Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Week Six - Tara Schwartz

Saturday was our public archaeology day, when I woke up that morning I felt like I was going to die. I am not a good public speaker and having to gives tours the whole day made me very nervous .On the car ride there I kept going over in my head what I should say to the people about each site. I was the first person to give a tour that day; they were a lovely couple, who seemed very interested in archaeology. After my tour it didn’t seem so bad and I actually wanted to give tours the whole day. Most people that came to the site were the students’ families. I thought there would have been a lot more people there. I think Carin’s favorite part of the day was when BRAVO found the bayonet. That Saturday was a good day to have Public Archeology day.

That last week of file school had to be the most interesting. We drew a profile of the camp kitchen. I am glad I did not have to draw a unit; it looked like it took a lot of concentration and too I have no artistic abilities. We also drew a picture of the rock scatter, but we only drew the units that we opened up on Saturday which contained lots of post holes. The post holes give an indication of something that was there during the revolutionary time. There are many interpretations of the rock scatter, the main one is that it was a work place for the soldiers, it’s kind of difficult to say what they were making there though.

Wednesday we got to excavate the feature that was in the camp kitchen. I think we found more artifacts that day then any other day of field school. Paul and Nikkie were the lucky ones because they found a sword blade and a saucer in their unit which indicates that officers were using the kitchen. There were other artifacts found there like a button, a metal piece that could have been to a frying pan or a cauldron.

My favorite part of field school was when we got the awards, my awarded was the “I suck at this / most improved award”. It was a cute little idea to gives us these awards; they really described us well. I am definitely going to miss field school. I love the people that I worked with I could ask for better friends.

Week Six - Meghan Shirley

Some say that there are two sides to every story. After six long weeks, the 2009 Temple University field school could tell those people they’re dead wrong – at least when the story in question is being told about an historical landscape. A physical place, an oral history, a group of soldiers in a winter encampment – over time these things are snowballs rolling down a hill, gaining a new layer with each revolution, each layer containing its own myriad of interpretations, each building upon those that came before it. To seek a definitive answer, an accepted truth, a list of facts, an end to all inquiry – as students of historical archaeology we quickly learn how futile this search would be. In the preface to her book entitled “Valley Forge: Making and Remaking a National Symbol,” Lorett D. Treese discusses the professional historian’s view of history, the idea that there is not one, or even two, truths but many, many interpretations of what we seek to know and understand about the past. As she points out – and as we’ve seen firsthand this summer – Valley Forge has not one, but several histories. Over the course of six weeks, we’ve been introduced to some interpretations of these histories and uncovered many others ourselves.

Although this last week of excavation has been a short one, nobody can say we haven’t succeeded in going out with a bang. With the help of Dan Sivilich and BRAVO, joining us at the site for the first time this summer, Saturday’s public archaeology day was excitingly successful. It’s likely no one expected the complete bayonet found a mere four inches deep in the soil less than a stone’s throw away from one of the spots we’ve been excavating. Did a Continental soldier drop it accidentally or was it being used for something other than its intended purpose? At this point the latter may be the best guess considering the fact that a collapsed piece at what would have been the point of fixation to the musket seems to have been physically, maybe intentionally, altered. BRAVO also found many other metal artifacts like musket balls, nails and buttons, several of which came out of the ground in a linear cluster first identified in 2007. As the members of Dan’s team swept the surrounding area, we excavated several new units in the spot known as the rock scatter, first opened in 2007 and thought to have maybe been a work area of some sort. We found some bone, some ceramic and, interestingly, evidence of six post holes possibly running in two different – but not parallel – straight lines through three different units. Considering the situation of the soil marks in relation to one another, one line of posts was most likely erected first and eventually torn down before the other went up. What may be a small flint wrap (part of a musket) was found in the bottom of one of the excavated post holes.

A few days later we completed plan view drawings of the rock scatter units and the post holes they contained, as well as the units we’ve excavated at the camp kitchen and the long trench they revealed. This technical drawing can be time consuming but is extremely important as documentation of what our units are telling us at crucial points in excavation. After drawing we effectively destroy what we just put down on paper as we continue to dig. The last few days we’ve done just that, troweling out the rich, dark soil of the camp kitchen’s trench feature in groups. In units 204 C and D two of our classmates uncovered what looks like an iron sword blade, as well as two pieces of what appear to be a tea cup saucer made of decorated creamware. These artifacts lend more evidence to the notion that there were officers in the area, for they are the ones who would have used such a vessel and carried such a weapon. Pulled from other parts of the feature were musket balls, bone (some with marks indicating butchering), charcoal, an iron pot handle with copper rivets and plating, a badly degraded button, a fairly large chert core and pieces of burned earth.

