Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Archives & Artifacts

One of the perks of doing research in (and about) Philadelphia is the amazing archives throughout the city.  This past week, I visited the Athenaeum of Philadelphia, as well as the Library and Archives at the National Park Service's Independence National Historic Park.  Both had great information about urban archaeology completed in Old City, along with a bit of information specifically about the Alley.  The buildings that house these two archives are beautiful historic structures in their own right.

Interior & Exterior of The Athenaeum of Philadelphia

Merchants' Exchange Building, Library & Archives, NPS Independence National Historic Park

We have been continuing to wash artifacts throughout the Holiday season.  This Friday (12/21) will be our last day of artifact processing before the new year.  Below is a picture of the volunteers hard at work!  We also had a visit from Temple’s Office of University Communications.  They are putting together a video highlighting the archaeology the Alley.  Stay tuned for the video!

Volunteers dry brushing and wet washing artifacts

Sunday, December 2, 2012

A Holiday Celebration on the Alley

We had a great time at Deck the Alley yesterday evening! During the event hundreds of visitors came to the Alley to revel in the splendor of the historic homes and partake in some holiday cheer. Guests also had the opportunity to view a few of the newly cleaned artifacts recovered from the excavations this past summer. Artifacts we had on display included a gilt and polychrome transfer printed teacup, a fragment of a brass drawing compass, lice combs, and a glass ink bottle. Despite the chilly weather, we had a blast talking to visitors about the excavations and showcasing the artifacts!

Speaking to Visitors about the Artifacts
Me & the Display.  Note the fancy use of the iPad.

In addition to the archaeology display, the evening included music from carolers and readings of  holiday classics such as Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.

Christmas Carolers


Deck the Alley was the perfect way to kick off the Holiday Season!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Deck the Alley!

This coming Saturday, December 1st from 4-7pm the Elfreth’s Alley Association is hosting Deck the Alley.  This event is their annual holiday open house and offers guests the opportunity to walk through the interiors of several of the residential houses on the street.  The Philly Blog Uwishunu has a great description of the event.  Archaeologists will be at the event to discuss the excavations and display some of the artifacts recovered this past summer.  You can purchase tickets online here.  Hope to see you there!

Fall Update

It has been a busy and productive fall! Throughout the season, we have been diligently working on processing the artifacts. Thanks to a fantastic group of trusty volunteers, about a third of the artifacts recovered from excavation this past summer have been washed. If you’re interested in volunteering, check out the Volunteers Opportunity section.

Tin Glazed Ceramic Sherd

 More information about Tin Glazed Ceramics can be found here.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Explore Philadelphia's Buried Past, 2012!

October is Pennsylvania Archaeology Month!  To celebrate the Philadelphia Archaeological Forum is hosting two great events that are free and open to the public.  The first event, Part 1: Life in the City and Beyond, will be held Saturday, October 13th at the National Constitution Center, Kirby Auditorium.  The second event, Part 2: Life Along the River, will be held Saturday, October 20th at Independence Seaport Museum.  Both events promise to be exciting and informative! Be sure to stop by to learn about Philadelphia's buried past!

I will be presenting at the first event on October 13th.  My presentation is scheduled for 1:45pm and will focus on research I conducted as a Pennypacker Fellow this past spring.  Though my talk will not directly cover material from Elfreth's Alley, the research I will be discussing largely informs and contextualizes the finds from the Alley.  Below is the title and presentation.  I hope to see you there!

 Marbles, Buttons, & Pipes: Objects of Identity

Small personal items–marbles, buttons and tobacco pipes– possess great power in archaeology due to their direct connection to persons living in the past. Individuals consciously purchased, used, and discarded these objects and, as a result, they can reflect elements of their owners’ identity. Drawing upon artifact collections recovered from three Philadelphia archaeological sites, this talk demonstrates how such small everyday items reveal bigger personal histories.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Artifact Processing Begins!

This past Friday marked the beginning of artifact processing!  We spent the morning organizing the artifacts bags by provenience, then got to work washing and dry brushing the artifacts.  We will be cleaning artifacts at Temple University's Anthropology Lab every other Friday throughout the fall.  If you are interested in volunteering to work with the artifacts, check out the Volunteer Opportunities section

Volunteers hard at work washing artifacts

Thanks to all the volunteers who came out to help on Friday!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Week 7 Recap

The final week of official excavation at 124 and 126 Elfreth's Alley wrapped up on Saturday!  The week flew by and a lot of work was completed.  

