Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Winter Activities and Events

Once the field school season ends, the Archaeology Department at Strawbery Banke stays busy year round with a plethora of projects.

Presentations at Plymouth State University for Archaeology Month, displays and activities at the Museum of Science and workshops for the Transferware Society rounded out the weekly program of cleaning and cataloging artifacts from the Chase House dig.

Over the winter and spring we will be engaged in consolidating our artifact collection around the site.

Follow these pages for details on various activities, lectures and programs, as well as some recent and upcoming trips (staff archaeologist, Sheila Charles, is off to Egypt in March!) and pen & ink drawings by Kent Miller.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Friday, July 16, 2010

Day of Visitors, take II

Yesterday was another exciting day filled with visitors to our field school. Diana Gallagher (above), parasitologist and PhD candidate, came by with her husband to collect soil samples from our privy excavation. She is doing her doctoral research on privies in New England, evaluating the soil for parasitic remains to see how well people adhered to social and legal standards of cleanliness.
We were also visited by Salem State professors Dr. Emerson Baker (history) and Dr. Peter Sablock (geology), who came to visit their student Nicole Estey, who has been excavating with us. Dr. Joan Merriman, who is studying the faunal remains we have collected at the Chase House site.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Neither rain, nor heat, nor...

In contrast to last week's blazing heat, today dawned dreary and drizzly. Our intrepid field school, however, persevered, braving the rain and the mud to continue excavating our privy and barn foundation. Some units needed to be bailed out, and some required water screening to separate artifacts from the globs of mud, but our brave archaeologists took these developments in stride.
They were also undaunted by the arrival of reporters from WMUR Chronicle to film and report on our excavation. The reporters seemed very interested in our field school, staying almost two hours in order to interview nearly everyone and to film every stage in the process, from excavating and screening dirt to washing and cataloging artifacts. We were very pleased with their visit, and are looking forward to seeing the field school appear on Chronicle in the near future.
When the rains became heavier in the afternoon, field school participants returned to the collections building to listen to a presentation by museum intern Ben Curran on the applications of remote sensing to archaeology. Infrared sensing and ground penetrating radar, along with other forms of remote sensing, are excellent ways to gain valuable information about the placement and formation of archaeological sites. And, unlike traditional excavation methods, remote sensing is non-destructive, since it does not involve removing artifacts from the ground. We are greatly looking forward to Ben's ground penetrating radar survey of the Strawbery Banke Grounds this coming weekend!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Unit and Artifact of the day

This photograph illustrates a unit we designated as Unit of the Day, N10E7. We picked this unit, situated ten meters north and seven meters east of the datum point within our grid system, due to its high artifact productivity most likely associated with a trash disposal area outside of the brick and fieldstone privy pit foundation. We removed a large fieldstone slab and encountered bones and large ceramic fragments. The artifact cache has proven more extensive that we first believed. The ceramics include transfer print pearlware (1795-1840), annular pearlware (1790-1820), transfer print whiteware (1830+), unglazed and lead glazed redware, yellowware (1830+), a large saltglazed stoneware crock sherd with a cobalt blue design, and a body fragment of a German salt glazed stoneware gin bottle (1850s-1920s). The concentration of artifacts also includes several butchered animal bones, a brass bullet casing (1910-1960), and a fragment of an aqua embossed glass bottle.

Our Artifact of the Day, depicted in the photograph above, is from a different excavation unit, N12E10, located to the northeast of the privy. This pit yielded a particularly rich artifact assemblage. Most recently, at over one meter below surface we discovered these large fragments of a creamware plate. The plate is creamy yellow, marking it as early creamware (1762-1780). The rim is decorated with a feather-edged pattern.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Day of Visitors

I had intended to do a "Visitor of the Day" post, but we has so many wonderful visitors today that I just couldn't choose.

We began our day with a visit to the house of Hollis Brodrick, an eminent local antiquarian. The picture above shows many artifacts that were recovered when his back yard was excavated (a project worked on by our very own Lindsey Weeks). Some of the more interesting finds were a medal commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Bunker Hill, a 17th century counterfeit coin, and an unusual fragment of marbled clay pottery (see below).

We also got to see some highlights of his own collection, including a bell used to summon the militia during the Revolutionary War and a powder horn inscribed by an Eighteenth-Century soldier (see below).

Another highlight of the visit was that Hollis allowed each field school participant to take home a 17th century clay pipe - in the picture below Archaeologist Sheila Charles is holding hers.

So that was an exciting start to our day! In addition, we were joined today by Dr Rob Sanford, chair of the Enivronmental Science department at the University of Southern Maine, and Dr Nate Hamilton, Professor of Archaeology at USM, both of whom have worked with Hollis, Sheila and Lindsey in the past. Dr Hamilton talked about helping Hollis excavate in his backyard, and later (after minor technical difficulties) gave a presentation on the dig he has been conducting out at the Isle of Shoals. We were also joined by Sheila's son, Phillip, who was an excellent aid to our excavation efforts.