In light of the material artifacts found and the features in the land itself, we interpret this particular area as being, once upon a time, the site of a camp kitchen. Many finds bring us closer to an answer – or at least a likely answer – to the question we’re posing. Yet it’s true that some things come out of the ground after so many years and only lead to more questions. Case in point: three pewter 2nd Pennsylvania Regiment buttons found on site at Washington Memorial Chapel. One was found last year, 2008, in the same units of the camp kitchen feature that just a few days ago yielded the sword blade and creamware – our 204 C and D. BRAVO turned up the second one north of the camp kitchen area. One button, no red flag. Two buttons in different areas, maybe a coincidence. But after one of our classmates pulled a third button out of unit 205 D in the same camp kitchen area as the first, all sorts of questions came up. The Pennsylvania regiments supposedly encamped at what is now known as Wayne’s Woods under the command of General Anthony Wayne – not in the area we’re currently excavating near the chapel. So was the 2nd Pennsylvania actually there? If not, where were they situated? Were they separated from the others stationed in Wayne’s Woods and ordered to instead build their huts alongside the New England troops under General Varnum? Was our chapel site a work area or maybe a place where uniforms were being delivered? These are some of the many possible ways to interpret the finding of these three buttons in the chapel area. Hopefully further research and excavation will produce a more definitive answer.

As field school comes to an end, the search to uncover all that this site has to tell us certainly doesn’t. Yet after six long weeks we can all say we’ve become a part of this landscape – and carved out our own piece in one of its many layers of history – forever.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Week Five Summary

This week has focused heavily on getting ready for our big day – Public Archaeology Day! It was Saturday, August 8th, from 8:00am – 2:00pm. In preparation for our hoped-for crowd, the students spent much of the week cleaning up previously excavated units in order to be presentation-ready for Saturday. We invited the public to come and experience our excavation through our museum exhibits in the Chapel, through site tours of all of the various parts of the landscape, and through helping the field school screen the soil in order to find artifacts from the encampment of the Continental Army.

In terms of actual excavation work, we had to shift focus a bit. A storm early in the week really left us with a wet and silted-in potential hut site. Monday we cleaned up the perimeter excavation units, and left it all open to dry out. The rest of that day we moved up to the camp kitchen. This is a site that I am really excited to continue excavating, but it requires a lot of patience and slow-moving. We expected to find the continuation of our dark organic feature which denotes a kitchen trench. We had to be highly vigilant in order to spot it when it first appeared – it is quite difficult to distinguish from our dark, soft topsoil. Luckily, we came right down on it, just where we expected, and it even curves around the earthen mound as a typical kitchen should.

We also laid in units for our Public Day, returning to our 2007 area of excavation to revisit an indentified clustering of artifacts. We expected to find only artifacts, no features in these four new squares…which of course meant that we found not one or two, but six post holes on Saturday. You can read a more detailed description of Public Day itself below.

Though there was intermittent rain this week, we persevered through it in order to knock down bulk walls and make clean, clear areas of excavation; as well, we spent a long time drawing the features we have identified. It took much of Thursday just to map the overhead (in archaeology the “plan”) view of the newest hut feature. The students were each responsible for part of the feature, with the understanding that all of their drawings would fit together in the end. Technical drawing is such an important part of our record-keeping jobs, it’s really pertinent that the students learn this skill, and learn it well! We will try to scan in a drawing as an example sometime in our last week.

In terms of artifacts, it was a quiet week – our most exciting find came on Friday morning as the class was troweling back the camp kitchen feature. We discovered ANOTHER 2nd Pennsylvania Regiment button! We discovered one in the fall of 2008 in the camp kitchen trench, thinking that it had just moved from the area where the Pennsylvania brigades were encamped to our south in Wayne’s Woods. When we discovered another one in a different part of the site, we got suspicious. Now a third 2nd PA button, and the second from our kitchen, suggests something else is going on here. I don’t know what yet, but we will be sure to update when we have an idea! Until then, one week to go….

Stay tuned!


Sunday, August 9, 2009

Public Day!

Public Day 2009 was a rousing success. We had a great turn out and many awesome finds. Here are just a sampling of pictures from the day:

Carin providing early morning instructions to the class before Public Day begins.

Scott and Emily, taking opening elevations for an excavation unit.

BRAVO's excellent exhibit, detailing an English Brown Bess Musket in it's complete and disassembled forms.

