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!

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Wharfing Out

          At Strawbery Banke, the center of life is the seascape. Until it was filled in for sanitation reasons, Puddle Dock was a tidal inlet in the middle of Strawbery Banke, providing access to the Piscataqua River and from there, the ocean. The inhabitant’s lives ebbed and flowed with the changing tides, defining lifestyles and economic development for hundreds of years. To make use of this shallow coastal area, they used shallow watercraft called Gundalows. These were able to dock directly at wharves built out into the center of Puddle Dock. These wharves are a crucial piece of the history of Strawbery Banke; representing both the birth of Portsmouth’s maritime culture and the area’s economic lifeblood. This is where the Marshall economic empire was built, and where it fell. This is where immigrants lived when forced out onto the margins of society; where one of the first red light districts in Portsmouth was located and where women fought wars with carrots and rhubarb. Presidents have visited, the poor have struggled and the people of Portsmouth have banded together to save a piece of living history around these wharves. Despite the crucial importance of this area, the current layout and use of the space makes it quite difficult to image this grassy field as a coastal inlet. Hopefully over the course of my internship here I can add clarity and definition to this area, reinvigorating the core of Strawbery Banke.

          My name is Rachael, and I am working as a Special Projects Intern this summer, pulling together research and creating a plan for interpreting the wharves. Currently I am a senior at Hamilton College, majoring in Cultural Anthropology and minoring in Japanese. When I’m not studying in my dorm room-turned-igloo in upstate New York, I live in Chelmsford, Massachusetts. I grew up scampering around the Lowell Mills, deeply entrenched in the historic culture surrounding Boston and southern New Hampshire. This fueled an early passion for teaching history as a living, breathing subject rather than stale books. (It might also have had something to do with my parents’ penchant for visiting every single historic house they could find.) Over the course of college, I have interned in a variety of roles all centered around research and exhibit design. Hopefully I can bring a pair of fresh eyes to the wealth of data and historic evidence surrounding Puddle Dock and bring some life back into this important piece of Strawbery Banke’s history.

          And now, back to the books! 

Friday, June 5, 2015

A New Summer; A New Archaeology Intern

    I guess I’ll begin by saying - hey, readers! As the title implies, I am the new interning Archaeologist here at the Strawbery Banke Museum for summer 2015. Before I get into too much detail about our upcoming project, I’ll introduce myself and give a little more detail regarding the where I’m from (let’s just say that New England is also ‘New Territory’ for me), and what I do, or would like to do.

     My name is Laura and I hail all the way from Gainesville, FL. I currently attend the University of Florida, where I am working on my B.A. in both Anthropology and Jewish Studies. After completing two field schools through my university, one historic and the other pre-historic, I came to realize Archaeology was a lineage of Anthropology that I enjoyed and would love to pursue (as you can tell I’m off to a great start). So, once I found out about an open position to intern under, not only a museum archaeologist, but one who had worked on projects that I resonated with (i.e. unearthing one of four known Jewish ritual bathhouses in the country) it was an absolute no brainer.

    Jewish bathhouse (mikveh) aside, I’ll dig into what we are focusing our attention on in the next week (no pun intended). In the next week our field school students and volunteers will start on excavating the outside parameters of the Yeaton-Walsh home; a historic home inhabited by a family of Irish immigrants throughout the latter half of the 19th century. It had been excavated previously by a former Strawbery Banke archaeologist, Sheila Charles, in 2007, however it is important to bring up the fact that digs don’t just end after one visit. It’s important to revisit sites and reexamine information so that we have as much data in order to form the best founded conclusion. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and in the same spirit two centuries worth of history cannot possibly be examined in the span of two weeks. So thus, it is pertinent that we continue to come back and make an effort to peel back the layers of time.

    Needless to say, I am very excited to be a part of this new archaeologic adventure and I’m even more excited to share it all here! So stay tuned for more upcoming entries regarding new discoveries and updates. What do you think an Irish immigrant family would leave to uncover from the 1850’s onward? I’m very curious myself. I truly believe the Yeaton-Walsh home will add a very exciting addition to the Irish immigrant narrative here at Strawbery Banke. 

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Evidence of a Fire at Puddle Dock

The Yeaton-Walsh House, around which we will be excavating this summer, sits on a small urban lot. The width of the property is only a few feet wider than the house itself!  The proximity of Yeaton-Walsh to its neighbor to the west put it in a dangerous situation in the late 19th century.

On the 1887 Sanborn Insurance map, the house at 11 Atkinson is labeled an “Old” dwelling house. In 1892, the Sanborn map indicates only the footprint of the former house, now labeled “Ruins of Fire.”  Evidently, a there was a fire in the neighborhood in the late 1880s or in the 1890s.

Our carpenters have recently started preparing Yeaton-Walsh for its rehabilitation, and noticed some charred lathe after removing damaged plaster from the wall in the first floor west room.  It looks like the fire at 11 Atkinson caused some interior damage to its neighbor. 

The first phase of excavations at Yeaton-Walsh in 2007 included some test units on the west side of the Yeaton-Walsh house. Burned artifacts were recovered from these units, providing further evidence of a fire.  We may be able to find other artifacts during the excavations this summer that could help us date the event of the fire more precisely. 

In the early 20th century, a new 2 ½ story structure was erected in the same location, appearing on the 1939 Sanborn map, although it was later torn down.  No doubt we will find evidence of this 20th century occupation of the block during our excavations as well.