Anthropology Field Notes

University of Delaware Anthropology Fieldwork by students and faculty

Archaeologists not Bricklayers….

Like  most archaeologists, we spent our last few days in the field at Old Swedes creating a new archaeological record for the future as we backfilled the units we’d excavated. Finally, Ana, Kelsey and I relaid the brick paving that had sealed the archaeological remains we uncovered around the Church perimeter over the past six months. We placed 2015 pennies in the deepest spots of each excavation unit as another aid to future excavators of the time of our passing through this soil. We also gained greater appreciation for the stone masons and bricklayers responsible for building the church and laying the yards and yards of brick paving as we struggled to relay the bricks in the four different patterns that our predecessors had used, tightly, evenly, and smoothly. Let’s just say we’re better archaeologists than bricklayers!

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Southwest Buttress Excavation showing graveshaft outlines

The last excavation whose story we’d left unfinished is the one just south of the church’s southwest buttress wall, outside the south porch. We’d chosen this spot because the GPR suggested that there were not any graveshafts here, although our excavations confirmed the presence of at least two, probably three, neatly aligned east-west. Each was marked by a 6-12”, irregularly shaped, unmarked stone that we found resting on the surface of the backfilled graveshaft, buried about one foot below the brick paving. Once we determined that they were graveshafts, we stopped excavation so we did not encounter any human remains or otherwise disturb the burial.
Now it’s back to the lab to finish processing and analyzing the artifacts and field data to help Holy Trinity Church and Old Swedes Foundation best plan to preserve this gem of an ancient church and the sanctity of its historic burial ground. We’ll keep you posted!
Lu Ann De Cunzo

The South Porch and the Lost Post

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Spring semester students, Anissa, Jay, and Rebecca, placed the South Porch unit about a yard in front of the original church entrance in order to see what kinds of activities were represented right outside of the church’s door. Clothing pins, perhaps from fastened dresses and shawls, and fragments of clay smoking pipes are evidence of people socializing outside of the church, literally at its doorstep. A Native American presence at the site, now evident in all units, is represented in this unit by a predominance of lithic (stone) material, such as quartz and fine-grained chert. There are flakes, discarded from stone tool manufacturing, and flakes modified to be stone tools. The relatively few historic artifacts may be a result of recurring construction periods that obscured earlier activities.

Architecturally, the South Porch was constructed in 1762 with buttresses meant to relieve the weight of sagging walls. We found some highly corroded window glass and window lead cames that may relate to the removal of casement window sections on the South Wall of the church when they were replaced by fan-light windows in 1750.


The external stair leading to the gallery level, added in 1774, has had several lives in the South Porch. It is presumed that the original 1774 stair had the same form and general appearance of the existing exterior stair today, but there is no physical evidence of the original stair (though see below for more on this). In 1842, a restoration project demolished the exterior stair, which were replaced in 1899. Related to the existing stair, we discovered a cement-like base for one of the stair pillars in the northeast corner of the unit. A bit of the red brick lining the cement peaks out of the footing at the bottom of the unit. We sampled some of the cement to better understand its components and time period, which is linked to the last reincarnation of the external stair.

Feature 21 may relate to an earlier, as of yet undocumented, history of the stair. In July, we discovered a mottled level seen in the western third of the North Profile wall. At first, the mixture of yellow and dark brown soils looked very similar to the grave shafts at the North and South Buttress units, but the GPR map did not identify any shafts oriented north/south. According to the map, there are three potential grave shafts oriented west/east just to the west of our unit in the South Porch. After bisecting the feature, we recognized a post hole/mold (~10 inches) that had been disturbed by rodent activity. The post was about a yard away from the double-door entrance, just off of being centered. The current interpretation places the large post as part of an earlier external stairway construction, perhaps the original 1774 construction.

X-Files: Finding the Unexpected Expected!!

Welcome once again to another exciting edition of Updates from the Field!


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This past week we can definitely say we had  unexpected discoveries. To say the least, it was worthy of an x-file classification. It is no secret that Old Swedes Church is surrounded by a cemetery containing thousands of graves, many of them not marked with headstones or other monuments.

