Monday, October 12, 2015

Jefferson House

As our Archaeology Department intern wrote about before she left, we had begun a Phase I test of the gravel path to the west of the Jefferson House bathroom addition.  A series of test pits were excavated at 2.5 meter intervals, to determine whether the installation of a new handicap access ramp would impact archaeological resources.  
Jefferson House bathroom addition today
In September, this test was finalized.  The findings in the area impacted by the access ramp were consistent with the findings of the Archaeology Department’s summer of 2000 Jefferson House excavations.  The location, west of the original footprint of Jefferson House, is the lot once occupied by the 1809/Oliver House.  The eastern foundation wall of this house was uncovered during the 2000 excavations (see Pinello 2003 – Archaeological Site Investigations of the Jefferson and Oliver House Lots for more details).
Jefferson House backyard in 2000, before bathroom addition (photo taken facing east)
During Urban Renewal, the 1809/Oliver House was demolished.  House debris within the original footprint of the house was not recovered during the 2000 nor during the present excavations, indicating that the rubble was removed from the museum site. This is consistent with other investigations of houses demolished during Urban Renewal on the Strawbery Banke Museum grounds.  The backfill within the foundation contained stone, brick, and gravel, mixed with sand and soil.  Very few artifacts were recovered: several small shards of glass, plastic, and machine-cut nails. 
Jefferson House backyard c. 1950, after the demolition of the 1809 Oliver House
The access ramp should be an excellent replacement of the unreliable electronic lift, ensuring that all our visitors are able to enjoy the museum grounds!

Monday, October 5, 2015

A New Foundation for Little Yeaton

As the summer came to an end at Strawbery Banke, the Archaeology Department monitored construction efforts at Yeaton-Walsh as the c. 1800 foundation was dismantled, a new concrete base was poured, and the signature foundation stones replaced.

We took steps to protect the 18th century wooden structures related to James Marden's mastyard that we had uncovered, backfilling our excavation units in sterile sand, and  changing the shape of the concrete foundation footing on the northwest corner to leave what may be part of a wharf bulkhead intact (see photos below).

We still await the City of Portsmouth, who will be digging trenches to connect utilities, but the foundation and sill replacement has been completed on schedule!  Everyone enjoys a before and after comparison, so below are photos taken during field school in June and July, and new photos taken last week.

The front elevation of Yeaton-Walsh (photos taken facing north)

The backside of Yeaton-Walsh (photos taken facing south).  (Fisheye effect is a product of panorama tool.)

Thursday, July 30, 2015

What Next?

I’m sure it has become obvious that the end of a field school doesn’t quite mean the end of digging, or archaeology in general. Field school is often clouded with excitement and discovery, however it is safe to say that field schools are just a taste of the work that archaeologists do. ‘Every day archaeology’ isn’t always as exciting or glamorous, and usually consists of digging shovel test pit surveys, monitoring other bouts of digging going on, and contributing many hours in the lab washing, sorting, etc., all of which are extremely important and needed in order to conduct the best possible research.

The Masons using their backhoe
After finishing up the digging around Yeaton-Walsh, Alix and I had been approached about digging around the bathrooms located near the Jefferson House. A new handicap ramp is to be attached to the bathroom, making it more wheel-chair accessible, but in order to begin the construction, a series of shovel test pit surveys have to be done along with a written report, which then gets sent into the state. After these steps have been taken, the state will then either approve the construction plans or they will reject them. This interaction between archaeologist, government, and usually third party (i.e. construction workers) is quite common, often times overlooked. It becomes important for Institutions such as CRM (Cultural Resource Management) firms to be available to conduct these pre-construction surveys and to ensure that the locations being worked on are safe to do so, and aren’t archaeologically sensitive.
One of the shovel test pits 

Shovel test pits help us look out for important digging spots in the least invasive way possible. Prior to digging, we do research, take notes, map out the location, and then begin to work. Just like your usual dig site, these sites are also handled with care, even when nothing shows up. 
Alix and I have begun digging 50x50 centimeter squares, going approximately 3 feet below surface, where the new posts for the ramps are to be laid out. As we dig these shovel test pits, we sift, observe, and take notes. They are almost like tiny units.

