marsha Summerson, Maxine Grabill, Janice Biller, Linda Waggy, and Kay Veith), a Certification student (Philip Mulford), our local ASV Chapter President (Cindy Schroer), and a new archaeology student (Cullen Byers).  Our smaller crew today was down from 18 on Wednesday.  GO TEAM!  You’re the best!

Our findings from thirteen 2.5′ x 2.5 units and one backhoe trench:  our arms aren’t long enough to dig on the South Fork floodplain!  We have a .4′ flood deposit on top of a 1′ plowzone filled with late 18th/19th century artifacts, with Native American lithics and pottery included.  Under the plowzone we have flood deposit 1, flood deposit 2, flood deposit 3, flood deposit 4, flood deposit 5 — and that’s where we stopped.  The bucket auger is our friend.

Cool artifacts:  a piece of eight from the reign of Charles III (Carolus dollar); two French gun flints; English brown stoneware; Westerwald stoneware; a kaolin pipestem; creamware; a remarkable variety of pearlware; cut nails and more cut nails; Middle and Late Woodland pottery.

Our plan:  come back in the Fall when the weather is cooler.

Happy Day of Archaeology from Virginia, all!

East wall of White House

 

Professional, Avocational and Public Involvement in Archaeology in Arkansas

This year’s “Day of Archaeology” finds me attempting to reorder my life just following the 2012 Arkansas Archeological Society Summer Training Program.

The Arkansas Archeological Society (AAS) was formed in 1960. It is open to anyone—from any walk of life—who is interested in archaeology.  This year I dug alongside retired school teachers, firemen, administrative assistants, college students, engineers, electricians, high school students, retired mill workers, social workers, research foresters, park interpreters (and park superintendents)  and college English instructors.  Many of these so-called avocationals have been doing archaeology for more years than me (some longer than I’ve been alive).  Two of our long time volunteers this year were 86 years old.  Anna Parks has been coming to the AAS “Summer Dig” since the 1970s, and Van Schmutz shoveled all day long in the hot sun despite his age.  Our youngest was 9 years old— Andy Colman who came with her mom, Carolyn, from Chicago, Illinois to learn about archaeology.

The 1836 Hempstead County Courthouse is ever present during our work at Historic Washington State Park in Arkansas.

Way back in 1964, a series of weekend excavations began under the direction of University of Arkansas Museum archaeologists and AAS members.  In the late 1960s the AAS was instrumental in lobbying my organization—the Arkansas Archeological Survey—into existence.  Thus the Survey and Society began partnering on digs by 1967.  By 1972, what had begun as a series of weekend events had expanded into a 16-day training program with excavations at various sites across the state.  Some have claimed that it’s the oldest and best program of its type in the country.

For the second year in a row I had the honor of directing the AAS Summer Dig at Historic Washington State Park in the southwestern portion of the state of Arkansas in the southern United States.  Between June 9 and June 24, 2012 over 100 volunteers and staff helped me investigate the site of an 1830s commercial district on what would have then been the edge of western expansion of the United States (Washington was a border town with first Mexico and then the Republic of Texas until Texas was annexed in the late 1840s).

The AAS has been doing archaeology in Historic Washington State Park since 1980, but these last two years have focused on the merchant district for which we have very few historical documents.  There are no known photographs and only a single map from 1926—long after fires in the 1870s and 1880s put an end to this vibrant business area.  Over the last two field seasons we have recovered the remains of at least 6 different buildings,  4-6 cellars and/or trash pits and tens of thousands of artifacts that will help us tell the story of this once important regional hub on the edge of the “cotton frontier.”

The archaeology was great, but I am always amazed at the layers of public archaeology going on at these events.  On one level we are teaching

the volunteers how to be archaeologists—not only through digging but also through a series of half-day seminars taught in two sessions throughout the dig.  This year we offered Basic Excavation (for first time attendees), Basic Laboratory Procedures, Site Survey, Mapping, Human Osteology, Indians of Arkansas, and Establishing Time (a class that helps volunteers understand dating techniques used by archaeologists).

On a second level of public archaeology, the volunteers and professionals on site then educate the general public about the value and methods of archaeology.  As we were excavating in an Arkansas State Park this year this was done constantly as we has many curious visitors every day.  Although I was “running the show” I rarely had to stop my work to help explain things to visitors as one of my colleagues and/or volunteers would quickly rush in to take over (and even demonstrate) what we were doing.

