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On March 27th, the long-anticipated day had finally arrived — at long last, we were able to start our excavation work at Old Swedes Church!  After our prep meeting in the community center building, we went outside to consider the logistics at each excavation unit. With Professor De Cunzo leading the discussions, we evaluated each site for location, accessibility, work space, work flow, and problems we might encounter. For example, besides determining the actual excavation boundaries at each site, we also needed to identify the location for what is essentially a second large work station, where dirt will be sifted and stored.


My (somewhat illegible) notes taken about each team’s excavation unit as we toured the site with Dr. De Cunzo, showing sifting areas and possible issues to consider at each site.

At two of the units, we determined that nearby downspouts could lead to water infiltration in the excavations. For both of these locations, we decided that downspout extensions provided by Rebecca Wilson of Old Swedes Foundation would be enough to divert water away from the digs.

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The downspout that is located only a foot from Team One’s excavation site.

Each group had their own unique challenges to work through as they laid out their excavation units. For example, the team under the south porch needed to be careful about locating their dig so that the organist for the church could still access the stairs to the gallery. The team near the bell tower had a unmovable downspout landing directly where they were digging, forcing them to accommodate that as they laid out their excavation. They also needed to delay setting up their interior excavation so the congregation could access the church for Easter services. Since this group’s location is possibly the highest traffic area surrounding the church, it was important for them to find a sifting area that was out of the way of visitors. They located a spot under a nearby tree that is away from the church and sidewalks. As for my own group, we identified a location for sifting (and dirt storage) between the two north buttresses. This location is probably a bit further from the excavation than is ideal, but it is nicely tucked away from the sidewalk area where visitors might walk, and it keeps us off the cemetery grounds.

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Area between buttresses that will serve as our team’s sifting area. Photo from 2012, showing my son, Preston, for scale.

As work commenced at my team’s site, near the northeast corner of the building, we measured out our 2.5′ x 5′ dig area and lifted 4 bricks from the sidewalk, allowing us to place our corner pins. We quickly discovered that the pins could not be firmly set because of a deep layer of masonry sand beneath the brick sidewalk. So this could present a challenge. However, these pins still worked for our purpose today, which was to lay out the perimeter of the excavation site and commence with the mapping of the bricks, which constituted our “layer 1.”


The South Porch team’s excavation site, as they began mapping the bricks to ensure accurate replacement (photo courtesy of Anissa).

We measured the brick courses, including large cracks, so we could accurately map each brick for eventual replacement in the correct location after our work is complete. This was challenging, since even the “regular” pattern of the brick was irregular due to ground undulations and (probably) frost heaving over the years. So we had to map the “waviness” of the sidewalk’s brick courses to make sure we had accurate locations for each brick’s original position.


Team 1 site – tarped and ready for digging next week!

As we left today, we covered our site with a tarp and secured it with the four bricks we had removed for our corner pins. Next week, we need to find a way to better secure our corner pins, establish a firm datum, and then begin removing layer 1 — the sidewalk bricks.  Now that are set-up is complete, we are all quite excited that our trowels will hit finally the dirt!

Welcome back to Updates From the Field! Let’s dig into the activities of last week (3/20).

We were scheduled to start our excavation on March 20th, but due to snow and poor weather, we had to postpone. Instead, our class met at Munroe Hall to definitively decide where we would excavate. We have been split into three teams, and each team was assigned an excavation site. One team was assigned southern porch, a second team was assigned the bell tower, and the third and final team was assigned a northern site where drainage may be installed. We also picked two sites as alternates, in case we cannot excavate in one of the primary areas. We are all excited to start excavating, and see what historical finds we can unearth.

After we discussed our excavation sites, we used the inclement weather day to our advantage. Andrea Anderson, the archaeology laboratory coordinator, gave important archaeological lessons to each of the teams. First we learned how to triangulate a plot on an excavation site. After measuring out the size we want the excavation site to be, we will use the pythagorean theorem to ensure that the corners of the plot are perfectly square. We also learned how to establish a datum point (the point that other measurements will be taken from) using a plumb bob. Mrs. Anderson also taught us to identify soil types, using hand and water techniques, and a Munsell color chart.  The teams also learned how to use a transit, which is a device used to measure horizontal and vertical angles, which will eventually be turned into a site grid map.

