Archive for the ‘Archaeology Updates’ Category

US Route 301 Archaeology Update

Tuesday, March 25th, 2014

Update for the Levels Road-Rumsey Polk Site

Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?

Eighteenth-century occupants of the Rumsey/Polk Tenant/Prehistoric Site (CRS # N-14492; 7NC-F-112) in St. George’s Hundred near Middletown may not have been at the top of the food chain. They struggled to protect themselves with hunting, trapping, and laws providing bounties for killing wolves. Predation by wolves was not just part of a bad fairy tale. It was a real and frightening part of their lives threatening both livestock and people. Artifact and faunal analysis are underway for the Phase II/III archaeological investigations at the Rumsey/Polk site and are revealing some fascinating tidbits about the lives of the site’s residents. RGA’s staff faunal expert, Dr. Adam Heinrich, has identified the bones of a wolf from Feature 5, a subfloor pit that also yielded fragments of an iron kettle, large pieces of a North Devon gravel tempered crock or jar, portions of a riding saddle, and many fragments of an imported English hand painted creamware canister-shaped teapot. The range of artifacts and faunal remains hints at some of the day-to-day tensions and challenges faced by these folks, tenants of the socially prominent Rumsey family.  The wolf bones include the right and left scapulae (shoulder blades), the right ulna and radius (forearm bones), and most of the right front foot. Even more intriguing, the bones were butchered. The wrist end of the radius and ulna contain cut marks made by a metal knife. The location of these marks near the animal’s wrist indicates removal of the wolf’s pelt after it was killed. The wolf found in Feature 5 may have been shot. An oval shaped pit with crushed bone within it is located on the animal’s elbow, consistent with being shot with the lead balls from a musket or comparable firearm. It is uncertain if being shot in the elbow had killed the wolf, but it may have injured it enough to be finished off more easily. Ongoing analysis is expected to reveal more about the site’s occupants and their lives in this world that was still part of the frontier in eighteenth century Delaware.

Wolf bones from Feature 5

Wolf bones from Feature 5

Cut marks on wolf bone

 

US Route 301 Archaeology Update

Tuesday, March 25th, 2014

Cardon-Holton Site 7NC-F-128 (Hunter Research, Inc.)

Analysis is underway on the data from the Cardon-Holton site 7NC-F-128.  Hunter Research, Inc. is currently working with a range of specialists to explore different types of material recovered in the excavations.

The most exciting information to date comes from the preliminary examination of the wood recovered from the well feature at the Cardon-Holton site 7NC-F-128 by the Oxford Tree-Ring Laboratory.  This has provided us with two dates: 1737 and 1753.  The on-going study of historic wells in Delaware indicates that very few firm dates exist, and most are derived from artifact evidence rather than the much more precise information from tree rings. Conservation of the wood from the well is underway at the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Lab, providing a preserved example of dated well-timbering from Delaware.

Our assumption is that the two dates reflect the initial construction and a subsequent repair/replacement of structural members of the well casing.  Archaeological evidence suggested the well had been either deepened or repaired, as the upper portion exhibited signs of shoring atypical of normal well construction.  Deepening of the well may have been in response to a drought.  Repairs are common for wooden wells given their perishable nature in an environment with a fluctuating water table.

The two dates can be compared with the site occupation range of 1720 to 1740 suggested by the ceramic assemblage.  As the site was situated adjacent to an intermittent stream and a likely spring head, there may not have been a need for a well initially… until perhaps a drought caused their water source to dry up.  Was the well constructed in response to a drought which caused the spring head to run dry during the occupation?  Initial research shows that a severe drought hit the region in 1730.  Could the well have been maintained or re-established for agricultural use after the domestic occupation had ceased to exist at the site by the new owners of the property who established a residence immediately to the north at the Holton-Cann site?

Just as interesting is the initial examination of the faunal materials by Adam Heinrich, who has identified not only the remains of a very old horse and cow, but also coyote and bear teeth!

