Digging into a A Project Archive

by Karen Lind Brauer
Maryland, USA

Today I spent time reviewing the excavation records and administrative archives of the Baltimore County Center for Archaeology. BCCA served as the field component of an elective high school course, “Exploring Our Buried Past”, taught in as many as 18 high schools in the Baltimore County Public Schools (BCPS), a large, suburban, kindergarten-through 12th grade-school district located in the US state of Maryland.

The Center involved high school students with first-hand, real-life experience undertaking primary research at the site of a 19th century, iron-producing, company town. During the winter months, in the middle of the school year, the Center presented Grade 3 school visitation programs serving as many as 100 classrooms per year. There were Summer school camps and multiple Teacher-in-Service programs that also took place at the Center which was located in a Baltimore County Recreation and Parks property called Oregon Ridge.

The archaeological education in the BCPS was part of the essential, or taught, curriculum (as opposed to being extra-curricular, ‘outside’ the formal instructional offerings). In operation for more than two decades, the Center closed down in the mid-2000’s due to changing academic requirements that constrained social studies educational offerings and the retirement of the project’s creator and leader, Social Studies Curriculum Specialist and Teacher Archaeologist for the BCPS, George Brauer.

I am picking through the Center’s archive of files today because I recently learned that a fellow archaeologist, Stephen Israel, is attempting to gather information on the Center’s programs and on its teacher participants. I know this archive should contain information that could be of help to him. Israel is preparing profiles on individuals who have contributed to Maryland Archaeology for a project entitled, Maryland Archaeology: Past Portraits. Looking over these files today I happily recall my time in the 1980’s and 90’s assisting with this enriching, educational opportunity that was experienced by almost 10,000 students being raised in our county.

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.

Kenneth J. Basalik – My Day of Archaeology, 2016

The business of archaeology, like business in general, can be a frustrating experience. I work for a cultural resource management firm in the Philadelphia area. I was fortunate enough to attend a seminar in Utah last week, but the time away from the office meant that my work had piled up in my absence. No big deal except that I am going on vacation next week for two weeks. You’d think that would be great, gone for a seminar, back a week, and then two weeks off. The problem is that when you tell your clients that you will be out for two weeks, they suddenly need a product before you leave. Never mind that you told them your schedule more than a month ago, that they have been holding on to the material you need to proceed with the project for months, when they send the material you need, it is incomplete and you already have a full schedule (since you planned ahead to get your work done before you left).

My day started, like that of many others, sitting in traffic to get to work. The first half of the ride is pleasant, but then I encounter a tanker truck that can’t seem to get above 25 miles per hour. When I get to the office 15 minutes later than expected (but still an hour early), I am tense and frustrated. The office is empty (after all I am an hour early) and I begin to unwind a little and start on simple administrative tasks. I actually get to examine some prehistoric pottery recovered from a site along the Schuylkill and address relative easy questions about scheduling field work. As the morning progresses I am beginning to feel that I can get through the day, and hopefully get out on time. Then the phone calls come. Can you do this for me? Can you send this out today before you go away? Can you answer a few questions about the ramifications of the archaeology work that I had another firm perform? And then the big one. We’ve reviewed the rush job and we realize that we didn’t send you all the information, can you revise the report ASAP and get it back to us today? Sure, sure I can, but you need to email the material. Three hours later, after slogging through a review of a less than stellar report and making (hopefully) useful comments, no material. Four hours later, still no material. I call. “Sorry it is taking longer than we thought to pull the necessary material together. We will get it to you tomorrow.” There goes my Saturday (good thing I was leaving town for vacation). Another day in the life of an archaeological manager. A touch of material culture, a bit of thoughtful consideration of archaeological issues, and a plethora of business related headaches.