Hopefully this Friday the weather will allow us to start our excavation, and put our new knowledge to good use.



GPR and Archives

Welcome back to Anthropology Field Notes! Once again, we are students from the course ANTH424: Archaeological Field Methods, and this semester we are hoping to gain experience with archaeology and give back to the community. We have partnered with Rebecca Wilson of the Old Swedes Foundation to use the historic Old Swedes Church in Wilmington as our archaeological site, all while providing them with much needed research. The church is looking to install a new drainage system, and our digging will bring to light any potential problem areas or underground barriers around the church which may interfere with their plans. Our group of 10 undergraduate students and 2 graduate students will work together through the remainder of the university semester to uncover any buried history of the Old Swedes Church and inform both the Wilmington residents and the UD community about the fascinating history of the Swedish settlers in Delaware.

On our second trip to the church, we established our three teams for the semester. Each group will work in-depth at one particular site around the perimeter of the church building to dig, preserve any artifacts, and record findings. Dr. William J. Chadwick of John Milner Associates joined us this week to conduct ground penetrating radar (or GPR) mapping of the site. GPR is a nondestructive method that utilizes electromagnetic radiation to map underground structures.  It was extremely valuable to witness this relatively new archeological technique firsthand, as it made us realize that the job of archeologists must be tweaked with the introduction of new technology. We worked with Dr. Chadwick in small groups to take turns preparing and leveling the ground for the machine, then pushing it in small segments to compile a graph of the area. One of the last groups found two spots close to the building in which there are potentially unmarked burials. Out of respect for the deceased we will be sure to avoid digging in those areas and the church will keep that information in its records. Aside from GPR mapping, this week we were able to look through some of the church’s old storage boxes for any information that may prove useful to our research. One group found a plethora of old photographs of the church building, and another found some documentation of miscellaneous repairs that were made to the church.


Overall this week was a success for our task and we are quickly becoming more familiarized with the church grounds and the rich history associated with it. We look forward to working in the warmer temperatures in the coming weeks as well as solidifying our plans and finally beginning to dig!

Welcome to our “Updates from the Field” from this spring semester’s ANTH 424: Archaeological Field Methods class! Throughout the semester a team of students and faculty from the University of Delaware will be excavating the grounds of the historic Old Swedes Church in Wilmington, DE. A visit to the Old Swedes site is like taking a walk back in time – the building is beautiful, filled with stained glass windows and antique wooden pews, each representing another ‘layer’ in the church’s 300+ year history. We are certainly quite lucky to be working at such an incredible site! Our team is composed of 10 undergraduate students and 2 graduate students, under the direction of Dr. Lu Ann DeCunzo, Professor of Anthropology and Interim Chair of the Anthropology Department at UD. Some members of our team have experience with archaeology but the majority of us will be experiencing archaeology for the first time during this project. We’ll also be working with Andrea Anderson, UD Anthropology Lab Coordinator, and Rebecca Wilson, Executive Director of Old Swedes Foundation. We hope you’ll follow our journey this semester as we dig and discover!

Now, a little background on Old Swedes…. The first Swedish settlers in the Delaware Valley founded Old Swedes Church in 1698-1699. The church and surrounding churchyard has a rich and dynamic history and is still an important part of the culture of modern day Wilmington. Over the next few months we will be excavating around the church in hopes of learning more about the history of Old Swedes. Besides conducting archaeological fieldwork, we’ll be searching the church archives to form a comprehensive understanding of the Old Swedes site.

During our first visit on February 27th we met with Rebecca Wilson to learn more about the history of Old Swedes and to tour the property. Rebecca told us about the early history of the Swedes in Delaware and we set out our expectations for the semester. As Old Swedes has undergone a lot of construction during its 300+ year history we’re expecting to find construction materials, such as nails and wood, as well as fragments of stained glass during our excavations. We’re also interested in taking an anthropological approach to our fieldwork as we hope to learn more about the historic parishioners of Old Swedes. We also met with Travis Smith of South Bridge Connects to learn more about how technology can be used to link citizens of all generations with information about historical sites. We’re excited to form these connections with the local community and hope that our work will provide some new insight into the history of Wilmington and the Swedish colony that was once there.