Meghan working the screen with on of today's volunteers.

Scott, Emily and Laura (L to R) making dirt for our volunteers to screen.

A member of BRAVO, trying to locate a metal detector hit.

A member of BRAVO with the big find of the day, an intact bayonet.

Two of our very helpful volunteers holding BRAVO's big find of the day.

Carin speaking with a group of visitors.

Another button found by BRAVO.

A concentration of artifacts BRAVO located (possibly a trash pit).

Week Five - Nikki Bond

During the first week of field school we learned about camp kitchens, and this week we actually got the chance to see a camp kitchen. Its really interesting because if you don’t know about the construction of the kitchens you could walk right pass one. This particular kitchen has never been disturbed, so when we did the excavations it was amazing to know that we were the first people to see its artifacts and features in the last 230 years.

Scott made some interesting noises that could be heard a mile away. At first we thought something was dieing and felt really bad for the thing, but as he got closer to the site we realized it was him. That’s how he passes the time during break.

The Megan’s entertained us with their constant sarcastic remarks towards one another and to the rest of us, their great.

Paul is perfect.

Laura was trawling a trash pit and hit a nest of worms. She freaked out started and screaming and running around in circles. When she started to turn purple and began to heave I felt it was my duty to step in and save her.

Marie was so quiet I forgot she was there.

Tara is a secretly a seventeen year old cheating the system. She looks like a baby, but she probably knows more than any student in the class.

The Emily’s have halos over there head with a red pointed tail coming out of there back side.

All in all every one has their own distinctive personality and we all mesh well. Field school would not be the same without any of you.

Week Five - Marie Dematatis

As the second to last week of our field school proceeded, we as students found ourselves gaining a bit more responsibility for the excavation process than when we first began digging west of the Valley Forge Memorial Chapel. We have acquired the skills necessary to independently perform tasks that we previously needed supervision for, such as screening and identifying artifacts, and laying in new units. The archaeological methods that we have applied in excavating the site could not have been learned without the unique hands on experience and instruction that field school has provided for us.

During this week we laid units and excavated in two areas that were new to us. Although there was still work to be done in the northern hut area that we began excavating last week, the water damage caused by the weekend’s intense thunderstorms prevented us from digging there on Monday. We did clean the area in the morning, but then proceeded to open new units that extended west of the camp kitchen area that was previously excavated by Carin and her field school last year. We continued to excavate this area throughout the week, and uncovered the suspected extension of a feature found last year. We uncovered a large, dark soil stain that curved around the base of a hill, which is characteristic of the trench of an encampment period kitchen. The mound that it surrounds was created because it naturally insulated the fireboxes that were dug into its sides. Within this area, we found evidence of food production with artifacts such as butchered cattle bone, charcoal, ceramic. On Friday, a 2nd Pennsylvania regiment button was found that resembles one found last year at the same site. This find is very interesting to us because the 2nd regiment was not stationed in this area, but was instead well to the south of our site.

The other new area that we laid units in and began excavating this week was the area known as the “rock scatter”. This area of limestone cobbles was excavated in 2007, and was interpreted as a work area, similar to one found in Wayne’s Woods. Melted lead, deteriorated buttons, musket balls, the base sherd of a tankard and a tobacco pipe fragment were found here. While we were cleaning the area to prepare it for public archaeology day, several metal artifacts were found including nails and a cufflink. Hopefully we will find more artifacts that will help us better understand this area on public archaeology day.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Week Four - Megan Grant

This week we focused on our new area. They believe that this is also a hut because of the depression in the soil near a tree and the large amount of stone piled at the base of the tree which is evidence of chimney fall. As each group excavated their individual units it became clear that there was a definite soil stain that extended well into all of them in an almost square shape. This is interesting because it doesn’t really comply with the orders General Von Steuben gave for proper hut dimensions. It’s too soon to make any kind of general conclusion but its unusual apparent size could be due to the harshness of the circumstances in which they were constructed. It’s possible that the cold weather compelled the soldiers to build their huts as quickly as possible to protect them from the elements. Aside from evidence of features we have so far found some sherds of redware, a few nails from the 18th century, pieces of a clay pipe and a musket ball. The musketball appears to have scars from being put in with the ram rod but never fired.

On Wednesday afternoon we went to Temple and finished bagging most of the clean artifacts from the 2007 and 2008 field schools. This type of work is just as important as the actual digging. It’s interesting to compare the types of artifacts found at previous field schools with those that we are finding this year.

On Friday we definitively identified one of our units as containing the hearth of the hut. The rocks are flat and in the correct position, an exciting end to our fourth week.

