Anthropology Field Notes

University of Delaware Anthropology Fieldwork by students and faculty

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:

Coming to the End!

As the semester comes to a close, we are starting to present our work to the public and making the final touches on our units.

On the North Buttress unit, we labeled each charred area as its own sub level (level 6a-f) and used spoons, which yes is a valid archaeological technique, to dig the individual areas to see what they would revel and how far the ash went. We found that most of them were deeper than we anticipated with one going several inches down creating a nice “ravine” in the center of our unit. We found one nail and plenty of coal clinker and pieces of bricks within each small unit.  Also, because of the layer of sand underneath our layer of bricks, we have to balance ourselves on planks of plywood over the unit so as to not put to much pressure on one area of bricks.

In the other sites around the church, the South Porch group uncovered the foundation for the pillar supporting the balcony in the corner of their unit.

Because of the flowering trees and our beautiful sunny days, we have also had to continue to make our own shade (though we cant complain as the beginning of the semester had been cold, cloudy and snowy) using our spirited UD capes. 1891103_10206969238455939_8011273943166247716_n


While we all had hoped as first time archaeologists to make the big find of the century, our finds of nails and pins could be helpful in showing us that there could be more lurking beneath the layers. Hopefully this last week we can go farther down our units to see what else it holds.

New Techniques and Interesting Artifacts: May 8th, 2015

On May 8th, we returned to the field for our second-to-last day of excavation (for the semester) at Old Swedes Church. Each team has continued to make excellent progress, and there is much to report, including some new types of artifacts and the use of a new excavation technique by one of our teams.

For the past two weeks, our blog has reported on features uncovered in a charcoal/ash-rich soil layer in the EU located at the northeast corner of the church. This week, the team that is working at the southwest buttress excavated two features in a compositionally similar layer of soil. Unlike the clear evidence of planks and shingles identified in the features on the north side of the church, the southwest buttress unit’s features were much less regular, and the team is still working to determine what they mean in regards to our interpretation of the site.

A Feature at the Southwest Buttress Unit

A Feature at the Southwest Buttress Unit

 The team at the northeast corner EU, meanwhile, continued to work to carefully excavate the charcoal layer at their site—this time using a new technique: “spooning.” Spooning is the term used to describe the use of spoons to carefully excavate a feature and determine its depth. Though we have used trowels, brushes, and hand picks, this is the first time that we have used any kind of kitchen utensil to facilitate our archaeological investigation!

"Spooning" at the Northeast Corner EU

“Spooning” at the Northeast Corner EU

Inside the south porch, the team uncovered a number of intriguing artifacts during the May 8th excavation. They include a straight with a round or ball head, a miniscule fragment from a tobacco pipe bowl, and several pieces of glass. Since most of the material evidence that we have uncovered thus far in our excavation has been limited to nails, coal clinker, and fragments of brick, May 8th’s finds were hailed as exciting signs of what is to come—hopefully additional pieces of datable material evidence! There were also some interesting discoveries at the bell tower unit, including shell mortar and a piece of wire.

An Exciting Discovery from the South Porch EU

An Exciting Discovery from the South Porch EU

We ended our day with a practice session for the six class members that were slated to present an overview of our project and the findings thus far at the Early Colonial Delaware History Symposium on Saturday, May 9th. The presentation was successful, consisting of a succinct evaluation and interpretation of our excavation along with resources for interested audience members to consult in order to remain apprised of future discoveries!

As the semester draws to a close, we have all become more proficient at each of the archaeological tasks that we have been practicing. Many of the students have reported feeling excited and accomplished as they work to unearth new levels in collaboration with their team members, and some students have even become confident enough to demonstrate their new skills on camera for the documentary that is being created to tell the story of our excavation. Be sure to check this blog next week for our final update from the field!

Trying the Hero Cape: May 1st and May 2nd

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

This week we worked on Friday May 1st and May 2nd. May flowers are blooming and making the site gorgeous to look at, and the beauty (and the falling petals) can be distracting after the winter we’ve had. Windblown blossoms leave petals everywhere and when I say everywhere I mean everywhere. Lots of cleaning in the sites and in each unit had to be done but no worry we were prepared.

This week we had an awesome and productive week. Most of our units are now in very interesting new levels. As noted in the previous update, we found burning and wooden planks at the northeast corner of the church. Well, excavation revealed them to have irregular shapes for wooden planks, and we are now considering they may be tree branches.

During this week we also had fascinating  encounters with photography. We want to be as photographically correct as possible so 11130219_10205373782456619_5040757015754197036_nwe had to create our own shade to photograph so we pulled out our trusty UD blue hero capes (they are really just the tarps we use to cover the units) for the job. Feeling like heroes for the day was fun and brought a smile to our faces, which is our aim. Hero capes or no hero capes we still worked extremely hard to make some progress.

We decided this week that in order to get the most out of our remaining time in the field that we should excavate only half of our 5×5 units. At the Bell Tower, our team is excavating 2 2.5×5 units to not only capture the foundation of the building but also explore the drainage problem at  the Bell Tower entrance.

