Making Archaeologists

Matt Hagar, Beth Pruitt, and Lauren Hicks on the East Cove screen.

Matt Hagar, Beth Pruitt, and Lauren Hicks on the East Cove screen. Source: Kate Deeley

The weather report says that today is hot and humid. High 101° F.  Heat index near 110° F. The students of the 2012 Archaeology in Annapolis field school from the University of Maryland know that it will be a sweltering and tiring day as they walk through their morning haze to collect their equipment from storage. They also can’t wait to see what they will find today.

Two weeks ago, we were in Annapolis. In view of the Maryland state capitol building, we excavated in three backyards, exploring the connections of past tenants to the Naval Academy and to nineteenth century immigration to the United States. For the second half of the field school, we moved to the Wye House plantation on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, home to a line of Edward Lloyds stretching back to the mid-seventeenth century. Here, the students chase the foundation walls of two slave quarters discovered last year.

South Long Green students.

South Long Green students. Source: Ben Skolnik

The site is separated into two parts. The South Long Green is located on the yard of the plantation, within sight of the Great House, and the home of the remains of a two-story brick slave quarter. The East Cove, where the students search for a building called the “Brick Row Quarter” on a historic map, is sheltered by a thicket of trees across the creek from the Long Green.

In running the field school, co-directors Kate Deeley, Ben Skolnik, and I recognize that we must perform a balancing act—prioritizing in turns the education of undergraduate students, our PhD dissertation research, and the communication of information to the public. It is a mixture of a classroom and training grounds. The instruction is as much somatic as it is intellectual, and the students have come a long way in their movements within the units, techniques with the trowel, and familiarity with the artifacts and their significance.

Richard Nyachiro with his measuring tape.

Richard Nyachiro with his measuring tape. Source: Ben Skolnik

The other element to add to the juggling show is motivation and good spirits, especially on a day like today.  The excitement grows as the brick rubble, glass, nails, and ceramic sherds coalesce into interpretations about where these buildings are situated on the landscape and in time. Despite this, the work is hard and the knowledge that Monday will be their last day to dig their units is beginning to settle in. Conversation is informal and playful—ranging from the childhood nostalgia of Pokémon to everyone’s top desert-island reading choices—and it helps the buckets of dirt go swiftly by.

Duncan Winterwyer with his root clippers.

Duncan Winterwyer with his root clippers. Source: Ben Skolnik

After lunch, the students are joined by Dr. Mark Leone and gather on the East Cove for the site seminars, which are held every Friday. The shade of dense trees is a relief.  One by one, the crew of each unit describes to the rest of the class the accomplishments and interpretations of that week. Using an extended folding ruler as a pointer, the crewmates take turns to indicate features, explain level changes, and point out soon-to-be-excavated artifacts.

It is a chance not only for the students to connect their unit to the others within the larger landscape, but also to proudly demonstrate their knowledge and achievements. They grow accustomed to fielding questions about the steps they took and the conclusions they continue to draw from their findings. After the students on the East Cove complete their tour, we move across the creek to the South Long Green.

Brittany Hutchinson with her shovel.

Brittany Hutchinson with her shovel. Source: Ben Skolnik

The students applaud their peers and create a rough circle in the shade of a tulip poplar tree. Though the environment is quite different, this is still a college class. There are weekly reading assignments, and each Friday afternoon the students discuss what they have read. The articles for today, focusing on race, class, gender, and identity in historical archaeology, are Barbara Little’s “She was… an Example to Her Sex” (1994), Maria Franklin’s “The Archaeological Dimensions of Soul Food: Interpreting Race, Culture, and Afro-Virginian Identity” (2001), and Theresa Singleton’s “Race, Class, and Identity among Free Blacks in the Antebellum South” (2001). The students direct the conversation, working through the topics of race, critical theory, politics, and the differences between an archaeology of gender and a feminist archaeology.

Like any other class, writing assignments provide a means for the students to individually articulate what they have learned. To balance this academic obligation with the project’s emphasis on  public outreach, the students contribute to the Archaeology in Annapolis blog. They demonstrate their comprehension of the work they complete in their units while also practicing their abilities to communicate this information to a general audience. Undergraduate Paige Diamond’s post, written today, highlights the discovery of the east wall of the two story quarter.

Julia Torres Vasquez and Molly Greenhouse create the American Plantation Gothic.

