Anthropology Field Notes

University of Delaware Anthropology Fieldwork by students and faculty

Category: Old Swedes Church Project 2015 (page 2 of 2)

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!

Old Swedes’ Church: Brick by Exciting Brick (or Return of the Weather Weary Students)

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.

We’ve (FINALLY!) started our work at Old Swedes!

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.

old swedes 073 (26) copy

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.

old swedes 073 (18) copy

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!

Perfectly Square-Determining Excavation Sites and Learning How to Dig Them

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!

“Updates from the Field” – February 27, 2015

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

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

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