First we finished digging Unit 8 behind 126 Elfreth’s Alley for the season.  Excavation in Unit 8 exposed the continuation of the brick foundation wall unearthed during testing in Unit 2 last sumer.  Based on historic maps, the location of the brick wall appears to correspond to the north-south wall of the tenement structure built in the 19th century.  The extant wall, however, is not completely intact.  At some point in history, either when the structure was being torn down or thereafter, sections of the foundation wall were destroyed.

Foundation wall unearthed in Unit 8.  Notice the bricks missing in left of picture.
Also of note is the fact that there appears to be a portion of the foundation wall extending to the west behind 126 Elfreth’s Alley.  This extension does not appear on the historic maps we have consulted.   Continuing archival research, as well as additional excavation at a later date, will help us understand this extension better. 

Excavation of Unit 11 and an extension south of Unit 11 were also completed last week.  The Unit and extension were taken down less than a foot to track the alignment of the large stone and mortar wall behind 124 Elfreth’s Alley.  By digging these units, we were able to trace the foundation wall and determine whether it is turning or whether it potentially extends into the adjacent lot to the south.  Our findings indicate the wall turns at the south edge of the lot line, indicating the structure conformed to the later historic lot divisions.  This is an informative and exciting find!

View of Uni 11 and extension facing south.

During Week 7, we started excavation on Unit 12 along the south edge of the lot at 126 Elfreth’s Alley.  Much like Unit 6 behind 124, Unit 12 has a plethora of features.  Right below the ground surface we encountered two courses of bricks that appear to be an extension of the existing garden planting bed the museum maintains.  

Volunteer working on Unit 12.  Note flowerbed wall in unit.

We also found five other features at various depths in Unit 12.  One of the features turned out to be another foundation wall!  This wall is brick and mortar and is likely the south wall of the 19th century tenement structure.  A little more excavation needs to be completed in Unit 12, before we backfill the site.

Unit 12 including foundation wall and features.
The next two weeks will be dedicated to wrapping things up at the Alley, mapping the site, taking photographs, and closing the excavation units.  During the fall and spring, the artifacts recovered from the dig will be washed, cataloged, and analyzed.  Next summer, we hope to return to the Alley for another season of excavation and to continue to explore the lots and the people who inhabited them.  It has been a pleasure working with all the volunteers this summer.  We couldn’t have do it with out your help!  Thank you again!!

This blog will be updated periodically over the next year with information about the project and upcoming events, lectures, and papers.  

Monday, July 23, 2012

Volunteer Spotlight

One of the best parts of the dig this summer has been working with the diverse group of volunteers who have come out to assist with excavation! The dedication of our volunteers has not faltered even when working through pouring rain and record breaking heat! The excavation at Elfreth’s Alley would not have been as successful (or as enjoyable) without the help of this truly devoted group of people.

To showcase our great volunteers and their tremendous work, this blog post highlights their experiences participating in the excavation. The volunteers were given the opportunity to share a bit about their time at the Alley - Here is what they had to say:

Working on the excavations at Elfreth's Alley has been a wonderfully fun and educational experience. There have been so many interesting parts of this dig but what stands out as the best has been to listen in while Deirdre and Matt discuss whether or not a new feature or strata has been found in a unit. It's fascinating listening to each of them justify their reasoning while pointing things out in the dirt and checking their paperwork. This has been such an incredible opportunity for volunteers and I'm very grateful to have been part of this project!  

Wendy Miervaldis 
Adjunct Professor, Math Department 
Seton Hall University 

The dig on Elfreth’s Alley has been a wonderful experience. Deirdre is a true teacher. Not only does she share the history of the area of the dig but she also allows the volunteers to enjoy the discoveries of fieldwork. It is like a treasure hunt: scrapping through the strata, loading the fill into buckets then piling a mound of dirt onto the screen. As we push the dirt through the screen allsorts of objects appear: window pane glass, nails, glazed brick, bottle glass of various colors, pottery shards and other unknown bits and pieces. Sometimes, while scrapping through the strata whole objects appear. It is fun to guess what objects could be and then to learn what they actually are. We look forward to unearthing more buried treasure in the coming weeks.