Of course, although the dig ended on June 24, there is still much to do.  In these days following the 2012 Summer Training Program I (and Carl Carlson-Drexler, my Research Station Assistant) have been moving equipment, organizing paperwork and field notes…Today I’m captioning the hundreds of digital photographs taken during the dig.  The two years of digging in the merchant district in Historic Washington State Park has produced more than twice the amount of artifacts than I recovered during my dissertation research (and I poked at that site for almost a decade!)…so I now have my work cut out for me…

More pictures from the 2012 AAS Summer Training Program can be found here:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/jcbrandon/sets/72157630003963231/

Pictures from last year’s dig (2011) can be found here:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/jcbrandon/sets/72157627004408646/

Find out more about the Arkansas Archeological Society at their website: http://arkarch.org/

 

You can read more about the AAS work at Historic Washington State Park at my Farther Along blog:

http://fartheralong.wordpress.com/2012/05/22/dirty-laundry-cloth-artifact-bags-in-arkansas/

http://fartheralong.wordpress.com/2012/03/13/more-digging-for-history/

http://fartheralong.wordpress.com/2011/09/14/preliminary-results-of-the-2011-aas-summer-training-program-at-historic-washington-arkansas/

http://fartheralong.wordpress.com/2011/02/24/digging-for-history-the-arkansas-archeological-society-training-program-returns-to-the-town-of-washington-in-southwest-arkansas/

http://fartheralong.wordpress.com/2011/03/30/spring-break-dig-on-block-6-in-historic-washington-arkansas/

 

Digging with Kids: Historic Archaeology, Education, and Fun

The Kids Are Scientists Too (KAST), Archaeology Field School for Kids has been held annually since 2004 at the Farwell House site in Storrs, CT, USA on the campus of the University of Connecticut.  Children between the ages of 9 & 15 are able to learn the scientific methods of archaeology by excavating a real archaeological site.

Farwell House

The Farwell House was built in the mid-18th century and occupied by the Farwell family until 1908.  The house was sold in the early 20th century, and shortly thereafter the University acquired the House.  The House served as a dormitory until the University determined maintenance costs were too high. The House was burned down in a fire training exercise in 1976.  At that time the house was the oldest in town.  The foundation was filled in, and the only research conducted on the site has been by children participating in the KAST dig.

The site is ready for Field School

Each summer new units are excavated in what once was the front, back, or side yards of the House.  Much of what the students discover in the upper layers relates to the burning episode.  Below the burn layer are artifacts dating to the occupation of the House and date to the 18th-19th centuries.

All excavations are overseen by a professional archaeologist, and reports are filed with the State Historic Preservation Office.  Now that the program is in its 8th year with its 5th staff archaeologist, questions about excavation strategy, professionalism, and the future of the site and the KAST program are coming to the fore.  This year has been especially introspective and self-critical.  As we move forward we want to insure not only an enjoyable experience for the students, but a professional investigation of an historic archaeological site that answers real research questions and makes a contribution to not only the archaeological community, but to the larger community.

The KAST Field School has run for the last week and concluded Friday the 29th of July 2011.  After 4 days of excavation the students spent a day in the “lab” at the Connecticut State Museum of Natural History.  Activities included washing and identifying artifacts and creating a display of their finds that will remain on exhibit at the Museum.

KAST excavators looking for artifacts in the screen

 

A KAST Student Washes Artifacts

KAST Display

The program has been well received by not only the students, but also their parents and local media.  A local news program visited the site and interviewed students for a short interest piece on the evening news.  It is my personal hope that programs and publicity like this will reinforce the importance of historic preservation and archaeology even in a precarious economic climate.

An archaeobureaucrat writes…

A day or so in my life as an archaeologist working for English Heritage.

Started off by working at home at Haslemere in Surrey, eating toast with tea while dealing with e-mails with Radio 4 providing the background noise.  As usual, was mildly distracted by Frankly the cat who views my attempts to sit down and work at a laptop as his cue to demand food with menaces and then attention, generally in that order. 

A demanding cat. Frankly.

