Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Chemical Heritage Foundation's Distillations Podcast on Urban Archaeology

I was lucky enough to be asked to be one of the guests on the Chemical Heritage Foundation's most recent Distillations Podcast about Urban Archaeology.  Distillations is a really neat podcast in which its hosts Michal Meyer, a historian of science, and Bob Kenworthy, a chemist, delve into the science behind various objects and topics such as alchemy, chicken nuggets, nuclear power, zombies, and many more. 

This newest podcast, “The Teeth Beneath Your Feet: Oddities in Urban Archaeology”, discusses the basics of urban archaeology as well the details of a few archaeological project in Philadelphia including Elfreth's Alley.  Doug Mooney, president of the Philadelphia Archaeological Forum and senior archaeologist at URS corporation, is another guest, and he discusses the ongoing archaeological excavations along Interstate-95 in Philadelphia.  A highlight of the podcast is that it includes a few interviews with volunteers who helped out cleaning artifacts from Elfreth's Alley in July.

You can listen to the podcast here.  There is also a free smartphone app available for download.  Just search “Distillations podcast” in the app/iTunes store.

The Chemical Heritage Foundation's blog has some other cool archaeology-related material including information about a recent archaeology exhibit about the finds from the Interstate-95 project. 

It was great experience to be part of the podcast!  Thanks to all those involved with the Distillations Podcast and the CHF for inviting me to participate!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Science on Tap!

How does Elfreth's Alley Historic Site relate to science?  Find out at the special format Science on Tap: Show-and-Tell event on August 11th held at National Mechanics at 6pm.  Here, I and other representatives from Philadelphia area museums will present a specific object or idea from our institution that relates directly to science.

Science on Tap (SOT) is a program sponsored and organized by the Academy of Natural Sciences, the American Philosophical Society Museum, the Chemical Heritage Foundation, the Mütter Museum of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, and the Wagner Free Institute of Science.  As described on SOT's website, "Science on Tap is a monthly gathering in Philadelphia that features public discussion on engaging science topics."  Note that to attend the event you must at least 21 years of age or accompanied by a chaperone 25 years or older.

Science on Tap: Show-and-Tell event 

When: Monday August, 11th at 6pm
National Mechanics
             22 South Third St.
             Philadelphia 19106

More info:

Monday, July 14, 2014

A Day in the Life of an Archaeologist

Have you ever wonder what archaeologists do on a daily basis?  If so, you're in luck!  Since 2011, the Day of Archaeology project has been exposing the daily grinds of archaeologists by asking archaeologists from all over the world to provide brief descriptions of what they did on a particular day every year.  This year the official Day of Archaeology was on July 11, 2014.  You can check out this year's submissions for the Day of Archaeology here.  The project reveals the diverse and varied tasks that archaeologists complete!

As part of the larger Day of Archaeology program, the Philadelphia Archaeology Forum (PAF) coordinated with Philadelphia-area archaeologists to get a snapshot of what local archaeologists are up to.  Several archaeologist submitted short write-ups about what they did in archaeology one day last week.  Here are the descriptions of what archaeologists in the region have been doing.  

I wrote up a bit about my day last Thursday, focusing on Elfreth's Alley Archaeology.  Check out the write-up here.  I also included the text below. 


Today (Thursday, July 10, 2014) I hosted a public archaeology lab day at Temple University’s Anthropology Laboratory.  During the day we cleaned artifacts recovered from archaeological investigations behind 124 and 126 Elfreth’s Alley, which house the museum and gift shop of the Elfreth’s Alley Association.  The Alley, which is located in Old City Philadelphia, is a National Historic Landmark District and is credited with being the oldest continuously-occupied residential street in the United States.  The street was formed circa 1702 as a cartway to connect Front Street along the Delaware River to the commerce on Second Street. 

Elfreth's Alley, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Throughout the day, I set-up, assisted, and oversaw volunteers as they wet washed and dry-brushed artifacts from excavation unit 14.   Unit 14 was excavated in the small courtyard behind 124 and 126 Elfreth’s Alley during the summer of 2013.  Today volunteers diligently used toothbrushes to gently remove dirt from the objects, revealing previously hidden details of the artifacts such as a hand-painted floral design on a sherd of creamware ceramic or a molded letter visible on a piece of clear vessel glass.  Once the object were cleaned, they were placed on screens to let them dry before being cataloged.  As volunteers cleaned, I also put cleaned artifacts into new storage containers. Each of these steps are integral to organizing and analyzing the artifacts recovered during field investigations. 