Week Four - Emily Sicher

This past week was one of our busiest weeks yet. Now into our fourth week we have moved away from the hearth to a site just north of it. We opened several new units and made a lot of progress in each of them. On Monday Carin was sick and rather then leaving the very capable Jess in charge of 10 students we got the day off. But we were ready to start work on Tuesday. We spent the day opening new units and looking for changes in the soil. The units in the middle could possibly be the floor to the huts, which we would be able to see by changes in soil color and texture. We opened up a unit at the north end that was filled with rocks. As we dug deeper we discovered these rocks were chimney fall.

On Wednesday we spent the morning digging but by lunchtime rain was threatening to hit. After our lunch break we headed to Temple do re-bag the artifacts we washed last week. We learned how to label a bag properly so Carin and Jesse can catalog them later on. With the ten of all working on it we were able to get all of them re-bagged and relabeled, which made Carin and Jesse pretty happy.

Thursday we closed out the unit with all the rocks and moved to the unit just above it, which seems to have more rocks than the first one. It looks very promising. In other units we found a pieces of redware ceramic. This particular piece of ceramic was very regional to Philadelphia and could also indicate status of the person staying in the hut. A person of higher status like an officer, might have had something nicer to eat off of like the tin glazed ceramics we found earlier in the dig, where as an enlisted man would have had the redware which was more common. We also found a Musket ball. This is the second one that has been found since we started digging this summer. It appears to have been rammed into the gun but never fired.

Friday morning we got a visit for Joe Blondino, one of the excavators from George Washington’s Headquarters, a dig held earlier this summer at Valley Forge. He put a tarp over the site to help block out the sunlight and make it easier for Carin and Jesse to see the possible soil changes. Dr Orr came by along with another Temple Grad student named Lou who had worked on the site in previous summers. They were able to give Carin and Jesse a different perspective on the things and their ideas as to where the hut floor might be. Towards the end of the day a very exciting discovery was made. Carin and Jess took a look at the unit with all the rocks in it and discovered 3 of the rocks were flat. When we cleaned around it a little better we realized that we had found a hearth. This is a very exciting and important find. It says we definitely have a hut, and it can help them figure out the dimensions of the hut. Just a week before our Public Archaeology day this will give us something really neat to show them. We are even more excited to dig next week with the discovery of the hearth. Who knows what we will find in our last two weeks.

Week Four Summary

Week four has been a week of constant flux for the excavation. Every other day there has been something completely new to contend with. However, despite these setbacks, we have gotten a lot accomplished.

We began the week with a day off due to Carin’s unfortunate illness. Luckily with that day of rest under her belt, we were able to jump right in and get to work on Tuesday. This week we were finally able to devote our full attention to the new potential hut site, just North of the 2008 hearth. The main goal for this area is to get as much of the potential feature opened and exposed, so that we will be able to see the full picture. At the beginning of the week we had five units along the Western and Southern edge open. From this, we were able to discern what looks like the Western and Southern edges of a rectangular dark stain.

As we continued on with the excavation, we opened two more units to the North to try a get a better picture. This was done so that we could see what was taking place with the rocks that we could see exposed just to the West of the large tree in the excavation area. This would turn out to be a big discovery on the final day of the week.

Come Thursday, after suffering yet another rain day (luckily we got a morning of digging in and an afternoon at Temple), we resumed excavation with now seven units open. At this point, we had basically all but a portion of the North edge as well as the Northeastern corned of the feature exposed. Thursday also brought our first definitively encampment artifact from this potential hut site. Out of the center of the Western edge of the feature came a musket ball with very diagnostic feature. From what we can observe, it looks like the ball has been loaded into a musket, but had not been fired. This can be identified by a flattened side that would be the result of a ramrod forcing the ball into the barrel. In addition to this, there is also a scar from where a “worm” (similar to a corkscrew) was drilled into the ball to remove it from the barrel, unfired. The feature has also yielded pieces of a clay pipe, the second one we have found in our excavations at the Chapel.

Friday brought a new look for the site. Who would have though that in the middle of the woods we would choose to excavate in the one area that is completely in the sun. To help combat this one of our fellow archaeologists, Joe Blondino, came by and helped us erect a tent over the entire area of excavation. With this in place, we will no longer have to combat the sun’s harsh drying effects on the site.