 

E-mails give me a few things to deal with before I do anything else. There are corrections to check on a chapter I helped to write for the forthcoming book on the Elizabethan Garden reconstruction at Kenilworth Castle. I was involved in organising the programme of archaeological and architectural research that contributed to the project, and I’ve co-written the archaeological chapter with Joe Prentice of Northamptonshire Archaeology, who directed the excavations, and Brian Dix, garden archaeologist extraordinaire, who advised throughout. Not much left to do – just checking that the photographs are in the right order, have the right numbers and captions, and are available in the right format for reproduction.

That done, I moved on to deal with some work on our forthcoming organisational restructuring. It’s no secret that English Heritage took a huge hit in last year’s government Comprehensive Spending Review. The organisation is having to deal with the impact of a net 35% cut in our grant from government. I can’t say a great deal about what is currently going on, but it will come as no surprise to learn that many jobs are being lost, and that I and many of my colleagues will be put formally ‘at risk’ in the autumn, and will have to apply for a smaller number of jobs in the restructured National Heritage Protection group.  We’ve been through such reorganisations before, and I know the stress that this puts my colleagues through, but the scale and scope of these changes is greater than anything we’ve seen so far. A lot of colleagues are having to consider other career options and paths; an unsettling time for us all.

After a couple of hours, time to trek to the station to catch the 11am to Waterloo. I’ve been taking a few pictures to illustrate this blog, and drew pitying looks from fellow travellers as I took a photograph of the train as it came into Haslemere station.  I’m a blogger, not a trainspotter….

 

My train arriving at Haslemere station

 

The train was fairly full, but got a seat and used the time to write up the blog of the day so far. Also did a little more on the draft publication strategy and synopsis for the Windsor Castle updated project design.  I worked at Windsor from 1989 to 1995. We started off in the Round Tower, the shell keep that stands on top of the 11th-century motte, excavating and recording the structures as part of a major engineering project.

Round Tower team, 1989, with the blogger looking much younger.

 

We’d just finished that project and evacuated our site office in November 1992 when fire broke out in the Upper Ward. That was the start of a huge programme of salvage and architectural analysis, with some excavation involved too.

Archaeological salvage of fire debris starting in the Grand Reception Room, Windsor Castle, 1993

The assessment of these large project archives was largely complete by the end of 1998, but work has been on hold then for a number of reasons.  I’ve been in deep discussion with my colleague and good friend Dr Steven Brindle over the last few months, and the next stage is to get in touch with all the project specialists to let them know that the analysis may finally be about to happen. Hence the publication strategy, so they can see what we’re asking them to do.  By Guildford my seat was surrounded by loud and excitable children, and I was bitterly regretting having left my i-pod in my bag, which was overhead and thus inaccessible.

 

English Heritage offices at Waterhouse Square, Holborn

By bus to our Waterhouse Square offices in Holborn, where I find a seat among friends in London Region. Here I dealt with a variety of business by e-mail, including mundane admin tasks such as approving invoices and expenses.  Fortunately we have quite good electronic systems for dealing with such things, so they were finished very quickly. The online press summary included a link to a Telegraph opinion piece on the listing of London tube stations. I tweeted the link with my own comments, and was later gratified to learn that my comment “Entertainingly daft Torygraph rant” appeared on the relevant page of the Telegraph website.  A small but pleasing result. At this point I lost the use of the camera; my chum Dr Jane Sidell was off to give a walking tour of Roman London, and borrowed the camera to record the event.

Trying to persuade Dr Jane Sidell, Inspector of Ancient Monuments for London, to point the camera somewhere else.

I also had to draft a response to a member of the public who had written to say that she was disappointed to learn that we aren’t running the Fort Cumberland Festival of British Archaeology event this year. I explained that this was as disappointing to us as it was to her; our free FOBA weekend event has been very popular, usually attracting c. 2000 people over a weekend to enjoy a range of archaeological and related activities. We enjoy it as much as the visitors do. We had to take the difficult decision not to hold the event this year in late 2010; by then it was already clear that we would be in the middle of a major reorganisation, and in that context it seemed unfair to ask colleagues to commit their time and energies to planning the event at a time when they were likely to be severely distracted by other events. We hope to be able to reinstate the event next year, resources permitting…