Alix likes to remind me that this is good way to find out whether or not CRM is right for me upon graduation.  I’ve mentioned once that I am still an undergrad in college, coming into my very last year, so with that I’ve already been playing with the idea of what exactly happens next. Part of what I have taken away from my internship here is insight into what I want to do with archaeology after I graduate, my options being: go directly into grad school or take a year or two and throw myself into CRM. For many archaeologists, CRM is a rite of passage into the career of archaeology. It’s beneficial because it allows for a constant gain of field experience. This often helps those who wish to go back to school as it lessens the burnout of jumping directly into grad school. Many of the archaeologists today are employed in a CRM firm, and when asked about whether or not they enjoyed it, most, if not all, spoke  about the positive experiences and skill sets they gathered from it.

As might be assumed, while doing the shovel test pits around the Jefferson house, I realized that I still enjoyed this aspect of archaeology. The more practice I got with the shovel, the better I was due to familiarity. This helped me make the decision to go into CRM upon graduation, hopefully helping me pave my way to grad school in the future.  I believe it’s really important to mention projects, such as the construction of new ramps, as well as fields such as CRM when discussing archaeology, because I feel it’s more honest and realistic to those who want to go into archaeology as a career. Having been allowed to learn this new skill set and learn about other roads to take after graduating, Archaeology has become even more relevant and important to me now than ever.  

Just keep digging.

End of Another Field School..

Glass bottles collected from site

Hey guys! I know it’s been a while since our last post, but it’s finally safe to announce that the Strawbery Banke archaeology department finally wrapped up the excavation at Yeaton-Walsh for the summer of 2015. Collectively, we have been digging the site for a total of seven weeks, four of them with the help of the field school and volunteers, and the remaining three done by myself and the head archaeologist, Alix.

Wooden Structure 6ft down
Although the field school ended three weeks ago, the digging continued in an attempt to gather more information around Yeaton-Walsh, before the Masons began construction. Needless to say, Murphy’s Law of Archaeology graced us with perfect timing, and all the most interesting features showed up when there was not much time left! We did get all the work done and finished up nicely, hoping to revisit in the near future. Among the most interesting finds were three features: 1. A Native American post hole (how awesome!) 2. A wooden frame structure along the western side of the house, 3. Another wooden box structure (maybe a privy?) on the southern back of the house. All of these features pre-date the house, and add another form of narrative to the history of the mastyard that stood where Yeaton-Walsh is located now.
Even though pressed for time, with the copious amounts of notes, maps, and information recorded, it is hopeful that in the next few summers we can revisit the site and provide more information as to what these structures could be! Along with sorting everything there is within the lab, and trust me – it’s a lot – I do believe this winter will bring a lot of work to be done cleaning and sorting, deciphering and pondering the questions presented to us in the form of features and artifacts.

Some of the many boxes filled with artifacts collected this summer

Isn’t archaeology great!

Friday, July 10, 2015

Field School Foundations

The statement, “every excavation (or field school) is different” could not be more true. For four weeks, I have helped in excavating the Yeaton-Walsh House here at Strawbery Banke. We believe that this house was built between 1795 and 1803 by Thales Yeaton to be used as a rental property. As we excavate along the foundation in the backyard, I find myself more curious not only about the family but about the story of the house itself.
(Yeaton Walsh House circa 1971-1981, Photo Courtesy of Portsmouth Athenaeum/Photographer: Margaret Morrissey)
The very first day of excavation we were able to enter the Yeaton-Walsh House and explore. From the outside the house has architectural features such as a raised foundation, and, as with Colonial style houses, two windows on either side of the front door and five windows above, across the second floor. The door also contains pilaster capitals. On the interior the floor plan is the same from the bottom level to the top with a large chimney and various fireplaces for central heating. As emphasized on the Strawbery Banke website these architectural features are indicative of “the importance of style in even the plainest of structures.”

