Trash 300 Years Ago is Still Trash Today...

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North America » United States » Pennsylvania » Lancaster
December 1st 2011
Published: December 7th 2011EDIT THIS ENTRY

The Wiesenthal SiteThe Wiesenthal SiteThe Wiesenthal Site

Where most of the excavations were onsite

"Trash 300 Years Ago is Still Trash Today"

I thought it would be a good idea to include in our travel journal what I have been up to the past three months as it has certainly been interesting to say the least. I have been participating in an archeological dig in Lancaster County since September and we have recenetly closed our excavations.

The name of the site where we were excavating is called the Wiesenthal Site. Here is a little history of the site:
The Weisenthal site is located on what was once a 500 acre tract that was settled by the Hess family in 711. The location of this site is one of the earliest European settled in Lancaster County. The house located onsite is one of thirty families that initially settled in this area during the 1710-1711 period. The tract was formally purchased in 1718 and portions of this original tract have remained in the Hess family ever since.

What is left of the site today is much less than the original 500 acre tract. During the 18th century the land was split into two tracts, northern and southern. Portions of each tract were divided
The house The house The house

The house onsite
off again and sold. The current location of the archeological site is located in the northern tract and was historically referred to as the Wiesenthal property. The house around which our excavations took pace appears to have been built during the 1780’s. Although, there is a farmhouse on the southern half of the property which is believed to have been built in 1733.

The primary objective that drove this archeological excavation was to determine whether there was any evidence for the initial 1710’s settlement on the property. Another objective was to excavate and document the remains of the family living from the establishment of the farmstead up to present day in order to construct a general material cultural history of the people who lived on this farmstead.

While the first objective of the excavation was not accomplished, a lot was learned from this site. It was impossible to date any of the artifacts found to the exact date range of which we were hoping. The date ranges of artifacts found onsite ranged from 1500-present day. Obviously, this is not much help with determining whether the house was occupied in 1710 or not.

A rambling of information on
ER 100 & ER 101ER 100 & ER 101ER 100 & ER 101

After ripping the Eastern side of the porch off we plotted out two units. Ours is the one closest to the house.
It is often asked why archaeologists dig square holes. The answer is what separates professionals from common looters. Archaeology is an inherently destructive process because when you are digging a site, you are effectively obliterating the archaeological record of that site forever. It is therefore imperative to ensure that all excavation is carefully controlled and recorded in order to preserve as much information as possible. The way that this is accomplisted is by following strict guidelines known as field methods.

Once the excavation unit is strung off, topsoil is removed with a shovel. The shovel is used to cut inside the string line. A small square of soil is left around each corner nail to make sure the nail is not pulled out with the removing of dirt. Once the topsoil is cleared, the shovel and trowel are used to carefully square up the sides of the unit. Each wall of the unit is kept clean and absolutely vertical as excavation progresses.

The usual completment of excavation tools includes a trowel, a dust pan, a pair of root clippers, and a bucket. A shovel is also required for removal of topsoil and to use in skim

Skim shovel, trowel, move dirt, shift, bag artifacts, repeat...
shoveling of a unit. A paint brush and dental pick are also helpful for excavating fragile artifacts. Before any excavation begins, an artifact recovery bag is made out for the level being excavated within each unit. Each bag is marked clearly with a black marker.

Why archaeologists love dirt-- Soil is not just the matrix within which artifacts are found; they are of paramount importance as a source of information to archaeologists. Subtle differences between soils are used to define and understand occupation layers, time periods, and ground disturbing human activities throughout a site. The properties used to define soils are texture, color, structure and quantity along with arrangement of water. The Munsell color system is used to precisely define soil color.

One of the most important analytical tools used by archaeologists is the determination of the TPQ. TPQ stands for the "date after which..." It is a date established by identifying the artifact in each lot which is the newest or most recent artifact in terms of production. It is a fairly relable indicator of the earliest point in time in which an assemblage or soil layer could have been deposited.

