Archive for New Archaeology

Dec
23

Digging in the Neighborhood

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by Jonathan Gunderlach, MA Architectural Historian

If you stumbled upon HAZEx in the field, you would probably find a
group of people decked out in dirty duds and carrying shovels.  But
not always.  Instead of into the dirt, we dig into archives and
libraries to unearth treasure that lies in plain sight.  This past
summer we were in Buffalo, New York, investigating the Shoreline
Apartments for an Historic American Building Survey report.  Shoreline
has a reputation as an ugly duckling with a dangerous reputation.  It
sticks out like a sore architectural thumb.  Sheathed in brown
“corduroy” concrete block, rows of staggered townhouses stand on
minimally landscaped superblocks within a stone’s throw of downtown
Buffalo.

Our research into Shoreline follows the a basic theme of archeological
and historical investigation:  rediscovering the things that get lost
over the years.  Unlike ah-ha moment when artifacts are sifted from
test pit soil, our appreciation for Shoreline was gradual.
Surprisingly, period documents revealed an overwhelmingly positive
response to Shoreline.  Just what was the hub-bub about the apartment
complex that is regularly covered in the police blotter?

In two words, the historical significance is about Paul Rudolph.  Paul
Rudolph may not be a name that rings the bell of your typical
shovelbum.  But the citizens of Buffalo probably recognize him as the
architect of their notable public library.  Dusty architectural
historians certainly recognize him for a raft of other well-known, if
not well-appreciated, buildings throughout the nation.  Initially
Shoreline constituted a minor part of a much larger redevelopment plan
designed by Rudolph.  Known as the
Buffalo Waterfront Development Plan, the scheme was an ambitious urban
renewal and revitalization project that included an marina ringed by
high-rise residential towers.  Penned in his sumptuous linear style,
Rudolph’s presentation drawing of the Waterfront plan appeared in
popular architectural magazines and in monographs of Rudolph’s work.

Paul Rudolph (1919-1997) first worked in Florida designing homes in
the 1940s.  Frank expression of structure, generous use of glass, and
innovative use of materials (he claimed to be the first to bend
plywood for a sculptural effect) put Rudolph firmly in the modernist
camp.  He attracted larger commissions and was eventually tapped as
Chairman of Yale University’s Art and Architecture School.  He
developed his interest in complex, angular plans and corresponding
facades.  Embracing concrete as a primary material, Rudolph strove to
define space by use of flat, textured planes pierced with voids.  His
designs for the Christian Science Student Center at the University of
Illinois and the Boston Government Service Center typify this look,
which is echoed at Shoreline.  Rudolph was also interested in modular
design, which he coined “twentieth-century brick.”  He proposed using
the complete living space the irreducible building unit.  Early
designs for Shoreline included apartment units designed to the
dimensions of a tractor-trailer to be built off site and then trucked
to the site for assembly.

Rudolph was ambitious in his designs, which did not always live up to
the finished product.  Shoreline was not modularly built; instead
stands conventional frame and masonry construction. Shoreline’s
corduroy exterior made of ribbed concrete block is unlikely to be
“self-cleaning” as Rudolph claimed.  Further, Shoreline’s master
planning, which intended to knit a residential community to the city’s
downtown business district, did not live up to expectations.  Its lack
of success does not rest completely on Rudolph’s shoulders.  In
Shoreline’s rise and fall can be read a national story of urban
dilemmas and solutions.

In a following post, I’ll write about some of those broader historical
currents that shaped the Shoreline Apartments.  Shoreline’s historical
context will show why an ugly-duckling apartment complex should be
seen as a historically significant artifact like an archeological
relic popping out of the sifted soil.

