May 6th, 2013
Magnetometer Study at the Dale Site
The next task in the ongoing study of the Dale Site is to make write a detailed report on the archaeological findings. Looking back over the work that we did, one of the most interesting items was the geophysical study we made of the site. Archaeologists are always looking for new ways to find out what is under the ground. Hand excavation is slow and expensive, and excavation with a machine is destructive. The problem is especially vexing at the testing level, what we call Phase II. Before we commit money and time to excavating a site, we would like to know if our efforts will be repaid by significant finds below ground, things like building foundations and pits full of artifacts. But how to learn that without either putting weeks into hand digging through plowed soils, or stripping that plowed soil away with a backhoe?
Science comes to the rescue here. Physicists and engineers have developed several methods of peering into the ground to find out what is there, of which the most basic is the old-fashioned metal detector. Surface-penetrating radar is one exciting new method, which has been especially useful for finding cemeteries and graves. At the Dale Site we used another method, high-resolution magnetometry. By measuring minute variations in the earth’s magnetic field, this machine can find many kinds of buried objects, including stone or brick foundations and concentrations of metal like the nails from a wooden building. The raw data that came from our magnetometer study is shown at the top. Below is an interpreted map of the same data. The red regions are places where buildings probably stood, and green dot No. 3 turned out to be a well. Using this data, we were able to zero in on the places where the most interesting discoveries could be made below the surface, saving a lot of time and money.
Interpreted Magnetometer Map of the Dale Site
May 3rd, 2013
Watch as Mike Klein, Archaeologist, from Dovetail Cultural Resource Group discusses the excavations at the Warwick Native American Archaeology site for the US RT 301 project.
May 3rd, 2013
Watch as Michael Carmody, Archaeologist, from Dovetail Cultural Resource Group gives an update on the excavations at the Warwick Native American Archaeology site.
May 3rd, 2013
Stemmed quartzite point and chipping debris recovered from the Warwick Site.
Continuing work at the Warwick Site completed the excavation of roughly half of the open units. Plowing, among other processes, appears to have obliterated any evidence for structures, hearths, or storage pits. For the most part, artifacts occurred in the plow zone and the uppermost portion of the subsoil. Below that depth, artifact density dropped precipitously, with only a few small pieces of sharpening debris from stone tools were recovered per level. Although archaeological sites exhibiting a layer-cake accumulation of living surfaces from different periods of time are known in the northern Delmarva Peninsula, plowing, burrowing, and roots likely explain the artifacts recovered below the uppermost portion of the subsoil at the Warwick Site. .
Various point forms traditionally assigned to the Late Archaic and Early Woodland periods, similar to those recovered during the earlier fieldwork, have been recovered. Yellowish brown jasper appears to predominate, though red jasper, gray chert, quartz, and quartzite have been recovered. Tools include a few bifaces and unifaces, the latter including a few with tools with steep edge angles typical of hide scrapers. Scattered fire-cracked rock has been recovered; the sole potential feature, however, is three fired rock fragments at the interface between the plow zone and subsoil. The generally low artifact density and predominance of small sharpening flakes seems consistent with tool sharpening and limited food preparation by small groups during short-term stays, the sort of behavior described by studies of locations where modern Arctic hunters monitor game trails. Further excavation during the next session of fieldwork, of course, could identify a long-buried deposit of artifacts, the remains of shelters and hearths, or areas where different types of artifacts cluster.
North Profile of Test Unit 36, showing, from top to bottom, the root mat, dark brown plow zone, upper olive brown subsoil, and lower, redder clay subsoil.
April 25th, 2013
The Dovetail crew expanding the previous grid and beginning excavations at the Warwick Site.
Dovetail Cultural Resource Group (Dovetail), a firm that specializes in archaeological and architectural research, began archaeological fieldwork at the Warwick Site on April 17, 2013. The Warwick Site is a small camp, way-station, or short-term work area occupied by Native Americans between approximately 3,000 and 500 B.C., which spans the periods referred to by archaeologists as the Late Archaic (roughly 3,000-1,000 B.C.) and Early Woodland (roughly 1,000-500 B.C.). Richard Grubb and Associates (RGA), also archaeological and architectural specialists, had identified the site and determined that it was important based on the potential contribution to understanding Native American life in the northern Delmarva Peninsula during the Late Archaic and Early Woodland periods. Both RGA and Dovetail work for the Delaware Department of Transportation; the site will be affected by planned improvements to Route 301.
