Hampden Heritage

Archaeology, History, and Heritage in Central Baltimore

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Visitors; upcoming dig day.

We continued excavations in front of the hearth today finishing up an artifact rich first strat and moving on to the second. We also completed unit two, exposing an exterior wall of unknown function and recovering a few more nineteenth-century artifacts.

If yesterday was a day for new finds, today was a day for site visitors and public outreach. Early in the morning we were pleasantly surprised when Joe Powell dropped by to volunteer. Joe recently moved to Hampden, and has a history degree from University of Maryland. He helped us to screen soil and map until about noon, and plans to come back tomorrow to help out some more. Here's Joe at work at the screen.


Later, we got a visit from Maryland State Terrestrial Archaeologist Charlie Hall, who, after a site tour, offered us some good advice and support.

A couple of other folks wandered by in the afternoon as well, including Suzannah, Charlotte, and Eric Lipstien, pictured below, who stopped in for a site tour.


We invited all of our visitors to come back to our dig day this Saturday. In fact, anybody is welcome to come see what we're up to, screen some dirt, or just take a site tour on Saturday July 29, 2006, from 10:00 A.M. - 2:00 P.M. Our current excavation is at 3839 Falls Road, between Sirkis Hardware and McCabe’s Restaurant, so please stop by.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

New Finds

At the first place I ever did archaeology - Historic St. Mary's City in Southern Maryland - the lid of the site water cooler was decorated with the following motto: "Archaeology has been very good to me." I don't know who wrote it there, but I suspect my great teacher and friend Tim Riordan, who know that archaeology, even as it is full of frustrations, difficulties, and even boredom, has a way of renewing your faith in it just as you are about to plunge over the brink of dispair. During the first summer I worked with Tim, we spent weeks finding nearly nothing in a series of test pits that were meant to help locate new sites at the museum Tim, ever the exemplar of patience, taught me that summer that when you aren't finding anything, you have to console yourself with the satisfaction of practicing your craft well and the knowledge that, as any archaeologistst who hasn't been finding much lately will tell you, "negative information is good information."

This kind of succor only goes so far however. Eventually working hard and not finding much begins to wear on you. Today was just such a day for me. I have to admit, I've been feeling a bit low about the project lately, questioning whether it was worth spending my summer making almost no money for a pursuit that may or may not produce enough usable data to allow me to write my dissertation. Indeed, I've also been digging in the same 1x1 meter unit for several days, and not finding very much besides large rocks which have to be mapped in place frequently - to my great frustration. So I, although I'm not a religious person, I was about to raise a prayer of anguish to St. Damisus this morning when the wall I was cleaning produced a length of pipe stem, which, to me, seemed like evidence that I wasn't totally wasting my time. From the same fairly deep stratum came a number of other good nineteenth century artifacts, including a piece of teapot, a bottleneck, and a fragment of wooden button. These are the sorts of artifacts that tell us a lot about what people did that they might not have ever written down. Artifacts are traces of the past, and it is the task of archaeologsts and other students of the past to piece those traces into meaningful statements about how people lived.


After lunch, Bob, who had been profiling his very deep unit with two of our student workers, began excavation of a 1x1 in front of the hearth of the ruined foundation on the site. They had only been digging for a few moments when they found a mother of pearl button, and by the time the afternoon was over, they had assembled a pretty large bag of the kinds of artifacts that archaeologists of domestic sites like to see - buttons (15 of them!), animal bone, ceramics, tobacco pipe fragments, glass container fragments, and even some bits of newspaper.


Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Commenter ID?

Back in March when Dave first began digging at the Pacific St. site, someone posted a comment to Dave's message listing a number of items that he/she had found underneath his/her home in Brick Hill during renovation the comment can be viewed at http://hampdenheritage.blogspot.com/2006/03/further-pacific-avenue-excavations.html#comments). We'd like to contact this person about taking a look at the collection. Unfortunately, the blog is not set up to give any way of identifying people who post comments. So, if the person who posted this comment is still reading the blog, could you please contact us at hampdenarchy@yahoo.com? Thanks in advance.

