19th-Century Artifact Analysis from Chicago’s Gold Coast

Hello! I am Rebecca Graff, a historical archaeologist and an assistant professor of anthropology, and this summer I am working indoors! With air conditioning! Today, my student research assistants and I worked to finish the analysis of archaeological materials from the Charnley-Persky House Archaeological Project. The Charnley-Persky House is located at 1365 N. Astor Street in Chicago’s Gold Coast. Designed in 1891 by Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright, the house occupies land originally owned by Chicago businessman Potter Palmer. The building now houses the offices of the Society of Architectural Historians (SAH) and is a National Historic Landmark.

Archaeological testing was initiated by the SAH after the 2003 renovations at the site revealed a rich midden of historic refuse. In 2010 and in 2015 I led excavations of the site, most recently as a field school for Lake Forest College . Our thousands of artifacts include mineral water bottles, mica lamp shades, patent medicines, and even an alarm clock. Most of the artifacts were manufactured between 1880 and 1920, and, while many were made in Chicago, others came from France, England, Germany, and Japan. Supported by Digital Chicago, we are working to create an interactive map that shows the manufacturing origin sites of some of the artifacts we uncovered in relation to the Charnley-Persky House midden in order to trace the movement of these consumer goods.

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Student research assistant Anne Marie Brugioni crossmends ceramics from the Charnley-Persky House.



Here research assistant Anne Marie Brugioni is seen working on crossmending a yellowware bowl from the 2015 field season. This helps us determine the relationship of the different excavation layers or contexts with each other: if a piece from one level fits into a piece from another level, it is possible that both levels were deposited in the same event.

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Student research assistant Rebecca Howell analyzes ceramics from the Charnley-Persky House.


Here research assistant Rebecca Howell adds notes about the materials she has just analyzed. She, like Anne Marie, also happened to be working on ceramics for part of today, though we also analyze glass, metal, and even plastic artifacts.

We have thousands of artifacts to go through, and soon we will have the site report finished. After that, we hope to share some of our findings through publications and talks. And then it will be time to get out into the field once more!