Julia Torres Vasquez and Molly Greenhouse create the American Plantation Gothic. Source: Ben Skolnik

Throughout the day, Ben pulls students aside to pose for “dirty archaeologist portraits.” He encourages them to take pride in their sweat-soaked, filthy appearance and take pictures with their field equipment. They take possession of this identity—archaeologists in the field. The portraits show the students as they are now at the end of the field school: trained archaeologists armed with the methods and knowledge that will allow them to contribute a unique perspective to this or any other field.

To see more archaeologist portraits from today, please visit our Flickr account. For more information about our excavations, please visit our blog.

A Day of Archaeology from the City of Brotherly Love (And Beyond)

It’s been a typically diverse summer day for me. One of my ongoing projects deals with understanding the initial adoption of pottery technology by the Indian peoples of the Delaware Valley (between roughly 1600 BC and 1000 BC) and subsequent trends in the manufacture and use of pots. Today I reviewed a number of recently published articles on the subject and made arrangements to see collections of pottery from archaeological sites in New Jersey (Gloucester County) and Pennsylvania (Philadelphia). I also continued my review and organization of data from an ongoing excavation project I direct, along with graduate student Jeremy Koch, in the Lehigh River Gorge of Pennsylvania. This location is a fantastic layer cake of deposits left by Indian groups beginning around 11,300 years ago and ending in colonial times. The site was brought to our attention by amateur archaeologist, Del Beck, who was concerned about the site being looted. Del remains an important member of our research team along with my old friend and amateur archaeologist, Tommy Davies, and colleagues from the State Museum of Pennsylvania, Clarion and Baylor universities. We are currently into our 5th year of investigations at the site and are collecting evidence of native cultures that is rarely seen in buried and undisturbed contexts in Pennsylvania. I’m looking forward to my next trip to the site later this week.

Michael Stewart, archaeologist in the Department of Anthropology at Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA


For the record, I’m not an archaeologist. I manage the regional historic preservation program for the Mid-Atlantic region of the U.S. General Services Administration. The regional headquarters is in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania although the region covers six states from New Jersey to Virginia. We undertake a number of projects for the federal government that involve ground disturbing activities and I manage the regional regulatory compliance, including archaeological investigations. On June 25, 26, and 27 I reported to a customer agency about the ongoing investigation of two historic archaeological sites at their project site in southern Virginia, sent copies of correspondence and archaeological resource identification reports to a couple of Native American tribes who expressed interest in being consulting parties to a Section 106 consultation, prepared a scope of work to direct an archaeological contractor to undertake a survey to identify whether or not there are archaeological resources present in a planned project area, and worked on slides describing how to incorporate archaeology into project planning for a training presentation I’ll be giving in a few months.

Donna Andrews, Regional Historic Preservation Officer, GSA Mid-Atlantic Region, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania USA


In the evening of June 25, 2012, I edited a draft of a publication being prepared regarding a multi-component prehistoric site (28GL228) located in New Jersey immediately east of Philadelphia (Pennsylvania, USA). The article will be published in the journal entitled Archaeology of Eastern North America and presented at the 2012 Eastern States Archaeological Federation meeting in Ohio (USA). The data from 28GL228 provides insight into Native American culture in the Philadelphia region. This project is being conducted on a volunteer basis.

Jesse Walker, MA, RPA


I, Poul Erik Graversen, MA (Masters), RPA (Registered Professional Archaeologist), spent most of my Monday, June 25, 2012, doing research for my PhD/Doctorate Degree.  I am currently living and working in New Jersey (USA), not far from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania where I grew up; however I attend the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom.  Literature on free African Americans in the antebellum northeastern United States is sparse.  The literature that can be found on this very important topic has had little focus on the placement, layout, settlement patterns, and the archaeological record of these people.  My PhD dissertation aims to fill in the gaps of current scholarship focused on African American archaeology in the northeastern United States by means of an in depth analysis of both enslaved and free African American settlements in not only the northeastern United States, but in the southern United States and West Africa as well.  By analyzing the settlement patterns and socio-economic reasons behind the settlement patterns in other parts of the United States and the world, a clearer and more concise picture of the reasons behind the settlement patterns of free and enslaved African Americans in the northeastern United States will emerge.  Most of the information amassed in this regard up to this point stems from a historical perspective, with archaeological contributions and content lacking.  The new information gathered in this dissertation will shed light on the life-ways of these people via the archaeological record of both enslaved and free African American Diaspora in the northeastern United States of America and the ramifications of their extended exposure to European influence in North America. 