Conducting archaeological investigations in New York State keeps getting more exciting. However, we don’t have the chance to do as much faunal analysis as we used to but I thought it would be useful to write about methods for collecting and desiccating faunal remains. There are half dozen faunal guidebooks out there which present a graphic database of the North American animals (wild and domestic) commonly found at archaeological sites. Not to say they aren’t a great quick reference but these guides are somewhat limited as they focus primarily on the larger bones and larger mammals. They also only show the bones from one or two angles at most. When you’re trying to get an identification from bone fragments, this really doesn’t help. You need the real thing and it’s not easy. Though there are sources for crania such as skullsunlimited.com many time the rest of the skeleton, and the part you’re most likely to find in an archaeological context is up to you to beg, steal, or borrow
I was taught that you need a comparative collection with as many whole skeletons from all your potential species as possible. It’s also good to get a sample of select bones from both sexes and a variety of ages for each species. I started my collection slowly from farmer’s fields and middens. Of course I was taking only the “cool” skulls. Looking back I want to kick myself for all of those complete skeletons that only donated their crania. It wasn’t until I was contracted by a client to supervise an analysis that I really started a good comparative collection.
So I started with already “clean” specimens which usually meant damaged and missing elements too. I realized that I would have to bring my additions to the collection whole and clean them myself.
The source for most of my collection lead me to the title for this blog, roadkill. I was lucky that the State of Tennessee had just passed their famous “Roadkill Law” just as I was starting out, making it legal and proper for me to collect any game species I should find in the right-of-way. I always keep a few large 3-mil black plastic bags and a large trowel in the back of the field-truck and was then able to collect many of the medium-sized mammals and larger reptiles and birds.
The larger mammals (deer, coyote, bear, wild-boar) came from hunting family-members and from the road-kill freezer of the regional wildlife resource agency. The smaller animals came from lucky finds while in the field and from my general request for all things dead from friends and family. No one needed to wonder what to get me for Christmas.
The cleaning process was three-fold and consisted of :
-The removal and disposal of skin, hair and feathers and as much soft tissue as possible without damaging the bones. For this I recommend HAZ-Mat thick black rubber gloves, not dishwashing or surgical gloves which seem to let the flavors flow right-through .
-Exposure of the remains to the elements within a sealed metal mesh envelope. I realized that the envelope shouldn’t be hung up but should be tied to a tree and laid on the ground in partial sun which allows insects and worms to do their work.
-The envelope is ready to open only after most of the remains have been cleared of soft-tissues and have been partially bleached by the sun. The remains can now be stripped of the last of the soft tissue (brain especially) and transferred to a bucket full of fresh water and bicarbonate of soda (borax) or an outdoor crock-pot of fresh water set on a slow boil. The remains then soak or stew for a day or so and then are sieved though fine mesh and dried in direct sunlight for at least three days. After this I like to store them in Tupperware or other sealed containers with a cup of dry alum thrown in to take the last of the moisture away.
The finished project was bagged and labeled by body area (axial, upper appendages, lower appendages) for the specimen and added to the collection inventory.
I hope this information is useful and will hopefully help you avoid getting my Tennessee nick-name of Dr. Stinky.
Thanks for reading. For comments or questions email me at Chris@HAZExplorations.com

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Nov
25

Archaeology in the Ice Age

Posted by: Chris | Comments (0)

