Anthropology Field Notes

University of Delaware Anthropology Fieldwork by students and faculty

Author: Lu Ann De Cunzo

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

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.

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

Welcome to Anthropology Field Notes!

Introducing the Anth. 424: Archaeological Field Methods Blog

Greetings and welcome to the inaugural Anthropology Field Notes blog.  We hope that faculty and students will use the blog to share updates on your fieldwork with the rest of us in Anthropology at UD, our alumni, the larger university community, and others interested in anthropological fieldwork.

This spring, 19 anthropology and material culture preservation students are conducting a service learning project for the Delaware Historical Society at the Read House and Gardens property in Delaware’s colonial capital, New Castle.  We’re working on two properties adjoining the main house and garden lot that we’ve been studying for the past 15 years.  Our goals are to learn how to do historical archaeology—from researching historical documents to mapping, surveying, and excavating to processing and researching artifacts to sharing what we’re learning with various stakeholders—and to learn about the nature, extent, and dates of archaeological remains on these properties.

Each week through May, a few class members will post blogs—introducing themselves and reporting on our finds, our accomplishments, and even our frustrations.  Follow our progress, ask us questions, offer suggestions… we look forward to hearing from you!  And wish us good weather, good ‘digging’ soils, and good cultural-historical evidence buried beneath our feet.

Thanks to Andrea Anderson, our Laboratory Coordinator for setting up the blog and for all her efforts preparing us for the fieldwork, assisting in project direction, and managing the archaeology lab and collections work.  And thanks to new UD Anthropology and History alum, Julie Powers, who is serving as our Crew Chief this spring.

Lu Ann De Cunzo