Monday, June 12, 2017

What Are These Artifacts, and Why Are They Here?

Week 2: As we continue to dig through layers, the students have come across peculiar artifacts that wouldn’t normally be identified by any passerby. For example, slag or bone fragments that oftentimes look like rocks or wood. They are actually very important artifacts for archaeologists because they can give insights into past behaviour or even the previous purpose of the site.

Bone Fragments

But- why are they here?! The bone fragments can be identified as culinary animals such as a chicken, cow, pig or sheep/goat. These indicate the diets of previous Strawbery Banke residents and where they could be discarding their food. As food acquisition and diet changes with different cultures, these fragments can produce more information than you would think! Slag indicates iron metallurgy, but we wanted to know more details about the process behind it and why it could have ended up here.
Slag is defined as the glass-like product left over after the desired metal has been melted by smelting from its raw ore. Slag contains many different elemental metals, as the initial metal product is rarely ever in a pure form. They are often connected to iron forges, and have a deeper history that goes back to 900 BC in Turkey! Initially funded by England, the colonies used iron forges to produce many products such as pots, pans, musket barrels, and other households products. Since slag is a by-product of these smelting forges, its disposal location wouldn’t be too far from the forge sites.
So what does this indicate for our site near the Penhallow house? Since Puddle Dock was once a junkyard, it could be indiscernible trash. As it is often used for construction purposes, the slag could also be left over from various projects.

Whatever our artifact's purposes were, knowing the process and history behind them can prove to be very important information for both research and the public!


Sunday, June 11, 2017

First Week of Field School

Monday marked our first day of field school! Although it was a dismal June day, we still managed to get out  to introduce the students to basic excavation techniques. Digging through (many) roots and topsoil was a great start for the school and the 8 students that will be participating for the next two weeks.
As Tuesday was too wet to excavate, the students spent their time washing artifacts from last year and learning about Penhallow’s architectural history with John Schnitzler, the museum’s restoration carpenter.
Students washing  artifacts
The upstairs parlor of Penhallow
Wallpaper from the upstairs saltbox addition in Penhallow
Thursday and Friday- Digging continued due to the agreeable weather, and the students almost reached the end of the topsoil layer. Once this layer is completed we can begin on dating artifacts before the 21st century.
Alix Martin speaking to a field trip group about the excavation.

Students using both a trowel and shovel-shaving technique

Meet our field school students!
Jenny Nathans: I work full-time at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. I majored in psychology and sociology at Brandeis University and received my Masters in Social Work at Boston University. I have volunteered on a few digs in Boston and am interested in learning more about archaeology. I am fascinated by the idea that just under my feet there could be evidence of how previous generations of people lived. It's the closest thing we can do to time travel! 
W. Huston Chabot: I am a Brandeis University student and have always been interested in history and would like to have history as my major. For all of my summers I have lived on the Seacoast and visited all of the historical houses including the Strawbery Banke Musuem. I feel privileged to attend archaeology field school and witness history at its earliest beginnings in colonial life. Archaeology field school allows me to further my interest in history as I unearth artifacts from years ago.
Nicholas Day: I am a sophomore at Spaulding High school. I play football, track and am captain of the varsity soccer team. My hobbies are fishing, hiking, cooking, coaching, volunteer work and reading. I took this field school because colleges like to see some field work already completed.
Callie Pray: I attend the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, and I'm currently pursuing a dual degree in archaeology and history. I'm a committee member of the Archaeology Society there as well as a public outreach volunteer society. I'm visiting home for the summer, and while it is required of me to conduct a minimum of 3 weeks of fieldwork during the summer for my studies, I'm looking forward to being part of this team in June. I've already done archaeological and historical work in my hometown of Exeter, and I'm very excited to further educate myself on field techniques and the history of the area where I grew up. 
Anastasia Guerrero: I am going to be a senior at Hood College in Frederick, I'm majoring in archaeology and history. I fell in love with archaeology because of the stories the artifacts can tell about cultures. A fun fact about me is that although I'm technically studying classical archaeology, I'm working on an honors thesis focusing on the Andes. 
Riley Kenney: I am currently studying at the University of New Hampshire with a major in Anthropology and a minor in Business Administration. In the past semester I have switched my major from English to Anthropology after discovering the practice through an introductory Anthropology class last year. I am very interested in applied anthropology as well as cultural anthropology. I am hoping to experience what real archaeological work is like in the field school and gain some hands on experience.
Rebecca Marisseau: I am a graduate student in history at Brown University. I am interested in archaeology because it helps us preserve the history that was not written down. This will be my second time participating in the Archaeology Field School at Strawbery Banke. During my first field school, I helped excavate the Chase House site. My time at Strawbery Banke inspired me to pursue a career as an historian of early American material culture. I am excited to be back! 
Mary Casey: I will be a senior at Gettysburg College in Gettysburg, PA, this fall of 2017! I am majoring in Anthropology, and minoring in both History and Educational Studies. I was born in Portsmouth, NH, and have lived in New Hampshire for the majority of my young life, so having a connection with Strawbery Banke is special to me! I interned with the Horticulture Department at SBM last summer, and was so excited to get to watch the Field School students dig and wash the artifacts they unearthed. I was introduced to Archaeology and Physical Anthropology during my sophomore year, and wanted to gain field experience because I was, and still am, interested in what an archaeologist does.