Archaeology in New York involves the cold. Unless you have the luxury of summer field seasons starting in late June you are going to dig cold. Engineering firms with tight schedules need their projects shovel ready when they need it too. So HAZEx was started in the snow and has continued working throughout all four seasons in New York and the the Northeast helping our Engineer clients’ get their permits on time. My personal experience in Great Britain and the Deep South provided me with their own share of environmental challenges, constant wet and constant heat, but it took some serious thinking to work through out the year in Archaeology in New York.
I thought with the holiday season it might be nice to share our cold archaeology in New York experiences and methods in the following short list of projects.
First job we had was for a cemetery relocation in Delaware County. Though we found and reunited the remains in the summer and early fall, it wasn’t until November that we had the reburial. The site was on a wind-swept bare-knoll below John Burroughs ground-hog cabin. The graves were in frozen gravel and so we called on the local track-hoe operator to do the digging for us.
Later that winter we had two archaeology survey jobs for the New York State Office of Parks. This time it was in St Lawrence and Jefferson Counties (North County). There was a foot of snow on the sand ground and we were excavating test pits at 15 meter intervals across acres. First we tried filling tin buckets with red-hot coals and placing them on the ice, then we realized that if you tested the ground with a steel breaker-bar you could find areas with little to no ice just below the snow. These became our test spots and we took the frozen sod and thawed it in an archaeology double boiler consisting of a tin bucket filled with earth placed inside a large trash can partially filled with charcoal. WE put the lid on and by the time the hole was excavated into sub-soils the sod was thawed and could be screened despite the 0 degree temps.
Variations on this method have continued through the past five years and surprisingly we find that snow-covered soils seldom freeze below the sod before February even in frigid conditions. So then it just becomes a question of how to keep digging without your fingers and face freezing up. Luckily there have been plenty of products created for the insanity that is ice-fishing and late-season deer hunting that function just as well for the gonzo New York winter archaeological technician: hot-hands, glo-mits, snow-shoes, Mr. Heater, aluminum duct-tape.
But the greatest HAZEx success for a winter challenge has been site testing. We were asked for help with a farmstead site in Jefferson County three years ago and decided we’d give it a try. The shovel testing wasn’t hard as soils were loose and steamy having had an insulating 5 feet of snow protecting them from the -20 degree nights of February. But excavating units that took several days to complete was another story. So we dug down to our datums left over from the survey, put up strong pop-up tents sealed up with aluminum tape, turned on the propane heaters, and dug through 6 of the coldest days in the past decade for Watertown. Though the technician outside of the tent had to screen fast before the soils froze to the screen, the folks doing the digging were pretty comfortable. One of our more productive days was a day the entire region was closed down for a blizzard. We dug through the storm and, as luck would have it, the first plows of the day rolled by our little Outbacks just as we were packing up for the day. We have applied this method several times since and none of us dread the winter testing lie we did at first.
I found my new favorite winter sport Archaeology in New York.
Thanks for reading. For comments or questions email me at Chris@HAZExplorations.com

The previously Blogged project in the Alleghenies resulted in the excavation of over 2000 shovel tests documenting prehistoric artifacts from across the entire survey area and including stone projectile points or knives, bifacial tools, end-scrappers, core fragments, angular debris, and sometimes dense clusters of debitage from the primary and secondary stages of tool production as defined, graciously, by Jack Holland (BSM). Material types for these stone artifacts, once again courtesy of Mr. Holland, included ubiquitous gray Onondoga and Huronian cherts (including some heat-altered pieces) and a few pieces of Upper Mercer chert imported across the mountains and up the river from South-Central Ohio.

A total of 4 new rock-shelter & 12 open habitation sites containing fire-altered rock, charcoal, and lithic debitage and various tools were newly recorded. Our tentative analyses have suggested that open habitation sites were common along the edges of the seeps and seasonal drainages at the heads of larger drainage systems within broad open upland plateaus (11). These areas would have had more open canopy prehistorically as they do in the present. Rockshelters containing tool making debris and evidence for hearths (4) were similarly clustered near boulder fields or upland swamps also offering the potential for an open canopy.

PA Fish & Game Researchers working around the Alleghenies have documented these seeps as present-day locii for edible early spring plants and attractants to large game from the deep woods. The presence of prehistoric sites in these locations suggests that these micro-environments were exploited seasonally by prehistoric societies. These may be special procurement stations within areas formerly thought to be inhospitable.

Notably, the plateau doesn’t seem to have been used in our survey area as a way-station between lowland valleys to the east and west as no sites were found on any of the intensively surveyed saddles or east-west running ridges.

The tool assemblage from these sites show that the period of use has extended far intoprehistory. Tools included endscrapers, stemmed points, ear-notched points, and a fluted point with evidence of serration and corner-notch modification suggestive of the early archaic curation of a paleoindian tool! The final analysis is pending.

These sites, though often small, are significant in that they reflect cultural practices beyond the function of the material remains contained therein. The sites locations alone may reflect resource procurement practices and give us a broader prehistoric occupation sphere. Further testing has been recommended for select sites and will add more information on site functions and chronologies and we feel seeps are sensitive.

