Washington DC

“Whose Stuff Was This?”: Creating an Outreach Activity for the Day of Archaeology Festival

Last weekend was my second year participating in Washington, DC’s Day of Archaeology Festival at the Dumbarton House in Georgetown. For both years, I helped with the DC Historic Preservation Office’s outreach activity table, which is always popular with kids and adults alike. Two years ago, when I first attended, I was just learning about the types of outreach activities the HPO has created, which include “What is This?” (prehistoric and historic artifact identification), and “Mend Me” (broken ceramic mending), among others. This summer, I’ve been interning for the Office of Planning which contains the Historic Preservation Office (HPO). The City Archaeologist, Ruth Trocolli, asked me to create a new outreach activity for this year’s festival.

I was excited by the opportunity to teach non-archaeologists about archaeology and to flex my creative muscles. I knew I wanted to create an activity that featured many cool and interesting artifacts and taught people about the work that actual archaeologists do. I came up with a matching activity that I called “Whose Stuff Was This?” which asked participants to match descriptions of real people with the artifacts they once used, all of which were excavated from Washington, DC archaeological sites. Below, you can try out this activity yourself and learn more about my experience in creating it.


Try the Activity for Yourself

Do you think you can match the people to the items they once used and eventually discarded? You can find the answers at the bottom of this section. First, here are the four sets of artifacts, all of which were excavated at real archaeological sites in Washington, DC.

Now, here are the four descriptions of the people who occupied each site. Try to match the people with their belongings.

Option A: Based on the finds from this site, archaeologists have documented that African-Americans were living at this location since the Civil War. This includes Sarah Whitby and her family, who rented a two-room farmhouse on this site in the 1890s and once used the items pictured. According to the census, Sarah worked as a laundress, which means that she washed clothing for a living. Sarah had nine children, and we know from the census that Sarah was illiterate, but of all her children could read. Although the census told archaeologists some basic information, without the intact archaeological remnants from her house, Sarah would have probably never been studied and her story might have been lost. Archaeologists used the artifacts from this site to learn and teach others about Sarah Whitby and her life.

Option B: Thomas E. Dant, a tailor, and his family lived and worked here during the middle of the 19th century (1840s-60s). That is over 150 years ago! He lived with his wife, Martha, and their three children: an adult son named Thomas, who was also a tailor and was 33 years old, and twins, age 10, named Mary and George. Documents told us about this family and their ages and occupations, however many different people had also lived on this site during the 19th and early 20th century. Archaeologists used what they learned from the artifacts to determine that these objects were mostly likely from the Dant family, and not from previous or later residents of the house.

Option C: By studying the artifacts from this site, archaeologists determined that Native American people had been living at this location from at least the Late Archaic period (2500 BCE-1000 BCE) until the Late Woodland Period (900 CE-1600 CE). That means that the earliest artifacts were from over 4,500 years ago and the later objects (such as those pictured here), were from over 1000 years ago! Based on the artifacts and the location of the site near a waterway, archaeologists believe that people were using this location for as a camp or workstation to procure, prepare, and preserve seasonal resources, especially fish and shellfish. A large fire pit was probably used to dry fish for storage and to prepare other foods. While we may not ever know about specific individuals who made and used these objects, archaeologists used the artifacts to learn that people were staying in the area and using local resources such as fish, shellfish, plants, and animals, for thousands of years.

Option D: After the Civil War, the Freedmen’s Bureau created the Barry Farm/Hillsdale neighborhood, which developed into a self-sufficient and thriving African-American community. The Taliaferro family was an African-American family that moved to a house in this site in the late-19th century. Olivia and her five brothers grew up on the site, and when they were adults, their mother divided up the property and gave each one a lot on which to build a house. Olivia was given the original house where they had grown up, which was the site for this archaeological project. Based on the dates and what we know about Olivia, archaeologists believe that most of these artifacts belonged to her. She was a trained nurse and midwife, and she helped to care for many people in the community. Olivia had a foster son, Luther, and since Olivia’s nieces and nephews all lived within a few houses, they likely also came by to play.

Make your guesses! The answers are below the following pictures of the activity in action!