(Picture Courtesy of Strawbery Banke Museum)
In the first two weeks of field school we came across various loci (levels) filled with artifacts, various ceramic cups, glass bottles and animal bones. Our theories focused around the layers being continuous layers of trash, more specifically a kitchen midden. When the excavation began we were hoping to find the original builder’s trench. We have yet to find the builder’s trench, however, we have found so much more.

After ending the first session we thought we had reached the base of the foundation and we thought subsoil, in hindsight we were probably 10-15cm away. Measuring the depth of the trench proved that we had reached the same level in our trench as the basement inside the house. However, as the second session continued, we dug deeper alongside the foundation in other trenches and found a sandy subsoil layer.
(First Session Trench - Depth below surface: 120cm. Picture Courtesy of Ashley Kippley)
(Me standing in a Session 2 Trench; I’m a little taller than 5 feet. Picture Courtesy of Ashley Kippley)
It is crazy how fast time goes by. Today the Strawbery Banke 2015 Field School excavations come to a close. We will continue to reach subsoil in various trenches each being a milestone in this excavation. The day will conclude by taking a wall profile detailing the roughly 8+ levels we have dug through.
(Digging along the foundation. Picture Courtesy of Ashley Kippley)
Over the course of four weeks I have learned much about the house from excavation, research and embracing my curiosity by asking questions to everyone from the head archaeologist to the stonemasons who have come to reinforce the structure. The Yeaton-Walsh House was built with the money and materials available to Thales Yeaton. By excavating along the foundation, we are now able to see the full profile of the foundation. This tells us that, first the foundation is shallow (we did know this, just not how shallow it was), and second that in between the large stones are smaller stones connected with mortar. The smaller stones are thrown in between the large stones to fill holes. This technique is called slam-jointing. It was cheaper and easier and got the job done. By looking at the foundation inside the house, I theorize that it was built in two layers, an inner and an outer. The Yeaton-Walsh house, now sliding off its foundation, will be raised in the coming months and stabilized with a new, replica foundation.

(An example of slam-jointing. Picture Courtesy of Ashley Kippley)
It has been a wonderful experience getting to excavate and research the Yeaton-Walsh House, to interact with the public and to further advance my archaeological experience with such amazing fellow field school students.

Just keep digging,


The Ballads of Food: The Correlation between Irish Immigrants to America and the Food They Ate

By Mikaela Reisman

“The fort we reached was beautiful,
With works of custards think,
Beyond the lake.
Fresh butter was the bridge in front,
The rubble dyke was fair white wheat
Bacon the palisade.
Stately, pleasantly it sat,
A compact house and strong.
Then I went in:
The door of it was hung beef,
The threshold was dry bread,
Cheese-curds the walls.
Smooth pillars of old cheese
And sappy bacon props
Alternate ranged;
Stately beams of mellow cream,
White posts of real curds
Kept up the house”

(Crotty 2010 pp 58).

“The beef and the beer of the Saxon may build up good, strong hefty men;
The Scot goes for haggis and porridge and likes a ‘wee drap’ now and then;
The German may spice up a sausage that’s fit for great Kaisers and Queens,
But the Irishman’s dish is my darling -- a flitch of boiled bacon and greens.
They laughed at the pig in the kitchen when Ireland lay groaning in chains,
But the pig paid the rent,
so no wonder our ‘smack’ for his breed still remains,
And what has a taste so delicious as ‘griskins’ and juicy ‘crubeens’,
And what gives health, strength and beauty like bacon, potatoes and greens?”

(“Bacon and Greens”, Con O’Brien)

“To what meals the woods invite me
All about!
There are
water, herbs and cresses,
Salmon, trout.
A clutch of eggs, sweet mast and honey
Are my meat,
Heathberries and whortleberries for a sweet.
All that one could ask for comfort
Round me grows,
There are hips and haws and strawberries,
Nuts and sloes.
And when summer spreads its mantle
What a sight!
Marjoram and leeks and pignuts,
Juicy, bright”

(Crotty 2010 pp 12).

The history of people has always fascinated me.  Although I am not of Irish background, I am composed of various European backgrounds, and am a self-proclaimed Anglophile.  Anything about the British Isles and Ireland interests me.  From the Celtic and Gaelic music and other cultural influences, to what life was like for these people throughout different times in history.