Gail Lovett

Elfreth’s Alley was my first excavation in the USA—I’m originally from Greater Manchester, in the northwest of England. However, I had been on several archaeological excavations before. While doing grad work in classical archaeology (Greek and Roman), I worked on Mediterranean digs in my summers and, way back in the 1990s, I dug for a couple of field units in the UK

Wherever they’re from, archaeologists tend to record the same kinds of information, but the ways in which they record the information can vary dramatically. Thinking that I knew the “correct” way to describe something had the potential to cause even more confusion for the dig director than if I’d never been on a dig before, so I had to be careful to check that I was following the proper protocols.

Elfreth’s Alley was also my first real experience of historical urban archaeology. As I’d been warned, the stratigraphy could be quite complicated, with a lot of changes taking place in a relatively small area. Interesting and fun but, on more than one occasion, I ended up squinting at the layers and scratching my head, as I tried to figure out exactly what was going on.

I was delighted to be able to work in my adopted home city. My first experience digging in the USA was a very positive one (even with the 100 degree heat, at the end of my first week!) and I enjoyed my time working with Deirdre and her colleagues from Temple. I’d love to come back, next year (if they’ll have me).

David Platt
Library Services Assistant
Penn Libraries

Elfreth’s Alley has been an incredible experience. Having a degree in anthropology myself, I learned new techniques in archaeology that will help me excel in my career. My favorite thing about working on the site was meeting new people and hearing their experiences in archaeology. Finding new artifacts was a great bonus! I am so glad I was able to have this experience. Thank you for allowing me to participate on this excavation.

Alexa Rose

Being a part of the Alley over the last 7 years has been great. Meeting people and sitting on the Museum and Educational Committee has given me a greater understanding of this diversity of people that have come and gone on the years.

Volunteering at the dig, allows me to get a deeper and richer picture of the people and how they lived. Presently I am researching the Alley and by doing so I will be able to include the valuable information I have obtained at the dig.

Carol Haughey

A few years ago, my uncle Bill Clampffer discovered that we are direct descendants of Adam Klampfer, one of the original property owners of Elfreth's Alley. He also found sources that confirmed our Clampffer ancestors knew both George Washington and Benjamin Franklin! Since my uncle Bill died this spring, I've picked up the genealogy trail, and tried to learn more about the long history of my ancestors here in Philadelphia. When I heard about the dig at the Alley this summer, I immediately wanted to get involved. Although the focus of the dig is on more contemporary generations of Alley residents, it's been fun to get my hands dirty on the same street where my 6th great grandfather walked over 250 years ago. 

I expected to unearth a lot of artifacts, but I've learned that a dig like this one isn't just about buttons and nails. On the days when I've volunteered, I've mostly been tasked with excavating "features," which I'll admit were hard to see with an untrained eye at first. Essentially, I've been excavating around areas where the soil color suggests something foreign once existed, such as a fence post. This past week, I worked in Unit 8, much of which is a jumble of loose bricks sticking out at all angles. Little by little, we worked our way down until things started to make sense, and we could determine which bricks were part of a foundation, and which seemed to be discarded construction debris.

I've volunteered on all kinds of field research projects before, from sea turtle tagging projects to rainforest mapping. What I've come to realize about archaeology is that as a science, it's not as easy as data in, data out. It takes a lot of time to measure and map each soil layer, and in the end, there's no easy way to punch data in a computer and produce an answer to the research question. I'll be very interested to read what's been learned from this dig in the end, and how the foundations, features, and artifacts we've unearthed this summer have added to our knowledge about immigrant life during the time period in question.

Debbie Hadley 

The volunteers' responses underscore the diverse nature of archaeology and highlight the breadth of people who have come out to help.  It has been great working with everyone and we look forward to working with you all in the future!

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Week Six Recap

Week Six started and ended on a wet note. We spent the morning of our first day bailing out the water from the rain storms over the weekend. We finished up the week on Thursday by prepping the site for the impending storm and were rained out on Friday.