This survey for the Alleghenies and the ongoing rockshelter testing highlights the importance of establishing economical and effective strategies. In the case of the Alleghenies, we developed an economical research design which, when strictly adhered to by a great crew, recorded 16 new prehistoric sites where there had been but one despite decades of small tract and roadway surveys.

Thanks for reading my blog. If you have questions or comments please write me at Chris@HAZExplorations.com

The growing importance of the study of the distribution of upland prehistoric sites throughout the vicinity of New York State is reflected in recent professional publications. The increase in State Govt’ requirements for CRM survey for development and the tighter test intervals in both PA and NY has resulted in bigger investigations of these previously ignored landforms. Recent work in NY has Complemented and inspired the continuation of this trend toward looking in new places, in upland settings. Specifically work by Dr. Versaggi and PAF, Hasenstab & Johnson, Carr & Adovasio have used survey data to redefine and refine prehistory in the central Appalachian ridge and valley and plateau. PAF continue to unearth and decipher vital data from prehistoric sites across the fingerlakes uplands. Drs. Carr and Adovasio have expanded the range of the earliest inhabitants of the Americas into the Northeast in PA and NY. While Hasenstab & Johnson have looked specifically at the agricultural development of the Allegheny Plateau during the late Prehistoric period.

This blog was inspired by these reports and others and presents the preliminary results of field investigations within the hills south of Allegheny State Park within the Allegheny National Forest. This upland study involved a selective survey strategy of several hundreds of acres for an Alleghenies project. The survey was surprisingly successful in many ways. The survey covered uplands to be crossed by approximately 50 miles of trails across Northeastern Pennsylvania.

This area was not previously unexamined. Hundreds of acres of the logged forest and roadways had been surveyed. Most of these surveys were small and were confined to the footprint of disturbances only, that usually being the forested slopes or valley floors. Until our recent project in the Spring and Summer of 2005 only a single prehistoric site. This rock-shelter was identified by Robert Dean (Seneca THPO) during his many volunteer surveys of the Alleghenies over the past few decades. This was the only documented prehistoric or indigenous site within miles of the portion of the county covering our survey area.

The survey covered 2,105 acres of the upland forest. The topography including the project area is mountainous with narrow valleys winding through high ridges and scattered plateaus. This area, lying at the northern end of the unglaciated Appalachian chain, had changed over the past 11 millennia from tundra to spruce, to pine and finally hemlock and chestnut forest.

This project area matches only a small portion of the area of potential effect of the trail system, including the trail and the woods within 400 meters. The area of effect would have covered 10s of thousands of acres from this motorized traffic and the greater accessibility to hikers/riders. The ANF couldn’t manage this much of a survey. So a sampling was proposed that would only cover around 2/3rds of the trail with the archaeological reconnaissance survey.

This project was conducted with a sampling design that is regional in scope and based on probabilities for encountering the greatest number of prehistoric sites with the smallest survey area (Binford 1964, Mueller 1975). We were trying to isolate microenvironments particular to the northern portion of the Allegheny Plateau that would have been favorable to prehistoric use and travel. The results of previous studies of prehistoric site distribution within these various environments were consulted. This suggested a low potential for finding any prehistoric sites other than the occasional rock-shelter, however. But based on previously documented patterns an intuitive region-based sample of more productive environments was isolated. These environments in the ANF include benches, ridges, saddles, narrow drainage terraces, the heads of drainages, and rock-shelters. The resulting technique of archaeological inquiry permitted the investigation of cultural systems over a large area within a limited time period and budget while still testing existing hypotheses for prehistoric site distribution.

The project area was divided into three areas corresponding to intuitive levels of potential to contain prehistoric cultural resources divided into high, moderate and low probability areas.

High probability (included 77 acres within the project area) areas are described as:
-relatively level (<10º slope).
&
-within 30 meters from a permanent or seasonal drainage or seep.
or
-narrow saddles.
or
-along plateaus and benches adjacent to large boulders fields and rocky outcrops.

