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.