This week a lot of time was spent cleaning units for photographs and mapping the wall profiles of a few of the units. 

Profile picture of east wall of Units 3 and 5.

We also excavated the first of two units laid out to chase the alignment of the large stone and mortar wall. Unit 10 was placed to the north of Unit 1 which was opened during testing last year, while Unit 11 was placed to the south of Unit 4. We have reached the level of the wall in Unit 10, however there is no indication that the wall turns. Rather the stone wall appears to continue straight towards the original 2 ½ story house at 124 Elfreth’s Alley. Unit 11 will be excavated next week.

View of Unit 11 opened to follow the foundation wall.

Remnants of earlier brick patio encountered in Unit 8.

 We also continued work on Unit 8 behind 126 Elfreth’s Alley. Unit 8 was laid to the north of Unit 2 which was opened last summer.  Unit 2 contains the remains of a brick and mortar wall thought to be the foundation of the tenement structure that stood in that location in the 19th century. Upon starting excavation of Unit 8, we encountered what appeared to be remnants of an earlier brick patio. After documenting the brick pavers through photography and scale drawings, the bricks were removed and excavation continued. During excavation, the continuation of the brick wall found in Unit 2 was encountered. The wall, however, is not entirely intact. Many of the bricks and much of the mortar is missing and/or crumbling. Specifically, a lot of brick debris and fall in was encountered in the northwest corner of Unit 8.

Next week is our last week of excavation and we have a lot to accomplish. The plan is to finish work on Units 8 and 11, as well as open up a new unit behind 126. Hopefully the weather cooperates for our last few days!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Update - 19 July 2012

Wednesday after lunch we took a brief field trip to the West Shipyard Archaeological site. The site is located a quick walk from the Alley, just north of the Ben Franklin Bridge on Columbus Boulevard. This summer John Milner Associates is conducting archaeological testing on the southern portion of the site in hopes of locating the remains of the West Shipyard that dates back to the 17th century as well as potentially unearthing evidence of the Penny Pot Tavern. The northern portion of the lot was previously excavated in the 1980s and was then referred to as the Hertz Lot. The full report of the earlier excavation is available on the Philadelphia Archaeological Forum’s website. It was really neat and informative to have the chance to visit another project so close to the Alley.
There are a few more public archaeology days coming up at the West Shipyard site. Additional information about visiting the site and the project are available at their blog. If you look closely at the picture on the July 18th blog post, you may be able to pick out a couple of us from Elfreth’s Alley.

A full recap of digging this week at the Alley will be posted over the weekend!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Week Five Recap

This past week flew by, but we have continued our progress and finished excavating Units 5 and 6.  We had a brief reprieve from the heat, but got rained out on Friday.  Looks like it is going to be another hot week coming up.

Over the next couple of weeks, we will be wrapping up work for the summer.  Matt Kalos, fellow graduate student, offers a summary of our plan for the rest of the summer.

As we reached the end of Week Five, we are coming down the home stretch with only two weeks  of digging left for the summer.  With limited time remaining, we are aiming to continue our broad overview of the site.  Specifically, we are going to be opening several units in the coming weeks.  As opposed to digging until we reach "sterile" soil, as we discussed in our Week Four Recap, we are going to attempt to understand the formation of the walls that we have exposed.  The units that we open are going to be excavated to the level of the walls, and not any deeper (at this time).  This methodology provides us with the ability to see where the walls "turn;" therefore, gaining insight into the extent of the structures that once occupied the back lots.  

As we have discussed with many of the visitors and volunteers, maps are a great aid to historical archaeology.  By examining a Historic American Building Survey (HABS) map that was drawn in the 1930s, we were able to pinpoint the location of the foundation walls.  However, maps can be misleading.  Often they are biased or only speak to the structures that stood at the time of the survey.  Archaeology provides a tool for "truthing" maps and uncovering more details about building techniques.  Our goals in the coming weeks is to determine what information we can glean about the structures.  In doing so, we will be able to plan for future excavations.

The crew hard at work.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Update - 12 July 2012

Digging this week has been very pleasant; the cooler weather and refreshing breeze has been a nice relief! Through our excavation, we have been recovering a diverse array of material ranging from small personal items such as buttons and marbles to large architectural objects such as window glass and metal hinges. 