Kenneth J. Basalik, Ph.D.
President, Cultural Heritage Research Services, Inc.
Lansdale, Pennsylvania, USA

Ray Sarnacki – My Day of Archaeology, 2016

Once again, I have traveled from my home in West Chester, Pennsylvania (USA) to dig with archaeologist David Starbuck at the Lake George Battlefield Park. The field school is sponsored by State University of New York, Adirondack campus, The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, and Fort William Henry. Located at the southern end of the lake, the Lake George Battlefield Park preserves the sites of major battles and encampments from the French and Indian War through the American Revolution, making it a prime site for conducting archeology. Among the features found in the Park are the ruins of a stone bastion from Fort George, which General Jeffery Amherst authorized and began building in 1759, but later, abandoned after the British took control of Fort Carillon, now known as Fort Ticonderoga.

This is my third year digging in the Park. Last year, we excavated the casemates on the east wall of the Fort George bastion, as well as digging several test pits throughout areas of the park related to the various French and Indian War encampments that took place between 1755 and 1759. This year’s dig focuses on two sites. The first is on the west side of the completed bastion of Fort George, while the second is narrowing in on the site of what the diggers believe to be a feature initially thought to be a latrine, but now appears to be the site of either a tent or cabin.

My assignment this year includes locating a cistern depicted on a 1759 map that shows the details of the Plan for Fort George. The cistern was supposedly situated near a gun platform on the northwest wall of the bastion. In 1777, as General Schuyler retreated from Burgoyne’s attack, Schuyler reported to Washington that the enclosed bastion was indefensible and the cistern had been “fouled” so they had no water. Our hope in finding the cistern is to learn how it had been fouled.

My digging partner, Pam Collyer, from Fort William Henry, and I have excavated to a depth of 100 cm and have begin pulling out artifacts that include large spikes, animal bone and charred wood, among other things. While it is too early to make a definitive statement about the feature, we think we may have reached the level of the gun platform, but have unearthed no evidence of the cistern. The digging has been relatively easy as the soil appears to be fill used to level the area underneath the gun platforms.

Among the artifacts found so far: large forged spikes that might have held wood planks for the platform, a door latch, remains of charred wood and charcoal, animal bone fragments, glass from a medicine bottle, a fragment from wine or rum bottle, sherds of delft and cream ware, and what appears to be a round medallion. Another team digging in the bastion located a corner of the barracks, along with what may be a fire feature.

This will be the last year of digging at Lake George Battlefield Park for the SUNY Adirondack field school. Next year it will move to Roger’s Island in Fort Edward.

Carol Nickolai – My Day in Random Archaeology

The house just after the gas explosion.

The house just after the gas explosion.

The only archaeology I planned for the day was the one I barely touched. I’ve been working on a book review for Historical Archaeology, but I couldn’t bring myself to stay inside — and stay hungry — all day so I went out for lunch at my favorite cafe. My errands took me past a place where a gas problem caused a house to explode and burn and destroy the house on one side and part of a condo complex on the other (no injuries! thankfully the people smelled the gas and started evacuating their neighbors before it exploded). I stopped to see how the re-construction on the condo complex is coming along and to look at the mounds of earth and rock where the two houses were demolished after the fire. I wonder what happened to the things it wasn’t safe for people to retrieve, are those things buried here or were they separated for the residents to go through during demolition? Sometimes I find little bits of things, some not surprising like pieces of ceramic and some almost tragic like half of a flip-style cell phone. And I try not to think about what my apartment would look like if this happened; what’s the point of a fireproof box if you can’t get to it? Sometimes I’m tempted by a little experimental archaeology excavating the houses, and think about what it means for future archaeology that the places we live and work will be almost devoid of “stuff”. At the cafe, I read a magazine article about the use of pneumatic tubes in the late 19th and early 20th century — I remember my Mom using these at the drive-through windows of banks, though I don’t know if banks still use them. A couple of technology companies want to use these to build high-speed transport for people between major cities. Considering how often it seemed the bank containers got stuck somewhere in the system, I’m not ready to ride in one myself! Finally I checked on the repair work going on in my new apartment, a 1915 building which might have some original woodwork under all the paint, and went back to my early 1970s apartment building to work on that book review — my friends have always laughed that in 20 years in Philadelphia this historical archaeologist has never lived in an old building!