Other specialists are analyzing soil samples for chemical signatures, macro-floral remains, phytoliths and pollen remains.  These studies will help to piece together a picture of the former environment at the site.

US Route 301 Archaeology Update

Monday, March 10th, 2014

In the course of researching African American life in St. Georges Hundred for the Dale site alternative mitigation, the Louise Berger Group came across the probate records of Thomas Bayard, who died in 1864. Bayard was a farmer who lived just east of Odessa, Delaware, a prosperous man who owned a dozen horses, an “old pleasure carriage,” six silver tea spoons, and a French silver watch. He was one of the two richest African Americans in his part of Delaware, probably one of the ten richest in the whole state. When he died, he left a will calling for his whole estate to be sold, including the land, and the money divided among his heirs. Probably this was his children’s own wish — probably they wanted to move to the city or study for the ministry, so the farm was sold to further their ambitions. This made his estate sale a big event. The whole contents of a prosperous, up-to-date farm were auctioned off, from the cows to the bed sheets, and the whole neighborhood turned out to bid. The record of the sale lists 193 lots sold to 36 different bidders, with a total value of $400.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about the sale is that the bidders were about equally black and white. Fifteen African-Americans brought something home from the sale, along with 21 whites. Six of the bidders were women, one white and five African American. The document shows no sign of segregation, as black and white names are mixed together in haphazard order. They bought some of the same things, too. The women bid mainly on household items, although one bought a beehive, but the black and white men bid on everything. A wealthy white man bought some of Bayard’s bed sheets and pillow cases. In the small section above (the sale spills across six pages), Harris, Brinckley, Segars and Griffin are African American families, but Stevens, Chambers, and Doughten were whites. Surely this was one of the most thoroughly integrated events in the history of Delaware up to that time.

What could bring blacks and whites together in America? A bargain.

Two of the quilts in the section above are also intriguing. Quilts typically sold for a dollar or two, but two of Thomas Bayard’s quilts sold for $5.00 and $4.70. Those must have been very fine quilts indeed to have brought that price from these practical farm folk. Some woman in Thomas Bayard’s household must have been an ace quilt maker. The valuable quilts were bought by Joshua Brinckley, who was married to Bayard’s daughter Eliza, so perhaps he and his wife were determined to keep grandma’s best work in the family.

US Route 301 Archaeology Update

Tuesday, March 4th, 2014

Alternative Mitigation of the Polk Tenant Site (7NC-F-111), February, 2014

This month we’re continuing in our analysis of well data in Delaware, taking a look at well depth and the local water table. Perhaps one of the most salient characteristics of the wells in our sample is that many of them are very shallow. None of those for which bottom depth was recorded is deeper than 30 feet, and all but 4 of those are 15 feet deep or less. Three other wells were excavated to below 20 feet, but the depth at the bottom was not documented for these.  Figure 1 illustrates the data for the 20 wells for which the bottom depth was identified. The depth recorded by the archaeology is shown (the height of the bar) along with a blue line that shows the average depth of the water table according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service, a division of the USDA that collects data about soils and water. The red line on some of the bars indicates the depth at which archaeologists recorded the water table. Most of the excavated wells show a close agreement between the predicted or observed water table and the depth of the well.

This has obvious implications for the technology used to dig and line these wells, and also for the potential reliability and quality of the water obtained. With the exception of the wells at 7NC-B-11 (Weldin Plantation) and 7K-C-203 (John Powell Plantation), the wells in the sample were dug little deeper than the water table. One advantage of shallow wells is that they don’t require any special technology to dig, and you can get away with fairly expedient technologies for linings, like using barrels. On the other hand, such materials might be more prone to fail than masonry linings, requiring that site occupants dig new wells periodically. In fact, 12 of the sites in the sample include multiple wells that may have been used in succession, including the Moore Taylor Farm (7K-C-380) which had five wells. Shallow wells might also be prone to contamination.