Site 1 = B; Site 2 = C; Site 3 = D; Site 4 = A

Did you get the answers correct? Some of them are easier than others, and many people had trouble correctly matching the tailor’s assemblage (Site 1) and the laundress’ assemblage (Site 4), which could easily be mixed up. Next, I’ll explain why I chose these sites and explain why each site could only belong to its correct match.


Real Archaeologists Do This Activity Too!

 One of the main goals of an archaeological project is to learn about past people through their artifacts. Sometimes, as with the case of Site 2, archaeologists may have little or no information about the people who used these objects beyond the objects themselves. Many archaeologists work in places or periods without written records, and use tools such as artifact typology, comparisons with other excavated sites, and interviews with descendant populations to help them learn more about the people associated with the site. In the case of Site 2, archaeologists found a collection of fire-cracked rock and ceramics, indicating a large fire pit or hearth. The archaeologists working on this project also used the site’s location near a waterway together with the artifacts to determine that people were likely spending part of the year here to access fish, shellfish, and other resources found in this area. They believed the fire pit was used, in part, to dry and preserve fish for storage. Some of the most unusual artifacts on this site were from a burial, but I chose not to use these artifacts. You can find more information about this site and see pictures of the grave-context artifacts here (the burial was found at “Ramp 3”): https://www.nps.gov/rap/archeology/ROCR_phl.htm

Historic Archaeologists, who study sites like Sites 1, 3, and 4, often have documents that can help them learn about the people who lived in a particular place. However, the documentary record is often fragmentary and incomplete, so archaeologists still need to analyze the artifacts to determine to whom they belonged. For example, Site 1 was located on a lot that had seen numerous residents over the course of the 19th century. Without a way to closely date the site, it would have been impossible for archaeologists to know whether the objects belonged to one family or another, who both may have lived in the house within a 10-year period. In this case, archaeologists knew the occupations of various residents from the census, as well as the ages of their family members. Archaeologists determined these artifacts were most likely from the Dant family because two of the family members were working as tailors and many of the artifacts were sewing tools or tailor’s tools. The toys also made sense given that two 10-year-old children were living on the site at this time.

Site 3 presented a similar issue. Although members of the same family had been living on this site for many years, the medicine bottles and equipment pictured in the activity most likely belonged to Olivia Taliaferro, who was a trained nurse and midwife. While medicine bottles are found at many different sites, the quantity of bottles and types of medicines helped archaeologists determine that these objects belonged to Olivia, rather than her mother, Annie, or her siblings. More about the Taliaferro family can be found in this blog post written by one of the archaeologists who worked on the site: http://cdi.anacostia.si.edu/2015/12/06/the-taliaferros-of-stanton-road-se/

Of all the historical people featured in the activity, Sarah Whitby and her family, who lived at Site 4, are the least well-recorded in the documentary record. Unlike the other two families, the Whitbys were tenant farmers and rented rather than owned their home. Archaeologists don’t know much about the other individuals living in the nearby homes, nor is there much information about who lived in the home prior to Sarah and her children. Based on the location, time period, and types of artifacts, archaeologists believe the ones pictured were owned by Sarah. The mismatched buttons may have fallen off some of the items of clothing she washed, which explains why there are so many different types. Also found here was a penny from 1883, which helps to date the site. Archaeologists analyze artifacts together with the context in which the were found; the coin was found in the same soil layer (or stratigraphic layer) as other objects, so archaeologists determined it was deposited at the same time as these other objects. You might imagine the coin means the site dates to 1883, but actually it means that it dates from anytime afterwards. If you looked in your wallet today, in 2017, you might have a coin from 1993 or even earlier, but you certainly couldn’t have a coin from 2023. This is another clue in the activity that this collection of buttons couldn’t have belonged to the Dant family who lived on their site from 1840-60. Learn more about Sarah Whitby and the archaeological excavation that uncovered her belongings here: https://www.nps.gov/archeology/sites/npsites/rockCreek.htm

I chose these four sites because I wanted to showcase the diversity of Washington’s past and the many different types of archaeological sites that have been excavated. I also wanted to pick sites that had interesting artifacts and associated people and would be familiar to most people so that non-archaeologists could match them correctly. Eventually, I’d like to expand the game to include more sites and to use real or replica artifacts instead of pictures. This was my first attempt at creating an outreach activity, and I really enjoyed putting it together. People at the festival seemed to enjoy it too.