Poul Erik Graversen, MA, RPA PhD/Doctoral Candidate University of Leicester
Principle Investigator/Instructor Monmouth University New Jersey USA


Worked in the morning on several writing projects including my material culture based memoir: “Some Things of Value: A Childhood Through Objects”, my essay with my colleague Julie Steele on Valley Forge and Petersburg National Park Service sites, and some new stuff on American Mortuary practices inspired by my attendance and paper presentation at last week’s national meeting of the Association for Gravestone Studies held in Monmouth, New Jersey (USA). At about 10:30 am left Temple University (in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) and went to Elfreth’s Alley [the oldest street in the USA) and discussed the excavations now underway, directed by my graduate student Deirdre Kelleher, ably assisted by two energetic volunteers and fellow student Matt Kalos. Three foundations have appeared (not the expected two) and need to be sorted out. Lots of stuff to think about there: the growth of 18th century Philadelphia, perhaps the first settlements there, the 19th century immigration and its impacts, all to be read through material culture; especially the remarkable surviving architecture. Greatly relieved not to get a speeding ticket as I journeyed back to Delaware City (Delaware, USA) where I answered some queries and agreed to some talks; including one on the Fourth of July!! My local historical society is busy trying to save a magnificent mid-18th century farmhouse on an imposing knoll surrounded by lowland farm ground and wetlands. Approved a draft to hopefully speed the preservation process along. Also reviewed the National Register nomination crafted by a group of us working at the Plank Log House in Marcus Hook, Pa., another early structure in the Delaware Valley. Regretfully decided that I could not attend the Fields of Conflict 7th Annual Meeting in Hungary this October. The day ended with a group response, led by my next door neighbor, to save an injured Great Blue Heron which found itself in front of our house. By 8:00 pm the heron was revived and taken care of at a friend’s animal hospital!

David G. Orr, Temple University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania


I spent the day doing fieldwork at Elfreth’s Alley in Old City Philadelphia (Pennsylvania, USA) as part of my doctoral research.  Elfreth’s Alley, designated as a National Historical Landmark, is credited with being one of the oldest residential streets in the nation.  My research seeks to illuminate the lives of the inhabitants on the Alley, especially the many European immigrants who resided on the small street during the nineteenth century.  This summer, I am working behind 124 and 126 Elfreth’s Alley which house a small museum and gift shop.  During the day I worked with volunteers from the local community who came out to learn about and participate in the excavation.  I also spent time discussing my project with the many visitors who came to the Museum of Elfreth’s Alley.

Deirdre Kelleher, Doctoral Student, Temple University, Department of Anthropology, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania


I am a Rutgers University (New Jersey, USA) lecturer who teaches in three programs (Anthropology, Art History, Cultural Heritage); I also am a sole proprietor archaeological consultant with 25 years of archaeological experience – every day is always busy, diverse in the tasks and projects I work on, and linked with archaeology and anthropology. Today I: 1. Finished and submitted a review for a textbook on on Native American history and culture to a major publisher of archaeology and anthropology texts 2. Submitted an application to be listed as an independent archaeological consultant for the state of Pennsylvania 3. Gathered material for, and started writing a draft of, a syllabus for one of three courses I will be teaching next fall (“Cemeteries, Monuments, and Memorials: Cultural Heritage and Remembering the Dead”) 4. Wrote a short draft of an invited book contribution on the topic of an Alaskan archaeological site I helped to excavate in 1987 and 1994.

Katharine Woodhouse-Beyer


I just returned from a visit to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA, where I viewed the traveling Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit at the Franklin Institute in which the accompanying artifacts of everyday life illuminate the scrolls themselves. I also was privileged to enjoy a preview of reconstructed transfer-printed creamware pitchers that will be included in an exhibit commemorating the War of 1812.  Curiosity about the images of naval engagements on these Philadelphia artifacts led me to explore similar prints offered on the websites of antique print dealers as well as on the Library of Congress Guide to the War of 1812. Researching Melungeons in aid of a relative’s family history quest, I examined Kenneth B. Tankersley’s work about the Red Bird River Shelter petroglyphs in Clay County, KY.