Within the North Buttress unit we came across the shaft for one of these graves! It was not clear at first but once we started to find an increase of quantities of rusted nails we knew it was truly a grave shaft. The soil becoming increasingly mixed and completely different from the surrounding subsoil. We should have expected the unexpected — the GPR suggested we should have just missed the edge of a grave. Now that we have come to a conclusion regarding the presence of a grave, our excavation in the North Buttress came to a close. A member of the Holy Trinity Church clerical staff said a prayer at the graveshaft after services on Sunday.

Well, that makes two units completed and two more to finish so our adventures continue.

When our excavation for the North Buttress came to a close it was very heartfelt for me. I’m Ana and I have been helping with this project since the spring. We even named our big rock Nigel. It was heartfelt to start closing and backfilling the unit for it seems the project is coming to an end faster than I expected.  We are more than ready to take on the challenge of completing our work at the South Buttress and South Porch, so stay tuned to see what we find.

First Blog Post and First Day in Puerto Rico!

Hello everyone!

For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Sarah Driver and I just graduated from UD with a double major in Anthropology and Political Science.  I am spending some time in Puerto Rico working as a research assistant with Professor Roe to continue an Independent Study project.  We are going to be traveling to an old Taino rock shelter to make sure that the carvings that we have in image form correctly match the actual  carvings that are on the walls.  He is going to be presenting at a big symposium for Caribbean archaeology and everything needs to be perfect.  I have Photoshop and a camera, so I’m set to help.  Currently, however, I am sitting in a lovely cool room, blogging, after the long day of traveling to San Juan, PR.

Honestly, a decent number of these blog posts are just going to be about my daily adventures.

I started off today by getting up at 6:30 am bright and early and going to the airport.  That all went well, minus two of my dear lovely siblings being insanely grumpy–Elizabeth had been at a friend’s house in the wee hours of the night and the car broke down, so Holly was asked by my mom to pick her up.  Holly was not pleased.  But anyways, they both went with me to the airport like supportive siblings, even if they muttered the whole way there.

On the plane, I managed to drool on myself while I was sleeping, so that was lovely.  I think Professor Roe may have seen that.

Anyways, we got to Puerto Rico without any troubles and then met up with some friends of his, who will be hosting us.  Their house is lovely and their dinner was fantastic.

The main thing I did today, other than travel and eat and talk, was go running.  The hills here are misery.  I eventually ended up where I was supposed to be but I definitely took a few wrong turns.  Oops.  I didn’t want to use my phone because I wasn’t sure about roaming fees so I asked some of the locals for directions in my middling Spanish.  Either their directions or my Spanish was lousy, so I caved and used my phone.  I was starting to get a little nervous because late afternoon was on its way and some of the houses I was passing were really poor.  And all of the houses here have bars on them!  That is certainly different from home.  One house had a wall with actual razor spikes on top.  And all the dogs bark like they want to eat you, though there was one little pug-looking dog that was very nice.  The chickens are leery of people and have especially long legs.  Most of the people seemed to be nice and I got a lot of sympathy smiles because, like I said, the hills were murderous.

Once I came back we chatted and had dinner.  I took a few photos of the area that I’m in and it is lovely!

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More, or Actually Less, Foundations

Hello everyone!
My name is Kelsey Timmons and this is the first time I am appearing on the blog.
I spent most of the semester at the unit designated N. 87 E. 72 – otherwise known as the north buttress. Together with Michael, Nikki and Amara we uncovered several interesting finds including features – that is, immovable artifacts – nails, slip wear and one gigantic rock we named Nigel.
We have now uncovered the base, or corner stone, of the North Buttress. In actuality, it is a slapdash pile of rocks tightly wedged together atop what appears to be a cobbled path. “Not what we were expecting to find.” (Our current theme for the summer dig.) This prompted us to question if this corner was part of the problem with the re-occurring crack in the northeast corner of the original church. With the pile of rocks settling over time, more weight would have been added to the walls of the body of the church. The long crack in the wall could be a possible repercussion.
And, although I spent the semester at the north buttress, I have spent most of my time so far this summer outside the bell tower. Nothing we found there went according to plan either.
First we discovered that the sill under the doorframe extends less than half a foot. From then on it’s nothing but soil. Apparently, this is because originally these were not doors, but rather an open archway. This, along with the strange patterns we were finding in the soil, might answer one of the church’s drainage problems. The water is ebbing and flowing under the door until it is absorbed or drained further down. Normally that would be fine but a little under a foot and a half into the unit there appears to be a bed of clay – which doesn’t drain water. Instead it holds the water like a giant sponge. If there is too much water at any given time, you could be left with a puddle sitting on top. This seems to be the case for Old Swedes – but we will have to continue our work before any one can say anything with certainty.

