Sunday, July 28, 2013

August Dig Days

Two more public archaeology excavation days have been added to the calendar!  We will be out next Saturday, August 3rd and Sunday, August 4th.  If you would like to volunteer with the project, check out the Volunteer Opportunities Section for details on how to sign up. 

Philadelphia's Day of Archaeology

Friday, July 26th was the "Day of Archaeology 2013," a international initiative to spread the word about what archaeologists really do.  The Philadelphia Archaeology Forum (PAF) compiled several submissions from archaeologists in the Philly region detailing what a typical day looks like for an archaeologist.  Check out what Philly archaeologist are up to here!

I participated in the Day of Archaeology and submitted a brief paragraph describing the research I did on Elfreth's Alley that day.  My Day of Archaeology write-up is available on the PAF's website here and the Day of Archaeology website here

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Update - 25 July 2013

We just about wrapped up the shovel test pits (STPs) in the back portion of the lots of 124 and 126 Elfreth’s Alley last week. Excavating STPs has allowed us to quickly and efficiently assess the integrity and type of the deposits in the back area. While the STPs in the south portion of the lots were largely filled with brick rubble and modern fill, one STP to the north, closer to the houses, had intact historic deposits. Based on the results of the STPs, we will open a 5 feet x 5 feet exaction unit to further explore the historic layers.

The heat was brutal last week! To get a little relief from digging in the excessive temperatures and humidity, we set up artifact cleaning in the shaded patio behind the museum. 

Artifact cleaning in progress

Artifact cleaning in progress

Artifact cleaning in progress

The site has gotten a lot of great press this summer! From radio to print, it has been fun to see how all the stories come together. A few of the stories have also been picked up by other news outlets like HiddenCity and Curbed which is very exciting! Last Thursday we had another press visit, this time from Hadas Kuznits of KWY news radio. Kuznits stopped by around lunchtime to visit site. Check out the audio from her interview about the dig here.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Philadelphia Inquirer News Story

Yesterday staff writer Summer Ballentine and staff photographer Michael Bryant from the The Philadelphia Inquirer visited the site to check out the dig.  It was a lot of fun talking to everyone and sharing what we have been finding!  Check out the story and great pictures here.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Update - 16 July 2013

We finally have a brief reprieve from all the rain this summer, but now we have a heat wave! Despite the tough Philly weather, all the volunteers have been very dedicated.

Volunteer Philippe gets a little artistic with the photo board

Over the past week, we have excavated up a few more shovel test pits (STPs) in the back of 124 and 126 Elfreth’s Alley. We have encountered a number of finds in the STPs including:

A large state stone and metal wire obstructing excavation of one STP. 

Potential remnants of a brick wall in another STP. 
Photo Credit: Jill Saull
 And a whole bunch of small historic artifacts. 
Photo Credit: Jill Saull

One neat historic artifact recovered is this stamped brick:

Today we potentially found the oldest artifacts uncovered at Elfreth’s Alley; we recovered a chert cobble and flake that could be Native American artifacts (SEE NEW UPDATED BELOW). Cobbles and flake are indicators of stone tool production. The items were unearthed in a historic soil layer preliminary dated to the mid-nineteenth century. While the artifact was not recovered from intact Native American deposits, the item does tell us about land use on the properties. The geographic location of Elfreth’s Alley on a terrace close to the Delaware River would have been an ideal location for Native Americans. 

UPDATE: After consulting with colleagues, the large stone artifact is more likely a piece of historic British flint that has been worked. This type of cryptocrystalline rock material was commonly used as ship ballast to provide stabilization in the hulls of vessels making the voyage from Great Britain to America. Elfreth’s Alleys location adjacent to the Delaware River makes it a prime location for artifacts associated with Philadelphia’s status as a port city. As indicated in the earlier post, this artifact was recovered from a historic stratigraphic layer. This context along with the evidence of the material type being of English origin, make indicate that this artifact is indeed a piece of worked English flint rather than an Native American artifact.

Chert cobble & flake

Monday, July 15, 2013

WHYY Radio Story

Peter Crimmins from WHYY-FM visited the site on Friday, and the station aired a short story about the dig this evening! Listen out the audio from the full show here. The story about Elfreth’s Alley archaeology is towards the end of the program (about ¾ of the way through the audio clip). A short write-up of the interview is also available on their website.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Update - 4 July 2013

Elfreth's Alley, 2012

Happy Independence Day! Elfreth’s Alley’s history actually extends back to a time before the birth of the nation. The small street was formed early in the 1700s, and it was a witness to the American Revolution over 70 years later. Today the Alley is a poignant symbol of American history.


We are a few weeks into our summer excavation and things have been slow but steady! The Philly weather has been very rainy so we had to cancel a few dig days, which has set us back a bit, but we have still been making progress. Thanks to all the awesome volunteers how helped out in Temple University’s Anthropology Laboratory when the rain thwarted our digging plans. With the help of volunteers we relabled several bags of artifacts from the 2012 excavation season with the site number and appropriate catalog numbers.

Volunteers working in the Anthropology Lab

Despite the soggy conditions, we did manage to get in a few days of digging. At the end of June we focused on continuing excavation of Unit 13.
Volunteers working in Unit 13
 This past week we switched gears a little bit and started excavating shovel test pits in the back portion of the lot behind 124 and 126 Elfreth’s Alley.

Back portion of the property

Today the Elfreth’s Alley Association owns the property that extends to the south of the small garden wall; however, based on historic maps, the current property did not always extend that far back. Instead that back area comprised a separate lot and had an independent land deed. (This portion of the property was not associated with the current property on maps until after 1922.) The back area is not directly accessible from the street and does not appear to have been accessible in historic times either. It is still unclear how this land was utilized in the past and historical research on this area is ongoing. A late nineteenth century maps show a wooden structure on the property, but no indication is made of the function of the structure.
Volunteer working on STP

This past Monday and Tuesday we extended our excavation grid into this back area and started excavation of shovel test pits (STPs). The first STP (30S, 5E) we explored had very clear delineations between the soil levels. The ground surface was covered with reddish and gray gravel fill overlaying black plastic sheeting. This gravel appears to have been laid down in the 1980s for landscaping purposes. The gravel is followed by three other stats that are very sandy and loose with a lot of cultural material in them. Historic artifacts recovered include bottle glass, shell, redware, window glass, brick fragments, and nails. Digging was obstructed at a depth of approximately 1.4 feet below the ground surface due to the number of brick inclusions and a metal object in the north portion of the STP. Much of the material recovered was architectural in nature including a large quantity of brick indicating that perhaps there was also a brick structure on this property at one point.

STP (30S, 5E)

Over the next few weeks we will continue exploration of the STPs in the back area. Stay tuned for more updates!