Historic Archaeology at the Home of Franklin D. Roosevelt

As part of a cooperative agreement with the National Park Service (NPS) and Vassar College, lead by Dr. April M. Beisaw, six students (Jonathan Alperstein, Kelly Bernatzky, Rachel Cagnetta, Pedro Millard, David Sparks, and Emma Wiley) were employed this summer to work on three historic bottle dumps. The students came from different backgrounds, from no archaeological experience to having already attended a field school.

This summer most of the fieldwork took place at a site named the Woods Site. Each field day started with getting the van ready and driving from Vassar College to Historic Hyde Park. After pulling off to an unpaved road, gathering all the gear, we’d begin our 10 minute hike to the site.

Map of the Woods Site. The data was collected by all the students and mapped by Ray Cagnetta.

The site was covered in large surface artifacts, including whole bottles. The two reasons for this excavation were 1) to determine the source of the deposits and 2) generate recommendations for site preservation because there were multiple looters pits throughout the site.

Dr. Beisaw allowed for the students to do all parts of the project, from total station, metal detecting and setting up a unit excavation.

Pedro Millard shooting points with the total station.

The first excavation unit was placed in a preserved area near two looters pits. Quickly we realized the sheer volume of artifacts at this site would generate many days of labwork. After a couple weeks of digging, the unit had become too deep to safely dig and was enlarged for our safety. We finally hit sterile soil after 2 meters of digging!


Unit excavation prior to expansion.

Using the Munsell Soil Chart, while mapping the now expanded unit.

We collected 4557 artifacts from many different soils, including multiple ash layers.   The most common artifact types included glass, metal, ceramic, animal bone, and shell. The most interesting artifacts were complete and sealed vessels with their contents still inside, including several jars of face cream.

In the lab, artifacts were cleaned and inventoried to get ready for the NPS cataloging software. Ray Cagnetta, transformed the mapping points we took to create maps using GIS. And Emma Wiley conducted artifact analyses.

Students analyzing the artifacts and preparing them to go into NPS catalog software.

This collaboration between Vassar College and the National Park Service, allowed us to experience all stages of archaeology from excavation, lab work and report writing. We learned from our mistakes and become stronger and more competent archaeologists. In addition to this excavation and analysis, Vassar required us to design our own research experiment. The results of those will be presented in the Fall semester.

This project will continue in to the next academic year, to determine exactly when these dumps were created and what the original source(s) of the dumps are. This project is hopefully the start of a long lasting relationship between Vassar and NPS that will allow students to be able to experience archaeology from all stages.