President

Historical Archaeology & Visual Art

I am an historical archaeologist who teaches at Cheyney University and at West Chester University, two campuses of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education that are located in the suburbs of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania USA. I am not teaching during the summer term which gives me time to pursue my research which involves studying the public’s engagement with the archaeological resources in Independence National Historical Park (a U.S. National Park Service property commemorating the birthplace of American democracy). Today, June 27th, has been a ‘catch-up’ day for me where I had time to move ahead on several items on my ‘wanting to do’ list. First, I wrote to the editor of the “Images of the Past” column of the Society for Historical Archaeology Newsletter (Benjamin Pykles) proposing a write-up about Jackson Ward ‘Smokey’ Moore, Jr.  Moore, a retired archaeologist and a Native American Chippewa, excavated in Philadelphia in the 1960’s at the site of Benjamin Franklin’s mansion.

Jackson Ward 'Smokey' Moore restoring a historic dish

Jackson Ward ‘Smokey’ Moore, Jr. in a National Park Service Public Affairs Photo, circa 1960. (Independence National Historical Park Archives).

My offer to undertake this write-up required researching the Newsletter’s back issues to determine the type of information expected for the column and I spent an hour doing this prior to contacting Pykles to make sure I had the kind of information wanted. I then turned to some on-going background research I’ve been doing for a possible book project that the art photographer John Edward Dowell Jr. and I have talked about doing. This would be a book designed for the general reader which would feature photographs John took during the excavation of the President’s House archaeological site in Independence Park. These photographs document the archaeological excavation and its findings about slavery and freedom at the birth of the American nation and, in doing so, they help create African American history. They are also art pieces made by a Black artist. Beyond documenting new American history evidence and documenting new African American history evidence, his photographs are art pieces (re’ artifacts) of black visual art. Today I spent time researching and considering how these images therefore fit into the history of Black visual art. After reading a significant portion of N.I. Painter’s Creating Black Americans I realized that Dowell’s President’s House archaeological site photographs not only help make Black history more visible but also help make black art history more “visible” and that this is something we would likely want our manuscript to address given that the history of black visual art, like African American history, has been ignored, overlooked, and excluded in the canon.

View of the President's House by J. E. Dowell

ne of artist John E. Dowell’s photographs of the President’s House Site in Independence Park (right center, above the blue tarp-covered, back dirt pile). Dowell takes large format images (2 x 5 – 4 x 20 feet) which are then digitally scanned to produce highly detailed, deeply contextualized, images. His photographic style is known to convey life in the urban metropolis and he uses both unique perspective and lighting — namely pictures shot from high-rise vantage points that are taken at sun-up and sun-down.

Later on in the day I began typing up the meeting notes taken during the last monthly meeting of the Philadelphia Archaeological Forum (PAF). I am Secretary of that non-profit advocacy group and I post the meeting minutes on the PAF listserv. However, I am coordinating a local version of the Day of Archaeology for the PAF and I switched to work on this task. I am coordinating Philadelphia area Day of Archaeology contributions from local area archaeologists as well as members of the public during the period June 25th-June 28th. I will use these contributions to develop a new page of content for the PAF webpages at www.phillyarchaeology.orgthat will help demonstrate and explain what people in our area do with archaeology both at work and at play. I will also be forwarding the contributions to the coordinator of the international Day of Archaeology blogging project.

Philadelphia Archaeological Forum Logo

The logo of the Philadelphia Archaeological Forum, which is based on a commonly found historic dish.



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Day of Archaeology from Virginia, all!

East wall of White House

 

Societies, Chapters, and Clubs: Oh My!

My name is Kurt Thomas Hunt.  I’m a CRM archaeologist based in New York State and I head up an archaeoblog called Sexy Archaeology.  Sexy Archaeology is one way that I provide public outreach within the field of archaeology by sharing the work that I do alongside what I consider excitingly appealing happenings from around the globe.  I’m also the president of the New York State Archaeological Association’s (NYSAA) Thousand Islands Chapter, one of sixteen Chapters within the Empire State.

For this year’s Day of Archaeology, I’ve chosen to share a brief overview of the NYSAA’s history, highlight the work of my Chapter, and attempt to persuade those who are not already members to join their local archaeological Chapter or Society.

The New York State Archaeological Association (NYSAA) is composed of professional and avocational archaeologists primarily within New York State (though residency is not a prerequisite to join). NYSAA exists to promote archaeological and historical study, and research covering the artifacts, rites, customs, beliefs and other phases of the lives and cultures of the American Indian occupants of New York State up to their contact with Europeans and beyond.