Getting back to the units with the exposed rocks; we have continued to excavate these units, all the while trying to figure out what is chimney fall and what might be actual intact hearth structure. All we long, it had been looking like we might be faced with a hearth that had been destroyed both by the deconstruction of the hut, as well at root action from the adjacent tree. As we removed most of the out of place stones, it became apparent that below them there were several large, flat stones that were still in place. Carin is fairly confident that we have the remains of a hearth. If this is the case, then we would have another corner hearth yet again. Could we have an entire brigade of corner hearths?

We look forward to excavating more of this feature to get a better idea of what to come. With two weeks to go, we still have a lot on our plate. More to come!


Saturday, July 25, 2009

Week Three Summary

It has been a great three weeks so far, and it occurs to me that we are at the halfway point in our class! The days have gone quickly, and yet I feel there is still so much to do. We have completed our investigations around the hut hearth that was discovered last summer by the field crew, and we continue to have questions about it. It seems unlikely at this point that we’ll ever find out the dimensions of this particular hut. We can tell that its hearth was in the northwest corner of the hut, but whether the longer dimension was the north and south walls or the east and west walls will probably never be determined. We did, however, discover yet another trashpit fairly directly north of the hearth, reinforcing the idea of what is ‘inside’ and what is ‘outside’ in regards to the structure.

We did have a lab day on Tuesday, because Mother Nature had ideas other than digging – and it was a beneficial experience for the students. As those who have gone through field school before can attest, often a student will discover during his/her first field experience whether they are “dirt” archaeologists, “lab” archaeologists, or whether they prefer not to pursue this career at all. In light of this revelation, I was glad to have an entire day in which Jesse and I could impart some “labby” wisdom. The students were able to participate in the first and a very important part of the process – the washing and dry-brushing of artifacts. Metal and charcoal are dry-brushed, whereas the majority of other artifacts are washed gently in water. The lab is where a visitor is most likely to see a toothbrush, not the field; they are very practical tools for the delicate work that comes after digging. An entire day in the lab with your fingers in lukewarm water, or coated in charcoal dust can be a tedious experience, but some people really enjoy handling the artifacts, and connecting with them through the gratifying experience of cleaning them up to preserve them for the future.

After the delay, we thought the rain was gone for the week, but we were wrong, and on Thursday we were chased inside after lunch, where we got to spend part of the afternoon watching a new episode of Time Team America on PBS’ website. If you haven’t seen the show, I recommend you check it out! You should do so with the understanding though, that this is not typical archaeology. Archaeology is typically done over a much longer period of time, and usually without such large machinery, but the show is valuable in many respects. It is making archaeology accessible and interesting to the public; something very near to my heart. The past belongs to everyone, not just to academics who have the opportunity to discover it in the soil, and programs like Time Team America, while not perfect in their approach or methodology, are advancing that idea in a wonderful way. It also provides an excellent lesson in interpretation – how and why we do what we do, for ourselves and for our visitors, to eager field students like ours.

On Friday, a chilly day to start with, we moved slightly further north of the hut hearth site in order to investigate a suspicious depression in the landscape flanked by a tree growing out of some large, rather telling rocks. Our students wrote about it this week, check out their blog entries! We suspect it may be another hut, and as the day warmed up and the sun came out, we started seeing more evidence of the potential for another structure! Though people often believe that our main objective in digging a site is to find artifacts, the small things that people drop/lose/throw away, but in fact something that can sometimes tell us more than those little things are features: the non-portable artifacts. Features are human-made objects that don’t move, like trashpits, or hearths. They are just as informative, if not more so, than a few pieces of broken ceramic or glass; and they are what we hope to find in the northern excavation. We are looking for another hearth, and maybe this time, the floor of a hut or at least its dimensions. Stay tuned, many exciting discoveries are sure to come in the next three weeks!


Week Three - Laura Kaufman

For our third week in Valley Forge, we continued expanding the area located around the large hearth, which had been found through the previous year’s excavation. Located in the unit just north of where the hearth lays, we have uncovered what we recognize to be the chimney fall from the hut. Also to the northeast of the hearth, a trash pit feature was found, which thus far has produced a number of animal bones and glass, some charcoal and nails. As for the huts dimensions, we are still unsure how the building was constructed, or even who had occupied the living quarters during the revolution.

Due to storms in the area on Tuesday the crew met at Temple in the archaeology lab. This gave us a prime opportunity to see a different side of archaeology. For many of us it was the first time we experienced the cleaning and cataloging process of artifacts. We cleaned numerous artifacts that had been found by the 2007 Field School, which had also excavated in Valley Forge at the Washington Memorial Chapel. It appeared that some of my fellow classmates did not entirely enjoy doing the lab work, while others remained interested in seeing what had been found prior to our field school. This was a nice opportunity to obtain an understanding of lab work, while also giving us more examples of cultural materials that we should be on the look out for during our own work at the site.

