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.

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