So what happened to the warm weather? Despite a little rain and a lot of wet feet, the Dovetail team continued to work on the Armstrong-Rogers site this past week. Our task? Removing the topsoil from the site core to expose subsurface features. We already knew the area contained at least one building foundation, one other stone feature, and a buried terra cotta drain, but we uncovered several additional exciting finds including a large square feature with brick flecking and several posts and pits. All features were scraped to identify their boundaries and mapped in using a total station. This data was used to create a hand-drawn field map to help organize the remainder of the dig and will also be the basis for a post-field GIS map. Artifacts noted during our topsoil removal continued to span the historic occupation period of the site, from the second half of the eighteenth century through the late-nineteenth century. But while a lot of attention has been paid to the historic artifacts because of the presence of architectural features, the stripping also uncovered evidence of the prehistoric use of this area. A large rim sherd of fabric-impressed, quartz-tempered prehistoric pottery (possibly Hell Island Ware) was found along the western edge of the site. In addition, several possible prehistoric pit features were identified during the scraping. We will add these to our list of features to be excavated in the upcoming weeks. Very exciting!
Well, well, well. On the final day of fieldwork at the Rumsey/Polk site, we excavated a deep well. The upper parts of the well , also known as Feature 10, were dug down 5 feet by hand until we reached a layer of lime chunks that were tossed into the abandoned well. The upper parts of the well were filled at the end of the second, circa 1800-1855, tenant period. Some of the interesting artifacts from the feature include a horseshoe, a brass pistol butt cap, plus 18th and 19th-century ceramics like yellowware, engine turned redware, creamware, and annular ware, and whiteware. Wells are fabulous windows to the past; a very interesting way to learn what people were doing and buying, as they typically become deep trash dumps by residents once the well runs dry. Digging a well is no joking matter though since they can be very deep. The deeper you go, the more dangerous it can be to dig. Although the top five feet was dug by hand, we used a backhoe to dig the rest, and boy was it deep! The bottom of the well was reached at 32 feet below ground, the same as the elevation of the creek north of the site. When built during the 18th or 19th century, the well was dug by hand. Each well posed a danger of collapsing on the workmen. Some wells were dug 40 feet deep just to reach water. This really makes you appreciate the effort and danger associated with well digging during the 18th and 19th centuries. While digging the well, the backhoe carefully removed each soil layer, which the crew screened for artifacts. As you can see in the photograph, more than half of the well was filled with broken brick, which was probably part of the chimney to the home that stood nearby. Even though the well was filled with brick, the actual well shaft was made of wood, either as a long wooden box or stacked barrels. Artifacts found in the well revealed it was filled when the tenant farm was abandoned during the early 1850s. Broken brick that could not be reused on other properties, large chunks of lime used for soil fertilization, and topsoil were tossed into the deep hole to fill the void, which archaeologists re-discovered 160 years after it was abandoned.
Attached is the link to the minutes of the first meeting of the Route 26 Working Group
Join us as we celebrate National Archaeology Day on October 20th at the Armstrong-Rogers Site. Sponsored by the Archaeological Society of America, National Archaeology Day is a chance for folks to visit sites, see archaeologists at work in the field and in the lab, and to learn more about archaeology and the its importance! The Armstrong-Rogers site is an amazing look at an early historic domestic site and will shed light on the people that lived in this area. What a wonderful opportunity; so, bring your family, friends, students, scouts and anyone else interested in learning more about this great field and wonderful site, and come on out! Archaeology is going on in your neighborhood!
Here is a link to learn more about National Archaeology Day at the Armstrong Rogers Site
Here is a ling to learn more about the Armstrong Rogers Site
On September 24, 2012, the first Working Group Meeting of the Route 26 Project was held at the South Costal Library in Bethany Beach, Delaware. During this first working group an explanation of the project was given to members by the design team. The attached Power Point was presented to explain the project in detail.
The main event this week at the Bird-Houston site was well digging day, we used a backhoe to help us dig deeper into our wells than we had been able to dig by hand. We have three wells on the site, and we used a different approach for each. Of the two wells on the older half of the site, one was nearly sterile. We dug it to the bottom with a backhoe, and it was sterile all the way down. It was about 9 feet deep. The other well in this part of the site was our best feature, full of artifacts dating to around 1820. We had dug this by hand to a depth of about 4 feet. We used the backhoe to widen the hole so hand excavation could continue safely. The well continued to produce numerous artifacts, including these sherds of a creamware chamber pot.