One significant problem with this data set is that the original constructed depth of the well was only recorded for 20 of the 53 features documented. Not fully excavating a deep well is understandable, given the challenges and hazards associated with excavation below the water table.  However, not documenting the base of the well poses an obvious dilemma for interpreting well technology in Delaware. Answering the question about whether people in Delaware sometimes dug their wells deeper to avoid them running dry requires that the bottom depth be determined and clearly documented. Finding the base of the well may also be important for dating, since material deposited at the bottom of a well may indicate the period of use and abandonment. Material recovered near the top of a well, in contrast, may be related to much later activity, perhaps when the site as a whole was abandoned.

US Route 301 Archaeology Update

Tuesday, March 4th, 2014

This past weekend Dovetail assisted the Archaeological Society of Delaware (ASD) and the Delaware Department of Transportation with an artifact display at the Annual Gem Mineral and Fossil show in Newark, Delaware. The show was hosted by a wonderful group of people from the Delaware Mineralogical Society, Inc http://www.delminsociety.net/

Although the show’s primary focus was on fossils and gems, archaeology did have its place. The ASD and the Archaeological Society of Maryland had tables with artifacts highlighting the prehistoric occupation of the Delaware and Maryland region, while a sample of historic artifacts recovered during the Route 301 excavations were in a display case in the main room. There was an overwhelming response from the attendees to see artifacts from Delaware, and many appreciated seeing and learning a little more about the history of their home state.

US Route 301 Archaeology Update

Monday, January 27th, 2014

Alternative Mitigation of the Polk Tenant Site (7NC-F-111)

We have collected data from more than 50 well features excavated in Delaware, and this month at Versar we’re blogging about the beginnings of our data analysis. We have collected dozens of different attributes (such as depth and lining material), and our task now is to look for patterns among those attributes across time and place. At this stage, there are a couple of observations we can make about the materials used to line wells.

The earliest wells in our sample were all lined with wood until the second quarter of the 18th century. Most of these early wells were rectangular wood plank wells, though there is a wood plank well with a barrel at the bottom dating from probably the first quarter of the 18th century. Barrel-only wells appear in the sample by the third quarter of the 18th century, and seem to persist until the third quarter of the 19th century.  Masonry well linings appear later, and continue through the latest wells included in the study. The first brick well in the sample appears to date from the second quarter of the 18th century, while the first stone-lined wells date from the last quarter of the 18th century.

well material by date

well material by date

This makes some intuitive sense, and mirrors patterns in construction materials used for other structures. Brick makers and bricks might not have been widely available in the earliest years of European settlement, while wood would have been abundant. Barrels might also have been common, and an easy expedient for lining a shallow well, compared to the level of effort that would have been needed to line a well with brick or stone. All one needed to do was to remove the top and bottom of the barrel, and lower it into the hole dug for the well shaft. Since most wells excavated in Delaware are quite shallow, one could line a well with as few as three barrels.

Wells Map

Wells Map

US Route 301 Archaeology Update

Thursday, January 2nd, 2014

To help share the details from the excavation of the Houston-LeCompt site and the general history of Delaware, Dovetail Cultural Resources Group has been working on creating two different exhibitions: one will focus on the Houston-LeCompt site itself, and the second will be a general historic artifact traveling display.

Excavations at the Houston LeCompt Site

Excavations at the Houston LeCompt Site

Historic Artifact Display

Historic Artifact Display

Utilizing artifacts from the Phase I, II, and III excavations, the Houston-LeCompt exhibit will tell the story of those that lived on the site and how the use of the land changed over time.  Dovetail will utilize conserved and mended artifacts, field photos, and artistic renderings to show how archaeologists understand the larger context of the site. The exhibit will be housed in the Smyrna Rest Area to allow the traveling public and local residents to view the remains. The second exhibition will be a traveling historic artifact display.  This display will not focus on one site, but rather will be used to educate audiences on general archaeology in Delaware.  The design of the exhibit will be portable, allowing various members of the DelDOT staff to bring the exhibit to schools, conferences, and other locales to showcase historic artifacts from Delaware. Dovetail staff is also developing a brochure that supports the display and offers additional information on the history of the state.