At 2pm, I took part in a Portico project team  meeting. Portico is a project that aims to provide up-to-date research content on the English Heritage website for our historic properties. Enhanced content is already online for all of the free sites, and the first sets of pages for 12 of the pay sites are now available. An introduction to the project with links to the available content is available at (insert link).  We were updated on progress, which remains good; the first batch of site information is now online, and all of it has been or is being updated with links to online resources. Another batch of sites is nearly ready to go online, including Susan Greaney’s excellent Stonehenge pages.  The next stage of the project is currently being planned; I may have volunteered to write up one or two sites myself.  A day conference is being planned for London next April to promote the project. The introductory page on the EH site shows the content that’s available so far – http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/professional/archives-and-collections/portico/about/

Following the meeting I had a very useful discussion with Christopher Catling about the National Planning Policy Framework, which is currently out for consultation.  I think we agreed that it’s a huge improvement on the earlier practioners’ draft, preserving more of PPS5, but there are still some concerns, including the assumption in favour of development that permeates the document.

After that, there was time to check e-mails and deal with a few more bits of business before catching the train home. This included correspondence relating to one of last year’s fieldwork projects, on the Romano-British settlement around Silbury Hill, and the forthcoming excavation at Wrest Park in Bedfordshire, where we’ll be digging up parts of the French Parterre to assist in its restoration.

That was Thursday 28th July – I decided to write it up for Day of Archaeology as I was taking today off.  In the event, I took a trip to Corfe Castle, which I haven’t been to for far too long.  Despite the long queues of holiday traffic, it was a useful and hugely enjoyable visit. I always particularly enjoy the path up to the keep, which passes through the tumbled remains of the demolished sections of the keep. It’s very evocative of the sheer scale of destruction on this site.

The degree of destruction caused by slighting varies from site to site; this would appear to be off the vindictive end of the scale. The site is looking very good, but I was very disappointed by the new interpretation panels, full of rubbishy unhistorical cliches. The panel about ‘oubliettes’ was the worst example. It went on about the agonies of the poor prisoners abandoned in deep pit prisons. The work of Peter Brears has, of course, demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that such structures are strong-rooms, for the safe storage of documents, money and other valuables. The reason that they often have well-lit chambers with fireplaces above them is not to provide accommodation for the better-off prisoners, but to provide a room for the clerk or steward to work in. Worst of all, having conjured up imaginary sufferings  in imaginary oubliettes, the panel finished by admitting that no such chamber survived at Corfe. So the point of this rubbish was…..?  Rant over.

The effects of undermining - the tower has slid down the slope, and the curtain wall has fallen over.

I took some time looking at the evidence for the destruction of the site, which is a particular interest of mine. This was the subject of the thesis of a friend of mine, Dr Lila Rakoczy, and since reading her work I’ve become more interested in looking at the evidence for how buildings were demolished. The walls at Corfe have certainly been undermined, but there’s no clear evidence for the use of gunpowder, despite the claims on a number of panels that the site was ‘blown up’. The surviving unused sap at the base of the keep’s latrine tower is a simple horizontal rectangular slot, which I think argues for the use of the ‘burnt timber prop’ method of undermining – i.e. using timbers to prop up the wall as the sap is excavated, and then burning them out to bring down the mass of masonry above. Drawings of near-contemporary saps used for explosive undermining, e.g. in Vauban’s work, show that these saps tend to be hollowed out behind a small opening in the outer face of the wall, to contain the blast and thus maximise the effect of the explosion on the masonry.  A bit anorakish, but it keeps me happy.

Possible sap at the base of the Keep's latrine tower, The masonry at the right hand corner is, I think, relatively-modern underpinning.

After that, I enjoyed a much faster and prettier drive home by avoiding the main roads. So there you have it – two days for the price of one, and I got to see some archaeology on one of them.

Brian Kerr, Head of Archaeological Projects, English Heritage

@jamesbriankerr

More post-excavation tasks

After completing this morning’s interim report on the Stirchley Station watching brief, I have now turned my attention to the various odds and ends which have built up during the week and really need to be sorted before the weekend.

First amongst these was finishing the archive for the blast furnaces community archaeology project which we completed in May. Yes, I’m afraid to say that the drawings and finds have been littering the office for the last three months or so – but I am pleased to report that they are now all boxed up and ready to be sent off. Part of the reason for doing this now is that I am preparing a paper on the site for the Historical Metallurgy journal – the site may contain the remains of the first ‘hot blast’ iron smelting furnaces in the world!