One artifact of note is an intact bottle that was discovered in Unit 5 at the end of last week. While troweling in the unit, volunteer Emily Lovett unearthed the bottle and discovered it was still in one piece. The bottle is oval shape with ridges on the sides and a smooth center section for a label. 

Ink bottle found in Unit 5.

Fellow volunteer Gail Lovett did some research was able to determine that the bottle was likely produced by Carter's Ink. It appears the bottle originally had a metal screw lid. Below is a picture of a representative Carter's Ink bottle. 

Carter's American Blue Ink Bottle.

Gail was also able to identify a print ad from Carter’s Ink dating to 1943 and showing similar ink bottles.

Carter's Ink Print Ad from 1943.

The ink bottle was unearthed in a level associated with the destruction of the tenement structure that stood in the back lot of 124 Elfreth’s Alley. The production date of the bottle seems to be right on track with when the building were torn down in the mid-twentieth century.

Thanks to Emily and Gail for their work in discovering and researching this artifact!

Monday, July 9, 2012

Week Four Recap

Week Four's recap is written by Matt Kalos, another Temple University graduate student studying historical archaeology, who has been helping out at the site.

Last week was one of the hottest on record in Philadelphia, but we maintained our progress. Specifically, we came to the bottom of Unit 7. Many visitors have asked us how deep we will go in our test units, to which we typically reply "sterile soil." Sterile soil, often called "culturally sterile soil," is the term archaeologists use to signify a level of soil on which humans never interacted: there are no artifacts and no features. Depending on the site, this level could be only a a few inches below the ground surface, such as a field in the country side, or several feet below the modern ground surface, as is the case in many urban settings that contain "fill." At Elfreth's Alley, our sterile level is about 2.5-3 feet below the modern ground surface.

Next week we are looking forward to moving behind 126 Elfreth's Alley. So far this summer, our excavations have taken place behind 124 or in the pathway between the two lots. By opening units behind 126 we can compare and contrast the artifacts and foundations that we find to illuminate the similarities and differences between the lots. Archaeology is often a science of scale. So far we have been focusing on a "small scale" and the information the specific units can provide. On a larger scale we have mainly focused on the lot at 124. By moving our work over to 126, we will be "zooming" out farther in order to get a sense of the bigger picture of the lots at 124 and 126, and hopefully a bigger picture of the people who lived on Elfreth's Alley. 

Reopening Unit 2 which is located behind 126 and was excavated during the summer of 2011.

Before backfilling the site, Unit 2 was lined with plastic sheeting last year so we could easily locate where excavation was halted.

Unit 2 reopened with brick and mortar foundation wall present.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Update - 5 July 2012

Happy belated 4th of July!!  It has been a hectic week with the holiday and short schedule. 

Just want to quickly highlight two artifacts we recovered from Unit 7 at the end of last week.  We unearthed two matching cast iron furniture feet.  These feet have a ball and claw decoration and are quite hefty.  

First Foot Uncovered
Second Foot in situ or in place.

The feet may have been part of a furnace or  kitchen stove, similar to the stove in the picture below.   (Similar types of feet were also placed on bathtubs.)  Historical documentation indicates that different kitchen additions were built (then torn down) in the back lots of 124/126 throughout the history of the properties.  Perhaps these feet are associated withed a kitchen stove that once stood in one of the back kitchen additions.

Note the shape of the cast iron feet.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Week Three Recap

We concluded our third week of excavation yesterday and have kept the momentum going.  This week work continued on Units 6, 7, and 4. 

As mentioned in the last post, Unit 6 is in the pathway between 124 and 126 Elfreth’s Alley.  So far five features have been identified in this one 3'x3' unit.  This week we uncovered three features (features 6, 7, 8) along the western wall of the unit.  These features "cut" into and disturb one another which tells us that they were not present at the same time.  For instance feature 6 cuts into feature 8, indicating feature 8 was present first and feature 6 was dug into it at a later date.  These features represent how the landscape of the back lots was continually reshaped by the residents.   Feature 6 is a post feature; during excavation we recovered many fragments of wood from it.  The wood remnants were likely a part of a fence that ran through the pathway and divided 124 and 126.  The features in Unit 6 are important because they tell us how the space behind 124 and 126 was organized, and in this case divided, during periods of the properties’ history.

