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.