US Route 301 Archaeology Update

Tuesday, December 17th, 2013

Alternative Mitigation of the Polk Tenant Site (7NC-F-111). This month at Versar we’re blogging about an example 3D cut-away model of an 18th or early 19th-century well found in New Castle County. Part of our task in examining the archaeological record of wells excavated across Delaware is to prepare 3D models that help show what they might have looked like, and how they were built. We’ve found evidence for at least four broad types of well construction: circular brick wells, circular stone wells, square or rectangular wood-frame wells, and barrel-lined wells. Wells had to be lined in order to prevent the sides from caving in. The material chosen says something about the kinds of resources available at the time. Barrels with the tops and bottoms knocked out offered a simple and expedient way to build the needed support.

Figure 1: barrel well, Jones Site

Figure 1: barrel well, Jones Site

There was an excellent example of this type of well excavated by Versar for DelDOT at the Jones Site (7NC-J-204) during the State Route 1 project that we chose for our first model. The well was made from 3 barrels stacked on top of each other inside a hole dug some 12 to 15 feet into the ground to just below the water table. Only wood from the bottom-most barrel survived because it was saturated with water. The other barrels were found mostly as stains in the surrounding soil. Nevertheless, it was possible to accurately record the original shape and dimensions.

Figure 2: Profile drawing, barrel well

Figure 2: Profile drawing, barrel well

To make our model, we started with both photographs of the well taken while it was being excavated, and a measured profile drawing of the well prepared by field archaeologists. Our first step was to bring the measured profile drawing into Autodesk Maya, a software package designed for 3D modeling and animation. With the profile drawing as a reference, it was possible in orthographic view (a flat view with no perspective) to build 3D barrel shapes that match the size and shapes of the barrels we found in the field. We were also able to create a cut-away image of the surrounding soil showing the size and shape of the hole made for the barrels when the well was first dug. After the barrels were placed in the hole, the remaining open space was filled in with dirt. This fill dirt would have been a mix of all the soil excavated including dirt from near the top and bottom of the well shaft.  This mixing gave the fill a different color and texture from the surrounding earth, which is what allowed us to identify it.

Figure 3: screen shot of well model in Autodesk Maya.

Figure 3: screen shot of well model in Autodesk Maya.

Once the model was built we added textures to the shape based on photographs of the wood we recovered on the site. Lastly we added lights to the scene and prepared this render of what a cut-away of the well might have looked like before the well shaft was filled back in. Over the next couple of months, we will be doing similar models of other types of wells found in Delaware. 

Figure 4: cut-away reconstruction of the Jones Site barrel well before the excavation hole was refilled.

Figure 4: cut-away reconstruction of the Jones Site barrel well before the excavation hole was refilled.

US Route 301 Archaeology Update

Wednesday, December 11th, 2013

Analysis of Burials from the Elkins Site (7NC–G–174)

The analysis of the human skeletal remains recovered from the Colonial era Elkins site in New Castle County by Hunter Research. Inc., is well underway at the University of Montana.  Under the supervision of Professor Ashley McKeown, several graduate research assistants have been collecting data from the skeletal remains in order to generate the biological profile of each individual.  This includes estimating sex, age, ancestry, and stature, and assessing any pathological conditions present.  Another interesting aspect of the analysis involves documenting the patterns of copper-oxide staining on the bone caused by contact with copper-alloy straight pins associated with the use of shrouds as part of the burial process. 

Cranium of adult female with green oxide stain from a shroud pin (arrow)

Cranium of adult female with green oxide stain from a shroud pin (arrow)

As these were unmarked burials, the information gained from the biological profiles, in conjunction with the ancient DNA analysis results, will help us understand who was buried in this small cemetery and any relationships that may have existed among these individuals.

