Jesse Walker – My Day of Archaeology, 2016

by Jesse Walker
Archaeological Society of New Jersey
Newsletter Editor and Executive Board Member

On Wednesday July 27, 2016, I devoted time to the Archaeological Society of New Jersey. Newsletters were printed for mailing to new society members. Emails from Executive Board Members were reviewed to ensure events, deadlines, and other organization tasks were addressed. One of major tasks the society is publishing a professional bulletin with articles about archaeology in the Garden State. I am editing an article about Native American flake stone tools that were excavated from a stratified site on the Delaware River floodplain near Frenchtown New Jersey. The results of microscopic analysis of flake tools are presented in the article. Editing involves checking grammar, formatting the manuscript, and reviewing the research design, archaeological data and conclusions. Publishing excavation results is a key responsibility in archaeology. It is eye opening to see how much effort goes into writing, editing, and prepared articles for publication in journals and bulletins. The membership dues to the Archaeological Society of New Jersey help fund the printing costs of the bulletin. Please consider joining the Archaeological Society of New Jersey to receive a copy of future bulletins.

Preparations for Archaeology Month in the City of Brotherly Love Philadelphia, PA

By Ryan Rasing

STAR “Students Tackling Advanced Research” Scholars Program

Digital Media Department, Antoinette Westphal College of Media Arts and Design

Drexel University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States of America

I am a freshman studying Game Art and Production at the Antoinette Westphal College of Media Arts and Design, Drexel University. This summer I am participating in the STAR (Students Tackling Advanced Research) Scholars Program. Working under Associate Professor Dr. Glen Muschio. Today I am storyboarding two Public Service Announcements (PSAs). One PSA is for a Philadelphia archaeology event open to the public, the other is to announce Pennsylvania’s Archaeology Month, set for October this year. The PSA’s will be shown on a giant LED screen on the 27th floor of the PECO (Philadelphia Electric Company) Building in Center City, Philadelphia.

Philadelphia PSA Draft Screenshot

One of the PSAs will show Philadelphia’s skyline rising above layers of stratigraphy. Selected 3D artifacts will begin to move across the screen superimposed over the skyline/stratigraphy background. As the artifacts exit the frame, text follows announcing, “Explore Philadelphia’s Buried Past 10/10”.  The PSA will run 30 seconds in length and will be shown on the PECO Crown Lights for 3 days in October.

The second PSA will also feature 3D models of archaeological artifacts from the Independence National Historical Park’s collection. Last week I assisted Digital Media grad student Jonnathan Mercado in scanning and photographing artifacts selected by INHP Chief Historian and archaeologist Jed Levin.

Inspecting artifacts at the Independence National Historical Park
Inspecting artifacts at the Independence National Historical Park (From Left: Jonnathan Mercado, Ryan Rasing, Jed Levin)
Working on the PSA
Working on the PSA



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)

Deirdre Kelleher – A Day of Archaeology, 2014

Saull 1
Today (Thursday, July 10, 2014) I hosted a public archaeology lab day at Temple University’s Anthropology Laboratory. During the day we cleaned artifacts recovered from archaeological investigations behind 124 and 126 Elfreth’s Alley, which house the museum and gift shop of the Elfreth’s Alley Association. The Alley, which is located in Old City Philadelphia, is a National Historic Landmark District and is credited with being the oldest continuously-occupied residential street in the United States. The street was formed circa 1702 as a cartway to connect Front Street along the Delaware River to the commerce on Second Street.

Throughout the day, I set-up, assisted, and oversaw volunteers as they wet washed and dry-brushed artifacts from excavation unit 14. Unit 14 was excavated in the small courtyard behind 124 and 126 Elfreth’s Alley during the summer of 2013. Today volunteers diligently used toothbrushes to gently remove dirt from the objects, revealing previously hidden details of the artifacts such as a hand-painted floral design on a sherd of creamware ceramic or a molded letter visible on a piece of clear vessel glass. Once the objects were cleaned, they were placed on screens to let them dry before being cataloged. As volunteers cleaned, I also put cleaned artifacts into new storage containers.

