Winter Update

IMG_20151203_104845_414 (1)This fall has been a busy semester in the lab.  We began to process artifacts from our field season, gave a public lecture in Easton, and celebrated the dedication of Frederick Douglass Square on campus.  A dedicated crew of undergraduates worked steadily to wash, photograph, and sort artifacts from the 2014-2015 shovel test pit survey at Bethel A.M.E. Church in Easton, MD.  With about 100 STPs dug on a 10-foot grid, having materials from this close-interval survey finally ready for analysis should reveal some of the complexities of this site, which is unusually deep, large, and stratified compared with most sites we have worked with over the past many years.  Thanks to Katie Mayer, Joshua Finken, Kristin Ngo, Katie Calvert, Becca Lane, Stephanie Callahan, and Tim Vettel for their hard work!  Tracy Jenkins will be cataloging these artifacts over the winter break.

We have also spent this Fall making some preliminary interpretations of an African-American spiritual deposit from Wye House Plantation in Talbot County.  Junior Sarah Buchanan cataloged this deposit over the course of the semester and identified which artifacts were ritually significant.  Tracy Jenkins has steadily worked to conserve two dozen iron artifacts that were placed to the south of the main deposit so that we can identify the artifacts and their significance to the total picture of spiritual practice in this location on the plantation.

041Having washed most of the artifacts from the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center during our excavation there this summer, Sarah Janesko cataloged the assemblage this Fall and she and Trish Markert have been working on a site report for our two years of excavation there.

Stefan Woehlke continued his work at Montpelier in addition to teaching a section of Introduction to Archaeology.  He has forged new connections with descendants of African Americans who lived and worked as tenant farmers after the Civil War at what was once President James Madison’s home.  He has also been using the University of Maryland’s 3-D laser scanner to systematically map the results of excavations around the Montpelier mansion over the past several years.  This will enable archaeologists there to stitch together the fruits of many field seasons and more fully reconstruct the historical landscape.

What’s on the horizon?

Winter break for us is a time for analysis and writing.  The upcoming Society for Historical Archaeology annual meeting January 6-10 will be held this year in Washington, D.C., at the Omni Shoreham Hotel and the University of Maryland Department of Anthropology has a strong showing.  For our part, Archaeology in Annapolis staff and student contributions include the following:

  • Sarah Janesko “Remembering the Tenant Farmers: A Comparison of Two Late 19th-Century Tenant Farm Dwellings in Maryland” Thursday 4:30pm.
  • Stefan Woehlke “Developing an Ecological Interpretation of Land Use in Virginia’s Piedmont: The Montpelier Example” Friday 2:15pm.
  • Ashley Rivas “Gender Ideals in 19th and 20th Century Easton, Maryland: An Analysis of Toys and Family Planning Material in Historically African-American Communities” Thursday 2:00pm.
  • Benjamin Skolnik “The Aura of Things: Locating Authenticity and the Power of Objects” Friday 4:00pm.
  • Mark Leone will participate in a forum discussion on “Catching Up with Caches: The Latest on African Diasporic Spirit Practices in the Archaeological Record,” chaired by Garrett Fesler, Thursday 1:00pm.
  • Tracy Jenkins will participate in a forum discussion on “Historic Black Lives Matter: Archaeology as Activism in the 21st Century,” chaired by Kelley Deetz, Thursday 9:00am.
  • Mark Leone and Kathryn Deeley will lead a tour of Archaeology in Annapolis’ work for over 30 years in downtown historic Annapolis, Wednesday 9:30am.

Meanwhile, we continue analysis on materials from the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center and Bethel A.M.E. Church.

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Public Lecture at the Avalon Theater, October 8th

Archaeology Presentation

The Archaeology of the Early African American Community of Talbot County 
Thursday, October 8, 6–7:30 pm
Avalon Theatre, Easton, Maryland
African American Independence and Resilience
through
Religious, Medical
, & Gardening Practices


Free refreshments! Including adult beverages! 
Archaeology in the early African American Community in Easton and excavations at Wye House, near Easton, show the origins of independent black communities whose members sustained themselves with new, African inspired religious traditions, medical traditions, and gardening traditions, all of which can be found through archaeology. This talk by University of Maryland archaeologists shows the connections between African American life on historic plantations and African American life among free people in Easton.
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Notes from the Field, Summer 2015

Feature Excavation

-Katie Mayer

 

An archaeological feature is a context that interrupts the soil stratigraphy of a single unit – while the strata within the unit are horizontal, the feature is marked by its vertical position.  Usually this means that in the past, people dug out a section of the land, leaving an empty pit that was later filled in with newer soil.  The pit could have originally been dug out either to make room for new material such as a post or foundation, or to gather the material within it (soil and inclusions) for a new purpose.

 

Katie Mayer and Ashley Rivas recover artifacts through a screen at Bethel Church

Katie Mayer and Ashley Rivas recover artifacts through a screen at Bethel Church

In the case of Feature 3, which we recently excavated in Easton, we believe that the land was originally dug up to lay the foundation of the parsonage used by the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, and was later dug up again to remove some of the bricks, after which the resulting pit was filled back in with dirt.  Thus, while the soil surrounding the feature retained its original horizontal stratigraphy, all of the soil within the feature came from a single context – most likely twentieth century, assuming that the pit was dug out after the foundation was laid.  Features like Feature 3 are known as “robber’s pits,” because at some point in time, material was taken from them.  Most of the time, however, the material was not removed during a robbery, but by the people who were using the land at the time.