Graduate laboratory assistant collecting data from human skeletal remains from the Elkins Site

Graduate laboratory assistant collecting data from human skeletal remains from the Elkins Site

 

US Route 301 Archaeology Update

Tuesday, December 3rd, 2013

For the past two weeks Hunter Research has been testing a predictive model developed for the identification of physical remains of early roads in the Delaware landscape: in this case one of the late 17th century Cart Roads, probably laid out by Augustine Herrman and certainly in place by 1740.  We have termed it the “Reedy Island Cart-Road” because of its eastern terminus along the Delaware shore at Port Penn, opposite Reedy Island.  Reedy Island was a safe anchorage and is shown and named on all 18th century maps.  In terms of cross-peninsular trade from Herrman’s Bohemia Manor along the Upper Chesapeake, it was probably second in importance only to Appoquinimink (Odessa).  This particular route seems to have functioned as a cut-off to shorten the distance between Bohemia Landing to the southwest and Reedy Island to the northeast.

 The overall objectives of these investigations are:

a) to test the predicted alignment of the Reedy Island Cart Road Alignment in a specific area where the depositional model predicts that physical features of the road would likely survive;

b) to document these features and compare them with the existing data, and

c) to establish the nature of the road crossing of the East Spring Branch drainage. 

These research contributions are part of the overall alternative mitigation program for the Cart Road.

The Model

The cart road alignments run across four main types of environmental setting within the Route 301 corridor (see Figure 1):

Figure  1 Cart Road Zones Diagram (2)

Zone 1:  Essentially level farm fields

Zone 2:  Farm fields with slight slopes towards drainages and wetlands

Zone 3:  Wetlands, underlain by clay and lying adjacent to drainages

Zone 4:  Drainage crossings

The following depositional conditions were predicted for these zones, based largely upon the data from Reedy Island Cart Road 4 and identified wagon tracks leading to a landing at the Rumsey Tenant Site 7NC-F-117:

ZONE 1

Where the cart road crossed level farm fields, initial use created deep ruts within the upper sandy loam soils.  For over a century after the abandonment of the road (i.e. circa 1780 to 1880) animal-traction plowing would have erased the upper portion of the ruts, blending them into the plowzone, but possibly leaving lower components in place.  Subsequent mechanized plowing penetrated deeper in to the soil and increased erosion, especially through deflation on these level uplands.  Up to two feet of the upper soil profile appears to have been lost at some locations along the Route 301 corridor, as evidenced by heavily truncated historic features such as cellars and postholes.

ZONE 2

As in Zone 1 the period of initial use would have created deep ruts in the upper sandy loam soils and the period following (c.1780 to 1880) would have erased the upper portion of the ruts blending them into the plowzone.  What differentiates Zone 2 from Zone 1 is the slight slope towards water courses.  In areas of slight slopes towards drainages eroded soils from higher adjacent areas (Zone 1) were accreted during the period of mechanized plowing, partly burying the earlier plowzone and preserving the truncated ruts of the cart roads.  On steeper slopes colluvial processes would tend to remove the material and deposit it further downslope.

ZONE 3

Closer to the water the underlying clay lies closer to the surface.  There is slight evidence that gravels may have been  emplaced to form an informal  road bed above the clay in this.  Most of these clay areas were probably not plowed during the first century after abandonment but mechanized plowing in the 20th century took advantage of these marginal areas and likely erased any traces of the roadbeds

ZONE 4

Crossings of the actual drainages would either have been by use of bridges or by means of a ford.  Fords could be quite informal, simply making use of a portion of the stream having a solid exposed rocky base.  This could be improved with wood corduroy or with gravel.  Bridges required capital investment and were not common in the 18th century, being largely confined to major roads or “king’s highways”.  The Reedy Island cart road spur is considered very unlikely have had bridges constructed along its alignment, and fords are much more likely at drainage crossings.  

If the above model is valid, the best chances of documenting remains of the cart road within the proposed alignment were thought to be found in Zones 2 and 4 with a lower chance in Zone 3 and little or no chance in Zone 1.  The best potential area conforming to these criteria within the proposed alignment lies buried beneath the plowzone of agricultural fields on the slight slopes near the edge of the woods.  Elements of the cart road are also visible where a probable ford constructed of gravel was observed in the bed of the headwaters of northern branch of Drawyer Creek (East Spring Branch).  The ford was observed during the Phase IA walkover by Geo-archaeologist John Stiteler (A&HC 2009).      