Carol A. Nickolai, Ph.D.
Adjunct Professor of Anthropology, Community College of Philadelphia
Adjunct Instructor of Anthropology, Rowan University

Matthew A. Kalos – A Day of Archaeology: Paoli Battlefield, Malvern, Pennsylvania (USA)

PhD Candidate, Temple University (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA)

This summer I am completing my dissertation research at Paoli Battlefield located in Malvern, Chester County, Pennsylvania. The battle took place on September 20, 1777, as a part of the Philadelphia Campaign, a British initiative in the American Revolutionary War to gain control of Philadelphia. My research this summer is focusing on the Bowen farmhouse, which is located adjacent to the site of the battle. One of the aims of my fieldwork is to identify the relationships between the battle and those who were affected by the conflict. As part of the project, I bring in volunteers to assist in the excavations.

Today, I worked with three volunteers as we continued to delineate and document the foundation walls of the house. My volunteers come from all walks of life, from college students to retirees, but all share an enthusiasm for history and archaeology. On the day of archaeology we opened two new test units with the aim of finding the southeast corner of the house. Working our way through different stratigraphic levels we began to recognize flat stones and mortar extending beyond our current test units. This finding suggests that the wall continues farther than anticipated. In addition to excavating, my intern from Temple University began to draw profiles of a test unit.

Overall, our work today continues to expand our understanding of the Paoli Battlefield and the Philadelphia Campaign.

Jennifer A. Rankin – A ‘Day of Archaeology’, 2015: Snyder Site Complex, Phillipsburg, New Jersey (USA)

PhD Student at Temple University (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA)
Archaeologist at AECOM (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA):
Snyder Site Complex webpage (www.snydersitecomplex.com)

This summer we began Temple University’s first season for geology/archaeology at the Snyder Site Complex in Phillipsburg, New Jersey. For the last few decades, over 30 fluted Paleoindian projectile points or bifaces have been reported from plowed/surface and buried contexts. While there are many Paleoindian sites in the area, most are exposed on the surface or plow zone. The Snyder Complex, along with two other localities (Shawnee-Minisink and Nesquehoning Creek Site), represent the only Paleoindian localities within buried/stratified contexts in the Delaware Valley.

While we are along halfway through the season, the excavations to-date have been very successful. At the end of June, we hit a stratified Late Paleoindian occupation with one fluted spearhead point, many scrapers and tools, and numerous pieces of flaked stone debitage. Even more, we identified a detailed environmental chronology before and after the Younger Dryas that will help us reconstruct the landscape from 13,000 years ago to present day. And much more remains for the rest of the summer and fall.

This week has been very busy and could not have been successful without the help of many volunteers, which include students from Temple/West Chester/Mercyhurst to retirees. At the beginning of the week, we entertained many visitors coming in to the Phillipsburg area for Thomas the Train Weekend. The Delaware River Railroad Excursions has a train stop right to the Snyder Farm. Not only did we reach out to folks from the NYC and Philly metro areas, we had many visitors from afar – most notably were families California, the South, Hong Kong and Germany.

During the middle of the week, geomorphologist Dr. Frank Vento of Mercyhurst University stopped by to confirm our thoughts on the formation of the Snyder Site Complex. Last spring, Dr. R. Michael Stewart and myself placed a series of soil auger borings to characterize a generally broad, level-lying landform that is now a terrace of the Delaware River. What we have identified is that we were sitting on a now-buried landscape full of natural features often associated with floodplains and peri-glacial landforms, including evidence of overbanking, a migrating relict levee, backchannels/swales, flood chutes, and backswamp depressions (flood pooling). We also brought in ground penetrating radar (GPR) to see if we could further characterize these features and landforms. Check out the results of one of our transects in the figure to see an example of a paleo-channel or swale. I don’t want to give too much away as we will be presenting our results at this year’s Geological Society of America in Baltimore.