 

Feature 3 removed

Feature 3 removed

We found Feature 3 at the end of a brick pier while excavating a strat around the remains of the foundation, leading us to the conclusion that the feature once contained more of the same bricks.  The dirt used to fill in the pit was composed largely of coal ash similar to what we found in the strat above it, and beneath the ash, we found a layer of yellow dirt belonging to what we believe is the next strat down.  While screening the soil we had excavated, we found several artifacts, including many broken pieces of brick.

 

In the creation of a feature, the original stratigraphy of that area is lost, so the question remains as to what the soil may have contained before it was dug out.  We map out the exact coordinates of features so that we can determine why they may have been created, based on its positioning in relation to other elements of its site.   There are some questions we can’t answer yet – for instance, where was the original soil from the pit deposited?  But by determining the context of the artifacts mixed in with the newly deposited soil, we can learn about the soil used to fill the feature, and assess which context or contexts it was taken from.

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Notes for the field, Summer 2015

Public Archaeology at Bethel A.M.E. Church in Easton, Maryland

-Kyle Harper

 

This summer the AiA field school is conducting three weeks of archaeological excavations in the adjacent lot of the Bethel A.M.E. Church located in the historic Hill Community of Easton, Maryland. For nearly two centuries Bethel A.M.E. Church’s community-building initiative has linked African American congregates through a network of other A.M.E. Churches in the U.S. Throughout its history, Bethel A.M.E. has played a vital role in abolitionist projects such as the Underground Railroad, as well as the Civil Rights Movement, all of which have contributed to a lasting heritage of African American resilience.

 

Kyle Harper helps survey the site at SERC with a laser transit

Kyle Harper helps survey the site at SERC with a laser transit

For the last thirty years, AiA has fostered a strong tradition of active and critical engagement with descendant communities in the Chesapeake region. Integral to our work in Easton is a continuation of this fundamental philosophy, which incorporates elements of both public and community archaeology. One of the key aspects of public archaeology is the sharing of archaeological sites and findings with the public. When doing public archaeology, archaeologists this summer not only regard education of the public to be just as important as the research itself, but also ensure that tours of the site have a structure, and that there are both convincing and relatable ties to the present drawn from the artifacts from the past (Leone 1983).

 

Our work this summer at Bethel A.M.E. is a continuation from a shovel test pit survey conducted last summer. Three units have been dug this summer in the adjacent lot in locales that may reveal material artifacts, which attest to the church’s role in civic engagement and community-building. Our site has been open to the public in order to share with community members our findings and their significance, and to participate in the dig. Visitors to the site are given a tour of current excavations and are invited to participate in in an array of activities such as digging, screening for artifacts and washing of artifacts.

 

Community archaeology is another aspect of our work this summer in Easton. Community archaeology differs from public archaeology by seeking a more active engagement with community residents, in order to gain their input on archaeological findings, on our own interpretations of artifacts and on future research design. Additionally, when working with a descendant community, we as archaeologists seek to better understand notions of community as multi-vocal and dynamic constructs. Often our expectations of community position community members as homogenous groups who all have the same shared interests. As this is most often not the case, the idea of community should be reconciled between notions of a natural category and as a process of continual transformation. According to archaeologist Anna S. Agbe-Davies, the true reality of a community is neither “natural or essential, but rather processual or generative” (2010: 383).

 

Conclusion

While uncovering pasts that have largely been excluded from or misrepresented in mainstream Anglo-dominated history is one of our primary goals at Bethel A.M.E., AiA takes as one of its key objectives to make archaeology relevant and useful to the residents of the Hill Community. By engaging with local community members, the archaeology that is performed at Bethel A.M.E. has the potential to empower residents in their efforts to preserve the rich and diverse cultural heritage of the Hill Community.

 

Works Cited:

Agbe-Davies, Anna S. 2010. Concepts of Community in the Pursuit of an Inclusive Archaeology. International Journal of Heritage Studies. 16(6): 373-389.

Leone, Mark. 1983. Method as Message: Interpreting the Past with the Public. Museum News. 62(1): 34-41.

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Notes from the field, Summer 2015

We’ve been busy this past summer, excavating from June through the end of August.  Now that we’ve had a chance to catch up with ourselves, here’s what we’ve been up to!  The next several posts were written by field school students about their experiences and the work we did in summer 2015.  They were really a fantastic crew and it was a pleasure working with them.

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Field School in Public Archaeology

Haven’t figured out what to do with your summer yet?  Can’t seem to get enough archaeology?  Archaeology in Annapolis is pleased to announce an advanced field school in public archaeology for summer session 1, 2014.  This course is geared toward students who have already completed some training in archaeological field methods and want to work more closely with members of the public to construct meaningful interpretations of the past.

James Madison's mansion

James Madison’s mansion. Source: Montpelier Foundation

From June 2-June 21, we will be at Montpelier, James Madison’s home in Orange County, Virginia.  Tying in with excavations ongoing since the 1980s, this year’s excavation will explore the impacts of Emancipation on the African American community in Orange County.  The excavation will take place at the site of a late antebellum slave quarter that may have been reoccupied following the end of the Civil War.  This presents archaeologists with a unique opportunity to understand the effects of Emancipation at both the household and the community levels through the comparison of this site with other late antebellum and reconstruction era African American sites that have been excavated on the property.

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