Implementation

a. LIDAR Image Analysis

LIDAR (Light Detection And Ranging) is an optical remote sensing that can measure the distance to, or other properties of, targets by illuminating the target with laser light and analyzing the backscattered light. LIDAR technology has applications in archaeology, geomorphology and contour mapping as well as a host of other fields.  LIDAR operates on the same principles as radar and sonar.

LIDAR has many applications in the field of archaeology including aiding in the planning of fieldwork, mapping features beneath forest canopy, and providing an overview of broad, continuous features that may be indistinguishable on the ground such as the now buried 17th century cart road.  LIDAR can create high-resolution digital elevation models (DEMs) of archaeological sites that can reveal micro-topography that are otherwise hidden by vegetation. LIDAR-derived products can be integrated into a Geographic Information System (GIS) for analysis and interpretation.  Its ability to penetrate forest canopy has led to the discovery of features that were not distinguishable through traditional geo-spatial methods and are difficult to reach through field surveys. The intensity of the returned signal can be used to detect features buried under flat vegetated surfaces such as fields, especially when mapping using the infrared spectrum. The presence of these features affects plant growth and thus the amount of infrared light reflected back.

LIDAR imagery has been obtained for the project area and analysis is well underway by Seramur and Associates PC.

b. Testing for Physical Survival of the East Spring Branch Crossing through Non-Intrusive Survey

Testing the predictive model started with mapping of the probable ford location on the East Spring Branch.  The probable ford is the only location where the stream can currently be crossed without sinking into the stream bed.  It also aligns with the projected line of the section of the cart road identified to the west (Hunter Research, Inc. 2011b, Chapter 3).  On the east side of the stream an apparent borrow pit and a probable ramp leading to the ford location were identified in 2011.   Two large pieces of granite, which is not native to this area of Delaware, were identified at that time lying against the east bank of the stream.  

Mapping required clearing of understory to facilitate use of the total station.  The map will present close-interval contour mapping based on a surveyed grid and will show specific features and topographic detail.

c. Geophysical Survey

A combined Ground Penetrating Radar and Gradiometer Survey was undertaken with the objective of identifying the signature of the 18th century cart-road that is believed to have run through the project area.   Approximately two and half acres of surface area were covered in the field on the east side of the East Spring Branch. 

Ground penetrating radar (GPR) and gradiometer data were collected using a GSSI SIR3000 GPR system equipped with a 400 MHz antenna and a Geometrics G858 Cesium Vapor Gradiometer.  A 2-foot grid was used in order to target former historic structures.  The purpose of the two 2-foot grids was to identify anomalies possibly associated with features of the cart road and artifacts.   Anomalies were marked in the field from the GPR as the surveys were conducted.  It was hoped that the GPR and gradiometer surveys would determine the location of soil disturbance related to historic cart road and related features across the property.  Based on a preliminary report adjustments to the field excavation strategy were geared towards potential targets.

d. Machine-assisted Excavation of Transects across Predicted Alignment

An archaeologically directed backhoe with a flat-blade bucket was used to remove the plowzone in trenches, placed to cross the potential alignment or alignments of the cart road in areas where the geophysical survey suggests that features from the road may lie.  The prime objective was to expose the remains of the parallel ruts if present.  Following the stripping, the trenches were shovel scraped and trowelled to identify and define the cultural features.  Detailed mapping of each trench was then completed.

In addition to the search for visual identification of cart road features, a soil compaction investigation using a basic soil compaction meter/penetrometer was undertaken.  This provided immediate relative compaction data across both the predicted line of the road and adjacent portions of the field. Compaction results will be checked against the known road alignment on the west of the stream, where a single narrow supplementary trench was placed across the road alignment to re-expose the ditches/ruts.  Compaction testing was undertaken within, between, and outside the features.