The NYSAA was founded in 1916 and there are currently sixteen regional chapters of the NYSAA throughout the State. Each of the chapters holds monthly meetings where they present programs related to New York archaeology. Some of the chapters conduct their own fieldwork with the assistance of both members and volunteers.  The NYSAA also publishes a bulletin and journal and sponsors an annual meeting in the spring of each year.

The Thousand Islands Chapter of the NYSAA was founded in 1994 and hosts over thirty members with a wide range of backgrounds and experiences.

Photo: Kurt Thomas Hunt

Our Chapter recently finished hosting a summer dig for its members along the shores of the Indian River, long known to be an essential byway for indigenous peoples through Northern New York.  While a complete understanding of the site is still a ways off, a rough interpretation dictates that the two-acre area was most likely a seasonal Iroquois occupation site.

Photo: Kurt Thomas Hunt

This rough interpretation is derived primarily from surface finds and excavations performed over the past couple of years.  During this year’s dig, 298 pieces of pottery were unearthed within the first five centimeters of a single 1m x 1m unit.  Other evidence has included flakes of locally sourced chert, projectile points, and just this year a post mold.

Photo: Kurt Thomas Hunt

Aside from fieldwork, the Thousand Islands Chapter has, in the past, hosted lectures and discussions from a wide range of professionals, organized tours of historical sites, and has provided educational outreach programs for both children and adults across several counties within Northern New York.

Local or regional chapters of your state archaeological society provide exciting opportunities and come with numerous benefits.  Society’s allow the chance for professional individuals to network, avocational archaeologists to hone their craft, and students the opportunity to garner experience from more seasoned individuals.  Regional societies or chapters also afford members of the community the opportunity to better familiarize themselves with the history and archaeology of their area.

I invite you to join your local Chapter and Society.  Not sure where to get started?  The AIA website is a great place to turn, but a simple Google search or an email to your State Historic Preservation Office will also help further your search.  Good luck, and make the most of it!

A Freelance Archaeobotanist’s day

I’m an environmental archaeologist specialising in plant remains.  These are plant macrofossils ( not microfossils like pollen or spores). I look at the larger items -seeds, grains, chaff, wood, some tubers, other surviving plant parts. My lab is my spare room. I don’t need to use chemicals in my work so this is safe to do. The room where I work has the same sort of equipment and manuals I used while was employed by the Museum of London Archaeology Service. What I miss is the experience and guidance of John Giorgi and Anne Davis with whom I worked straight after my MSc in 1996 during my ‘apprentice’ archaeobotanist years.

Now I’m a freelance ‘journeyman’ I make up for lack of colleagues by making use of the Jiscmail Archaeobotany Mailing List (with many experience archaeobotanists on it from all over the world) and attending archaeobotany workgroups.  I have also visited the English Heritage archaeobotanists (Gill Campbell, Ruth Pelling and Dr Zoe Hazell)  atFortCumberlandto use their reference collection and ask advice. They’ve been extremely helpful and have a unique set up that I hope survives the cuts. I’ve also appreciated the advice and support of EH regional science advisor for the South-East, Dr Dominique DeMoulins. As a UCL alumni I’ve been able to arrange to use the seed reference collection built up over the years by many researchers, one being  Prof. Gordon Hillman who I was fortunate enough to be taught by for my MSc in the 1990s. I’ve enjoyed building up my own seed collection and herbarium. I have seed and wood anatomy manuals but nothing is a good as having a modern specimens to compare with an archaeological one.

Today I have ‘flot’s to sort for an assessment. This is good news as I had a three week gap in May/June and not enough money to go on holiday with during the heatwave. But I completed my 2011 tax return and cleaned out Thanet Archaeology’s flotation system during that time with plans to use it.

I work from home so the first thing I’ve done today is take a mug of triple Expresso to my study and login to my gmail account and switch on the radio.  I’m currently fond of Radio 5 Live -for the talk rather than the sport. The radio and gmail  will stay on all day unless I’m writing up a report.  BBC Player has become a good friend too. I do drop in on facebook. It makes up for some of the laughs and chat I miss from my employee days. It also reminds me what a unique thing I’m doing for a living today.