Moderate probability (included 166 acres within the project area) areas are described as:
-relatively level (<10º slope).
&
-portions of the heads of valleys or hollows that are greater than 30 meters from a drainage or seep.
or
-narrow ridges adjacent to saddles.

Low probability areas are described as:
-sloping areas near large boulder fields or the heads of drainages.
or
-relatively level (<10º slope) ridges not adjacent to saddles.

Therefore the sampling strategy for the survey consisted of three methods of surveying:
-50 cm square shovel test excavation at 15 meter intervals within high probability areas.
-50 cm square shovel test excavation at 30 meter intervals within moderate probability areas.
-visual inspection along transects spaced at 30 meter intervals and opportunistic shovel testing within rock-shelters in low probability areas.

Rocky outcrops were scattered along the slopes and the edges of the plateaus throughout the project area. Therefore, it was necessary to establish specific dimension criteria for the identification of a rock-shelter in order to improve the chances of encountering prehistorically occupied shelters. Shovel test units at the 18 rock-shelters tested were spaced at 5 meters intervals within the drip-line. In order to examine deeply buried deposits common to Allegheny rock-shelters, these units were excavated to at least a depth of 50 centimeters below the ground surface regardless of soil type or down to bedrock.

The results of the selective investigation was positive and will be presented in a forthcoming blog. Thanks for reading my blog. If you have questions or comments please write me at Chris@HAZExplorations.com

Oct
16

Bio Archaeology across New York State

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I Presented a study for the annualNYSAA Meeting that involved bioarchaeology at two sites separated by a couple hundred miles but both associated to the earliest settlement families in Delaware and Jefferson County, respectively.
This study involves specialty archaeological analyses of the remains of individuals accidentally exhumed during quarrying near Roxbury, New York. The remians were investigated as the unmarked Person Cemetery, an early 19th century family plot associated to the daughter-in-law of county & town founder John More
&
The analysis of animal bone from the midden located behind the Sacket Mansion in Sacket’s Harbour, New York. The sample was derived from ten test units excavated by the TIC of NYSAA and is associated to the town founder Augustus Sacket and the proceeding Vaughn Family.
This pair of bioarchaeology studies involve forensic osteology and paleopathology at the Person Cemetery and faunal analysis at the Sacket Mansion.

The Person Cemetery is located on the north edge of the village of Roxbury along Hardscrabble Road (a mile below the childhood home of naturalist John Burroughs) within an active gravel quarry. The cemetery is identified by historic accounts of the Person Home across the street from their family plot. This home later became the More Family Homestead. A few years ago the town accidentally truncated five burials. The displaced remains were reunited during the present analysis with the insitu remains uncovered this past summer.
In addition to uniting over a score of individual elements of human remains with the undisturbed burials, this analysis also explored disease and lives of this early settler community and attempted to identify individuals (John Burroughs describes many local characters later in the 19th century. We hoped that these burials may have been late enough to be among his local cast) by facial or other diverse traits expressed on bone.
Pathologies included fractures and chronic infection. The individual traits and chronic diseases opened the possibility of find historic documents to identify the people of the Persons Cemetery. The search for historic records describing such people continues.

The Sacket Mansion is located in Sacket Harbor along the east shore of Lake Ontario. Sacket was important to the development of the North Country and considered to be an affluent landowner. The Mansion was also used as a hosiptal during the War of 1812.

The Thousand Islands Chapter (TIC)of the NYSAA who excavated this site are continuing the investigations of the history of this important center of the community. Investigations started by the NYSM in the 90’s. The TIC and former president Tim Abel have confirmed that specific strata within test units conform to the Sacket Family occupation and a later Vaughn Family occupation. The analysis of faunal remains permits an exploration the differences in the diet, occupation, and economy of the households.
The TIC were also particularly interested in identfying any human remains associated to emergency surgery from the war.

