Philadelphia archaeology

Summer archaeological tasks: Typical Today (Weds. July 9, 2014)

David G. Orr recording a 19th century tenet farmer’s cabin, central Delaware, 1980.

David G. Orr recording a 19th century tenet farmer’s cabin, central Delaware, 1980.

Wrote a draft of book review for the SHA (Society for Historical Archaeology) on Roosevelt’s New Deal for Archaeology called “Shovel Ready” by Bernard K. Means. Finished manuscript on Valley Forge Archaeology for my new co-edited book on the Camps and Huts of the American Revolution. Met with Deirdre Kelleher on her dissertation progress, she is on track for defending her thesis this fall (on Elfreth’s Alley). Worked on courses for my LAST semester teaching at Temple University this fall (50 years of this stuff comes to an end). Did some artifact sorting of the material found at the Kiln site of the Muhlenberg House in Pa. Did some preliminary work for a new project on “markings” i.e. graffiti, etc. on material culture.

David G. Orr, Ph.D.
Temple University
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA

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 Several of the 3D house models are visualizations based on archaeological evidence and historical documents.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)

Jesse Walker – A Day of Archaeology, July 2014

Jesse Walker
Today (Monday July 7th, 2014) was a typical mid-summer day in archaeology. In the office, I worked on several cultural resource management reports and a variety of projects. At home in the evening, I spent time on a few side archaeology projects. This fall I am giving a presentation at the Bristol Cultural & Historical Foundation located in Bristol Borough, Bucks County, Pennsylvania (USA). The presentation is focused on archaeology in the borough and surrounding community. Arrangements have been made to examine a local collection of Native American artifacts house at the Grundy Museum in Bristol. I have been tracking down other local archaeological information such as data regarding a Cheval de Frise found in the Delaware River near Burlington Island and a Contact-period burial found in the late nineteenth century. A surprising amount of local archaeological-related information has turned up in preparation for the presentation. I am also editing a short summary of the 17th Annual ‘Artifact Show’ hosted by the Gloucester County Chapter of the Archaeological Society of New Jersey. My final side project is the Hoffman Site (28GL228). Guy Di Giugno and I have been working on an article summarizing the results of 13 years of excavations at the Hoffman Site (see photo) which is a multi-component Native American site. The article will be published in the Archaeological Society of New Jersey Newsletter.

Jesse O. Walker
Richard Grubb & Associates
Cultural Resource Consultants,
Cranbury, New Jersey, USA

Michael Stewart – A Day of Archaeology, July 2014

July 7, 2014
Today is a sit-in-front-of-the-computer day writing and sending emails to colleagues. It’s tough to be inside when the weather is great and the field beckons. But as archaeologists often tell themselves, there is no use doing fieldwork if you are not going to write about it.

I am working on two chapters to be part of an edited book on Paleoindians, the earliest native peoples known for the region, ca. 10,000 BC – 8,000 BC. One chapter deals with a deeply buried site in the Lehigh Gorge of the Delaware Valley that Paleoindians returned to multiple times. The reuse of the location makes it unusual in itself as the majority of camps are not reused, even though Paleoindians revisit similar types of landscapes. One reason for its reuse may be the site’s critical location in terms of travel routes through the area’s rugged terrain. We also have a new radiocarbon date for a style of Paleoindian projectile point that has only been dated once before in the entire United States. The second chapter summarizes what we currently know about a series of Paleoindian sites spread across a common landscape adjacent to the Delaware River. The amount of activity on this landscape also seems unusual, just like the Lehigh Gorge site, and one goal of ongoing research is to figure out why. In this case, a travel route combined with a source of useful stone for tool manufacturing may be in play. The work on the Delaware River sites involves working closely with amateur archaeologists and artifact collectors who have known about them for years.

Throughout the writing process I have been emailing my colleagues and co-authors with questions and requests for information, or help with putting together graphics. Soon (hopefully!) I will be forwarding complete drafts of the chapters to everyone involved for comments and further revisions. If you are interested, keep an eye out for volume II of, In the Eastern Fluted Point Tradition, edited by Joe Gingerich (University of Utah Press). And definitely check out the already published initial volume.

Michael Stewart
Department of Anthropology
Temple University, Philadelphia (USA)

A fluted point from (the archaeological site numbered) 36CR142, located in the Lehigh Gorge (Delaware Valley). The point was found by Jim Hunsicker. (Photo courtesy of Del Beck, a member of the research team).

A fluted point from (the archaeological site numbered) 36CR142, located in the Lehigh Gorge (Delaware Valley). The point was found by Jim Hunsicker. (Photo courtesy of Del Beck, a member of the research team).