Archiving of projects is one of the big issues in commercial archaeology at the moment – with museums finding it hard to take stuff… and even I do sometimes wonder if some of that stuff is really worth keeping.

Something else that has been in the office for a couple of weeks – and this is definitely worth keeping – is this lovely early nineteenth century mixing bowl which has been converted to a flowerpot by someone drilling rather crude holes in the bottom. We found this on another watching brief in Wales.

Welsh mixing bowl converted to a flowerpot

Also today I have been speaking with one of our team who is working on a site in Cheshire, and dealing with a couple of questions from clients. I have hardly had time so far to get down to work on the big excavation write-up, but I think I can have a good crack at it in the next couple of hours.

Here I am at my desk in contemplative mood!

I guess one of the things about being an archaeologist is that it never stops! I am currently the Chairman of the Historical Metallurgy Society, so inevitably bits of the day (and much of the evenings) are taken up in dealing with the activities of our various committees and thinking ahead. It is the society’s 50th anniversary next year, and we have a meeting on Monday to do some intensive planning – so I need to think about that over the weekend.

Tomorrow, just for fun, I am spending the day with a friend (another archaeologist, of course) looking at urban industrial sites and comparing their condition today to how they were when they were officially surveyed 25 years ago. I expect that this will take about 12 hours of our free time!

You do need to be quite mad to do archaeology – but still after 20 years it is very enjoyable!

 

 

Excavation at Appleby Magna- Getting children involved in archaeology!!

The Sir John Moore Foundation run a programme during the summer which allows children from the age of eight to get involved with an archaeological dig on site. I had the pleasure of attending and helping out on the dig for the day. It was truly fantastic to see young children getting involved in an area of study which I enjoy so much. There was in all three small trenches which were dug out in accordance to the finding of a wall in the summer past.

From local maps, we understood that there was some kind of building located in this area marked by a large dark area. In digging in the trench located next to that of the wall. I found that from about one metre below the surface there was a large amount of charcoal discovered along with a large number of nails. Bricks were also uncovered scattered from about one metre below the surface point. As I dug further down and extended out the trench I found a number of other items. From the remains of glass bottles to sherds of pottery thought to be that of the late Victorian period of the 1850’s. The children involved were completely engaged throughout the day, and it was great to see how excited and competitive they become upon excavating new items. Not only were they excavating but also learning how to mark out areas, measure the trench, clean finds, photograph finds and record finds in the correct way.

The initial finds from the excavation helped me build a picture of what I thought the dark area found on the initial maps may have been. The large amount of burnt wood discovered is certainly evidence for the possible destruction of the site itself. There were a number of sherds of pottery found with dark black smudges on which one could not remove when cleaning. Furthermore there was a large amount of glass bottles found. If, as I predict, a fire destroyed the settlement that stood in this area it is highly unlikely that the temperature of the fire would have been strong enough in order to melt the glass; as glass is only burnt at temperatures starting from as high as five hundred degrees depending on the glass type. The pressure would have caused glass and pottery to break, which would coincide with what was found in the trenches. I would argue that there was certainly some form of building in this area. Possibly with a brick/stone foundation with a wooden structure predicted from the evidence found in the excavation. It may have been that this site was then used as storage or some kind of out building or workshop. Further excavations will reveal more and hopefully reinforce the initial findings.

All in all, for me the most important element of the dig, without a shadow of a doubt, was getting young children involved in the world of archaeology. Archaeology is a career that I aspire to be in once I complete my degree and maintaining an interest in this area is essential. The programme runs every year with a number of dates. All the volunteers are dedicated to helping the children understand the history and the archaeology of the area, providing them with a range of skills which would be beneficial not just in this are but many areas of their future. I am not exaggerating when I say that the children loved the entire day. Some of the children enjoy it so much that they have attended not just the current year but years previous to this.  The unfortunate point is the area in which the dig is situated is owned by the local school and therefore once the summer is over the trenches have to be covered over until the following year.

The whole day was fantastic, more community archaeology excavations have cropped up in the recent years, and maintaining a growing interest in this area of work is essential. All be it a great way to get out doors and bring families together for a fantastic fun filled day!

Just a few of the children s finds of the day

Fantastic finds in Appleby Magna!