Friday, June 27, 2014

Update from the 1st week of field school

We gathered Monday morning to break ground at the Pecunies House site here at Strawbery Banke with a crew of 10: archaeologists, volunteers, and field school students.

We began by removing the topsoil from beneath the heirloom strawberries that had been growing within the bounds of the Pecunies House foundation.  We quickly encountered fill that had been deposited after the house was torn down in the 1960s. We had not been sure whether the fill would relate to the construction or the destruction of the house, but we believe that clean, gravelly sand was brought to the site to fill in the foundation after the house was torn down.  Of course there are still many architectural fragments from the Pecunies House including nails, painted wooden boards, asphalt shingles, and window glass.

After a few days on site, we began to recover fragments of white glazed bricks that we soon found in course and expanded our excavation to reveal the floor of the mikveh we had been searching for.

Check back in next week for further updates and photos!  Leave your questions in the comments below.
Alex, Chrissy, and Nadia trowel after encountering a break in the soil between topsoil and fill.
Jim trowels topsoil while Sally supervises.
A tumble of foundation rocks, bricks, and industrial pipe were uncovered in our eastern excavation block. 
Chrissy displays an intact historic bottle she recovered from the fill above the mikveh.
The mikveh floor has been revealed beneath bricks and fill in the western excavation block. We believe this is the floor because there is a drain in the top right corner.
A close up of the edge of the mikveh floor - we should be able to source these white glazed buff-bodied bath bricks.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Hello from the new archaeology intern!

Hello, readers! My name is Nadia and I’m Strawbery Banke’s archaeology intern for summer 2014. Since I’m going to be updating the blog pretty frequently for the rest of the summer, I thought it would be a good idea to introduce myself.

I got my B.A. in anthropology from Adelphi University in Garden City, NY in 2011. Now I’m finishing up my Master’s thesis in historical archaeology at the University of Massachusetts Boston. My focus is a site on Shelter Island way out at the eastern end of Long Island, NY called Sylvester Manor. I’m studying the assemblage of personal adornment artifacts (buttons, buckles, jewelry, etc.) from the period between 1652 and 1735 to see how individuals at the site expressed identity including ethnicity through the things they wore. The occupants of the site were diverse and included the Anglo-Dutch Sylvester family, indentured servants from England or Ireland, enslaved African people likely transported to the island from the Caribbean, and Native American day laborers from the local Manhanset community that had been occupying Shelter Island long before it was ever settled by Europeans.

Our focus for the Strawbery Banke field school is quite different as you all know, but I’m very excited to participate in the excavation of a more modern site. One of my favorite things about historical archaeology is the endless diversity of sites and stories to be explored. This is especially important when it comes to populations that are not well represented in written history, from enslaved Africans to immigrant families. I’m sure the site of the Pecunies house has some surprises for us to uncover and I’m looking forward to sharing those with all of you through this blog. Be on the lookout for more updates soon!

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Outfitting an Archaeologist

It's the time of year for archaeologists and field school students to think about what to pack and what to wear as they head in to the field.  Various blogs have posted useful lists of equipment that archaeologists use in the field, including this fun post from Time Team America.  Some field schools involve an extended stay on site, like the Oregon State University excavation at the Cooper's Ferry site in Idaho -- a field school like that one involves quite an extensive packing list.  The Archaeological Institute of America has some good tips on preparing for an excavation, and this post by archaeologist Andi Hall makes some good suggestions about what to wear.  Archaeologists have also been chatting over on Twitter recently about which hat is the best to wear this field season (surprise... it's not all fedoras).

I haven't yet seen, though, any posts that make suggestions especially for field schools that take place in an urban, public setting like a living history museum.  I also haven't seen a round up of especially women-friendly gear.  So, I thought I would put together some tips for my incoming students and others.

First and foremost, as others have mentioned, most excavations will have complete sets of tools and equipment available for field school students and volunteers to use.  Strawbery Banke will provide field school students with their own dig kits.  However, many people like to buy their own trowel and break it in over time.  The best is Marshalltown, and I prefer the 4.5" pointing trowel.  If you choose to get your own trowel, make sure to sharpen it up and personalize it somehow so it doesn't get lost.  (I've seen wood-burning, spray paint, nail polish, etc. -- I just put my initials on the end of the handle with a Sharpie.)

Also important are a good pair of work gloves.  The best I've found is from West County and these are on sale!  They are great: they come in bright colors so you don't lose them, they come in women's sizes, they're machine washable, and they even have a terry cloth thumb for wiping sweat off your brow.  Best of all, they hold up really well to months of screening and they protect your hands from historical artifacts that can be dangerous for bare hands (e.g. broken glass, rusty metal).

As for clothing, I found that I had to update my field clothes drawer a bit when I moved from contract archaeology to museum archaeology.  When I'm talking to the public, I like to feel presentable by wearing something other than an old tie-dyed t-shirt.  Our guiding principle at my last job was to dress so that it wouldn't be embarrassing if grandparents showed up for a surprise lunch date.  I like a button-up shirt with built-in sun protection (like those made for fishing) or a polo shirt.  You can go for Strawbery Banke maroon, or stick with a light color to stay cool.  

Pants depend on the job.  Archaeologists who spend some of their time fighting briars with machetes might prefer the standard Carharrts.  I've always liked those convertible/zip-off pants so that I have the option to zip-off and stay cool or to zip-on and keep my knees clean.  I prefer a lighter color so that ticks are easy to spot. Lately I've found a few pairs that have built-in sun protection or insect deterrent, or both!   Regular shorts, leggings, or jeans are also fine.  You do you.

Shoes depend on the job as well.  Sometimes rugged hiking boots or steel-toed boots are needed or even required.  For a museum field school, though, sturdy sneakers or hiking shoes are fine (I like low-top Chaco or Keen shoes).  Waterproof shoes are extra good for bailing out a test unit after a rain storm.  In general, you're looking for something comfortable that won't make you feel clumsy on site and that will protect your toes (no sandals).

Perhaps the most important thing to wear on site is sun protection!  Hat, shades, and sunscreen, sunscreen, sunscreen.  Reapply after lunch.  Bring a reusable water bottle and fill it often.  Gear, your trowel, notebook, and lunch (never get separated from your lunch!) can all be stowed in any old backpack or bag.

Above all, be comfortable and ready to share your exciting experience with museum visitors.  Archaeologists, am I missing anything?  Comment below with tips or your favorite outfit.