My pit:
My unit was
Lunch time-- Deserted screensLunch time-- Deserted screensLunch time-- Deserted screens

Screening through mud is really annoying, and seeing how it rained almost every other day, we were often annoyed
ER 100, which consisted of a 5 x 5 unit excavated parallel to the house such that the NW and NE corners of the unit were touching the stone base of the structure. This unit was plotted out after carefully deconstructing the whole eastern half of the porch with hopes of finding artifacts that may have been discarded out of the window located directly above the unit.

Excavations started and Layer A was opened on September 13th. The soil found in this layer was that of topsoil which is typically the first layer of soil removed from an excavation unit. This soil was composed of a mixture of sod, roots and recently deposited soil which contained a number of modern artifacts. Breaking ground was not a struggle as the soil was extremely loose and not covered with any grass or roots. There was a wide variation in soil color in Layer A with a mixture of artifacts which led us to believe that this layer was infact a mixed layer. There were a total of 962 artifacts pulled from this layer alone. The most dominant and commonly found artifacts were that of glass, iron nails and terracotta.


Alexis and I screening
of Layer B began after Layer A was closed out. There were a total of 209 artifacts removed from Layer B. The findings were comparative to Layer A but in lesser quantities. The most common artifacts in Layer B were glass and iron nails. After careful extraction of surrounding soil, there appeared to be a pathway, either intentional or not, of some sort found at the bottom of Layer B. Large pieces of rock covered with plaster were found strategically placed close to one another. This was interpreted to either be an intentional pathway of some sort or perhaps a plot of discarded building material that were being used elsewhere and the remnants discarded here at the bottom of Layer B.

Layer C was opened after the closure of Layer B. The top of Layer C began where the bottom of Layer B closed which was with a layer of flat building stones covered in plaster. No similar stones had been found in the layers above, although it was noticed that these stones appeared to be the same type as the ones used in the basement siding. In this layer there were a total of 22 artifacts. They consisted
ER 100ER 100ER 100

Me and my pit mates being goofy... digging for hours a day will certainly drive you crazy
of bone, glass, ceramic, iron, mortar, brick, and tin in the form of modern foil. Halfway through Layer C we discovered a feature that was named Feature D. It was a builders trench the started from the foundation of the basement and measured out 1 foot 4 tenths of a foot from the house. After Feature D was completed, Layer C was finished.

The northern corner of the unit backed up against the basement wall of the house. Running the entire length of the 5ft wall of the unit out from the house 1ft and 4 tenths of a foot was the extent of the buildings trench known as Feature D. The opening elevation of Feature D was 1ft 9.5 tenths of a foot in the NW corner. The main purpose of digging out the builders trench as a separate feature was to determine whether or not the unit could be excavated to the time period in which the house was constructed, or even possibly earlier. Prior to the foundation of the basement being built a builders trench would have been dug in order to aid in this process. After the completion of the basement foundation, the trench would

A normal look after a day digging in the dirt
have then been backfilled, mixing soil layers. Because of the mixing of soil assumed to have taken place, the trench was dug out in arbitrary layers of about one foot each and took it down until subsoil was believed to be reached. There were a total of four arbitrary layers. After Feature D was closed, Layer E was opened and closed within a tenth of a foot due to reaching subsoil.

In our unit over the course of three months we found many artifacts. The majority of artifacts uncovered included a wide range of ceramics. In all honesty, ceramics were the most exciting artifact to pull from the pit for me. Historical archaeologists have studied ceramics more than any other class of artifacts. Their value as research tools is based on several properties inherent in the ceramics themselves. Unlike metal, bone and even glass, vessels made of clay remain stable in the ground for thousands of years. While decorative glazes may wear off after burial, the majority of a ceramic vessel's original information remains intact and available to researchers over time.

Overall, it was a great learning experience. It involved a lot of physical work, but it was well worth it. The number one thing I learned from this experience: When faced with having to pee in a porter-potty I can hold my pee for hours on end.

*Please excuse the quality of the pictures; I took them with my iPhone as I did not want to bring our nice camera to the dig site. Most of the pictures have a filter on them mostly just because I like the feel that it gives them.


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