Archaeology for the I-95 Project

Kristin Swanton, MA RPA Archaeologist at URS Corporation Burlington, New Jersey USA

Archaeology for the I-95 Project

Fieldwork for the I-95 highway expansion project in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (USA), has been going on for several years now and in various phases of research. Thus, this project requires our crew (from the cultural resources division of URS Corporation, Burlington, New Jersey, USA) to work year-round and in all types of environmental conditions. Work for the I-95 project starts bright and early at 7AM when our crew gathers on site. For the past several days I have been working with 2-3 other crew members excavating an unusually large 5’ x 7’ test unit. This unit straddles a historical period rock wall foundation that is likely associated with a 20th century domestic structure. Adjacent units have revealed both historical and prehistoric artifacts from fill as well as intact soil layers. Today we were hoping to learn more about the interior of the historical era building as well as understand the relationship between our prehistoric artifacts and ones found in surrounding excavation units. While I was digging, the remaining crew members were screening for artifacts. The soil was very compact and required time and patience completing both activities. Screened artifacts were placed in plastic bags that were labeled with their corresponding location information. Thus far, no unique artifacts were found today, but there is still more work to be done tomorrow and research questions to be addressed!


Not a bad day of work

Louis Magazzu, URS Corporation Burlington, New Jersey USA

Normally my weekdays consist of digging features or test units underneath I-95 in Philadelphia (Pennsylvania, USA).  In the two years I’ve been working there I have seen such a wide variety of materials that you never really know what to expect.  This week however I’m seeing how the other half lives; I’m working in the lab getting a little taste of everything.  It’s Tuesday.  Jen Rankin, one of the field supervisors, asks me to set up a display featuring some of the I-95 project’s finest prehistoric finds.  We walk to her cubicle where she gives me a goodie box that would excite any prehistorian.  Some of the highlights include unifacial tools, bifacial blades, a broken atlatl weight, a handful of pot sherds, some clay pipe fragments, two tiny beads, dozens of projectile points of diverse types and materials, and finally taking center stage is a beautiful gorget of burnished slate with incised decoration broken rather neatly into two pieces.  I go upstairs to my case, clean it, and lay a black table cloth inside. At lunch I get a phone call from Kevin Donaghy, a Temple University graduate student whom I have been helping out on Saturdays on his site at the Revolutionary War battlefield of Brandywine (Pennsylvania, USA).  He excitedly tells me he thinks he’s found something important.  We are going back this weekend to check it out.  After lunch I place groups of artifacts on slabs of timber, place labels with each artifact type, and put a few sketches in the case showing some objects as they would have originally looked.  The case is complete but there is still a bit of space on the surrounding desk.  I take a bag of some experimental stone working fragments and set up a display showing successive stages in lithic reduction from chert cobble to several different blanks that might become projectile points or bifaces.  Not a bad day of work.


By Brian Seidel, Assistant Lab Supervisor, URS Corporation, Burlington, New Jersey, USA


Flotation is the process by which the smallest and most delicate artifacts are separated from soil for analysis.  Artifacts collected using this method can provide important information related to: reconstructing past diet and food consumption patterns, past environmental conditions, and the broad range of activities performed within an historic property or site. Soil samples collected during feature excavation are processed in a flotation tank that utilizes water pressure to separate the soil from the artifacts. During this procedure very light artifacts (light fraction) float to the surface and are collected in a catch bag, while the remainder of the artifacts (heavy fraction) are collected in a fine mesh screen as the soil and artifacts sink towards the bottom of the tank.

This week the heavy fraction from feature 364 at the Gunnar’s Run Site (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA) was picked in the URS lab (Burlington, New Jersey, USA). This feature was a brick lined circular shaft. Today I cataloged the recovered artifacts. This included several varieties of seeds; raspberry, grape, squash, cherry, chestnut and a variety of yet to be identified seeds.  Other items found included; 19 beads, lead shot, nut shells, wood fragments, small glass fragments, a Whiteware sherd, brick and coal fragments.

Flotation is the process by which the smallest and most delicate artifacts are separated from soil for analysis — Brian Seidel

A Day in Cultural Resource Management

By Dan Eichinger Archaeological Supervisor URS Corporation, Burlington, New Jersey USA (Posted by the Philadelphia Archaeological Forum’s webmaster) I am an archaeological supervisor for URS Corporation (Burlington, New Jersey, USA), directing fieldwork in Fishtown (a neighborhood in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA) for the I-95 highway renovation project.  A day in Cultural Resource Management does not always begin in the manner most people would assume a typical archaeological project does.  For instance, overnight thunderstorms left our excavations filled with water that had drained off the overpass.  So our day began with the running of pumps and hand-bailing of rain water.  Heavy equipment was utilized to move said pumps and channelize 100’s of gallons of water away from the excavations. Eventually, our muddy archaeology day really began, wet feet and pants, aching backs, and numbed senses aside.  We investigated A-horizons beneath the shadow of the I95 overpass that were luckily left intact in spite of hundreds of years of urban development and the construction of I95 itself.  These excavations yielded artifacts that are associated with the everyday lives of glass blowers whom worked in the numerous local bottling works, which were once located along the banks of the Delaware River.  Also encountered was evidence of the area’s earlier occupants; today’s finds included evidence for Late Archaic Native American tool making activities. Dan Eichinger