K. L. Brauer, Maryland, USA


June 26, 2012

Today, at Drexel University (in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA), I met with two Digital Media undergraduates developing digital assets representing the James Oronoco Dexter House, the site of which was excavated in Independence National Historical Park in Philadelphia.  The 3D model will eventually serve as a virtual environment in which users interact with avatars and take part in “possible” conversations that led to the formation of the African Church, later known as, The African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas, which are known to have occurred in this home. Jason Kirk, a junior who received a Steinbright Career Development Center Research Co-op Award to work on the project, is completing the latest digital model.  Jason and I met with freshman Joseph Tomasso who received a Pennoni Honor’s College STAR (Students Tracking Advanced Research) Fellowship to work on the project. Today is Joe’s first day on the summer term Fellowship. He will develop digital 3D models of appropriate furniture and furnishings that will be used to populate the house.  Virtual artifacts will include ceramics recovered from the archaeological site that are believed to be associated with Dexter’s occupation.  The purpose of the meeting was to prepare for a session with Independence National Historical Park representatives on Wednesday, June 27th.  At that Park meeting we will review the house model and will discuss appropriate virtual furnishings with Park experts.  The model has been prepared with advice from archaeologists Jed Levin and Doug Mooney (who excavated and interpreted the Dexter House site) and guidance from Public Archaeologist, Patrice Jeppson and Karie Diethorn, Chief Curator Independence National Historical Park.

Glen Muschio, Associate Professor, Digital Media, Westphal College, Drexel University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania


Doing archaeology today has entailed a wide range of activities, some not always associated in the public’s mind with archaeology.  I work for a cultural resource management firm. Today’s work has included such mundane activities as reviewing contracts to perform archaeology in Bucks County and the city of Philadelphia in Pennsylvania, USA; firming up logistical efforts to meet with a geomorphologist tomorrow in Delaware County (Pennsylvania); and checking time statements. Fortunately, the day also included putting the finishing touches on an archaeological monitoring report for work in Bucks County. This required nailing down dates for two artifacts found in association with a house foundation. I learned that Pennsylvania in the 1920s and 1930s stamped out automobile license plates with the year that they were issued. I also learned, through a historical marker database on the internet, that the Trenton Brewing company was incorporated in 1891 as a side line business of an ice company and stopped using the name by 1899. These two objects helped to bracket the date of the foundation that had been encountered.  In comparison to the mundane business aspect of doing archaeology, the historical information about the two artifacts, brightened my day.

Kenneth J. Basalik, Ph.D. Pennsylvania USA



I work for an engineering company in Pennsylvania (USA) and serve as the Vice President of the Philadelphia Archaeological Forum (in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania). In the course of the day I went over plans for field and laboratory work for a Phase II bridge replacement project that will be starting shortly outside of Philadelphia. I spent time researching the status of industrial archaeological sites in the city for an encyclopedia article. Indications are that in some neighborhoods in the city, between 1990 and 2007, as many of 50% of the documented and listed industrial archaeological sites were completely or partially demolished, or were abandoned or fell into disrepair. In other neighborhoods with higher property values, more sites were preserved by adaptive reuse. In addition, I spent a portion of the day reviewing and proofreading comments on a visit to a laboratory for a major urban archaeological project in Philadelphia.  In the evening, I attended the monthly meeting of the Philadelphia Archaeological Forum (PAF), an organization that works to promote archaeology in the City of Brotherly Love (Philadelphia).  After the meeting, I began reviewing the report summary for Phase IB/II testing and the data recovery plan for a major highway project in the city. The goal will be to prepare comments on the documents for submission to the agency that is sponsoring the project, on behalf of the Philadelphia Archaeological Forum.

Lauren Cook, Registered Professional Archaeologist, Philadelphia, PA

Zen and the Art of Curation


Greetings from the Illinois State Archaeological Survey, a division of the Prairie Research Institute at the University of Illinois-Champaign! Recently, I have been spending my days in the lab helping to update and transcribe site inventories into a digital database.  The excavations that produced these artifacts were conducted in the 1960s and 1970s, and the only inventories that exist are on hard copy.  Additionally, some of the artifacts are still in their original paper collection bags.  I am currently relabeling and rebagging artifacts, mostly lithics, and entering catalogue and provenience information into a digital database.  (Provenience refers to the exact location on the site at which the artifact was found; as opposed to the “Antiques Roadshow” term provenance, which refers to the entire history of the object from its discovery to the present).  It is important to curate these items using materials and technology that will help to preserve both the artifacts and their associated provenience information.