Falls Rd. Mysteries

After two full weeks of excavation at our site on Falls Rd., we can confidently report that we are somewhat confused as to what is going on in the ground. Ok, so it's not quite that bad, but we are finding some mighty odd things. In my last blog I wrote about a circular feature that we had uncovered in the unit where I am working. We excavated it through two different stratigraphic layers and uncovered . . . nothing. Practically no artifacts came out of it, and those few that did will not provide us with a date. Thus, we decided to take down the two layers (stratigraphic levels 3 and 4) of gravelly sand that the feature cut through. In each of these layers we found . . . nothing. Well, almost nothing, and certainly nothing that will help us to date the layers. At this point it became clear that a strip of dark orangish clay running along the south edge of the unit was even with level 3 and above level 4, so we made that Feature 3 and excavated it. Finally, we found some stuff! It appears that Feature 3 is the result of runoff deposition in a channel cut through the ground by running water, and the runoff was transporting something--tin cans. In addition to the numerous small fragments of can, we were able to recover several larger chunks, including an entire can bottom. We'll have to take a closer look at the cans in the lab before we will know if we can date them, but we also recovered a partial bottle base with embossed lettering that should prove datable, as well as a piece of sponge-decorated whiteware ceramic. We are fairly confident that the feature dates to the first quarter of the 20th century.

After finishing the feature and levels three and four, today Jacinda and I worked our way through level five and a good way into level six. Both of these layers consist of pale, silty sand streaked with orange silty sand. After excavating a good foot or so of soil without finding any artifacts, we used an augur to dig a core straight down through the soil in the hopes of finding out if there are any other layers beneath the silty deposits, or if the silt continues right on down to subsoil. When we had dug about two feet down with the augur and detected no change whatsoever in the soil, we made a judgment call that there was probably nothing else down there before subsoil, and given that there are no artifacts in the silty sediments, it would be a waste of time and effort to keep digging any further in this unit. While it would be really interesting to know why there are several feet of silt deposits in this yard, we don't think that further excavation in this unit will be able to tell us anything about the occupation of this lot. Tomorrow we'll draw profiles of two or three of the unit walls so that we have a record of the stratigraphy, and then we will start on a new unit.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Falls Rd. Feature

After taking a day off on Wednesday to go visit the Baltimore Museum of Industry and the Visionary Arts Museum (it's only a coincidence that we also got to avoid the sweltering heat--honest!), we resumed work at the Falls Rd. site today. Dave and Jacinda finished up most of the mapping with the laser transit, and they are quite happy about it--it can be something of a boring job, especially for the prism-holder. they then opened a test unit adjacent to the foundation of the addition to the burned-down house; hopefully, they'll be able to find a builder's trench and determine an age for the addition. In my unit, Diamond and I continued troweling through several layers, before coming down upon what appears to be a circular feature. We're not sure yet what it might be, but our best guess is that it is a post mold (the area where a fence post was once inserted into the ground) surrounded by a post hole (the hole that was dug so the post could be inserted, and then filled back in to stabilize the post). We mapped it today, and tomorrow we'll dig into it to see if we can find any diagnostic (datable) artifacts or other clues as to the nature of this feature.

On another note, we will be holding another Public Dig Day soon--we'll post details on the blog soon, but you can also keep your eyes out for our fliers around Hampden!

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

update from Falls Rd.

Well, we've been at the site on Falls Rd. for a week now, and while we're really just getting started, we think that this will turn out to be a great site. We spent the first several days digging shovel test pits (STPs) all over the property. Unlike our usual 1x1 meter test units, STPs are round holes about a foot and half in diameter that we excavate non-stratigraphically. (That just means that we don't separate the artifacts we find in STPs based on the level they came from.) While most archaeologists don't really like digging STPs (including our Youthworks interns), they are a very useful tool for quickly exploring a site and examining the hot spots where we are likely to find really good stuff.

In this case, the STPs have indeed given us a good idea about where we should (and should not) concentrate our efforts. Fortunately, there are at least a couple of areas that seem to have intact deposits from the late 19th/early 20th century, and we've even found some artifacts that seem to be quite a bit older, which we weren't expecting. We opened up our first 1x1 meter unit today, so we haven't gotten very far yet, but in the next few days we should have another update, hopefully with exciting news.

Monday, July 10, 2006

An update with photos

As much as we continue to have fun this summer, we are experiencing a few rough patches in the road. As regular readers know, a major part of our project involves getting the local Hampden community involved in our work. However, this is often difficult given a limited budget, constraints on our time, unpredictable working conditions, and a less than stellar ability to promote ourselves.

With that said, we are still somewhat disappointed with the turnout at our public dig day last Saturday. We had a grand total of six people show up, and while we got a lot of extra work done on Saturday, we really want to share our activities with members of the Hampden community. Anyway, we're really glad to have had our several guests last Saturday Here they are:

Community Archaeology Day.JPG

Our other Big Problem this week is that the Pacific St. Construction crew has been using an overhead crane to assemble the new addition there. Understandably, they didn't want a band of archaeologists and archaeologists-in-training hanging around while they swung a really heavy framing members in the air, so we had to move on to our second site on Falls Rd. While this isn't necessarity a bad thing, it is somewhat inconvenient, since we have several units in progress still at the site. So far we are finding good stuff in the new spot, and we have a lot more visitors than we did in Stone Hill, so the move seems to be a net good.