This brings us to Strawbery Banke, and the large number of Irish immigrants in the 1800 to 1900s to America, including Portsmouth, NH.  I have spent the last four weeks involved in an archaeological dig around the perimeter of the Yeaton-Walsh house (shown below, from Strawbery Banke).  The aim of this project is to preserve as many of the artifacts around the dilapidated building as we can, to try to find objects to be used to more accurately date the house, and to find the builder’s trench.  (All before the builders come to rehabilitate the house to its state at the turn of the eighteenth to nineteenth centuries.)

Even in the first few days I was amazed to discover bags and bags of ceramics of various patterns and manufacture, marbles, a pocket knife, thimbles, buttons, and most interesting to me, the budding biological anthropologist, many, many pig and cow bones (from femurs, to ribs, to vertebrae).  The team and I even found several whole pig mandibles and several teeth (an example of a pig tooth is shown below).  These findings spoke to me where the patterned ceramics and glass bottles spoke to others.

The Yeaton-Walsh house at Strawbery Banke was mainly lived in by Irish immigrants (multiple generations of the Walsh family were the longest to live there), and the amount of pig bones in particular interested me the most in understanding of the people who lived there over a hundred years ago.  The image below shows a map of Strawbery Banke’s houses color-coded by where the families originated, whether from Italy, Canada, Russia (Jews), or in this case, Ireland.  It shows that the Irish were housed in several of the houses in the early 1900s, and are shown as light blue.

The backyard of the Yeaton-Walsh held many butchered bones, and in the course of my research I discovered pig to have been a large component of Irish food, whether in Ireland or in America.  The lyrics of the songs above are a combination of making fun of the various immigrants to this country, grouping them by what they preferred to eat as a clear a category as what they wore, looked like, or practiced as a religion (in the case of O’Brien).  The other two examples are poetic lists that are filled with enough flavorful adjectives to make anyone understand the kinds of delicious foods these people might have eaten.  The Walshes were not wealthy, at least when they began to live at the house, but they are still an important example of how Irish people lived and ate, as mealtimes, especially to tight-knit families, are often the most important times of all (Smith 2007, pp 111).

Works Cited

Clifford, S. (1992). Ballads of a Bogman. Cork, Mercier Press.

Crotty, P., Ed. (2010). The Penguin Book of Irish Poetry. London, Penguin Books Ltd.

Smith, Andrew F. (2007). The Oxford Companion to American Food and Drink
Oxford University Press. pp 111.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

How Far? First Week Recap



  It’s crazy to think about the fact that we are almost at the halfway point of the field school this summer. In the span of a week and two days, collectively we have done a lot and have pushed through a substantial amount of dirt. However due to the lack of predictability in weather (rain all day, thunderstorms, and possible tornado?) we have decided to take today as a washing day! Which is as important as digging is. By washing the artifacts, the field students get to really know and understand all the material they’ve collected, as well as gain a comfort and confidence in the field when identifying objects. So far we’ve been coming into contact with an array of different types of metal (e.g. wire, different cut nails, electrical accessories, etc.), varying types of ceramic (creamware, redware, pearlware, bowl pieces, rim pieces), many fragments of bone and animal remains (giving some insight into what the owners of the home may have been consuming), and other little oddities like fragments of figurines, marbles, and pieces of jewelry. So, one could say we’ve been off to a fantastic start, especially considering the size of this year’s field school in comparison to last year’s (18:2).