~Aside from excavation techniques, the field school students will be learning artifact identification, public engagement strategies for museum visitors, lab techniques- such as washing and cataloging- and further information about the site’s history.~

Feel free to visit us during museum hours and ask questions about this summer’s dig, weekdays 10-12 and 1-3:30!

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Summer 2017 Archaeology

Hello everyone! My name is Elizabeth and I’m this year’s archaeology intern and blog contributor. Before we get any further on updates, let me introduce myself.  I currently study anthropology and natural history at McGill University in Montreal, Quebec. Since I grew up in New Hampshire and previously excavated at a historical site in Verdun, Quebec, I have grown to appreciate historical and public archaeology in my home setting (that’s why I’m here today!). I’m very interested in bioarchaeology as it combines my two interests in science and archaeology, but historical archaeology has interested me since I was a child. Aside from assisting with the field school in June, I have a few other projects and goals for my time here. I hope to compile a video about the field school experience and the archaeology of Penhallow House so the public can know about what goes on behind the scenes here! I also plan to learn about how oral history interviews aid with the interpretation and research process with the Heritage House goals for the site in mind. Strawbery Banke emphasizes resident’s hidden histories at Puddle Dock, so I hope that my summer projects can better inform the public about unseen residents.
Like I mentioned, we are working at the Penhallow House location to follow up from last year’s field school, as well as the area north of the Red Shed behind Penhallow. There are currently guest restrooms at Penhallow House. Through the Heritage House Program, we plan to repurpose Penhallow, so the restrooms will be moved to an addition to the Red Shed.The Collections staff is continuing to research the history of the house. Last week the staff offered a presentation and tour for the Piscataqua Decorative Arts Society lecture series that allowed us to see the current interior of the house (pictured below).

This summer, you can expect this blog to have field school updates, artifact highlights, “Behind the Scenes” posts about SBM archaeology, and any associated information highlights from Penhallow’s unfolding history.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

The Summer I Lived At A Museum

Hi! I'm Ana, the Archaeology Intern
Hi, my name is Ana - I have been the Archaeology intern this summer, but I realized that I never introduced myself! Given that I only have one more week here at SB, I'll give myself a quick introduction. I was born and raised in Rhode Island, the smallest state in the nation, and sometimes
that makes us forget how big the world can really be. (We always joke that if a drive is longer than 15 minutes, we'll have to pack an overnight bag.) Growing up I went to small schools and participated in several clubs, including Academic Decathlon and Environmental club, many sports, including softball, track, and field hockey, and Girl Scouts, remaining a member until I was 18 and progressed through all the ranks to Senior Scout, earning my Gold Award in my final year. After this I went to the University of Rhode Island, where I double majored in History and Anthropology and minored in Underwater Archaeology, completing these degrees in three years. In 2014, I participated in an underwater dig in Akko, Israel, and in 2015 I came to Strawbery Banke as a field student. This year, after a gap year off of school, I am back as the summer-long intern before I start at UMASS Boston for my graduate degree in Historical Archaeology.

For those of you who may not be aware, the internship program provides housing for the out-of-state interns, which means the I, along with four other interns, have spent my summer living at a museum. It's quite a bit different from the children in the book From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, who run away from home and end up living secretly in New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art. In fact, besides a few rules, living at one of the rehabilitated houses on the museum grounds has been a great experience! Interns live in one side Hough House, which is divided into a duplex, while a few businesses occupy the offices in the other side. Although the outside looks historic, we have all the modern amenities of a current house: running water, electricity, television, WiFi, a fully equipped kitchen, and almost anything else you can think of. The one thing we are not allowed is Air conditioning or window fans, because the museum wants the facade of the house to match the historic neighborhood it represents.

Hough House
Although the house is modern from the inside, there are definitely some things I have noticed about living at a museum that differ from living in a regular neighborhood. First off, when I wake up in the morning and look out my window, I get to look over the rooftops of historic buildings, which, in itself is a great way to start the day. It's beautiful, quiet, serene, and very different from looking out into a modern neighborhood. Unfortunately, living on museum grounds means that some things are a little tougher, like hanging out outside. I spend most of my working day outdoors, but going outside to read a book, sit in the sun, or exercise becomes a little more complicated simply because our "yard" is usually full of museum visitors. Life becomes a little less private when the museum is open. Many of these visitors also try to come into our house because they think it's an exhibit. Thankfully we have gotten very good at remembering to keep the door locked.