Through the course of this week we have managed to excavate 20-30cms in our units, uncovering many kinds of pottery fragments, buttons, nails and wood fragments as well as bricks and stones that may be part of the privy or another building foundation. We have also begun removing some of the bricks and stones that do not appear to be part of the foundation (after mapping and documenting carefully, of course!) which has uncovered part of an animal's hip bone and several very large ceramic pieces, which can be seen in the picture below.
Next week we plan to begin the lab work of washing and cataloging the artifacts. We also have several more presentations and excursions planned. And, of course, a lot more excavating to do!

Thursday, July 8, 2010


Our field crew has not let the New England heat wave deter us from continuing our investigation!

As a result, we have exposed the full extent of the south privy pit wall, comprised of 2 courses of brick. It appears that the south wall may have had two episodes of construction. The brick masonry of the east half of the south wall reveals an alternating pattern of stretchers and headers, while bricks of the west half of the south wall are all stretchers. A field stone wall appears to separate these sections. We wonder if a larger privy pit was needed as more residents were added to the Chase household?

We also opened additional excavation units in order to explore and determine the full extent of: 1) the field stone privy base under the brick footing, 2) the field stone walls extending east and north of the privy pit, and 3) the stone slab paving (root cellar floor?) found approximately one meter below datum.

Many questions remain! Do the exposed field stone walls represent an earlier privy pit? Or the footprint of the privy building or barn? Who smoked the clay pipes we found? Who played with the doll associated with the porcelain doll head fragment with a painted face and eyebrows? What food was prepared using the lead glazed red earthenware kitchen vessel?

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Day 2 Archaeology Field School

The field crew insisted on continuing our field investigation even as the temperature skyrocketed to nearly 100 degrees, exceeding the century's record high! We are broadening our understanding of the composition of the brick privy pit footing and field stone base. When the heat became unbearable, we retreated to the air conditioned archaeology laboratory to assemble more elements of the study collection.

Monday, July 5, 2010

2010 Field School Kick-Off

Today marked the first day of Strawbery Banke's annual two-week archaeological field school. Undaunted by near record-breaking temperatures, field school participants and several long-time archaeology volunteers joined Archaeologist Sheila Charles, Field Supervisor Lindsey Weeks, and Intern Sara Helmers at the Chase House excavation site. This year, our thirteen participants span a variety of ages (from high school students to retirees), locations, (from as nearby as downtown Portsmouth to as far away as Virginia), and experience levels (many have studied archaeology and participated in this and other fields schools in the past, but some have no experience beyond a subscription to Archaeology magazine).

The day began with a presentation introducing participants to the Chase House site and the results of past excavations, followed by an overview of correct archaeological methodology (scrape gently in a horizontal direction with the trowels, never dig with the point). Then everyone was assigned to a unit and excavation began! Historic maps show a kitchen ell, barn, and privy occupying various parts of the yard throughout history, so units were placed in order to look for these features. The field school has excavated at this location for the past two years, uncovering many artifacts as well as a wood foundation of the kitchen ell, and part of a brick structure that we believe is the privy pit. This year, excavation is continuing in the privy area, both digging deeper in previously excavated units and expanding into new units next to the old, where we hope to find more of the foundation.

Keep your eye on this space to find out what exciting things we uncover at this year's field school!

Saturday, July 3, 2010

2009 Strawbery Banke Archaeology Field School Summary

Continued Investigation of a Necessary Place at the Chase House Site:

Results of the 2009 Strawbery Banke Archaeological Field School

by Sheila Charles, Strawbery Banke Archaeologist


This year’s highly successful Strawbery Banke Museum archaeological field school, conducted July 27 to August 7, continued our investigation of the Chase House Site (2008). Strawbery Banke Archaeologist Sheila Charles, Field Supervisor Danielle Dadiego, and Laboratory Supervisor Sally Strazdins were assisted by 8 year round Archaeology Department volunteers and 14 students, many of whom are already looking forward to returning next year for continued hands-on archaeological field and laboratory experiences and engaging opportunities to use scientific observation and techniques.

Built in 1762 by mariner John Underwood, the Chase House in Portsmouth is an elegant 2 ½ story Georgian residence featuring handcrafted woodwork. For over a hundred years, the Chase family occupied the premises. Stephen Chase, a wealthy Portsmouth merchant and patriot, rented the house in 1779 and later purchased it. He is locally renown for holding an evening reception in 1789 for the newly elected President George Washington, who kissed the three Chase girls on their heads! While the house remained the family residence until 1881, one year later Stephen Chase’s grandson granted the building to the city as a home for “orphan and destitute children.” In 1910, the house reverted to private ownership when Lillian Aldrich acquired it as a summer residence near her husband’s childhood home, the Thomas Bailey Aldrich House. Following the 1960s, both structures became part of Strawbery Banke Museum and the Chase House was its first restored structure. The 1805 and 1819 inventories following the deaths of Stephen Chase and his wife Mary Chase were the basis for its current furnishings.