Dovetail began by clearing leaves off the site to identify the location of RGA excavations, and re-establishing the RGA excavation grid. The grid divided the area into blocks of one square meter, or roughly three square feet, thereby controlling for the type and amount of artifacts recovered across the area. Excavation began by expanding the southern portion of the area examined during the earlier work. Soils were pushed through a screen to ensure that all artifacts larger than one-quarter inch are recovered. The root mat and associated organic material and soil and an underlying layer identified as soil plowed 100 or more years ago were removed to expose the less churned-up soils below the plow zone, where the remains of hearths, sub-surface storage pits, and rings of posts that served as the frame for houses or, more likely in this case, temporary huts might occur. Future work will expand the excavation to investigate possible features, as archaeologists refer to the remains of huts and hearths, and remove the unplowed soils that have not been excavated at present.
Looking south across the initial excavation blocks after removal of the historic plow zone.
April 11th, 2013
We at the Louis Berger Group are very excited to begin work on our alternative mitigation of the Dale Site and the archaeology of African Americans in St. Georges Hundred. The Dale Site, 7NC-F-134, first appeared to archaeologists as so many sites do, as a scatter of artifacts on the surface of a plowed field. Walking the field and picking up potsherds and pieces of glass, using a GPS device to record where each artifact came from, the archaeologists mapped out what looked like three separate house sites in a single small field. The artifacts dated to the 1800s. The site is near Armstrong Corners, a few miles north of Middletown.
A little research showed that this field was part of a 20-acre property purchased in 1854 by Samuel Dale, an African-American farmer. Dale may have already been residing on the site for some years, since he is listed as a farmer in the neighborhood census for 1850. This Samuel Dale seems to be the same person as Reverend Samuel Dale, minister of Trinity AME Church in Middletown. Samuel Dale died some time before 1882. His property was divided among Samuel Dale, Jr., William Dale, and Temperance Shockley, who were mostly likely his children. This was a striking discovery, since the archaeological site seemed to contain three separate houses; one for each child? Samuel Dale, Jr. died in 1882, and his share of the property was divided between William Dale and Temperance Shockley. This deed was recorded at the county courthouse, unlike most of the others concerning the property, and it is only from this one record that we know about Dale’s death and the division of his farm. In 1915, the Dales sold land to the Armstrong family and moved on. Archaeologists went back to the site in the spring of 2012 to do more testing. They found hundreds of artifacts dating to between 1800 and 1910, divided as before into three separate concentrations. One of the three had many fewer artifacts than the others, but bricks and nails showed that buildings stood in all three spots. No foundations or cellar holes were found, so the buildings probably stood on brick piers. One well was discovered, but it was mostly filled with sterile sand. Because of its connection to the Dale family and the African American history of Armstrong Corners, the Dale Site was considered to be significant. However, the archaeology did not seem very exciting. The artifacts found on the site were all broken into small pieces, and no foundations or artifact-filled pits had turned up. So it was decided to explore the site in a different way, by investigating the history and archaeology of African Americans in St. Georges Hundred. Over the next six months, Berger archaeologists, along with faculty and students from Delaware State University, will be combing through the archives to write a history of African American communities from Middletown to the Canal and assembling all that is known about their archaeology. Because this is an archaeological project, it will focus on the material side of life – houses, farms, food, furniture, dishes, and so on. The goal will be to produce a document called a “historic context,” which will be used to help understand and evaluate any future sites in the region where African Americans lived. It is a fascinating project, and we can’t wait to get started.
Sherds from the Samuel Dale Site
April 10th, 2013
Howdy all, here is another great video from the folks at Dovetail Cultural Resources Group. Take a peek to see Kerry Gonzalez (Laboratory Manager) explain the process artifacts go through in the lab once they come out of the ground from the Houston LeCompt site.
March 7th, 2013
After months of behind the scenes efforts, Hunter Research, Inc. is able to announce the discovery of a small unmarked cemetery at the Elkin site. The State of Delaware has specific laws regulating the discovery of unmarked human remains. A discussion of these laws can be found at the Department of State Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs’ website http://history.delaware.gov. A small distinct hill located northwest of the Elkins A site limits was included for investigations during the Phase II investigations. Excavation Unit 17 identified a feature that was thought at that time to be a large structural post, since no artifacts were recovered from the fill. The Phase II report recommended stripping of the knoll based on the topography and the potential for outbuildings and/or an unmarked cemetery, even though few artifacts had been recovered from the area as a whole.