Washing aside, I wanted to go into a little bit of detail pertaining to the dig thus far, the artifacts, but most importantly what we are finding the articles in and how this is important in helping us paint the narrative of the family who lived here.
While digging we get many people who come up and are very inquisitive and interested. They like to ask us questions such as “What are you looking for?” “What are you digging to?” “How far will you be going down?” Often times they expect us to have the answers laid out neatly and concisely, pedicured just like the units we nail out, but that isn’t always the case. Excavations take time, a good amount of attention to detail, but more importantly with an eye ready to look over the bigger picture. Context is key, and so as important as the objects that humans leave lying about are, much of the time it’s the features in which these objects lay in that really help us piece together a more clear picture.
While digging the Yeaton-Walsh house, we had an idea of what we wanted to uncover, that being the builder’s trench: A trench dug during the construction of the home that, when filled, helps secure the foundation. The builder’s trench is able to tell us when the house was built and will act as the earliest time capsule for the house. In this time capsule, we wanted material culture that would aid us into the daily life of the Walsh family that lived there; thus, allowing us to have a deeper understanding of the Irish immigrant experience here at the Banke.
Up until now we haven’t come into contact with any sharp definitive lines or soil change that would indicate the builder’s trench, however we have come into contact with four features which we’ve assigned the title ‘post hole’ to.

    As we peeled back the topsoil, the second layer’s surface exposed four circular ashy features, each methodically spaced out, seemingly. Naturally we thought these features were post holes belonging to an early fence, although it was very close to the house. However, quite unlike post holes, when we bisected them we discovered that they didn’t go nearly deep enough to be concluded as such, with one of them turning up a great deal of charcoal, ash, and discarded bones/shell – (food discards?), and the others disappearing completely. We decided to label these new features as a type of ashy refuse pit. We are now in a silty grey fill, which extends pretty deep, deeper than we expected, giving credit to why the foundation of the house is falling apart. Due to the shallow fill of the builder’s trench, the security of the foundation is compromised, and thus the need to restore and rebuild.

    So for now with the help of all the volunteers and students, we will continue digging (hopefully with clear skies and warm weather), and I will continue to post here about all the treasures we discover, with context of course!

Field School Update: Week 1 is Done!

    We are heading into our second week of field school with only a thunderstorm standing in our way from digging today. However, with plenty of washing to do, we are taking shelter in the lab to clean all the various artifacts uncovered from our topsoil units last week. We have an extensive amount of artifacts such as ceramic sherds, glass, brick, charcoal, slag (found in ash deposits), burnt pieces of wood and other materials, bone, nails, metal materials, marbles, shell, tokens/coins, figurines, ballast (smooth rocks used to weigh down boats), pipe stems, clothing materials and accessories (buttons, cuff links, jewelry) and so much more!

    My name is  Emma Kate and I am a field school student here at Strawbery Banke. Our essential goal for our field school is to not only reach the original workers' trench of the Yeaton-Walsh house, but also recover evidence through artifacts and features. This will help us interpret what life was like for those who lived on this site in the past and we will eventually relay this information to the public and visitors to the museum. The Yeaton-Walsh house is under the Heritage House Program, which will renovate and restore this house to its original historical-state, while providing office space for the surrounding community. To assist in this program, our team of field school students and staff will conduct an excavation trench around the house foundations to collect and record archaeological materials before construction begins on the house.


    We are learning and gaining experience in many things within field school such as mapping, interpretation to the public, paperwork, measuring and recording of units, screening, collecting and recovering artifacts, site preparation for photography, and washing. All of these various skills not only assist us in understanding and recording the site, but also prepare us for future archaeological and historical activities in the field. Last week we began our first day of field school touring the historical grounds of the Strawbery Banke Museum, learning and observing the archaeological history and architectural history/preservation to many of the building sites. This gave our field school team insight of what life was like here since the 18th century as well as ideas of what types of materials we might find at our own site. For the rest of the week we worked on excavating the topsoil level of our site. We discovered a large pipe, spanning across two of our units. This was our first artifact to be mapped on our site. Next, there were four features uncovered in a pattern demonstrating a possible fence line. We mapped and investigated these four features and were able to tentatively identify three of the four as ashy refuse pits and the fourth as a larger refuse pit of mostly deposited animal bone. After completing excavations of the topsoil level, we now begin our second week excavating the fill level to our site.

