National Constitution Center

Historical Archaeology New Technologies and Community

Glen Muschio –
A Day of Archaeology, 2014

As an associate professor of Digital Media at Drexel University and as a cultural anthropologist my interests focus on using digital technologies to explore issues relating to cultural heritage. I work with digital media students, Philadelphia area archaeologists, operators of historic sites and archaeologists, historians and museum curators at Independence National Historical Park (INHP) to produce 3D digital models of historical artifacts, structures and sites. Several of the 3D house models are visualizations based on archaeological evidence and historical documents. One such model is the James Oronoco Dexter House.
Dexter House original model

The archaeological remains of the house were discovered during excavations conducted in 2001-2003 in association with the construction of the National Constitution Center on INHP grounds. The Dexter House is of considerable historic interest, it was occupied in the 1790’s by James Oronoco Dexter, a manumitted slave active in Philadelphia’s emerging African American community. The house was used as a meeting place for discussions relating to the founding of the African Episcopal Church of St Thomas. Historical records document meetings attended by Absalom Jones, the church’s founder and the first ordained African American priest in the Episcopal Church. Other attendees included prominent Philadelphia African Americans and Euro Americans.
Dexter House front and rear

Over the years the 3D model of the Dexter House has developed in consultation with archaeologists and other experts. Each iteration of the model seeks to refine its historic accuracy. The first version was produced in 2005. Helpful critiques led to a 2007 refinement of the exterior house model. In 2012 models of the house interior were produced and the model was placed in a game engine enabling explorers to navigate around the exterior and the first floor interior of the house.
Dexter model Large room

Historically appropriate virtual furnishings were added. Also added were virtual ceramic artifacts produced from 3D scans of artifacts excavated at the archaeological site and believed to be associated with Dexter’s occupation of the house.
James Dexter Model

Last night the latest iteration of the model was shown to members of the Philadelphia Archaeological Forum (PAF) and demonstrated in the Oculus Rift, a head mounted 3D immersive display system enabling wearers to virtually stroll around the exterior and interior of the house.
Matt and Chester demo prep
We also discussed plans to produce 3D interior models of the 2nd floor and garret. PAF members provided feedback on preliminary models. The long-range plan is to produce a 3D interactive environment in which visitors to the site can discuss 18th century views on race, religion and class as well as their 21st century legacies and consequences. Today I am reviewing notes from last night’s meeting.

PAF tour

Glen Muschio, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
Antionette Westphal College of Media Arts and Design
Drexel University
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (USA)

Digital Model of the James Oronoco Dexter House

I am a freshman at Drexel University studying 3D Animation and Visual Effects. As part of my participation in this year’s STAR (Students Tackling Advanced Research) program at the University, I am working with Dr. Glen Muschio to continue work on the James Oronoco Dexter house model. The 18th century house stood on grounds now occupied by the National Constitution Center. It is of historical significance because in the 1790’s it was lived in by Dexter, a manumitted slace active in Philadelphia’s African American community. Students have previously modeled the exterior of the house as well as the first floor, including furnishings. Today I worked on laying out possible configurations for the house’s second floor and garret.


As part of my work on the house, I have reviewed Independence National Historical records ( ) concerning the house, as well as historic insurance records. Last night, July 10th, I spoke with Philadelphia Archaeology Forum members Jed Levin and Doug Mooney, archaeologists who excavated the Dexter site. They reviewed my preliminary models and offered suggestions for consideration. There are no archaeological remains of the second floor of the house, which means we cannot be sure of the correct layout. However, we can infer from historical records describing similar homes and from standing historical houses from that era what the layout might have been like. With this information it is possible to produce a number of layouts that might have been possible within the given space. Without the benefit of an archaeological record we have no way to know the exact layout. Submitted by Matthew Mlodzienski


What’s that you say? Interning in an Archaeology Lab? Awesome!

By Kim Jovinelli Internship, Independence National Historical Park Archeology Lab
MA Candidate in Museum Communication University of the Arts, Philadelphia 2013 Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Archaeology has always been a large influence on my life. From a young age, I had been exposed to such historical wonders, they almost didn’t seem real. I remember thinking, “How did [insert artifact name] get here?”

and “What makes it so important that it gets to sit behind glass for everyone to see?”

It didn’t hurt either that my father, Anthony, exposed me to movies portraying a Fedora clad, whip brandishing Archaeologist pretty early (though I realize now that Archaeologists don’t traipse the globe hunting down the bad guys and finding the [insert precious lost treasure here]). I was fortunate in that my parents both saw Archaeology was my passion and they nurtured that drive throughout my life. Which lead me to where I am now. Currently, I Intern in the Archaeology Lab at Independence National Historic Park in Philadelphia(Pennsylvania, USA) as part of my curriculum for an Masters of Art Degree in Museum Communication, in the hopes of working with archaeological or historical collections in the future. A typical week includes some usual archaeological lab work (labeling artifacts, mending artifacts, cleaning artifacts, etc), but then there are those days where I get to play with wonderful bits and pieces of the past. Under the supervision and guidance of Deborah Miller, Collections Manager (Independence Park Archeology Lab), I have been in the beginning stages of repacking and cataloging the labs collection of wood items gathered from the site where the National Constitution Center currently stands. To some, this may seem like a daunting task, but I find it fascinating. Yes, there are those random planks or small flakes of wooden items of unknown makeup. But once in a while, there are those items that are so fascinating they require a long look and some deep thought. I like to solve puzzles by nature, so pondering the origin and use of these items is of great interest and keeps my mind working.

Along with the above mentioned project, I am also working to scan and digitize photographic slides taken when the original dig took place from 2000-2003. As someone who would like to work with collections in the future and also someone who sees a more digital future brewing, a skill even as basic as being able to convert slides to digital format and organize them in a cohesive manner is of great use. I am also in the process of pulling and packaging the labs bone (fauna) collection to be sent out for This comprises my typical week. To say it is what I had hoped it would be is an understatement. It is what I can see myself continuing with in the future. My experience at Independence National Historic Park will follow me wherever I may roam, and I like that.

Ceramic and wood artifacts in the Independence National Historical Park Archeology 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 (, and 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 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!


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