Having so many people around, however, has also been a bit of a surprise. Besides visitors, we also see the workers in the other half of Hough House and many people who come to tend the community garden behind the house. I have seen people directly outside my windows as early as 5am and at least as as late as midnight.

Because the museum is so busy during the day, we get to interact with a lot more people than we ever would if we were not living on the museum. I have met visitors from all around the USA, not to mention several from foreign countries. We also get to hear more from interpreters and museum role players, who are not only our colleagues during the day, but also serve as stand-in neighbors for the otherwise empty houses. Although you would think that the museum is deserted and quiet after hours, it is almost entirely the opposite. Many locals come to walk their dogs through the open grounds and many events take place on Puddle Dock, including weddings, corporate dinners, fundraisers, and concerts. From our windows, we get to see all of these events from a behind-the-scenes perspective, which is pretty cool. Since we are so close to the downtown area, we also get a lot of firsthand experience with living near Prescott Park, which has events and happenings, like plays and concerts, on most evenings. 

After spending my summer here, I can reflect to say that I was most surprised how busy the neighborhood is. Hough House is not on a main road, so most of the traffic we experience is foot traffic and we don't get a lot of noise from cars. What I do see, however, is how much a part of the living community Strawbery Banke Museum has become. From my windows, I see visitors, museum personnel, interpreters, and role players all day, dog walkers, joggers, and families in the afternoons, concert-goers, tourists, restaurant staff and locals in the evenings, and on some special occasions I have seen bands and musicians, performers, wedding parties, corporate groups, vendors, donors, and tour groups. The museum is rarely deserted, and, in fact, seems equally like a part of the past while also playing a truly active role in the present. 

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Shell-ter From The Storm

Oyster Midden Before It Was Excavated
Within the first few days of excavation at Penhallow, our crew was finding quite a few oyster shells...And when I say quite a few, I mean a lot! At the Western end of our trench, we uncovered an oyster shell midden that spanned the area of four 1x1 meter units, and when we started digging on the street-side of the house, we discovered that the midden also extended outward into those units. Although the midden takes up space in at least six units, we only excavated two and half of these units, and that still yielded over 60 bags of shells!

Midden After the Two Easternmost Units Were Excavated
The presence of all these shells at Penhallow leads us to many research questions, such as: do these oysters pre- or post-date the house? How old is the deposit? Where did the oysters grow? Are they local or imported? How old were the oysters when harvested? Was the aquatic environment where they grew healthy or polluted?

These are only a few of the questions that we can ask about the oyster midden, but in order to better answer all of these questions, we require a bit of background knowledge on oysters overall.

Although oysters come in many varieties, there are only 5 true species of oyster in the world. These species are the Pacific Oyster, Kumamoto Oyster, Atlantic Oyster, European Flat Oyster, and Olympia Oyster, and they are differentiated based upon where the oysters grow and their shell size and style. In general, these oysters all taste similar, but they do take on slightly different tastes based upon where they are grown. A lot of people liken it to wine, saying that each is distinctly different because of the regions and conditions in which they were grown and produced. The only oyster native to the US East coast is the Atlantic Oyster, which is defined by its teardrop shaped shell and its cream, brown, and dark green shell coloring.

A Water Tank Demonstrating How Oysters Filter Water
Oysters, as filter feeders are important to the health of an ecosystem. So important, in fact, that they are referred to as "Keystone Organisms," which means that without oysters, other organisms are unable to inhabit the area. This is because of several important roles oysters play in keeping the ecosystem healthy. Oysters filter organic and inorganic materials from the water, so they essentially clean the water by removing particles and pollutants. They are also helpful because they can remove solids from the water, purify them, and then package them as little bundles that are consumed by larger organisms. Oyster shells are also beneficial because they provide safe habitats for creatures on the bottom of the food chain. Oyster beds make a hard surface that creatures like barnacles, snails, crabs, and even baby oysters can live on. With oyster shells to attach to, these small organisms attract larger and larger organisms and help to create a complete and complex underwater ecosystem.