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Excavation at the Bell Tower
Continuing with our theme of “Not what I expected to see,” the bell tower unit has been producing evidence of Lenape presence around the site. We have found two projectile points and a handful of flakes. (Flakes are pieces chipped off of stone tools either in their creation or their upkeep.)
This week has been a productive one. We almost completed our two open units and we have several theories about the questions every one has been asking.

Investigation Into Health and Sex in a Prehistoric Society

My name is Anissa Speakman, I am a rising senior in the Anthropology department, and I am currently working on a Summer Scholars research project. For my research project, I will be looking into dental defects and sex differences in a prehistoric skeletal sample. Dental defects are basically anything that can go wrong with your teeth, like malformed enamel, cavities, abscesses, teeth crowding, etc. I will be specifically looking at malformed enamel (scientific name: enamel hypopalsia) and cavities (scientific name: dental caries) in men and women in a prehistoric skeletal population. Other scholars in the fields of dental anthropology (anthropologists who study primarily dentition) and biological anthropology (anthropologists who study osteology as a whole) have found that women in both living and skeletal samples tend to have higher rates of enamel malformation and cavities. Scholars debate whether this difference in the dental health of the sexes is caused by something biological or something cultural. In my research, I would like to analyze a skeletal sample, and investigate whether the dental health of the women in the sample is really worse than the men. Then, I would like to try to draw a conclusion from my data as to whether the difference in dental health, if there is one, is causes by biology or culture, or a mix of both.

Right now I am working on doing a literature review of all of the information on the topic of sex differences and dental defects. As I work proceed through my project, analyze a skeletal sample, and continue into my senior thesis, I will write updates for the Field Notes Blog.

Until next time,


Ending and Beginning Again

Finally, my turn! Our first semester of excavations at Old Swedes was like working for the U.S. Postal Service: “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night…” Seems we saw it all during our weekly Friday morning travails in Wilmington. Thanks to an enthusiastic, dedicated group of staunch archaeologists-in-training, we made good progress peeling back the layers of brick, stone, and soil around the church in search of the stories they had to tell.

And here they are:
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Catherine, Sophi, and Ana at the Bell Tower

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Amara, Michael, and Nicole at the North Buttress

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Jay, Anissa, and Rebecca at the South Porch


Emily, Brianna, and Joe (with a special helper) at the South Buttress Path

The last Sunday of our project, half of our team shared their work with 30+ church parishioners, neighbors, and friends, who especially enjoyed peering into our digs to learn the secrets of stratigraphy.

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Sophi, Catherine, Rebecca, Jay, Nicole, and Kelsey after Sunday’s ‘dig tour’

Emily Rebmann, one of our graduate student archaeologists from the Winterthur Program in American Material Culture Studies, created an informative and fun video featuring members of our student team, Old Swedes parishioners, the Holy Trinity Church rector, and Old Swedes Foundation members. Check it out on youtube:

This summer, thanks to a grant from the Jessie Ball Du Pont Foundation to the Old Swedes Foundation, Kelsey and Ana are returning to the site on summer internships with me and Andrea to complete our preliminary excavations.


Foundation, north buttress
We’re focusing first on the bell tower and north buttress excavations, both of which abut the building foundations. This week, historic architect Dale Frens, who did the Historic Structures Report for Old Swedes Church, joined us in concluding, “well that’s not what I expected to see!” when we unearthed the north buttress foundation corner and found a patchwork of stones and mortar and an irregular mortared stone paving extending only along the north wall of the buttress. This week we plan to expose more, and to continue digging through layers of flooded soils, rodent holes, and rubble-filled pits at the bell tower.

Check in next week when hopefully we’ll have sorted out what we’re seeing there to explain to you, our readers.

Thanks for following our progress!
Lu Ann De Cunzo

5 Museums across 4 States this Summer

Sophiana Leto is a rising Junior and Plastino Scholar at the University of Delaware. She will be traveling to 5 museums across 4 states to learn about how they create effective outreach programs, engage their local communities, and act as social service providers.

Follow her travels as a Plastino Scholar this summer:

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