As we continued to have trouble with the rain on Thursday, we could only put in a half-day on excavating. In the afternoon, we set up a pair of 10’ x 10’ units a short distance north of our current excavation at the hearth. A suspicious collection of rocks, a tree and a rectangular indent in the ground has led to a hypothesis that a hut once stood in the location of our future excavation spot. Since the rocks could be an indication of a hearth/chimney fall and trees often like to grow in the rich organic soils left behind from a hearth, a rectangular indentation in front of the tree was one more reason to pick this as our next spot. After finding little evidence of who camped at the location of our hearth excavation, we can only hope to find more information about who may have spent the 1778 winter on the chapel grounds. Friday we began opening up new grid units at the suspicious area as we reach the half way point of our field school experience.

Week Three - Emily Suarez

This week on the excavation of Washington Memorial Chapel grounds, brings about a couple of rainy days that have put a damper on the summer but that have not gotten in the way of our archaeology filled days. After learning the array of techniques necessary to actually do archaeology, we embarked on the journey to a greater understanding on the methods of archaeology and just why things are done the way they are. Now that it is the third week, everyone seems to be getting much more comfortable around each other and around their shovel and trowel. We are starting to think less about the technique and more about the story that archaeology will tell. Little did we know that we would reach a new level of understanding regarding the excavation site and the rest of the National Park Service.

Monday morning Carin informed us that we would have a visitor from the Temple radio station. It was really cool to see just how much interest our dig as well as the dig in Washington’s Headquarters has generated. Later that morning we also received a visit from raffle ticker winners, Adrianna and her mother, who won a chance to be archaeologists for a day. They had a blast, as did we. Park visitors have been joining us throughout the week to hear the story of what we have been uncovering and now the students are in charge of giving the tours. Wednesday nights after the Chapel’s Carillon Concert, visitors also have a chance to get a tour of the site.

The field school has been welcomed with open arms by the church and their volunteers and they are glad to tell people about the excavation. Later on in the week during the rain, we got a chance to clean and process artifacts in Temple’s Grad Archaeology lab. It was a great learning experience for all especially because it allows one to see if they best fit in a lab setting or not. We have been fortunate to find features in the soil, which can tell us more about what might have happened during the winter of 1777. Features, as important as artifacts, seem to be telling the story of this encampment. We pay particular attention to dark changes in the soil, which might suggest the presence of post holes, or trash pits among other things. You can almost sense the excitement in the air whenever something “interesting” has been found. We all seem to stop and listen for Carin and Jesse’s verdict.

Among the many things, our site contains a large hearth with a trash pit located on the west side of it and a large amount of chimney fall to the northeast. The possible story behind the trash pit is that prior to its use as one, the hole was dug in order to mix the clay mixture necessary to construct huts. Later on it was used to discard any waste created by the brigade. The chimney fall could have been caused by the men who were hired to come back and take apart the encampment or just from normal decay. It is simply amazing how much information has been uncovered by the few things from the past that still remain, however they are the key to understanding what really happened here in Valley Forge. Another possible hut is being excavated as we speak and the camp kitchen awaits completion. Stay tuned!

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Week Two - Scott Striar

… you come to field school expecting to go to class and you wind up with eleven best friends..."

--Paul Pluta

The first two weeks of Temple’s field school on the grounds of Washington Memorial Chapel in Valley Forge Park have been an informative excursion from the classroom setting. Both Carin and Jesse have not only fostered knowledge in archaeological fieldwork but have given us a holistic understanding of the park, its history and the surrounding area. Our first week centered around both getting to know one another and getting to know Valley Forge. Both of these tasks were easy and the class has gotten a multi-dimensional understanding of the park. Through readings, tours of the park and landmarks (given by both Carin and Jesse, as well as the parks historical architect) and an extensive exploration of the site as well as the sites near surroundings, each member of the class can now give a thorough explanation of the concepts surrounding the dig as well as answer many other questions that might arise from visitors to the site.

Excavation has been the focus of the second week at field school. The class has learned a variety of skills essential to excavation. We have learned how to lay in units, proper methods for shoveling and toweling, understanding to level the units and how to build walls. Carin and Jess ehave looked over our shoulders and helped us spot certain items on the screen and features in the units. The brutality of the heat has been subsided a little by the shade of the woods so everyone is alert, friendly, and eager to work. So far we have laid in three new units and have begun to explore them. These excavated units have yielded many artifacts and a few features adding to the growing knowledge about the mysterious group of soldiers encamped in the woods on the grounds of the Washington Memorial Chapel.