Unit 7 is placed on what would have been in the interior of back building behind 124.  As this unit is excavated we have encountered a destruction level similar to the one found in Unit 3. The artifacts, though, are different than those found in Unit 3.  Unit 7 has produced many more flower pot sherds and large metal fragments than Unit 3.  We have not reached the bottom of the destruction level and will continue excavation this next week.

Unit 4 is located directly south of Unit 1 which was opened last summer.  Unit 1 has a stone foundation in the center of the unit as well a brick and mortar foundation on the east edge of the unit. Both of these walls were unearthed in Unit 4 as well.  This week, we focused on excavating the eastern portion of Unit 4 which is bounded by the stone foundation to the west and the brick foundation to the east. In this small area, builder’s trenches associated with the walls were identified. A builder’s trench is a trench dug in which to lay foundation stones or bricks during construction of a building.  Artifacts recovered from the builder’s trenches have the potential to help us identify the periods of constructions of the walls.

Builder's trench (darker brown color) visible to left along brick wall.

These three units are aiding us in the analysis of the back lots of 124 and 126.  They speak to the building, destruction, and reorganizing of the back lots during their 300 year history.

Excavation in progress.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Update - 28 June 2012

Our third week is underway and we are continuing our progress.

So far we have been focusing primarily on Units 4 and 7 this week. Unit 7 is located along the east edge of the property line of 124 Elfreth’s Alley towards the back of the lot. At this point, we have excavated the modern sand fill below the bricks which was put down to level the bricks and grade the courtyard. The sand fill does not have much in the way of cultural material or artifacts. Unit 7 has a lot more organic material and roots than the other units due to its location next to the garden wall close to a tree in 122 Elfreth’s Alley. We are now starting to encounter a layer with many brick fragments; this layer may be associated with the destruction of the nineteenth century structure that was located in the back of the lot and was torn down in the mid-twentieth century. We have recovered many artifacts from this layer including many nails and fragments of flowerpots.

Sherds of flowerpots.

A part of a flower pot in situ or in place.

Unit 6 is located in the pathway between 124 and 126 Elfreth’s Alley. This unit has a lot going on in it, from the post feature mentioned in a previous post to what appears to be staining from the walkway. Artifacts recovered from this unit include a fragment of a teach cup with a floral design and a comb. 

Semi-vitreous tea cup with painted floral design.

This week we will be out on Saturday and hope to have a good crowd of visitors to the site.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Week Two Recap

Our second week was hot but productive. We have continued work on the excavation units behind 124 Elfreth’s Alley and started digging a unit in the pathway between 124 and 126 Elfreth’s Alley. With the help of some really awesome archaeologists and volunteers, we were also able to remove a portion of the modern brick patio behind 126 (which had been laid with cement). Now that we can access the ground surface, we will open excavation units behind 126 Elfreth’s Alley in the coming weeks.

Over the last two weeks we have uncovered many artifacts and two new features, as well as unearthed sections of past foundation walls behind 124 and 126 which had been identified in prior archaeological testing. Previous blog posts have described some of these finds so far. As we continue to recover artifacts, it is important to reflect on the power and meaning of these items. Artifacts are not simply physical objects; they are markers of the past and they represent the material items that people used and encountered on a daily basis. Objects such as the Acme glass bottle as well as the small fragments of ceramics we have found are everyday artifacts. Such artifacts tell us about the practices of the residents of the Alley such as what they purchased and consumed and how they served their food. The bone button highlighted in the last post speaks to practices of dress and personal adornment.