In the last week of June 2012 Hunter Research removed the plowzone from the small hill to further investigate features discovered during the Phase II investigations. Stripping of the plowzone revealed between six and eight potential grave shaft features facing east-west. These potential grave shafts were assigned letter designations A through H. These suspected unmarked graves were immediately reported to the Director of the Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs of the Department of State, and to representatives from DelDOT. Hunter Research, Inc. was then instructed to test two of the potential grave shafts near the cranial region to establish whether human remains were present. Shafts “B” and “D” were selected for these initial investigations. Human skulls, surviving in good condition, were present in both shafts. These exploratory excavations were backfilled after placing plastic tarps over the remains so that it would be obvious where the remains were when and if excavations resumed. The burial area was then covered with a large plastic tarp and backfilled using a small backhoe.
All efforts were made by DelDOT to avoid the unmarked cemetery but the location, which was directly in the middle of the right-of-way and adjacent to a planned borrow pit, made this impractical. The unmarked cemetery along with a list of potential names was announced in local newspapers so that the next of kin could be notified. No one came forward and a plan for the physical removal of the human remains was developed for DelDOT by Hunter Research, Inc. in close consultation with Dr. Ashley H. McKeown, Associate Professor with the Department of Anthropology at the University of Montana (Missoula), DelDOT, and the DESHPO.
March 7th, 2013
William and Mary Style Escutcheon Plate 1680–1720
The lab at Dovetail has been very busy this month working through the large Houston-LeCompt collection. To date all of Phase I artifacts are washed and we have started cleaning Phase II materials and continue cataloging the Phase III collection. It was this process that spawned the idea of participating in the ‘Small Finds’ session at the Mid-Atlantic Archaeology Conference (MAAC) this weekend. Among the thousands of artifacts recovered from the Houston-LeCompt site were ornate, hand-painted buttons, brass furniture plates, handmade jewelry, and exquisite decorative ceramics. These items were perhaps owned by the first inhabitants of the site during the second half of the eighteenth century. One person associated with this site is Mary Houston, a widow who seemed to enjoy the finer things in life. When Mary’s descendants bought the land back around 1900, once again the quantity of personal artifacts was represented in the artifact assemblage. These elaborate items as well as some day-to-day personal effects such as toothbrushes, coins, shoes, and thimbles, will be part of a larger symposium that celebrates the ‘small finds’ of an archaeological collection. It is often these smaller items that reveal the most interesting information on the personalities of the occupants of a site.
Carved Bone Handles
March 7th, 2013
Sometimes you wind up the fieldwork on an archaeological site with firm ideas about what you found, then get into the lab, look over your artifacts and change your mind. Work on an archaeological site is never really finished. Even when the original excavators are dead, somebody may decide to go through the notes and artifacts again and come up with new interpretations. After our first round of testing at Noxon’s Tenancy, we thought the site had a very short occupation. There weren’t very many artifacts in the plowzone, and they all seemed to date to around 1750. So we thought the site might have been occupied for a decade, say 1745 to 1755.
During the excavation we slowly changed our minds. The site has two wells, one used after the other had been abandoned, which seems to suggest a longer occupation that just ten years. We also found more artifacts than we expected. So when we left the field we were thinking in terms of twenty years, say 1740 to 1760.
As the artifacts are cleaned and cataloged we are changing our ideas even more. Several small artifacts have turned up that were made before 1740, and since colonial Delawareans did not usually carry many dishes with them to a new farm site, these artifacts may be telling us that the site is older than we thought. Several sherds of a kind of pottery called “scratch brown” stoneware have been found, probably made between 1720 and 1735. A single sherd of an even older type, buff-bodied earthenware with yellow glaze, has also been identified, and this was probably made before 1725. These few objects are not much to go on, but analysis of the finds is just getting under way. Since we still think the site was abandoned around 1760, it may have been occupied for thirty years or longer. Right now we would date the site to 1730 to 1760, but then again, we still have a lot of work to do.