The new site consists of three lots between Falls Road and Crowther Street. One of the lots has an extant building, while the remnant of nineteenth-century foundation/retaining wall is present on the other. We are testing the site for buried deposits that may relate to the late 19th and early twentieth century occupations at the site, and have so far located several interesting areas, including a large sheet midden that may be related to one or both of the houses.

No photos from the new site yet, but her are some others from Pacific St. Most of these were taken by Robyn Lyles, one of the homeowners at the Pacific St. site. Enjoy!


Here, construction workers are fitting together and levelling the foundation for a new timber-frame addition to the house.


Here's me actually doing some work for a change.


Here, Bob and three of our Youthworks interns screen soils for evidence of the early 19th-century occupation of the site.


And here's the archaeology shot, showing a stratified 1-meter square unit above what may prove to be one of the site's privies.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Public Dig Day Coming Up!

This Saturday, July 8th, the Hampden Community Archaeology Project will hold its first Public Dig Day of 2006. Residents of Hampden-Woodberry and the general public are invited to come out to 732 Pacific St. in Stone Hill from 10 am to 2 pm to learn all about the process of archaeology and the history of Hampden-Woodberry. (We also encourage you to share your own knowledge of local history with us.) Our Public Dig Days were a huge success last summer, and we hope to replicate that experience this year. As a visitor you will get to see active archaeological excavations, and will even have the opportunity to help us screen dirt looking for artifacts! If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to contact us at hampdenarchy@yahoo.com.

Further update from Pacific St.

First, allow me to apologize for letting almost a week go by without an update. We did, though, have the weekend and the Fourth off, so our progress has been relatively slow. Last Friday Diamond and I continued working in the unit at the back of the yard. As of the last post, we had just come down on Stratigraphic Layer 4, a level full of decaying mica. We began shoveling into it and discovered that it also contained several very large chunks of granite, of the kind that line the yards in Stone Hill. It was hard going, but fortunately the layer wasn't too thick, and beneath it was a layer of darker, moister soil. In addition, we finally began finding some artifacts in Strat 4--some older ceramics, some new-looking glass, some badly corroded nails, and what appears to be a water pipe connector. After recording Strat 4, Diamond and I began troweling through Stratigraphic Layer 5. The layer is full of coal, but has quite a few artifacts as well, including some transfer-printed ceramics, glass, nails, and brick and bone fragments. We had taken the layer down about 8 centimeters by the end of the day, and it appears to keep going down further.

Down in the outbuilding area, Dave, Thomas and Jacinda opened up a second unit diagonally to the southeast of their first one in an attempt to find a second edge to their feature. Unfortunately, they only ended up with a unit that was all feature! Thus, they had to open up yet another unit diagonally to the southeast, but they haven't gotten far enough down yet to know if they've finally found the edge.

Which reminds me of a bit of sad news--we've lost one of our workers. Thomas was transferred to another job, so he left after lunch on Friday. Our loss was compensated. however, by the addition to our crew of one Tyrae Cokley of Park Heights. Tyrae began with us on Monday, and after two days on the job has proven himself to be a quick learner and a fast digger.

On Monday Tyrae, Jacinda, Diamond and I laid out a grid for some shovel test pits (STPs)in the area of the yard immediately above the new addition to the house that is currently being built. (Dave was absent both Monday and today due to teaching duties in College Park.) This part of the yard will most likely not exist beyond next week, so we wanted to get a quick idea whether there is anything there worth digging into before it gets taken out by a backhoe. In all, over two days we completed 12 STPs spanning an area approximately 11x4 meters. The stratigraphy in the STPs was fairly straightforward, consisting mostly of a top layer and a bottom layer, with some area of mixture between the two due to faunal disturbance. Some of the STPs yielded few artifacts of any interest, but several of them contained some pretty interesting stuff--transfer-printed ceramics that probably date to the first half of the 19th century, some old bottle glass (including one small medicine bottle base and a glass stopper that probably went with it), etc. Despite the simple stratigraphy, which suggests that this area may be the product of backdirt dumping when the original addition to the house was put up, there were enough cool artifacts concentrated among three adjacent STPs to convince us to put in a unit here tomorrow to see what shows up.

Coming soon--pictures from our first two weeks!