Archive for New York Archaeology


A Mountain with a View

Posted by: Chris | Comments (0)

HAZEx finally has a great big site ready to add to the National Register of Historic Places and accession (protect) at the New York State Museum! We teamworked since last April to make this possible with my favorite Soil Scientist (Dr. Wah at Metapeake Inc.) Dr. Abel and his fellow NYSAA experts like Tom Weinman, and a great volunteer class of aspiring explorers from Ithaca’s Lehman Alternative School. The site collection is soon to be available to researchers from across the globe.

This is a bit of the site description for your information.

Site Age:

Early Archiac (Lamoka & Bifurcate projectile point / knives) 8,000-6,000 BC

Middle Archaic (Normanskill, Vosburg ppk) - Vosburg ppk excavated from within the stump of a tree radio-carbon dated to 340 +/-30 years before the present (Beta #331577 – MVEPC-fea2w). 6,000-4,000 BC

Late Archiac (Rossville, Snookkill, Susquehanna, stemmed ppk) 4,000-1,000 BC

Middle Woodland (Greene, Jack’s Reef ppk) 1,000 BC-950 AD

Possible Late Woodland (Levanna ppk) 950-1492 AD

Brief Site Description:

The site consists of a diffuse chipped stone artifact scatter covering at least 70 acres in the Town of Coxsackie, New York near Climax Creek. The portions of the site currently identified are within a prehistoric wetland overlying the former Lake Albany located at a distance of at least 600 meters from the closest permanent water source. This area of level pasture was investigated though systematic shovel testing, dead-furrow trenching, test units, and a series of visual inspections across a plowed and disked surface along close-interval (3 meters) transects. A total of 807 prehistoric artifacts were documented and collected during these investigations. Geomorphological analysis of the vertical extent of the site indicated that all artifacts were confined to plow-zone soils or recent bioturbation. GIS analysis of the horizontal extent of the site revealed 18 concentrations of artifacts showing land-use patterns consistent across millennia and providing evidence for site disturbance from “relic hunters” in the southern portion of the site nearer the village.

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 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

Comments (0)

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


Cemetery Restoration in the Fall

Posted by: Chris | Comments (0)

With the coming of Halloween it’s important to remember that our historic cemeteries have served to protect and separate the dead from the living. Deep graves, gates and fences, charnel houses, metal vaults, and the patrols of the sexton have served this purpose. Cemeteries have also been the place to honor and remember the dead in rural communities throughout the US. Funerary monuments display wealth, insignia of organizations, and symbols of a person’s livelihood. Epitaphs carved into the stone speak of religious and political beliefs and the feelings of those left behind.

Cemeteries are protected places where families and friends can return to remember and where a sapling planted at the foot of a grave may grow to a mighty tree. Cemeteries are also quiet libraries for historians. Cemetery research takes the historian and genealogist into the sun to look for lost stories on gravestones.

Dozens of family and community cemeteries are located in Tompkins County. Among these is the Connecticut Hill Cemetery in the western part of the Town of Newfield. This cemetery was established alongside of Schoolhouse #14 in the early 1900s by a farming and dairy community. This portion of land (once owned by the State of Connecticut) is located at the highest portion of the county within the region of rocky and rolling hills between Cayuga and Seneca Lakes.

The Hill community used this cemetery for nearly a century from 1823 to 1917. Members of 23 families from across the town buried their dead here. The most common names include Brown, Congdon, Marsh, Powers, Snyder, Tracy and Whitney. Many families left the area during the mid 1900s due to the difficulty of farming this rocky soil. But maps show that this cemetery remained important for them long after they had moved off the Hill.

Local and state archives and local historians like the late Neil Poppensiek have been great sources of information on the Hill. They tell stories of strong community bonds revolving around dairy and subsistence farming, soldiers returning from southern battles, and the unusual manufacture of washboards. But there remain many unanswered questions and untold stories.

The greatest source of answers is chiseled into stone and is lying in pieces underneath pines and vine. Grievously, over the past three decades this cemetery has been brutally vandalized. Every marker is knocked over or broken and several grave shafts have been violated.

There is evidence for the grisly excavation of grave shafts and the possible disappearance of markers and skeletal remains from the cemetery. Though these excavations are only four feet deep they may have reached the caskets. Graves in the 1900s seldom were excavated six feet deep. The Tompkins County Sheriff and the Department of Environmental Conservation regularly patrol this isolated area, yet abuses continue.

Volunteers from HAZEx and the History Center in Tompkins County and the cultural resource community at large planned a series of workdays to record and restore this important cemetery. Young and old were invited to visit the cemetery and watch the operations and it was a great success. A recent drive up Connecticut Hill Road shows me that good works last.

Thanks for reading my blog. For more information on cemetery restoration please contact me at


Bio Archaeology across New York State

Posted by: Chris | Comments (0)

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

Comments (0)

Maps and history

Posted by: Chris | Comments (0)

If you own one of the many old Upstate New York houses you’ve probably wondered about or even researched the history of your home. You may even have thought about the traces on our landscape left by indigenous people and the early Europeans who supplanted them. Traces of the lives of the latter can often be found along the roads we travel today.

During the past few months my friend Joel Rabinowitz and I have been researching early European settlement along one of our local roads. Though our work was only a quick glance at a lot of information we walked away with more than we expected, uncovering a remnant of the founding family who gave their name to Hanshaw Road east of the Town of Ithaca.

