Anthropology Field Notes

University of Delaware Anthropology Fieldwork by students and faculty

Category: New Castle Project 2011 (page 1 of 2)

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.

Archaeology Students Participate in Colonial Delaware Symposium

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.

In The Field Friday May 6, 2011

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.

In the Field April 29, 2011

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.

Archaeology and the Public in New Castle

On Sunday, May 1, 2011, students from the “Introduction to Archaeological Field Methods” course spoke with New Castle city residents and visitors. On the Water Lot in front of the George Read House the students opened test pits, set up soil screens and wash stations. Display of historical research documents and a survey transit were available to our visitors.
Visitors were invited to help dig a test pit excavation and screen the dirt. Young children especially enjoyed these two activities. Copies of documents, some from the 17th century, showed the visitors who owned the two lots where the archaeology students have been working this semester. People were interested in how ground penetrating radar (GPR) and survey transits helped with archaeology site surveying.
Artifacts from test pits, and the test pits themselves, showed people what has been found by the students in their Friday classes over the past three months. Pieces of broken brick, window glass, pipe stem, ceramic, coal and vessel glass have been removed from the 18-inch diameter test pits. Some of the test pits are over three feet deep where cultural materials are still being found. Many of the day’s visitors were excited to see the artifacts from past centuries.
This Archaeology and the Public event was part of the New Castle Courthouse Museum “First Sunday” activity. We thank the Courthouse State Museum, the George Read Museum and Garden, and Professor Lu Ann DeCunzo for this opportunity to share our archaeological knowledge with more people.
We will be at the New Castle site for the next two Fridays and welcome others to view our work.

University of Delaware anthropology students
Chelsea Cox
Darcy DePetris
Christine Hermann
Leah Sachs
Clay Strickland
Mike Wilson


On Sunday, May 1st, students in the “Introduction to Archaeology Field Methods” course will participate in the Old New Castle Courthouse First Sunday event from 1:00 to 4:30 p.m. You can observe the excavation on the Water Lot in front of the George Read House and discuss findings with the students and Professor Lu Ann DeCunzo.

Internets sites for more information:

New Castle Courthouse –

George Read House –

Week 4 In The Field

This week we were in the field again and several groups  closed their first test pits. Eleanor closed hers after finding little to no artifacts or changes in soil on Friday.  Mike found quite a few things and his hole was actually quite interesting. He found what looked to be stones not laid in a distinct pattern but definitely in a single layer and of large enough size to possibly be paving stones. Honestly though, we’re not sure what those are yet. Juli and Brielle found another feature in their pit although it is not very deep as they discovered when they did a core test. Marissa found several more interesting things in our hole while I worked on the transit including an animal tooth which I am not confident enough to yet positively identify although it looks like it’s something in the rodent family such as ground hog. She also found some more glass, ceramics, brick, and coal. She is three feet down and has yet to strike water. Clay also closed his pit after finding little to nothing on Friday except the water level, which he informed us is just over 3 feet down and marked by a distinct change from clay to ashy sand. The rest of us worked on reestablishing the grid, marking future test pits, and incorporating them into the grid system as well. We also had some people come interview us for UDaily. They wanted to know everything we could tell them about what we were doing and what we found; everyone was very helpful and informative. I don’t believe there were any real problems on Friday, other than the difficulties Mike had in digging over around and through is layer of large flat rocks, everyone made very good progress. Friday we hope to open some new pits and continue finding features and artifacts that will aid us in revealing the history of the Water Lot.

Day 4 in the Field

April 15th, our fourth day out in the field. By now, most of us already know the process of excavating STPs. Core samples were taken in some of the STPs in order to determine the start of the water table. Core samples are taken with a hollow pole that you twist into the ground to get a preview of the soil layers below the top layer. This provides us with an estimate of the number of layers left before the water table is reached as well as the distance before we reach the water table. Two of the STPs were cored; the test pit farthest from the Strand went straight into the water table. Marissa and Fallon worked on the S177.5 W0 test pit and found vessel and flat glass, brick, 19th century ceramics, a decorated pipe-stem fragment, and rusted nails. Leah and Caroline closed out their STP, which was at the back of the lot, closest to the Delaware River, when they hit the water table, only finding a few more pieces of brick. As other STPs were getting closer to the water table and stopped producing artifacts, other test pits were also closed up. The closing procedure includes photographing the end point and then covering the hole.
There is one test pit that has been unlike any of the other test pits and that is S152.5 E25. This STP has produced some interesting anomalies. Brielle was digging today and came across a feature that took up half of the STP. Chelsea and Chrissy photographed and excavated that feature in the afternoon. Preparing a feature involves cleaning it up so there is no lose dirt in the bottom of the STP as well as making sure the bottom of the pit is relatively level. Next, a trowel needs to point north, and a white board has all of the information like the location, the excavation, date. There were photographs taken in black and white, color, and on the digital camera. Everything had to be logged before the excavation could start. This is a lengthy process, there was only enough time for the feature to be excavated but no other levels were started. When excavating a feature, only half can be done at a time because it is important to get a profile of the stratigraphy of the feature. Chelsea and Chrissy found brick, shells, bones, coal, and various kinds of pottery. One of the pieces we were able to date to around 1820. This feature, unlike the surrounding soil levels that mostly produced brick and clinker, contained several artifacts.
Most of the test pits excavated produced brick, clinker, some iron, pieces of pottery, and some glass.  I am excited to get back in the field and discover what else lies beneath the water lot in New Castle.

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