Week Two - Paul Pluta

This week our field school began our part in the ongoing excavations at Valley Forge’s Washington Memorial Chapel, where we are seeking new information on the Continental Army’s stay during the American Revolution. The past five days have been our class’s first collective experience of archaeology’s physical application in the field. Thus, our fearless leaders, Carin and Jesse, have begun to impart upon us their wisdom and knowledge of the techniques, theories, and intellectual potential of the discipline.

We have learned many of the skills necessary to partake in a scientifically sound investigation of the material remnants of the past. By learning to lay out grids and take elevation measurements our group has been introduced to the use of spatial organization of the site for greater contextual understanding of the remains. We have learned proper excavation techniques that allow us to uncover materials and information in a systematic manner that will prove useful in site description and interpretation. As we have explored the soils and made finds we have learned much about the recognition and identification of the artifacts and features left behind by previous human inhabitation and activity. Most importantly, we have been given instruction on record keeping and data organization, so that all the information gained from the site can be preserved and utilized for a greater understanding of our research subject.

Over the past week we have also learned some things that can’t be understood through pedagogical processes. My fellow students and I have all participated in the discovery of things left behind by the soldiers who fought for American independence. We now know the joy and excitement of finding things touched, created, or used hundreds of years ago by people we have previously only read about in history books. The site has yielded charcoal, bone, nails and other metal objects, shards of ceramic wares, pieces of glass, a lead musket ball, and a fancy ceramic and metal button. We have also found human altered lithic fragments that indicate the production of stone tools in the area, potentially by natives that lived here long before Washington’s Army. These discoveries have showed us both what archaeology can provide us intellectually as well as the romance of uncovering the material culture lost by the people of the past. Thus far our class has not just been enlightening, but immensely enjoyable as well.

As we learn about the archaeological process our anticipation of future finds fuels our excitement and inspires our efforts to find out more about both archaeology and the people it tells us about. Our first taste of the soils trod upon by the heroes of the Continental Army during the famous winter of 1777 has left us with an insatiable hunger for more.

Weeks One and Two

The first two weeks of the field school and been jam-packed with some very exciting events. The first week featured mostly lecture. Our lectures covered everything from what an archaeological site is, to what we might be finding, to how and why we do what we do. Carin and I wanted to spend time imparting a range of information on the students that would be valuable to them as we teach how to properly excavate an archaeological site. In addition to lecture, the students got a rare opportunity to tour the collection of Revolutionary War artifacts that the National Park Service houses in the park. In addition to this, the park's historical architect, Tim Long, gave the student a behind the scenes look at three of the various general's quarters across the park.

Historical Architect Tim Long (far left) with the Field School.

Week two began the actual excavation phase of the field school. Carin and I wanted to revisit one of our largest finds from the 2008 season, the hut hearth. So far, the hearth is one of only three definitive archeological features that we have found representing the Continental Army's occupation of the landscape in the winter of 1777-1778. With the limits of the hut hearth exposed during the 2008 excavation, we wanted to spend time this summer expanding the excavation to see if we could find evidence of the dimensions of the hut. What we are looking for are features in the soil (post holes, log stains, etc.) that represent evidence of a building having once stood on that spot.

Hut Hearth Feature

We have a lot in store for this summer's field school. In addition to continuing the excavation of the hut hearth, based on visual inspection of the landscape we believe that we have another hut site adjacent to this hearth. We would like to open up units within this area to see if we do in fact have a hut site. Nearby this potential hut site, we also have a newly identified cluster of artifacts that was discovered by the Battlefield Restoration and Archaeological Volunteer Organization's (BRAVO) earlier metal detecting survey that we would like to explore. Finally, we would also like to revisit the camp kitchen that was discovered in 2008 and continue it's excavation that was cut short by the end of the field season.

There is a lot of exciting work to be done this summer! Stay tuned for updates from the students.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

The History

The Valley Forge encampment exists in the hearts and minds of the American people with a sense of reverence unmatched by many related sites. It is because of this that we feel extremely honored to be able to dig on such hallowed ground. This summer’s excavation will be our third season excavating on the Washington Memorial Chapel property. There is much to do as well as much that has already been done, but first a little history:

The Valley Forge encampment began on December 19th, 1777 when the first troops began to arrive and settle in for what would turn out to be a six-month stay. Having lost control of the city of Philadelphia, coupled with a devastating loss at the Battle of Germantown, things were not looking positive for the Continental Army. In addition to this, General Washington was also faced with the difficult situation of having at least one in three men physically unfit for duty as well as many of his soldiers coming up on expiring enlistments.