As each individual unit becomes deeper we are starting to see major differences in the levels. Prime examples of this are the northeast corner and south church entrance units. Under the south porch, the team uncovered a layer of mixed soils with the greatest variety of soil colors we have yet seen.

Our findings continue to be mostly bits and pieces of the building–stone, brick, mortar, metal hardware, nails, and the like.  Stay tuned for next week’s editions of Updates from the Field!

Interesting Finds: April 24 and 25

Welcome to another exciting edition of Updates From the Field!

This week we worked on Friday, April 24th during our scheduled class time and came in on Saturday the 25th as well to make up for time lost due to a snow day earlier in the semester.

Signs of burning and wooden planks

Signs of burning and wooden planks

We found a charcoal soil layer on Saturday perhaps linked to a 1960s fire at Old Swedes Church. This was discovered near the northeast corner of the northeast church buttress. In the picture above, you can notice signs of burning in the black organic soil as well as signs of what appeared to be wooden planks etched into the ground in fine detail. Like at the north buttress and bell tower excavations, the group working near the south buttress also discovered a base of crushed stone beneath the bedding sand of the brick paving. Within the south porch, this stone was missing, and instead the team found a layer of clay loam.

We also found more artifacts today–glass fragments from the windows of Old Swedes, wire nails, and what appeared to be a piece of burned clay molding. We are making great strides so far despite a few minor setbacks related to poor weather conditions earlier in the semester and many of the sites have made major progress in terms of discovering some very interesting artifacts and finds. The majority of the finds so far have been nails, glass, brick fragments, mortar, coal, and various pebbles and rocks.

Just another day on the job

Just another day on the job

As we have progressed in our excavations, we have grown more comfortable with the process of archaeology. We have become more adept at accurately and consistently taking depth measurements in our units. Several teams had some difficulty with holding the string with the line level too slack and with using a ruler that measured in inches instead of tenths of feet, but experience has smoothed over these issues. We have also learned which tools are more appropriate in which situations, such as when to use a brush or a trowel and when to use a rectangular trowel or a pointed trowel. Brushes were found to be more useful for the teams who had gravel layers when they were removing the soil directly above and around the rocks. They also come in handy when preparing a level for photographic documentation to remove marks from trowels, dustpans, buckets, and footprints. Rectangular trowels are especially useful near the edges of the unit walls and in cleaning up and straightening the walls themselves.

If we can dig further in the next couple of classes, we may be able to link the artifacts to unique and exciting things relating to colonial culture in Old Swedes as well as to important and interesting chapters of the Church’s history. The possibilities are endless. But what makes this so exciting isn’t just the excavation, it’s also the experience. Learning archaeological procedures, managing equipment such as the transit, techniques for measurement, documentation, analyzing the soils, and studying the artifacts and separating soils are all important for us as students. We take these experiences with us wherever life leads us and we will take what we have learned from Old Swedes and become better archaeologists.

A great day at Old Swedes

A great day at Old Swedes

Aside from our work in the site, we plan on giving two separate presentations about our work at Old Swedes. The class split into two groups; one group will present at the Early Colonial Delaware Symposium on May 9th and the other will present at Old Swedes Church on May 17th. We’ve already began discussing our plans and have reviewed notes on public speaking to improve the quality of our presentations. Hopefully we can discover more about the site before we begin our public presentations. This has been our updates from the field, look forward for more exciting news next week.

We Broke Ground! April 17th, 2015

Welcome back to Updates from the Field!

Once again the predicted Friday rain threatened to foil the plans of Dr. DeCunzo’s archeology students. Yet, another class went by without any raining disrupting our dig. If you walked around the grounds at Old Swedes Church at the end of class, you would think the anthropology students had been digging there for weeks with all of the progress that has been made. However, this past Friday was our first real class at getting down and dirty and beginning to excavate the church grounds.

What a picturesque archeological scene!

What a picturesque archeological scene!

Now that our class has begun to dig in, literally, we are excited and motivated to work towards achieving our goals. Today, some of our classmates uncovered the first artifacts since our work began, old nails and wire, and the rest of the class is eager to uncover artifacts as well. Archeology gives us the opportunity to understand how our predecessors lived, what they did, and can give us a more holistic perspective of where we came from. We hope our archeological adventure here at Old Swedes can provide us with some of these answers about the Swedish colony that settled here many centuries ago.

Amara and Nicole focused on their excavation unit!

Amara and Nicole focused on their excavation unit!

After planning for weeks, our class finally had the opportunity to take our plans and put them into action at our site. Archeology is far from simple. There is much more to this complex science. The preparation alone has taken us weeks. Measurements must be extremely precise and accurate. It took me an hour to set up the Transit; an instrument used to level the excavation unit. All of this work is done in order to ensure the validity and reliability of our work at Old Swedes. Our notes are composed of written documentation, picture documentation, and hand drawings. The archeological record is one of the most important aspects and our work is always done with hard word and diligence.

Ana determined to set up the Transit!

Ana determined to set up the Transit!

The enthusiasm is high in our class and at Old Swedes Church. This group of students is determined to discover what the grounds of Old Swedes have to tell. Check back next Friday for more updates about our excavation!

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