As always, the volunteers today were amazing to work with! As they washed artifacts and discussed the street’s past, they actively took part in the discovery and formation of the small street’s history. While Elfreth’s Alley Archaeology volunteers often come from various backgrounds (today alone volunteers included a professional photographer, a math professor, a stay at home parent, and recent college graduates), they all share a passion and love of history. I asked the volunteers to share their thoughts, impressions, and experiences from today. Below is what they had to say:
Elfreths Volunteers
“This was my first time processing artifacts. I felt like I was touching history.” – Leanna

“I am a repeat customer. I am interested in discover/interpreting the story of another time.” – Jill

“I got involved in [the] Elfreth’s Alley Archaeology project and in interpretation by hearing stories of settlement and survival. Handling artifacts, wet washing/dry brushing, gives me direct context to a place.” – Amanda

“[I] found a very black piece of bone and a mostly intact tooth.” – Andrew

“I really enjoyed my first time processing artifacts. My favorite part was washing the dirt off the ceramic pieces and waiting for the pop of color to show up. It was like taking a trip back in time.” –Livia

“Today, I mostly dry-brushed metal objects. There were several nails, all shapes and sizes. I enjoyed trying to imagine the structures these nails once held together, structures that have since been swallowed by time.” – Wendy

Each of these fantastic volunteers has become part of the Alley’s history themselves!

Later in the day, I was also on a conference call with the Chemical Heritage Foundation (CHF) and archaeologist Douglas Mooney of URS Corporation regarding the planning and recording of an upcoming podcast on urban archaeology in Philadelphia for CHF’s Distillations program.

Related Websites:

Archaeology on the Alley Blog (
Elfreth’s Alley Website (
CHF Distillations Podcast (
Temple University Anthropology Lab (

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


Curator Takes Vacation Only to Visit More Museums: How Taking My Work With Me Changed Everything

Mixing business with pleasure is not uncommon practice in the field of archaeology, as most archaeologists will tell you that they love their jobs. Sometimes, however, an opportunity will present itself so serendipitously that it can hardly be called “work” at all. Such was the case for me on a recent family vacation to Europe, where I came face to face with an important archaeological collection at the British Museum in London.

In June 2013, I accepted my first “real” job out of graduate school as Curator of Collections for the Marco Island Historical Society (MIHS) in Marco Island, Florida. I had finished my M.A. in Museum Studies at the University of Florida (UF) just six months prior, and in the meantime had been teaching an undergraduate anthropology course at UF while working as a Curatorial Assistant in the Anthropology Division at the Florida Museum of Natural History (FLMNH). My first assignment for the MIHS would be to develop a permanent exhibit on the prehistory of Marco Island for installation in the Marco Island Historical Museum. Needless to say, I had a lot to learn about Marco Island, not to mention life as a museum curator.

For those who are unfamiliar with Marco Island, it’s as picturesque as it sounds. The largest of Florida’s Ten Thousand Islands, Marco’s natural crescent beach and fertile waters make it a hotspot for retirees, vacationers, and fisher folk alike. However, many visitors don’t realize that Marco is also home to one of the most famous archaeological sites ever discovered in North America.


Just another day on Marco Island, Florida. Photo by Austin Bell.