Sophiana Leto

Old Swedes Church Old Swedes Church & Churchyard Old Swedes Churchyard

Last Week for Many/May 13

As the semester came to a close, it seemed only fitting we do the same with our Shovel Test Pits (STPs). However, we had only just begun digging in the “North Lot,” as we call the property adjacent to Read’s home, and knew there was still a lot of work to be done there. As some continued the few remaining STPs in the Water Lot, the rest worked on the North Lot, while even more of us presented some of our finds to interested parties (including workers at the Read House, members of the Delaware Historic Society, civilians, etc.). Although a little cold, it was a beautiful day to be in the field and working for the last time.

The presenters had a lot to be fearful of as we faced people who prided themselves in Delaware history. We were merely students who had researched New Castle only for this class. However, Ashley gave a wonderful speech discussing the importance of collaborative archaeology and historical research, and we headed outside for my speech. I, Kate Cescon, had been introduced to a watercolor by William Birch (1805) depicting the Water Lot of George Read II-with an intricate garden! I discussed the archaeological compatibility with this documentation; there seems to be little evidence of this garden, unfortunately. Chrissy presented a discussion of “foodways,” as we call the study of food in relation to culture, by using a cow tooth she found in her STP; she discussed the possibility of it being used in Cow’s Head Soup, and what this could mean for the individuals in the area.  A Read House neighbor, Jim Meek, added that a building next to the Water Lot was actually a cattle distribution center of sorts, which was an interesting piece to add to Chrissy’s puzzle. Ashley briefly discussed the STP she had been working on in relation to the 1804 shoreline, and Marissa did a small introduction to an STP beyond this shoreline, that she presumed to be a trash dump (from which we recovered a pipe stem, a white cup or bowl fragment, and glazed redware!).

We continued our travels to the North Lot where Kitty and Marissa presented finds on a man named Joseph Wood, who owned this lot in the early 1700s. Apparently, he requested being buried with his wife in the cemetery of Emmanuel Church, but could not be found there. He also had an unnatural interest in one of his slaves called “Negro Grace,” who he made sure would stay on his property even after his death. Some have made the assumption that she may have been a daughter of his; this is a possibility but we cannot be sure. After our discussion of the North Lot, we concluded our presentation outside the Read House. Caroline told a wonderful story about the Lairds, their yacht basin and tennis courts, and Mickey concluded by emphasizing the importance of the collaboration of archaeology and historical documentation.

While we were marching around the grounds, other students in the afternoon section were posing as our displays for how archaeology works. In the morning session, one student, Brielle, was chugging along to Level 18 of her STP 152.5 E25! Even this deep (though her levels were never quite the standard .5 feet), she was still finding oyster shells, brick, glass, and ceramic, as well as a pipe bowl and painted ceramic. At the same time, other students had been working on the North Lot, discovering interesting soil types, such as a layer of sand above mottled clay. In fact, many had this type of soil, as well as this interesting ashy, gray soil (sometimes in baseball-sized chunks) that has yet to be identified. Mostly, though, since these STPs are not very deep, there have been little artifacts to note. Marissa, however, found curved glass, iron stone, as well as brick and ceramic.

In the afternoon session of our class, Becca spent the day closing her STP, which could not go down any deeper as it had hit a layer of schist. She cleaned the hole thoroughly, and photographed it for our records. This STP marked a corner of a structure we discovered in our GPR survey (Ground Penetrating Radar). Other students were finding some more interesting materials as they dug deeper. Colleen noted ceramics, iron rock and bone sherds, as well as that interesting gray soil explained above. This was the same STP Marissa had been working on in the morning section. Leah was excavating the same hole as Elanor, and was surprised to find, in later levels, an oyster shell containing this odd, purple powder. Although it is speculative, one of our supervisors said it may have been burnt, which would be an interesting development in the life of this oyster.