Toothbrush for cleaning artifacts.  Photo Credit: Jill Saull
As always, the volunteers today were amazing to work with!  As they washed artifacts and discussed the street’s past, they actively took part in the discovery and formation of the small street’s history.  While Elfreth’s Alley Archaeology volunteers often come from various backgrounds (today alone volunteers included a professional photographer, a math professor, a stay at home parent, and recent college graduates), they all share a passion and love of history.   I asked the volunteers to share their thoughts, impressions, and experiences from today.  Below is what they had to say: 

“This was my first time processing artifacts.   I felt like I was touching history.” – Leanna 

“I am a repeat customer.  I am interested in discover/interpreting the story of another time.” – Jill 

“I got involved in [the] Elfreth’s Alley Archaeology project and in interpretation by hearing stories of settlement and survival.   Handling artifacts, wet washing/dry brushing, gives me direct context to a place.” - Amanda 

“[I] found a very black piece of bone and a mostly intact tooth.” – Andrew 

“I really enjoyed my first time processing artifacts.  My favorite part was washing the dirt off the ceramic pieces and waiting for the pop of color to show up.  It was like taking a trip back in time.” –Livia 

“Today, I mostly dry-brushed metal objects.  There were several nails, all shapes and sizes.  I enjoyed trying to imagine the structures these nails once held together, structures that have since been swallowed by time.” - Wendy 

Each of these fantastic volunteers has become part of the Alley’s history themselves! 

Volunteer working in the lab on Thursday July 10, 2014

Later in the day, I was also on a conference call with the Chemical Heritage Foundation (CHF) and archaeologist Douglas Mooney of URS Corporation regarding the planning and recording of an upcoming podcast on urban archaeology in Philadelphia for CHF’s Distillations program.


Thursday, July 3, 2014

Elfreth's Alley on PhillyHistory Blog

PhillyHistory maintains a fun and informative blog about all things Philly history.  Last week they wrote a post about the history of Elfreth's Alley - with a little blurb about the archaeology.  Check out the blog post and this great resource about Philadelphia history!

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Summer Artifact Processing

Although there will be no formal archaeological excavation at Elfreth's Alley this summer, there are still opportunities to get your hands dirty cleaning artifacts!  Throughout the summer, we will be cleaning and processing artifacts recovered from investigations along the Alley.  Artifact processing takes place at Temple University's Anthropology Laboratory.  The Volunteer Opportunities section of the blog has the most updated schedule of lab days, an online signup sheet for volunteering, and  directions to the lab.  We have already started processing and rediscovered some engaging artifacts.  Come out and join in the lab work fun!
Gail washing artifacts.

Wendy hard at work.

Head of a toothbrush

artifacts cleaned and ready to dry

Friday, June 6, 2014

Elfreth’s Alley’s Annual Fete Day Tomorrow, June 7th!

Tomorrow Elfreth’s Alley hosts its Annual Fete Day!  The event celebrates the history of the small street with lots of fun activities for all ages.  As is tradition, the alley residents’ will open their homes for the general public to tour.   Also according to the Elfreth’s Alley Museum Facebook Page the event will include “new activities like carriage rides and 18th century family photo portraits.”  This is always a enjoyable summer event and the weather promises to be delightful!  The Museum is advertising 20% off adult tickets with the code FBFETE20.   Tickets are available for purchase online here. Be sure to check out the festivities tomorrow!

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Elfreth’s Alley Museum Reopening!

After a long and harsh winter season, the Museum of Elfreth’s Alley is reopening next weekend!  Starting on April 4th, the Museum will resume giving guided tours on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays from 12 to 5pm.

Come join in the revelry as the Museum hosts several events to celebrate the reopening next weekend.  On Friday April 4th there will be free tours from 5-8pm.  Then on Saturday April 5th the
Alley will be alive from 12-5pm with a yard sale, a bake sale, music, dance, and a few presentations.  I will be at the Alley on Saturday to give a brief talk around 2:30pm about the archaeology conducted on the Alley and showcase a few of the artifacts recovered. Come by and enjoy the festivities!  Note that if Saturday is rainy, Sunday April 6th is the rain date. 

The Museum’s Facebook page and Twitter account have more details about the reopening.