In 1895, a retired British military officer named Charles Durnford was tarpon fishing in the area when he was informed of an unusual find in the muck of Key Marco (now Marco Island). Not wanting to miss out on the action, he quickly set sail for Marco to perform his own excavation. It was not long before he too uncovered incredibly well-preserved artifacts made of wood, gourd, and cordage, materials that often do not survive in archaeological sites. Knowing the potential significance of these rare items, Durnford took them all the way to Philadelphia in hopes of conferring with his friend at the University of Pennsylvania, where by chance he encountered Frank Hamilton Cushing. Cushing, a famous anthropologist from the Smithsonian Institution, confirmed the importance of the finds and was duly inspired to make his own visit to Marco. What Cushing found in his subsequent visits (1895 and 1896) is the stuff of legend, an archaeological site so spectacular that it has yet to be replicated in more than 115 years of archaeology in Southwest Florida. Among the finds were painted wooden masks, finely woven nets, fishing floats made of wood and gourd, and beautifully carved wooden figureheads, some of the finest examples of prehistoric Native American art ever discovered. The most famous of these is the “Key Marco cat,” now housed in the collections of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington D.C. The cat is so well-known that it’s been featured on a United States postage stamp (see picture)! For archaeologists and archaeology enthusiasts, the Key Marco site serves as one of best known examples of a “wet site,” where biological materials not ordinarily preserved can add greater context to our understanding of prehistoric cultures.


The “Key Marco cat” on a 1989 U.S. postage stamp. Image courtesy of the Marco Island Historical Society.


While Durnford’s cavalier removal of artifacts from Key Marco would be frowned upon today (i.e., illegal), he had the foresight to not only write up his findings in The American Naturalist (1895), but also to donate the objects to the esteemed British Museum in his home country. The fifteen objects remain there to this day, one of which (a wooden tray) has been on permanent exhibit since 1999 as a representative piece of “the Americas.”


The Southeastern United States section of the British Museum’s “North America” exhibit. Note the Seminole patchwork shirt at the top. The wooden artifact on the floor in the back is from Marco Island. Photo by Austin Bell (July 4, 2013). © Trustees of the British Museum.


The “wooden tray” discovered by Durnford at Key Marco in 1895, as seen on public exhibition at the British Museum in London. Photo by Austin Bell (July 4, 2013). © Trustees of the British Museum.


As fate would have it, my family had organized a trip to Europe months in advance of my hiring at Marco Island. Not wanting to miss out on a rare opportunity to spend “quality time” with my parents and two sisters (not to mention our first ever family vacation overseas), I informed the MIHS of our plans and they generously allowed me to go ahead with them. The British Museum was already on our itinerary, but with my new interest in the Durnford Collection, I put in a last-minute request to see the objects themselves. Given the short notice and my relative inexperience in the field, I was doubtful that such a request could be honored, but I figured “why not ask?” Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised when the good folks at the British Museum quickly replied with an enthusiastic “yes,” as I’ve come to realize that people in the museum field often bend over backwards to help a colleague. So it came to pass that on July 4th, a date on which I normally would be celebrating my home country’s independence from Great Britain, I stood inside the British Museum’s Ethnographic Collection Storage building by the grace of several wonderful and accommodating staff members, thanking my lucky stars (and stripes) to be in Great Britain. It was there that I came face to face with the Durnford Collection, an experience I am unlikely to forget.


Excitement builds as we pass through the gate to the British Museum in London, England. Photo by Austin Bell (July 4, 2013).


Formulating a strategy for exploring the world-renowned British Museum in London, England. Photo by Austin Bell (July 4, 2013).


The objects themselves are relatively unremarkable, at least when compared to Cushing’s finds of 1896. The collection consists of several shell tools, some potsherds, a few wooden float pegs, some highly deteriorated netting and cordage, and several other fragmented wooden artifacts. What struck me almost immediately, however, was that these were the very artifacts that Cushing looked at in 1895, probably in a setting similar to this one (with these same artifacts strewn across a table in a non-descript room), and inspired him to take his now famous expedition to Marco Island. Not only were these fifteen objects an inspiration to Cushing, they basically set off the more than 100 years of stellar archaeology conducted in Southwest Florida since him. As a student and practitioner of both museology and archaeology, everything finally made sense in a way that sitting in a classroom never could. I had gone from the person who preserved artifacts to the person artifacts were preserved for, if only for a few fleeting hours. All those years of wondering “who will ever look at all this stuff?” seemed to wash away and my confidence in my career choice reinvigorated. Given the age of the objects (ca. 500-1500 A.D.), the fact that they had been in collections storage for nearly 117 years, and the understanding that conservation techniques were not what they are now, their condition was remarkably good. For someone who had worked with archaeological materials from Southwest Florida for the better part of five years, the thought that someday, long after I’m gone, someone will be looking at an object or collection of objects that I helped curate and be equally excited and inspired seemed to make it all worth it.