    Highlights from week one have included various finds of interesting and unique artifacts that will help us interpret the story of those who inhabited the Yeaton-Walsh house or spark our imaginations and opinions on what some artifacts are and what they were used for (such as the bear/pig/wolf figurine). Also, an interesting and important field trip to the Portsmouth African Burying Ground Memorial, where we learned of an earlier archaeological excavation that uncovered a cemetery for enslaved Africans that was later created into a memorial to not only honor those forgotten, but symbolize the collective history of Portsmouth. We were introduced to an African symbol called Sankofa, which stands for "Return and get it - learn from the past." This symbol represented the intent of the memorial and its historical connection to the history of Portsmouth. After learning of this important symbol and its connection to the archaeological history of Portsmouth, we can adapt the meaning of Sankofa to our own archaeological goals and exploration of the Yeaton-Walsh house in learning from its past.

That's all for now - back to digging!

- Emma Kate

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Tools of The Trade

  Hey all!

     As you know, our 2015 field school here at Strawbery Banke is right around the corner (about four days), where we will begin our excavations within the front and back of the Yeaton-Walsh home. Each year we get a surge of volunteers and students, many of whom are doing archaeology for the first time and aren’t familiar with the tools of the trade. With that being said, I thought now would be an excellent time to go over the universally agreed upon tools used to carry out an excavation. It’s important to note that not all sites are the same. Many differ in terms of location, size, and soil composition; because of this, tools can also vary between excavations, as well as between archaeologists.  

  In every archaeologist’s tool kit there will always be, guaranteed, a trowel. Out of much of the tools that comprise the tool kit, it is the trowel that is used the most. Trowels vary in size and shape, ranging from flat bladed trowels (which don’t come to a point) to your usual pointed trowel. Trowels are handy due to their compactness and their precision. They make cleaning up walls easier and allow for archaeologists to be precise when cleaning up floors or peeling back layers; This helps for when you’re digging cm by cm; yes, I do mean that literally.
     To accompany the trowel, the dust pan makes collecting loose dirt within a unit quick, easy, and keeps the floor cleaner.  Usually the excavator will sweep the loose dirt into the pan via a brush or a trowel, and then they will transport the soil into a bucket.
      This brings me to an archaeologist’s need of buckets! Lots and lots of buckets, but be sure to make sure the buckets aren’t too big. Buckets filled to the brim prove to be hard to handle and sift through. Smaller buckets are much more accommodating.
     When looking for artifacts, shakers are a must. These giant screened tables allow us to separate the soil from the artifacts. They can come with a combination of handles and legs (my personal favorite) or they can appear in the form of a tripod. When done digging, the archaeologist brings their bucket to the screens, dumps the soil, and then performs a back and forth motion – shaking off excess dirt.  
      Tape measures and rulers are also valuable instruments when it comes to the art of the dig. Archaeology is a science; A natural science, but still it remains a science, and as such, it is carried out in the most calculated of ways. It is important to make sure throughout the dig that you are constantly measuring the depth of your unit, as to record everything properly.  They become handy when recording an artifact’s length, width, as well as distance in relation to another artifact. It is important for me to note that here at Strawbery Banke we use the metric system. Yay for centimeters and millimeters!

     Next in our archaeologist’s toolbox would be the tiniest of tools: Line levels. Line levels allow for a more accurate depth measuring system. They, with conjunction of another tool called a plumb-bob, help to accurately map features, artifacts, and any other striking variance within the soil.  
      I hope that through the length of this post it has become ingrained that Archaeology isn’t random. Everything that occurs within it is highly scientific and calculated. Thanks to detailed notes and records, we can dig without destroying, which is so important. It is absolutely crucial to keep notes and to have objects such as notebooks, pens, pencils – basically any type of note taking device- in your kit. Any form of record helps. With the rise of social media and electronic recording, platforms such as Instagram, Twitter, etc. become great ways to record.
Last, but certainly not least, would be the shovel. This, alongside the trowel, is the most iconic tool. Shovels work magnificently with removing the top layer of soil and allow for smooth beginnings. They allow for the quick removal of soil, especially when soil starts to become sterile. Shovels come in all types of different shapes and lengths, the commonly used ones usually have a flat head.
All of these tools can appear to be overwhelming, slightly intimidating, but trust me, once you’re in the field and begin using them on a regular basis they all transform into an extension of yourself. With that being said, the most important tool for an archaeologist isn’t physical but mental. It’s important to go into the field with an open mind and a great attitude!

See you all soon!