Growth Layers on an Oyster Shell
Because oysters are so important to the underwater environment, they can provide us with a lot of historic information. When examining a single oyster shell, there are several key things to look for that tell us about that oyster's individual life, and when we compile this data from all the oyster shells, we can learn about trends over time. One of the first things we can notice about the shell is its size. The larger the oyster, the longer it was able to live and grow, indicating a longer life in a healthy environment; smaller oysters mean just the opposite. For archaeologists, this can indicate levels of environmental health, but it can also indicate economic health. If oysters were able to grow to maturity before they were harvested, it is likely that people had other, more plentiful sources of food. If oysters are small it is likely because people harvested them before they were mature, indicating a higher demand for oysters, which could either mean a poorer economy or an increased human population. You can tell exactly how old an oyster was when it was harvested by looking at the layers on its shell. The layers on a shell grow out from the hinge area, like tree rings, so by counting these layers, we can tell the oyster's age. Similar to tree rings, these layers also indicate seasonality. Oysters grow more during warmer months, so the layers will be thicker in the summer and thinner in the winter. The layers closest to the hinge are the most recent, so you can look at these to determine in which season the oyster was harvested. Measuring the ratio between length and height also indicates whether the oysters grew in a bed, on sand, on a reef, or in a channel. If they grew in salty water, oyster shells will have holes in them that are caused by parasitic sponges feeding on the shells. Fresh water oysters, on the other hand, have no holes in their shells, and oysters that grew in brackish water have fewer, smaller holes. By noting how many oysters came from salt water versus fresh water, archaeologists can get a glimpse of changing harvesting patterns. People may change their harvesting patterns for a variety of reasons, such as if an oyster bed were completely depleted, if water was becoming too polluted, if access to the oyster beds became more difficult, or if they started intentionally growing and cultivating oysters. When people first harvest oyster beds, they are often pulling out oysters that have different sizes and styles of shell, because they are usually harvesting them for personal consumption. When oysters are being grown and harvested as a tradeable market good, however, their shells are often uniform across the oyster bed. This is because consumerism demands consistency in goods and products and it also demonstrates an knowledge of what makes a good eating oyster. Examining and studying all the excavated oyster shells and compiling data on their size, age, which season they were harvested, where they grew, and the similarity in shell shape and size can indicate quite a lot to an archaeologist in terms of environmental health, economic health, local markets and trade, what people ate, and changes to all of these over time.

So what, then, did people in the past do with all of these oysters? Besides eat them, of course. It turns out that there are quite a few uses for oyster shells, including, but not limited to:

  1. Ground up as feed for chickens to strengthen their egg shells
  2. Crushed up as pathways, much like gravel is used nowadays
  3. Restoring minerals to gardening soil by burying them in the ground
  4. Beds for future oysters to grow on
  5. Mixed into a building material called Tabby (similar to cement)
  6. Boiled into a broth, like how chicken bones are boiled in chicken stock
  7. Scattered across work yards to make muddy surfaces easier to walk upon
  8. Burned to create lime for plaster
  9. A remedy for the bite of a mad dog when burnt and crushed (According to the 1783 Virginia Gazette)
  10. Art

What do you think our oyster shells may have been used for?

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Field School Session 2 Update

The second session of field school is wrapping up so here is an update on the things we have accomplished, as well as the most recent theories about the site!

We started the third week of field school by digging through the sandy/clay layer. We discovered that the layer was more mottled and mixed up, similar to a patchwork quilt, rather than a straight layer of sand with a layer of clay underneath. 

Digging through the mottled sandy clay layer

We dug through this layer until we hit an unexpected layer of rocks! 

The emergence of the rock layer

We weren't sure if this layer of rock was a continuation of the builders' trench, but the rocks are more rounded, similar to river rocks, than the larger and sharper-edged rocks of the foundation. They also go to the edge of the northern wall of the trench which is probably larger than the builders' trench would have been.

Catcat, the neighborhood cat

We even had a visit from the neighborhood cat, whose nametag says Catcat. She has been visiting us for a few weeks on the other side of the fence, but this field school is much smaller than the first session so there aren't enough people to work on both sides of the fence.

The uncovered cobblestones

After removing all of the mottled sandy/clay layer we photographed the cobblestone layer and talked more about what it could be. There is a layer of smaller rocks that are very orderly along the northern edge and a second layer of larger, more loosely placed rocks on top of them. It is possible that this upper layer exists because the stones were displaced when the foundation was built. 

Most people who see the stones for the first time think of a road, but there was never a road according to the historic maps. One theory that has persisted throughout the excavation of the stones is that the stones were used to fill in some of the tidal inlet to make more usable land for the neighborhood. Several of the historic maps show a more straight, unnatural looking part of the tidal inlet near Washington Street and it is possible that the tidal inlet was shaped to suit the needs of the neighborhood. Another theory is that these stones were used to provide drainage to the area, but more research needs to be done to figure out what is under the stones. We ended the day with mapping the stones before we remove a section near the shell midden to understand more about the cobblestone layer.

Do you have any ideas on what these cobblestones were used for? Stay tuned for an update after Ana and Alix continue the excavation after the field school ends tomorrow!