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.