In the end, our days in New Castle are over, except for those lucky few that will be backfilling many of the STPs this Friday, May 22. These blogs have been focused on what we have discovered and learned in the field, but there is a lot more to learn after entering the lab. Hopefully, we will provide more complete answers to some of the questions we have continually asked throughout the course of this semester. The beauty of archaeology is that there is always more to learn.

As part of the class’s public archaeology projects, a group of six of us headed to the Old Court House in New Castle to present at the Colonial Delaware Symposium on Saturday, May 14th. Our presentation involved a brief introduction at the court house and then an onsite tour at the George Read House site. The chronology of the presentation consisted of a discussion of the historical research and details of the water lot, transit work such as mapping, surveying, and setting up the grid, the GPR and STP findings as well as stratigraphy, soils, and chronology, an artifact display, and details of the north lot. Our program was the last presentation of the day, when we were very grateful that the rain had subsided.

Brielle started our presentation by discussing historical research and the water lot. She discussed different documents for research such as deeds, probate records, wills, tax documents, census information, and maps. She discussed the individual value of these documents. Next she discussed the history of the water lot at the George Read site. She discussed the chronology of men and women who owned the water lot and the different shore lines through time.

Eleanor was up next, and she discussed the transit. Her main point was that archaeology is more than just digging in the field and “treasure hunting”. Accuracy and precision are key aspects of fieldwork. Mapping and surveying the land must first be done to achieve this acuity. As far as the details of the transit go, Eleanor talked about the use of the stadia rod and mapping and surveying techniques. She concluded by stating the significance of the transit overall which is to achieve an accurate sample of the site.

Fallon talked about the GPR survey and findings, which was interesting to observe since Peter Leach, who did the GPR at the north and water lots, was in the audience. She discussed what we learned from the GPR, what and where the GPR found, what was actually found, and what this might mean overall. The audience was very intrigued by this method of archaeology.

The last member of our group to present in the court house was Emily, who discussed the north lot and conclusions. Because the north lot was excavated fairly recently, she mentioned that we only started excavating a few weeks ago. Just as Brielle discussed the historical research in relation to the water lot, Emily did the same for the north lot. She also discussed how we laid out the grid so that we could begin excavating and mentioned GPR anomalies. In her powerpoint, she included pictures of the GPR survey Another aspect of her presentation was comparing the north with the water lot in terms of artifacts and soil type. She concluded by expressing her gratitude for being part of this experience.

The onsite tour started at the water lot, where Colleen discussed the STPs. She chose a sample of STPs to discuss such as the GPR anomalies and some where some really interesting artifacts were found. She discussed our method of excavating, interesting aspects of the individual STPs, and the reason for closing depths. In the water lot specifically, she mentioned the significance of the 1804 shoreline and the house that one stood there. Then the group moved to the north lot where Colleen discussed the structure of the back section. Individuals in the group who actually excavated in the STP commented as well.

The last section of the presentation was the artifact display and discussion which was presented by Rebecca Cruz. The audience was very interested in observing the artifacts and they frequently asked questions. There were a total of eight artifacts to display, including ceramic, pottery, building remains, and faunal remains. The artifacts were a ceramic sherd, a broken bottle, vertebrae, pottery sherds, a piece of schist, brick, and an oyster shell. There was a variety from both the north and water lot. Rebecca discussed the significance and context of the artifacts in relation to the George Read House owners.

The audience casually viewed the STPs and the artifact display in the north lot for awhile, but soon it was time to end the presentation. Every member of the group did a wonderful job in presenting their part of what we learned in the field course, especially with the debatable weather. The audience learned more about the specifics of fieldwork, while also learning about the lifeways of the people of Colonial Delaware in relation to the Read House. I am sure the audience was pleased with our information and findings and will look forward to more excavation and research done on the site.

This past Friday, May 6th, marked the second to last fieldwork session for our archaeology class.  After almost six weeks of work on the Water Lot, it was finally time to move to the North Lot.  In the morning session, almost every student opened a new STP in the North Lot while a few students finished up the STP’s that lined the shoreline on the Water Lot.