Historic maps can show changes in the locations of roads and families and changes to the landscape. Knowing the locations of long-since demolished barnyards speaks to the agricultural roots of early Ithaca. Streets and homes in the City of Ithaca and within the villages are generally depicted in more detail and on a greater variety of maps. But homes from throughout the county are depicted on maps as far back as 1853 and roads across the county are depicted on maps from 1829 on.

Hanshaw Road is one of a half dozen older arteries out of Ithaca, in this case heading to Dryden, Owasco Lake and the Northeast. The lands along the road were originally part of the Revolutionary War Military Lots from which Cayuga Heights was formed. Some of the first European settlers in Tompkins County drew these lots as payment for their service in the war.

Deed research and the 1829 map of the county revealed that the road changed names from Dryden to Hanshaw reflecting its early importance as an upland track and the later importance of the Hanshaw family in their community.

A half dozen homes are shown from 1853 to 1900 along the portion of Hanshaw Road within the current East Cayuga Heights. All of these homes are still standing. The Greek Revival homes you pass along that road can be matched with names on the 19th century maps such as Raub, Cline, Manning, Morris, and Hanshaw. A detailed map from 1931 also shows the lost remains of one of the great farmsteads that prospered along this now busy suburban thoroughfare.

Taking these maps and records into the field we searched for the old barnyard of James Hanshaw. With help from long-time Tompkins County residents we finally found the ruins of a small part of this family’s enterprise. George Krizek has saved photographs of the home and barns as they appeared before 1930. How did we know that we had found the Hanshaw farm? There on the same spot marked on the maps as the Hanshaws’ since 1853, underneath a bit of sod and next to the foundation stones was an iron plow blade.

The written history of the Hanshaw House is incomplete. Was this homestead one of the rare Finger Lakes hog farms or was it an important dairy providing milk and even bovine patients to the blossoming University down the road? Investigations continue and many of the pieces of the puzzle are available at our local Historical Societies. Please send any questions or comments to Chris Hazel at

Comments (0)

These summer nights are a perfect time for an outdoor horror film at the Finger Lakes Drive-in. Recent research for the Cayuga Waterfront Trail has unearthed a chilling treasure from Ithaca’s silent film era suitable for our summer nights.
Tompkins County is already famous as the last residence of Rod Serling, “Twilight Zone” creator and Ithaca College professor. Mr. Serling grew up in Elmira and lived with his family near Interlaken between 1970 until his death in 1975 during which time he taught film at the IC Department of Communication. He also displayed an interest in Ithaca’s silent films, even as his own psychological and haunting programs were creating television’s Golden Age. In 1975 he narrated the short IC film “They Made Movies in Ithaca”, telling the story of the Wharton Brothers.
The Wharton Motion Picture Studio was one of the first in the US operating from 1913 to 1919 and filming across Ithaca’s Stewart Park. The Wharton films featured directors who would go west to create “The Little Rascals” and “Tarzan” and stars such as Pearl White, Irene Castle, Oliver Hardy, and Lionel Barrymore (Drew’s grandfather).
The Whartons filmed dozens of dramas and comedies and one horror film “the Mysteries of Myra”. Myra was written by a famous psychic, Hereward Carrington, and billed as “science versus supernatural”. The serial film featured a strong heroine beset by dark occult forces including an animated golden statue called the “Thought Monster” and the hooded Grand Master of the Dark Order and his evil-handed followers.
Though the plot of Myra was more sensational than serious drama the film made a big contribution to the film industry. Myra introduced the science fiction film to audiences as well as special effect and mood lighting techniques. Double exposure of the film showed moving figures within a crystal ball and statues turning into dancing demons. Red tinting of the film created a ghastly mood for the ceremonial scenes of the “Black Order”.
Sadly, only the script and scattered images of the Ithaca-made Myra have survived. According to local historians the Ithaca City Fire-Marshall took the highly flammable nitrate film out of their new park’s Bathhouse Pavilion and rowed it out to the drop-off in Cayuga Lake and sunk it forever. The only scraps of film remaining are stored at the British Film Archive in London. However, promotional and other still photos of Myra are preserved by silent film aficionados like Terry Harbin and can be seen in the photo collection of the History Center.
Our research sparked our investigations of the former grounds of the studio crossed by the City’s new proposed Phase 3 of the trail. A quick look at the early 20th-century Sanborn Fire-Insurance Company Maps including Renwick Park (former name of Stewart Park) showed numerous screen stages, props sheds, and a remarkable ultra-fireproof film developing and cutting room encircling the primary studio. The studio was the former Renwick Amusement Park dance pavilion built at the turn-of-the-century and survives relatively intact today, including a few old lavaliere lights hanging from the ceiling, as a storage house and restrooms for the park. But a remarkable characteristic of the area is that it may be the one and only remaining major silent film studio left in the US that hasn’t been consumed by development. The park was purchased by the City in 1922 and many of the studio support structures were torn down to ground level to open up the park. But since that time little to no development has occurred across the grounds except for some parking lots and road improvements.

The question remains whether there are still traces of the studio below the green grass of Stewart Park and if so what incredible stories and treasures might they contain? There is amazing potential for sub-surface features of the Wharton Studio. Consider the possibility of a filled in or cemented over cellar within the former film-room filled with lost reels of our early American stars preserved like young Tutankhamen ready to be cast back into the public eye on the silver screen.
Thanks for reading. For comments or questions email me at

Comments (0)