The Durnford Collection as it appears 117 years after its excavation. Photo by Austin Bell (July 4, 2013). © Trustees of the British Museum.


The point of this article, however, is not to boast about my travels or associate myself with a renowned institution like the British Museum; people visit their collections all the time. The point, rather, is to share the inspiration I felt as a professional who can sometimes take for granted the amazing things I get to work with on a daily basis. At this point in my career I am more “museum professional” than “archaeologist,” so I’m obliged to advocate for the role that museums play in preserving artifacts that archaeologists uncover. Without museums, objects like those in the Durnford Collection wouldn’t be around for new generations of hungry eyes to feast upon. What’s more, there will almost certainly be new technologies and methods of analysis for museum collections in the future, much the way that radiocarbon dating didn’t exist in 1895. This makes the role of the museum all the more important in archaeology, allowing professionals and amateurs alike the opportunity to interpret and re-interpret the meaning of material culture for centuries to come. As I now try to incorporate what I’ve learned from the British Museum into the exhibit on Marco Island, I encourage you to think about what artifact or collection of artifacts has inspired you. While it’s all just “stuff,” so often it’s the inspiration for anything from a simple idea or personal revelation to a life’s work. Little did the makers of the artifacts discovered by Durnford know that hundreds of years later, their creations would be written about in books and inspiring people from a new locale halfway around the world. So, if you find yourself lacking that personal connection to an artifact (or archaeology in general), I implore you to visit your local museum. Heck, don’t just visit it, ask for a tour of the collections. After all, museum people get excited when other people get excited about museums, so as I said before, “why not ask?”; the worst they’ll do is say “no,” but the best they’ll do is change your life!

Researching the oldest residential street in the USA

By Deirdre Kelleher Doctoral Candidate Temple University Department of Anthropology Philadelphia, Pennsylvania USA

Today I spent the morning reviewing and revisiting copies of historical maps of Elfreth’s Alley in Old City Philadelphia (Pennsylvania, USA).  The Alley is considered one of the oldest, continuously-occupied residential streets in America and is a National Historic Landmark District.  As part of my dissertation research at Temple University, I have conducted fieldwork at Elfreth’s Alley the past two summers.  This summer, with the help of fantastic volunteers, we began exploration of the back portion of two properties owned by the Museum of Elfreth’s Alley (124 & 126 Elfreth’s Alley).  In the afternoon, I met with my advisor Dr. David Orr to discuss my research plan for the rest of the summer based on the results of shovel test pits in the back lots.  This evening, I am going to review more paperwork and field notes in preparation for the field work next week.

Counting and Sorting in the Lab

By Angela Garra Zhinin URS Corporation, Burlington, New Jersey USA

My day in archaeology was a continuation of a week’s worth of sorting and counting catfish bones from a household feature excavated from a site in the Fishtown section of Philadelphia (Pennsylvania, USA).  I work for URS Corporation in Burlington, New Jersey and we are conducting investigations along Interstate 95 for the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.  So far, I have helped sort over 11,000 fish bones from one level of this specific feature, along with some bones from other various animals.  Although we do not analyze the fish bones here in this lab, I noticed some repetition that could be presorted before being sent off for further analysis.  Judging by the amount of a certain type of catfish bone, I was able to determine that there were at least 65 catfish in this particular provenience.  It didn’t surprise me to learn that a fisherman was listed at this property in the Mid-19th Century, and these bones could possibly be linked to him and his family.

My day in archaeology was a continuation of a week’s worth of sorting and counting catfish bones from a household feature excavated from a site in the Fishtown section of Philadelphia (Pennsylvania, USA)–Angela Garra Zhinin

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!