General Washington observes his army marching into winter quarters at Valley Forge.
Oil painting by William B.T. Trego, 1883. Valley Forge Historical Society

Despite these hardships, Washington was in a perfect position for a winter encampment. Located twenty miles Northwest of Philadelphia, the army was close enough to the city to maintain pressure on the British forces as well as being far enough away to prevent a surprise attack. Located in this natural limestone sink, a virtual city of roughly 2,000 hand built log huts was erected to house the Army for the winter.

Many have this image of the Valley Forge encampment as being the pinnacle of hardship; men facing the worst old man winter had to offer, enduring this all while being practically naked. There were hardships indeed, but the Valley Forge encampment did not see anything worse than you would normally expect. In fact, the encampment was a turning point for the Army.

It was during this period that a true uniform fighting force began to emerge. Under the direction of General Frederich Wilhelm Ludolf Gerhard Augustin von Steuben, new design and tactics were drilled that would serve to unify the army. The common misconception exists that the army prior to the encampment was a ragtag group of farmers fighting for their freedom. In fact, many men knew how to fight, however many different methods were employed. It was Von Steuben’s oversight and instruction that helped unify the Continentals with confidence and created a cohesive structure.

Baron von Steuben drilling American recruits at Valley Forge in 1778 by Edwin Austin Abbey

After six months of allowing the winter to pass, the Continental Army packed up and moved out of Valley Forge on June 19, 1778, six months to the day after arriving. They quickly set their sights on the British Army as they left Philadelphia. On June 28th at the Battle of Monmouth in New Jersey, the Continentals proved that they were once again a force to be reckoned with by forcing the British from the field.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009


Welcome to the blog for the 2009 Temple University Archaeological Summer Field School at Washington Memorial Chapel! This summer looks to be very exciting as we continue our excavation of an unknown brigade that occupied the woods just adjacent to the Chapel during the 1777-1778 Continental Army encampment. Before we get into the project, let us introduce who will be taking you through this summer's dig:

Carin Boone - Field Director / Temple University Graduate Student

Carin is a graduate student at Temple University, working on her Ph.D. in historical archaeology. Her dissertation focuses on military archaeology, and more specifically on an area of the Valley Forge encampment that is found on the grounds of the Washington Memorial Chapel. She received her B.A. from the University of Delaware and her M.A. from the University of Pennsylvania, and continued on in the academic world, arriving at Temple in 2005. Carin loves to chat with visitors and is always willing to tell you a story, or let you hold an artifact from the American Revolution! She is a sailor and a blacksmith on the 17th century tall ship of Delaware, the Kalmar Nyckel, and generally loves any activity that involves sailing, the beach, or the ocean.

Jesse West-Rosenthal - Research Assistant / Professional Archaeologist

Jesse currently resides in Williamsburg, Virginia, working for the William and Mary Center for Archaeological Research. He received his B.A. in Anthropology and Photojournalism from Temple University in 2008. Jesse’s research interests mainly surround military archaeology of the American Revolution (although he has been known to dig a Civil War site or two). When Jesse is not getting every piece of clothing he owns dirty from digging, he enjoys cycling, music (playing and listening) and watching the Phillies.

Dr. David Orr - Project Advisor / Temple University Professor

Originally trained as a classical archaeologist and historian, Dr. Orr acquired the american fields as his career progressed. His first archaeological experience was working for the old River Basin Surveys in Iowa and South Dakota as a member of the Smithsonian Institution's Summer field crews. Later Dr. Orr did archaeological work at Pompeii, Italy where he completed his Ph.D. degree at the University of Maryland studying under noted Pompeianist Wilhelmina Jashemski. Dr. Orr has a long history of directing archaeological field schools on a broad range of topics. As well, he spent 30 years as the Regional Archaeologist of the Northeast Region of the National Park Service, where he built a fairly ambitious program in archaeology and introduced scores of highly successful public archaeology programs. Currently Dr. Orr serves as faculty at Temple University in the Anthropology department, where he teaches undergraduate classes as well as advises graduate students (like Carin).

In addition to the two project leaders, you will also be periodically hearing from all of the wonderful students who have signed up for our field school.

We are very happy to be here once again at the Chapel this summer. Follow along and see our project as it progresses. We want everyone to be a part of this excavation, so come out this summer and see what we are up to.