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

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

A Rainy Start

Today was the first official day of excavation and it was a rainy one.  Despite the wet weather, we were still able to get in a little digging with the help of dedicated (and slightly damp) volunteers and a canopy.  We opened up a new unit behind 124 Elfreth's Alley just east of one of the test units from last summer.  We were able to excavate two layers of dirt before calling it a day due to the rain.  Both layers contained modern artifacts such as plastic plant tags.  The back lot of 124 contained brick planters during the 1950s.  Check out the Historic American Building Survey's website for a photograph of the of the planters and back lots of 124 and 126 Elfreth's Alley from 1959.

Brave volunteers in the rain.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Fete Day 2012

 Yesterday was Fete Day at Elfreth's Alley.  Current Temple University graduate student Matt Kalos and undergraduate alum Paul Pluta were on hand at the site to explain the project to the public.  On view were an open test excavation unit and some of the artifacts from last summer's explorations.  Throngs of visitors were thrilled to see a real archaeological investigation in person, especially at a place as rich in history as Elfreth's Alley.  They were full of wonderful questions about the project, and many vowed to come back later in the summer to see what we discover in following weeks.  All in all it was a great day and a great way to start the season!

Paul explaining the excavation unit to visitors.

Matt discussing artifacts with vistors.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Prepping for Fete Day!

Today we went to the Alley to open up one of the excavation units from testing last summer.  When we closed the site last year, we lined the bottom of the units with plastic sheeting to separate the back dirt from intact and undisturbed areas.  We opened the unit behind 124 Elfreth's Alley this morning in preparation for Fete Day next weekend!  Fete Day is an annual open house at the Alley where you can tour the historic homes.  Archaeologists will be on hand at the event to discuss the excavation this summer and to showcase a few artifacts recovered last summer.  Check here for more information about Fete Day and tickets to the event.  Below are a few pictures from today.

The patio at 124 Elfreth's Alley before.
The patio at 124 Elfreth's Alley after.

All covered up.