What do you think? If you have any suggestions or ideas, you can e-mail me at jenniferporter-lupu2022@u.northwestern.edu. Thanks for reading and I hope to see you at next year’s Day of Archaeology!

Day of Archaeology Comes to the District of Columbia!

Day of Archaeology

Howard University at the Day of Archaeology

On July 30th, 2011, Archaeology in the Community, Inc brought together a diverse set of archaeological organizations to celebrate archaeology in the Chesapeake. This festival is particularly exciting in DC, where Ruth Trocolli (DC SHPO) has been working tirelessly to promote the importance of archaeology in conjunction with DC heritage.  Organizations began to set up in Garfield Park, a few blocks from the US Capital, at 9am.

JPPM Activities

In attendance was Maureen Malloy from the Society for American Archaeology, Louis Berger Group, Inc., Dr. Ruth Trocolli (City Archaeologist) and Charde Reid (Assistant City Archaeologist) with the Washington D.C Historic Preservation Office, Carol Ebright representing Maryland’s Native American Liaison Committee (CFMA), Tiffany Raszick from the Cultural Resources Division of the Maryland State Highway Administration (MDSHA),  and Kelly Cooper and Patricia Samford from Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum. Also in attendance were Howard University’s Department of Sociology and Anthropology represented by Dr. Flordeliz Bugarin and students Ashelee Gerald (Senior), Takisha Black (Senior), and Eva-Maria Tobin (Junior).  Nurse Kristina Foster manned the First Aid station and Dominique did some of the most amazing face painting I’ve ever seen!

Tiffany (MDSHA) and Carol (CFMA) educating about prehistory in Maryland.

Although the kids loved the face painting and balloons, they were really riveted by the varied activities.  Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum (JPPM), the State Museum of Archaeology, taught kids how to make pinch pots that they could take home with them, and let them try out all kinds of prehistoric tools. At the Howard University booth you could make marbles and bead necklaces. The DC Preservation Office had artifacts from DC archaeology sites to touch and identify, and the Society for American Archaeology helped kids dig through sand to find and analyze “artifacts” like a real archaeologist!

Making Pinch Pots

Dr. Ruth Trocolli (DC SHPO) showing off DC artifacts.

Over 150 DC and Maryland residents came to learn more about archaeology yesterday, even though temperatures were over 90 degrees.  Music from a group of live musicians, lead by Dava Sykes (bass) with Mike Pryor (piano) and Trae Couter (drums), and the sounds DJ Earth 1ne, who kept spirits high (thanks also to sound engineer Tony Smith, who also volunteered his time and equipment to the cause). The archaeologists representing all of the organizations really appreciated the excitement and fun that this group of artists brought to our celebration of archaeology.

Musicians at Day of Archaeology festival

Amazingly enough, everyone involved volunteered their time; the only pay was pizza! Archaeology in the Community, Inc (AITC) could not have reached so many residents without the hard work and enthusiasm of so many wonderful volunteers, many of whom were not archaeologists. And thank goodness for our interns Saamerikes Hetep Anderson, and Tariq Haqq from The Mission Continues. They passed out flyers all over Washington DC  in 100 degree heat all week long.

Archaeology in the Community organizing volunteers.

We can’t wait to do it again next year!

A beautiful Day for Arcaheology!

A vessel from Iran in Washington DC: Digging Artifacts and modern Archives at the Smithsonian

Many Greetings from the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC!

Living in DC, there is an active archaeology program on the early history within the beltway with many exciting discoveries. What is visible for the hundreds of thousands who visit the Smithsonian every year for free, though, are artifacts from the past and present of many cultures around the world. Over the decades, the Smithsonian was also actively involved in scientific excavations (Think Shanidar in Iraq in the 1950s! Think Tell Jemmeh! in the 1970s! Think the fantastic Archaeology Conservation Program!), and while being studied and researched upon, artifacts from around the world are on display to promote an understanding of responsibilties and shared cultural heritage.