When we tested the well in the newer part of the site, dating to around 1830 to 1920, we hit a solid layer of barbed wire about 4 feet down that we couldn’t dig through with a shovel. So the first thing we did with the backhoe was to dig down to that level and remove the barbed wire. The hole was widened at that depth to allow access, and the well was cleaned off and photographed. We had intended to hand excavate a sample of the well fill below that depth. However, the soil exposed at that depth was blue-gray clay, extremely dense and apparently sterile. So the backhoe was used to dig deeper. The idea was to dig only the east half of the well mechanically, exposing the profile; however, the exposed profile immediately began to collapse. The collapse exposed the remains of the well’s brick lining. The top of the brick section in the picture is about 6 feet below the stripped surface. The fill below this depth consisted mainly of brick from the lining, collapsed into the hole, with numerous nails but few other artifacts. The well seems to have had a fairly complex structure. As the bricks shown in the photo collapsed into the well, it was revealed that there was a layer of boards behind them, as if the well shaft had been lined with wood and then the brick ring built inside it. At the very bottom of the well was a massive wooden ring; the brick must have been sitting on this ring. The ring was about 9.5 feet below the stripped surface. It was an exciting day: three wells, each different from the other, and a lesson in the different techniques used in Delaware to dig and shore up wells.
Welcome back! Archaeological work continued at the Armstrong-Rogers site last week, with the team from Dovetail completing their test units and identifying several exciting features. The video clip below features Kerri Barile, Dovetail’s President, discussing the history of the site, the archaeological process, and the next steps of the investigation. In particular, note the condition of the site and the topsoil; it will look much different next week!
Archaeologists have great fun uncovering information in the ground, but historians get to uncover hidden information in the written record. Primary source records—deeds, federal census records, court records, probate record, historic maps, warrants and surveys, mortgages and tax assessments—all shed light on the people that lived on these sites. The Delaware Public Archives held a plethora of information leading us to learn more about the occupants of the Armstrong-Rogers archaeological site. What a treasure trove it was! Dovetail Cultural Resource Group historian Danae Peckler, building upon archival research of previous investigations of the site, was able to augment the property’s chain of title with information about the owner’s lives and their use of the land. Created in 1905 by the General Assembly, the Delaware Public Archives (or, DPA) is one of the oldest public archives programs in the country. The archives hold more than 95,000 cubic feet of government records and historical documents, dating from the seventeenth century. Can you image looking through all of those records? Yikes! However, we were able to find the information we needed thanks to the well-managed collections, facilities and staff at the archives! If you are a Delaware resident, or have ancestors from the state, a trip to the facility, or a look at their web-site, is well worth your time. Stay posted as Dovetail archaeologists and historians piece together the story of the people that lived at the Armstrong-Rogers site.
The end has arrived! This was Dovetail’s final week at the Houston-LeCompt site, and what a glorious week it was. We finished excavation at the house cellar, explored our three wells, and took some amazing aerial images capturing the site. All in all, our two-month effort has resulted in an astounding amount of data on the Houston’s, tenant farming, and changing technology and landscape configuration in rural Delaware. Mary Houston’s circa 1770s home had a partial brick foundation laid in flemish bond, and her log structural system was clad in weatherboard. An attached kitchen had a wood-lined root cellar. The home was demolished in the 1870s, and the cellar was filled in. A new, wood frame post-in-ground tenant home was built on top of the old cellar. This house was removed in the 1930s. Mary Houston’s late-eighteenth century well had a wood frame, but it was filled in by the end of the eighteenth century. The exact reason is unknown, but it may have something to do with the repeated flooding we encountered during our work! A second well was built closer to the main house; it, too, was wood lined using massive slabs of timber fastened to corner posts. The latest well, installed during the 1870s, tenant period utilized brick robbed from the Houston’s cellar as well as a wooden barrel to form a shaft. This same well then became the repository for architectural debris when the tenant house was destroyed. Beyond features, the artifact recovery at this site was amazing. Over 100,000 artifacts were found during all phases of work. Incredible! The Houston’s and the later tenant farmers really liked “stuff”…
The videos below were captured during our final week of work. The first is a short snapshot of the latest-dating well at the site. Installed by tenant farmers working land owned by James LeCompt, this well dates to the 1870s and was built using robbed Houston house materials. Note the intact barrel at the bottom!
The second video was taken from 50 feet above the ground surface and shows the spatial layout of the wells, outbuildings, roasting pits, house cellar and root cellar, as well as Boyd’s Corner Road and finishing with a view of what will soon be the Route 301 corridor.
We at Dovetail want to thank everyone who helped make this dig possible. Goodbye, Houston-LeCompt site! We will miss you.
Kerri S. Barile, Ph.D., RPA
Dovetail Cultural Resource Group