Those students in both the morning and afternoon sessions who worked on the Water Lot  took cores of the STP’s that lined the old shoreline in hopes of identifying similarities in the soil levels and soil types.  Christine Canaday and Clay Strickland both worked on two of these holes.  Clay identified a layer of clay in his STP.  Hopefully this next Friday Christine will find a layer of clay and see a more continuous pattern develop and find out what, if any, ‘story’ the shoreline has to tell us.

Also on the Water Lot, Chelsea Cox continued digging in our most exciting STP S152.5 E25.  In the afternoon, Chelsea reached level 17 and identified another feature.  Within the feature she found a few pieces of shell, but the feature turned out to be less than one inch deep.  After photographing and documenting the new feature the day had already come to a close.  This STP has presented our class with the most material to work with and gives the clearest picture of what it was used for and how the people of the time lived.  Next Friday, Chelsea in the afternoon and Brielle Hayward in the morning, will dig as much as they can of this STP before our time runs out for the semester and with any luck find even more interesting artifacts and features.

In the North Lot, Darcy Depetris began working on one of the GPR anomalies situated on what would have been the outside corner of the building structure.  In her STP, Darcy found some interesting transferware pottery in level two.  At another STP, Rebecca Cruz found a broken piece of a bottle with lettering on it.  Rebecca will hopefully be able to date and identify this piece of bottle.

After beginning work on the North Lot, most students have realized that artifacts are being uncovered at much earlier layers than on the Water Lot and there are more artifacts overall.   In addition, the soil is much different than the Water Lot and easier to dig in.  From our digging this Friday, it looks like the North Lot has a lot to offer and next Friday should prove to be even more productive.

Last Friday we were fortunate to have another beautiful sunny day, allowing us to continue our work in New Castle. This was an important day as it marked many transitions such as the opening and closing of several STPs along with beginning transit work on the North lot.

In the morning section, many students began work on the anomalies that Peter Leach identified with his GPR survey. Fallon Rice worked on a shaft feature anomaly that was between 1.15-2ft below the surface. She dug to 1.3ft when she reached a layer of randomly laid brick. This layer prevented her from continuing to dig the STP but it also provoked many questions. She did not think that the bricks were laid in a pattern and this made her wonder why were they there and what did they come from? Fallon was even more curious when she discovered compressed ash between the bricks. This made her question whether or not this could have been some sort of fire pit. Fallon’s STP also struck the interest of a group of school children who stopped to discuss what she had found.

Marissa Kinsey also worked on one of the GPR anomaly STPs. Her anomaly was a large circular feature about 1ft below the surface. After digging to level 3 and just over 1ft, she found a layer of soil that had a high concentration of ironstone. This made her question whether or not the layer of ironstone could have been what showed up on the GPR as a circular feature. Interestingly enough, Marissa’s pit (like Fallon’s) contained ash, in the form of noticeable patches found in levels 2 and 3.

Some of the morning folks, Emily and Elanor, had a chance to set up the transit and lay out STP sites in the North lot. They laid out two rows of STPs 25 feet apart, marked each with flag, and then took an elevation measurement using the transit and stadia rod.

In the afternoon session, Becca, Collen, and Kate began their work where Emily and Elanor left off. They measured each STP and labeled them. It was Becca who had the honor of beginning the first STP on the lot. This STP anomaly  is believed to be the corner of a foundation of a building structure. By the end of the day, Becca had removed only the first layer of soil. When this dirt was screened, Becca, Collen, and Kate were in shock of the amount of objects found, such as pieces of brick, glass, mortar, and pieces of schist. They all remarked that finding artifacts in the first level of soil on the Water lot was a rare occasion.

Other afternoon students continued digging STPs in the water lot. One of these students, Leah Sachs, worked on the same pit as Marissa. She dug past 1ft and decided that Marissa had been correct; the anomaly that the GPR had picked up was the ironstone. The decision was made to close out the hole at approximately 2 ft.

This was a rather eventful day in the field. Our hard work is becoming evident as more and more STPs are closed out. There is also an excitement in the air as we begin to set up STPs in the North Lot. We are all terribly excited to find out how our findings in the north lot will compare to those in the water lot.

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