In December 2010, I became Assistant Curator at the Smithsonian’s Museum of Asian Art, the Freer|Sackler Gallery. Two weeks ago, we opened a small installation on Iron-Age ceramics from the area south of the Caspian Sea in Northern Iran. As a curatorial intern in the Ancient Near Eastern Art Department, Sarah Johnson, co-author of this entry, who worked herself on an excavation in Syria in 2010, has helped to prepare the installation, and is currently doing research on the museum’s collections. This little blurb on a well preserved vessel from Iran currently not on display (S1998.326), gives an idea on only one aspect of what we can do in a museum, and reminds us upon one aspect of archaeology, minutely and more detailed record keeping and publishing.

It is both ironic and fitting that a photograph, we only recently rediscovered in the archives of archaeologist and early Iran explorer Ernst Herzfeld (1879-1948) sheds light on vessel S1998.326. Thanks to an early fine pencil label “Tepe Giyan” written on the back of the photograph, the jar can now placed with certainty to the site of Tepe Giyan, a large archaeological mound in Northwestern Iran near the modern city of Nahavand.

The jar had  entered the museum in 1998. It was purchased by Victor and Takako Hauge in a shop at a Bazaar in Tehran between 1962 and 1965.  Interestingly, Herzfeld came by his first Tepe Giyan ceramics in nearly the same way.  In his own words: “In 1926 I found, in a shop at Hamadan … two little vases … They had a prehistoric air, but the dealer did not know whence they came.  Mere chance, a year later, led to the discovery of their provenance—Tepe Giyan near Nihawand—whence some more pieces were brought to me.”  Just as Herzfeld used older excavation records to identify his vases, “mere chance” led us  to discover this photograph of a vessel, acquired by the Hauges, in Herzfeld’s records a few weeks ago.  The vessel and its connection to Herzfeld underline the important connection between archaeology, objects and archives in a museum setting. The gap in provenance for this vessel resulted from the separation of the vessel from the excavation photographs and a paucity of published materials on Herzfeld’s own work at Tepe Giyan and at other prehistoric sites.

The site of Tepe Giyan presented challenges from the start of excavations there.  Herzfeld first became interested in the site after finds from Tepe Giyan appeared in the market. The French held a monopoly over excavations in Iran from 1895 to 1927, but in 1928 motivated by rampant looting occurring there, Herzfeld began hurried excavations at Tepe Giyan. In 1930, he mentions that excavations (he does not provide the name of the excavators, so one must assume it was local archaeologists) have left only one third of the hill standing. This article in 1930 remained his only published material on Tepe Giyan until the 1930s when he suggested in the preface of Archaeological History of Iran that he would complete a three volume work on prehistoric art in Iran.  This work never appeared largely because of political reasons.  In the 1930s, Herzfeld was increasingly shunned by his German colleagues due to the rise of Nazism, and as a result, he lost much of his German funding.  His section on prehistoric art in Iran in the Ancient East (1941) remains his most comprehensive contribution to the study of Tepe Giyan and prehistoric ceramics.  His emphasis on his exhaustive editing of the prehistoric section in the introduction to this book suggests that he had more to say on prehistoric Iran, which was unfortunately never published.  Fortunately, the site was excavated in the early 1930s by a French team lead by Georges Contenau (1877-1964) and Roman Ghirshman (1895-1979), who later received a Freer Gold Medal for his accomplishments in Iranian archaeology. Most of what we know today about the early excavations at Tepe Giyan stems from the published excavation records of Contenau and Ghirshman.

While we can now place S1998.326 at the Tepe Giyan site, one of the many questions we may not able to answer is how the vessel get to the Tehran Bazaar of the 1960s.  Herzfeld often photographed and documented objects not from his own excavations so it is possible that he saw this object in Tehran or at a market of a neighboring town to the site.  Evidence that he sold many of the seals found at Tepe Giyan and other prehistoric sites to a dealer in New York suggests the possibility that Herzfeld himself may have sold the jar.  Difficult to fathom today, archaeologists often played the role of both the collector and the scholar in the early 20th century. The rediscovery of a single photograph is sometimes a testament to the benefits of the recording of artifacts in minute detail.