In addition to reconstructing the daily lives of the residents through artifacts, we can also understand how the inhabitants of the Alley interacted with their architectural domestic space through features such as the foundation walls. Throughout history several different structures were been built behind the original houses at 124 and 126 Elfreth’s Alley, most notably kitchen additions and tenements. Over time the spatial organization of the back lots changed greatly as these structures were built then torn down and new buildings were constructed in their place. The walls we have unearthed so far are not just foundations; they are representative of the spaces the residents navigated daily. The artifacts and features we have identified through archaeology are essential tools for giving a voice to individuals who lived on the Alley.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Update - 21 June 2012

It has been a very hot couple of days! So hot that we took a half day today and closed the site down early. Despite the heat, we have still made some good progress this week.
As noted in the last post, we ended last week with the discovery of Feature 3 in a corner of Unit 4. On Monday we excavated the feature; it was only approximately 1/10 of a foot deep and very compact. A few small artifacts were recovered from the feature including a sherd of white salt glaze stoneware. Feature 3 was adjacent to the stone foundation wall located behind 124 Elfreth's Alley. Below Feature 3 a builders trench was noted along the stone wall and the edge of a brick foundation wall was identified parallel to the stone foundation. Feature 3 is likely associated with a building episode related the foundation walls.

Yesterday, we identified Feature 4 in Unit 6. Feature 4 looks to be the remnants of the location of a historic post. Only a handful of artifacts came out of the Feature 4 including a bone button. The button is slightly conical in shape and is a 4-hole sew-thru button made of animal bone. See photos below.

Bone Button - side A

Bone Button - side B

As we make more progress, we will hopefully continue to find more features and artifacts that will provide us with valuable information about the people who lived on the Alley.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Successful First Week

Last Friday we wrapped up our first full week of excavations for the summer. We were able to open three new units, two behind 124 Elfreth’s Alley and one in the pathway between 124 and 126. The units have yielded many artifacts including buttons, a pipe stem/bowl fragment, an assortment of ceramics, a variety of bottle and window glass, as well as a significant amount of nails and other metal objects.

Feature 3 is in bottom left corner.  Note darker color and fewer inclusions.
Aside from artifacts, we are also interested in finding archaeological "features." As James Deetz (1967) succinctly stated, “Features are culturally produced objects which, unlike artifacts, cannot be taken from the field. They include fire pits, houses, and burials, to name but a very few. The artifacts from features can be collected, but the features themselves must be recorded in the field.” On historical archaeological sites, common features include trash pits, post holes, barrel features, wells, and privies. Features are frequently identified by soil changes (see picture). Features are important because they often represent intact deposits and can shed light onto how individuals utilized the landscape in the past. On Friday we unearthed our first new feature of the season! The feature appeared in the corner of one of the Units behind 124 so we cannot see the entire extent of the feature. We photographed the feature and created a scale plan view drawing of it on Friday. This week we will create a cross-section drawing and excavate the feature, which will hopefully explain the feature’s function and potentially reveal information about the lives of the Alley's past residents.

Finally, our first week could not have been as successful without the help from our enthusiastic volunteers. Those who have participated have had the opportunity to truly "get their hands dirty," aiding in excavating, screening, and measuring. We had great bunch of volunteers from the community ranging from a mathematics professor to an 8th grader interested in becoming an archaeologists to a former archaeologist who used to work in cultural resource management. We look forward to another great week with great volunteers. Be sure to come by this week and see our continuing progress!

Deetz, James
1967    Invitation to Archaeology. Natural History Press, Garden City.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Update - 14 June 2012

Gilt decorated tea cup
After a damp beginning, we have had a productive two days of fieldwork!  Over the past two days we have expanded the grid and laid out three additional units adjacent to Test Unit 1 from last year.  We have focused on excavating Test Unit 3 to the east of Unit 1.  A lot of brick and mortar fragments were excavated from Unit 3; these materials are likely associated with the demolition of the buildings in the back lots during the mid-20th century.  Many artifacts have been recovered from the unit including glass (bottle glass and window glass), metal (nails, grate, unidentifiable metal), button (bone), ceramic (redware, yelloware, whiteware, tin glaze), animal bone, and much more.  Several fragments of a tea cup with gilt decoration were recovered from one of the strata.  On the inside of the tea cup was a floral polychrome transfer print design. 

Inside of tea cup with floral design

This morning, we also recovered an intact 19th century bottle with stopper from Unit 3.  The bottle was made by Acme Bottling Company of Philadelphia.  Once these artifacts are cleaned and cataloged, more in-depth analysis will be preformed. 

The highlight of the day was when Dr. David Orr came out to the site.  Dr. Orr was delighted to see the progress we have made.  Tomorrow will hopefully be another promising day for archaeology!

Dr. David Orr talking to fellow Temple Graduate Student Matt Kalos