While this task might not entail bullwhip-cracking excitement and Spielberg-worthy finds, I think it is every bit as valuable as the discovery of a new site, the excavation of a unique artifact, or the ground-breaking research taking place daily.  This is due in part to my recent completion of a Master’s thesis in which I analyzed artifacts from the Chesapeake Bay region, despite living about 800 miles away in the Midwest.  I was able to conduct a majority of my research and some data collection using the Comparative Archaeological Study of Colonial Chesapeake Culture database (, created by the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Laboratory and other Chesapeake archaeologists and collaborators.  This information was available to me thanks to the careful curation and meticulous inventorying of thousands of artifacts by Tidewater archaeologists in Maryland and Virginia.


As I work on curating the artifacts and information from excavations conducted years ago in Illinois, my recent research experience is always in the back of my mind.  I hope that our careful curation of the artifacts from decades-old excavations will assist researchers investigating these sites to more easily access this information.  The field of archaeology continues to advance both technologically and theoretically, and it is important to preserve artifacts and information as completely as possible to assist future researchers in the reinvestigation and reanalysis of previously-excavated sites.  Who knows what exciting reinterpretations might someday be based on these nondescript bags of broken rocks?

These chert samples were collected from a site investigated in the 1960s and 1970s.


A quiet day at the lab

As a zooarchaeologist at the Virginia Museum of Natural History, I usually spend quite a bit of time in my lab identifying, or trying to identify, many pieces of bone, antler, and shell, mostly from Native American sites in the North American Middle Atlantic states.  The lab is also usually bustling with volunteers washing, sorting, and labeling samples.  Today though, the lab is unusually quiet (hopefully there’s a photo below).  I am out of town doing some background research for a new project, the fauna from the Barton site – a multicomponent Native American village site in western Maryland.  This week I was working at the library at the Maryland Historical Trust.  The Trust library houses the site files, reports, and publications dealing with Maryland archaeology and historical resources.  I now have a much longer reading list to work through over the next couple of months!

I decided to take a break from library work and the 100 degree heat and took a diversionary trip to The Walters Art Museum ( in Baltimore to see their temporary exhibit on writing implements.  I saw an object new to me – an 18th century small ivory writing tablet.  The tablets in the exhibit were small (approximately 1 in wide and 2 inches long) and were stored in small metal cases.  The user would write a note on the tablet and then they could wipe the note off of the smooth ivory surface and write a new note when needed.  The first write-on-wipe-off board!  And one more use for ivory to consider if I see flat ivory pieces in a historic site assemblage.  Even on a gallery visit where I didn’t plan on seeing anything work related there was still something to keep in mind for future analyses.  That’s one of the great things about archaeology; there’s always something new to learn and almost everywhere you go there is something relevant to what we do.

It looks pretty quiet in there!

Archaeology in Annapolis: Every Day is a Day of Archaeology

Student volunteers Ryan and Bill wash artifacts collected from Annapolis, Maryland. Source: Kate Deeley

Student volunteers Ryan and Bill wash artifacts collected from Annapolis, Maryland. Source: Kate Deeley

It is the last day of summer lab work for the Archaeology in Annapolis project. Out of the sun of the field and into the air conditioning, volunteer undergraduate students Bill and Ryan wash the artifacts gathered from this season’s efforts. Toothbrushes in hand, they dust off the delicate or brittle artifacts made of bone or iron and scrub the hardier finds with water. Free from dirt, the ceramics and glass pieces sometimes reveal maker’s marks and unseen decorations. These features will be eventually cataloged and aid in the analysis of the site as they can provide relative dates for the levels in which they were found. Under the guidance of graduate student Kate Deeley, the volunteers learn the basics of laboratory methods, while she and the other graduate students work on their own research—independent but each related to the Archaeology in Annapolis collective.

This Summer’s Work

Artifacts from the Pinkney House in Annapolis lay out to dry on screens. Source: Kate Deeley.

Artifacts from the Pinkney House in Annapolis lay out to dry on screens. Source: Kate Deeley.

Archaeology in Annapolis is a 30-year project, run out of the University of Maryland, College Park. Under the direction of Dr. Mark Leone, a staff of graduate students—Jocelyn Knauf, Amanda Tang, Kate Deeley, Benjamin Skolnik, and Beth Pruitt—manages annual field schools and lab work, which contribute to their individual dissertation research. In the summer, the field school spends three weeks in urban Annapolis, Maryland and three weeks at the Wye House plantation on the Eastern Shore. As Archaeology in Annapolis learns about the lives of past people, we strive to explore the stories of those whose names haven’t always made it into the history books, including enslaved African Americans and working class individuals.