Faunal analysis showed changes between strata including variation in the frequency of wild game such as rabbit and squirrel, the presence of draft animals (oxen with an arthritic lesion) in the diet and the exploitation of fur-bearing animals (muskrat and marten). The analysis of evidence for methods of processing continue as well as the exposure of the deposits to rodent and dog chewing.

Four fragments of cranial bone were recovered from TU3 at the Level 3 associated to the midden. The bone, originally mis-identified as human remains, were correctly idenfied as from the vault of a domestic pig.

The value of these two separate studies is greatly magnified by the community involvement with and among vocational and professional archaeologists. The Person Cemetery analysis continued with the volunteer research by students form the Roxbury Central School. The cemetery had marble gravestones in place in the early 20th century. These stones were pulled in the 1950’s. Some of them were used as foundation stones for a farmhouse downhill from the quarry. These stones are currently underneath two feet of fill and a concrete porch. The students spent a day surveying foundations, dikes and rock piles in the vicinity. Though currently unsuccessful, they continue to search the area and have authored a epitaph for this unmarked cemetery.

The faunal analysis is a small part of the complex and important TIC investigations of two Jefferson County households and the continuation of TIC continued commitment to quality volunteer archaeology involving professionals as well. Their efforts continue to fill in the missing pieces.
Thank you for visiting my blog and you can also send any comments to me at Chris@HAZExplorations.com

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Geomorphology or Soil Science on archaeology sites is an incredible new tool for research into the age and origin of even the minutest layer of soils within a prehistoric or older historic site. However, the intense education (PhD) and limited folks in the area with these skills and availability make it difficult (costly and slow) to involve a geomorphologist on every archaeological survey. This was what we were facing at the end of 2007 and grappling with throughout 2008.
As a result I was tempted to send the following letter to SHPO last winter but the pressure from other Archaeology companies in New York like HAZEx seems to have fixed the problem, at least temporarily. My letter was to be sent regarding the existing Phase IA literature search and archaeological sensitivity assessment guidelines. The meat of the letter follows:
I am seeking clarification from the New York State Historic Preservation Office on a particular portion of the Phase IA literature search and archaeological sensitivity assessment requirements as stated with the Phase I Archaeological Report Format Requirements released in April of 2005. It is my understanding that a Phase IA report can be conducted by a member of the Registry of Professional Archaeologists meeting education and experience requirements for historic and prehistoric sites analysis. Could you please provide me with the specific qualifications necessary for archaeologists to conduct all aspects of literature research and sensitivity assessments in New York State?

I also have a question about Part 2-E-3-e of the Phase IA requirements. It is my understanding that this involves literature and technical research into existing soil and geological information and deep testing with auger borings within a project area in its representative topographies which have a potential to contain buried surfaces. Could you please provide me with the current requirements for a thorough assessment of the “potential for colluvial, alluvial or other deeply buried soils”? Does this implicitly include Holocene deposits?

Could you also provide a list of the qualifications required to conduct geomorphological or soil science analysis within New York State for Phase I, Phase II and Phase III archaeological analyses on either historic or prehistoric sensitive areas/sites.

I had the chance to talk with several colleagues during the NYSAA and NYAC meeting in Rochester this April and I learned that SHPO doesn’t have answers to my questions nor does it have the requested requirements codified. It seems they must be having a lot of trouble holding archaeologists to the soil science standards of other states like Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

But HAZEx is ready to be on the frontline of new techniques in archaeology. Despite this apparent hiatus in the geomorphology requirement HAZEx is already working closely with two geomorphology companies Metapeake Soil Science, Inc and Axis Environmental, Inc. on both the preliminary research and testing phases of archaeology. We need these business relationships to provide greater information about the origin of our prehistoric and historic soils and to keep working in cultural resource management throughout the Mid-Atlantic, New England and Mid-west.
We will continue to use these specialists when the need arrises and now when the SHPO calls just as we have done since 2003 when I worked with Dr. John Foss and on the last four projects with Dr. John Wah in the Northeast.
Thanks for reading. For comments or questions email me at Chris@HAZExplorations.com

Categories : New Archaeology
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