The archaeological investigation, initiated last year, was designed to answer research questions about the east and south yard of the Chase House site, measuring approximately 418 square meters (4500 square feet). Test locations were selected following extensive historic map review to capture maximum information about former outbuildings, changes in the yard and streetscape, and activities undertaken by former inhabitants of the Chase House. A former barn (approximately 22 by 60 feet) is depicted on the 1813 J.G. Hales Map but absent by the 1850s. A former water closet (i.e, outhouse measuring approximately 8 by 16 feet) is portrayed on Sanborn maps between 1887 and 1956.

Last year (2008), 11 excavation units were established. This year, many of the productive units as well as an additional 8 test units were excavated. Subsurface investigation yielded evidence of the the former barn and outhouse, Durham flagstones associated with the historic street sidewalk, trash disposal patterns, and activities undertaken on the site by former occupants residing in the Strawbery Banke Puddle Dock neighborhood for nearly three centuries. Most exciting was the continued excavation of a privy pit, capped with coal ash, in the southeast corner of the yard.

The Privy Finds

Our investigation revealed the privy pit, measuring approximately 2 ½ by 10 ½ feet, is comprised of a brick footing over fieldstone. Dense deposits of artifacts dating to the early 1800s continue to be recovered north and west of the privy. The deposit is predominantly domestic trash including chamber pots, table and kitchen wares of creamware and decorated pearlware, some of which correspond with objects referenced in the 1805 and 1819 probates of Stephen and Mary Chase. Ceramics Specialist Jonathan Rickard identified a recently recovered blue hand painted pearlware chamber pot lid as being manufactured by Staffordshire potter Enoch Wood between 1819 and 1840. Collections Manager Tara Vose and Ceramic Specialist Louise Richardson also added to our understanding of the recovered ceramics.

Dr. Joan Merriman of Plymouth State University indicates the fauna, including a probable sheep skull and many cut and sawn mammal fragments indicates a diet of lamb, as well as veal, beef, deer, turkey, other fowl and fish. A badly decayed human upper lateral incisor tooth in the collection may be the result of self-extraction and date to the period occupied by the Chase family, although The Changing Humors of Portsmouth (Estes and Goodman 1986) indicates Dr. Parsons and two dentists volunteered their services at the Chase Home for Children. Numerous red and buff clay marbles, fragments of porcelain toy tea sets, dolls and figurines, as well as slate pencil and board fragments attest to childrens’ activities on the site. Many of these artifacts are on display at the Tyco Visitors Center throughout the 2009 season, compliments of the Young Curators Program participants who worked closely with archaeologists and curators to put together the exhibit!

North of the privy, the depth of the trash deposit extends about 1 meter below surface and artifacts from this depth include ceramics manufactured in the late 1600s and early 1700s, such as Nottingham, Westerwald and white salt-glazed stoneware. A relatively flat field stone feature was identified at about 1 meter below surface and investigation is continuing to determine whether this is a paved floor or foundation of the former barn. Another feature, the southeast corner of the former kitchen ell, was also discovered along with a horseshoe positioned adjacent to the corner, presumably for good luck.


In summary, we look forward to our continued investigation and analysis of the Chase House site, which will allow Strawbery Banke to make informed site management decisions and better reconstruct and interpret the history of the extant and former structures, its occupants and their activities, especially those pertaining to the use of the yard space and their green technologies for waste management and recycling.

Sheila Charles


Strawbery Banke Museum

Sidebar: The Horseshoe

The folklore associating horse shoes with good luck charms reputedly stems from a story of the Devil and Saint Dunstan, who became the archbishop of Canterbury in AD 959. Dunstan, formerly a blacksmith, was asked by the disguised Devil to nail horse shoes to his cloven hooves. Dunstan recognized the Devil and tricked him. When the Devil asked Dunstan to remove the horse shoes as they were causing him great pain, Dunstan only agreed after the Devil promised demons would never enter a place where a horse shoe hung above a door.

Strawbery Banke 2010 Archaeology Field School

Search for the secrets of the past by participating in a real archaeological excavation! Join Strawbery Banke's Archaeology Department as we excavate the grounds of the 1762 Chase House site, gathering information about its former kitchen ell, barn and, of particular interest, the privy. Students in the Archaeology Field School work alongside professional archaeologists, preservationists, curators, and historians, exploring the site with volunteers and students of all ages. Learn field approved excavation techniques and be part of a team, unearthing information about four centuries of neighborhood life at this historic 10-acre site in the heart of Portsmouth, NH..

This two-week, intensive experience includes fieldwork, lab work, object handling and identification, tours, activities, and instruction. The Archaeological Field School is a valuable opportunity for career exploration as well as a fun outdoor learning experience.

For information regarding the 2010 Chase House Archaeology Field School, please contact: Staff Archaeologist, Sheila Charles at