This weekend, we are hosting a day for the Delaware Water Gap Native Youth Camp to visit the Snyder Site Complex. The Mohnican-Munsee-Delaware tribes will be sending their youth to help excavations and view/investigate some of the many landform features at the site complex, including a chert/flint geological formation. This visit is to expose the youth to career paths in environmental fields (such as archaeology, geology, and biology), while gaining a sense of identity and cultural knowledge.
If you are interested in learning more about the Snyder Site Complex or volunteering, please visit http://www.snydersitecomplex.com/

Kimberlee S. Moran – Whispering Woods Phase II with Rutgers-Camden

Over the past 12 months I have had the privilege of introducing a class of Rutgers-Camden undergraduate students to archaeological fieldwork through a CRM project in Salem Co, NJ. Whispering Woods consists of 9 registered site ranging from Middle Woodland through to 20th century. Over the course of two semesters, students were introduced to key concepts in archaeology through a series of fun, hands-on activities. For instance, we learned about stratigraphy by “excavating” dirt cake in which several features and “artifacts” (gummy bones, candy coins and bottles) had been deposited. We constructed a timeline of human history where 1cm equaled 10 years, resulting in over 30 ft of images of artifacts, archaeological sites, and works of art depicting key events and cultures. We practiced mapping, plan drawings, and analyzed each other through the material culture of our personal affects.

The highlight of the class was the 7 weeks each semester that we spent in the field. Most of our work concentrated on high-density shovel tests, though a small number of excavation units were excavated. The students enthusiastically tackled every weekly session and it was clear that they truly enjoyed class, the physical labor, and each other’s company. Their excitement at finding lumps of rusted metal, broken glass, or fragments of brick was equal to that of finding gold! It was a joy to spend time with every one of them. I was especially proud of the class during our “Open Day” – a Saturday afternoon they freely gave up to host the local community at our site, supervise the public as they excavated two of our units, and share with our visitors what doing archaeology meant to them. A blog of our class and the Whispering Woods project can be found at www.RUdigging.camden.rutgers.edu. I am indebted to Ani Hatza, Tovah Mitchell, Alex Denning, and Jennifer Falchetta for their help co-supervising the class.

Kimberlee Sue Moran, MSc, RPA
Department of Sociology, Anthropology, & Criminal Justice

Rutgers University
311 N. 5th Street, room 352
Camden, NJ 08102

phone: (+1)856-203-0687
e-mail: k.moran@camden.rutgers.edu

Danielle Fischer — A Day Thinking About Archaeology

I graduated from Rutgers University (in Camden, New Jersey, USA) in May where I had the opportunity to learn archaeology in my last semester in a class taught by Kimberlee Moran. My only wish is that I found the subject sooner. I’ve spent all of my time since graduating trying to figure out how to do more Archaeology and this is what I write about today in my ‘Day of Archaeology’ contribution.

I’ve had a great education, but I spent the majority of it searching for the academic passion that motivated my best professors and most talented peers. Whenever I had the chance for an elective, I took it, hoping that underwater basket weaving or neurobiology would light the fire. I loved Anthropology, but that was really about it. Rutgers-Camden doesn’t really offer a degree in that subject, so I majored in sociology and took all the electives I was allowed. This led me to a quiet corner of the course selection where I found a “special topics” class. It grew to be the most absorbing course I’ve ever taken.

Professor Moran and her colleagues were funny, inviting, and easy to learn from. The time we spent in the classroom was invaluable: the new information about history, stratigraphy, and plan drawing prepared me well for my field experience. I had absolutely no concept of the sheer amount of skill it takes to be an archaeologist before I joined the class. Everyone I worked with was so knowledgeable and even more willing to share. They doubled my excitement! My first find was a small piece of glass, seemingly insignificant, but it felt like holding the Hope Diamond.

Whispering Woods is a gorgeous site. The forest is beautiful and enthralling and made me swear to work outdoors for a career. But the mystery is why I want to stay, why I want to learn more and keep studying. Human history calls to me, culture makes me curious, but archaeology is what I want to pursue for the rest of my life.

Danielle Fischer