Today I’m assessing some English ‘flots’. ‘Flots’ are the light material that float into a fine mesh sieve when and environmental bulk sample is processed. These come to me in plastic sample bags in a box by post.  I very rarely get asked on site while samples are being taken. I would like to be as it would be good to see the preservation conditions and chat with the field team about the features and their sampling strategy. I’m also rarely the one processing my samples but I’m ready , willing and equipped to make site visits, take and process samples myself.  If I were on site or in the processing shed I could double-check labelling and record keeping. A hard dug sample is useless if the labels fall off  bucket or the bags split. I could also see evidence of bioturbation on site that I can only infer from the flot contents at present.

Assessment is the first stage of analysis of the plant remains in a sample.  I’m looking for abundance, species diversity and quality and type of preservation. This information will help me recommend which samples should be studied in more detail at analysis stage and estimate time and costs for that.

When I open a bag of flot I pour it into a measuring jar and if it’s very large and diverse I’ll sub-sample it through a riffle box. Whole or sub-samples of flot I pour through a stack of geological sieves. This makes it easier to see the plant remains. Sometimes I can just pour the flot from the measuring jug onto my petri dish. I use glass jars and dishes because plastic creates static electricity and items then to ‘stick’. I won’t have to sub-sample the flots I have today as many are too small to need sieving and a detailed count isn’t necessary for assessment.

First archbot-related email of today is from the Archbot Mailing List. It’s a message sharing an article about flora in the Near East. I’ll save it to read later. TheNear Eastisn’t my area but I can learn something from methodologies and you never know I may get the chance to go there and staff a flotation tank there one day.

What I’m seeing in these flots are fragments of roots, flecks of charcoal, terrestrial snails  and the occasional charred or uncharred seed or cereal grain. I’m recording these onto paper record sheets using a black biro ( I’ve heard the ink lasts longer on paper than pencil but I’ll look into that as there’s the plastic waste problem) while listening to Radio 4’s ‘Cabin Pressure’.  I don’t know much more about these samples yet as I’m waiting for strat and phasing info. This doesn’t always come at the same time as the flots but I’ll need them to write up the report next week.

11.55am -Yes! Some bread wheat grains in one of a series of pretty sterile flots so far. Negative evidence is as useful as positive evidence but it feels good to report back with some archbot finds – I hope it encourages the diggers to feel their sampling efforts were worth it. I’m starting to get samples from the area of England that my paternal ancestors came from – all agricultural workers so I have a kind of stakeholder link with these plant remains.

12.00 noon- nipping out for fresh air, daylight, human interaction and a quick lunch

1.05 pm -had a quick lunch at the Moonlight cafe reading the ‘I’ paper. Back home to hang up my shortie wetsuit (pool training for Sports Diver with Canterbury BSAC- I’ve dreams of taking my archaeobotanical skills to submerged cultural landscapes and shipwrecks via NAS and love aquatic wildlife anyway). Radio 4 ‘World at One’ and another flot to scan and record.

1.55pm -Just told a cold caller to leave me alone I’m working. Glanced at my emails – one from the IFA MAG group about the draft planning framework -will have to get my head round that soon- lots of worries there – developer funded arch hasn’t been perfect but has given me a job on and off for 14 years. Something a about assessments of arch from offshore windfarms (my ears prick up) and a wonderful PhD  with funding…in Orkney though (ears droop). Another from my Google search set-up telling me there’s something on ‘submerged prehistoric’ I could look up. But back to the flots for now. Radio 5 Live – the Murdoch empire.

2.37pm – Radio 5 – President Obama talking about the US debt crisis- I’ve just realised that this time last year I’d have done my archaeobotany for kids ‘pongs and potions’ Archaeological Detectives outreach with AMTeC co-op Ltd for Medway Children’s University.  It was cut.  My study should be smelling of remnants of pomander bead ingredients now.

4.00pm – cuppa tea …. Flot sorting’s going well. Next job will be data entry. I’m stopping at 5pm to go to a Kungfu class at Fighting Lions Martial Arts Academy in Whitstable. As I do a sedentary, solitary job I need to exercise regularly and it’s fun to do it with other people. Swinging a Chinese broadsword keeps my mattock muscles ready should I get the chance to go and dig.

So, that’s my day. When I first heard about the Day of Archaeology I wasn’t sure I’d be doing any archaeology on this day. I’ve no idea where I’ll be this time next year. I’ve no idea how I’ll be earning a living this September! I may go back on the supply teaching list for a bit if they’ll have me back. While I have work I’m looking for ways of keeping going in archaeology if I have gaps between projects of more than a couple of weeks – maybe funding to write a few papers in my own name and to help out in community archaeology projects. As it is you can’t preserve archaeologists in situ – but, to keep solvent I may have to put dust covers my microscopes and earn a living another way for a while. I hope not.