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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.

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!

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!

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.

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!

The following blog details the excavation work done on April 10th, 2015.

It had been two weeks since we last saw Old Swedes Church. It was a site for sore eyes when Professor De Cunzo and the class arrived. There was also an air of excitement because there was a lot of work to be done, despite the still-cold weather. Due to the well-timed weather of Delaware, there had been countless push backs on when the teams could actually begin mapping out the units. But On March 27th, mapping actually began. On the 10th, some teams actually began to peel back each layer of their unit, while other teams (new and old) started or finished their mapping.

Originally, there were 3 teams setup to tackle the site, each consisting of four people. As the students split up to do work, it was discovered that four people at each excavation unit (EU) wasn’t entirely necessary. So the three teams, affectionately and with a conservative pinch of imagination, were named: One Team (OT), Another Team (AT), and Yet Another Team (YAT). This changed after March 27th to where one person was picked off each team to form New Team (NT). As you can see, imagination runs wild in this class. But so does determination and an eagerness to begin working. NT, which I am a part of, would be working at the southwest buttress of the south porch. OT would continue its work at the northeast porch, AT at the bell tower and YAT in the southern porch.


New Team hard at work mapping out EU

NT, due to its obvious newness, began the mapping process on the 10th. We carefully decided where the borders of our 5 feet by 5 feet unit would be. Once the decision was made, we pulled up bricks that were roughly estimated to be the location of the EU’s corners. After a not so easy time pulling up bricks, which gave us a new appreciation of good masonry work, we used tape measures to properly triangulate the measurements of the EU, and strung up our EU. From there, like our peers on all other units, we prepared 2 measured drawings: one locating our EU on the church perimeter, and a detailed map of the surface brick paving.


One Team EU – Layer 1 (Black-n-white arrow indicates direction of north)


One Team – Layer 2

OT is the farthest along with the excavation of three layers: 1) the sidewalk bricks, 2) the linear pattern of sediment that had fallen between the bricks and on the sand beneath, and 3) the masonry sand beneath the bricks. This third layer was said to go ~4 inches deep and led to a layer of gravel, a foundation for the brick paving.

An archaeologist’s job can be rather tedious, and exhaustion or simple tiredness could cause something to be missed. When sifting through their sand, a thought came to light; what if we miss something? Sometimes it’s easy to overlook tiny objects, a shiny thing here or a dull thing there. It is an important reminder that what we do requires vigilance and an astute level of observation, which is probably difficult for some students who may have to forego their ritual of coffee.

Though it didn’t rain, the mist rolled in and tried to saturate the paperwork and some of the students. AT was one team that was thankful for a lack of rain, as we all were. This team first helped Dr. DeCunzo set up the Transit, a tool used to accurately map locations, and then continued to map out their EU. (One team member in particular was christened in the joys of dealing with the Transit, which is a most excellent teacher of patience.) But the team as a whole continued to map out their EU outside the bell tower’s southern door.

Student using Transit tool

Student using Transit tool

The accuracy of excavating was highlighted with this team. Unlike Indiana Jones, we don’t jump into a location with nothing but our wits and devil-may-care attitude. There is a lot of planning that goes into a site and a lot of tedious measurement taking. But it’s this desire for accuracy that shows just how scientific archaeology really is. It’s not just a bunch of people in boots, shorts, and wide-brimmed fedoras mulling around the dirt with our shovels. (Though our trowels are important part of an archaeologist’s toolkit, especially when removing pesky bricks.)

YAT had a few snares in their mapping. The bricks in the southern porch are laid in a 45° herringbone design. This is a particularly difficult design to take apart because it creates a tight space between the bricks and hardened soil between them. The porch is protected from the weather except from the south and few people enter that area. Most of the bricks are in excellent condition and haven’t been fully affected by the weather, like the bricks that make up the walkway. Because of the unique design of the bricks, YAT was advised to measure all the points on a diagonal and fill in the bricks afterwards. The west side of the EU was done first, so while two members of the team started to excavate the bricks on that end, another finished drawing out the detailed map.

brick designAs the team worked to remove the bricks, they discovered two nails that they included in their artifact find; they were put into brown paper bags and labeled. To those unaware of the goings on of the field, two nails sounds as exciting as watching water boil. But within the field, we know that every piece counts. Each nail, each piece of glass, each object or fragment of object we find has a story to tell. And though we may not be able to get all of their stories, the important thing is to be aware of them.

Yet Another Team hard at work pulling up bricks

Yet Another Team hard at work pulling up bricks

It is important that each team communicate fully. Ideas should be shared and discussed so that the best work possible can be done for each EU. The reading is extremely important because it gives us theoretical knowledge that can be discussed and applied in the field. As suspected, each site is different, and what works for one may not work for another. Our hope for continued work would be good weather, or at least no rain, and no injuries.

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.



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