Digging PHAST

Written by Brendan Cole

The PennDOT Archaeological Survey Team (PHAST) is an internship program between IUP and PennDOT. It provides one student with the paid opportunity to be an archaeological field director and gives three students the opportunity to be paid archaeological field technicians. This year’s crew consisted of me (Brendan Cole) as the field director with Janee Becker, Andrew Malhotra, and Heather Lash as my trusty field technicians. It was my job to lead small Phase I archaeological surveys while helping teach and to give Janee, Andrew, and Heather the opportunities they needed to grow as archaeologists and prepare for finding a job in post-graduate life.

Over the course of 18 weeks we put over 7,000 miles on our relatively new and previously shiny rental mini-van for a summer full of archaeology. By the end of the summer we completed eleven Phase I archaeological surveys and participated in one Phase III with AECOM.  All our projects were for PennDOT projects like bridge rehabilitations, bridge replacements, road safety improvements, trails, and a transmission line project in Eckley Miner’s Village.

The PHAST Crew 2019: Brendan Cole, Andrew Malhotra, Janee Becker, and Heather Lash.

One thing that every Cultural Resources Management (CRM) archaeologist knows is that you don’t find sites everywhere you stick a shovel in the ground, in fact it can be quite rare depending on where you are at and what kind of project it is. The PHAST crew experienced this this summer when we only found 1 site out of our 11 surveys. That’s a whopping .09% success rate for finding a site.

The one site we did identify was historical and located in Northampton County, PA. Every shovel test that we dug was positive for historic artifacts. Some shovel tests contained cultural materials at such a deep level we had to dig our first test unit of the summer. It consisted of multiple layers of stratigraphy containing artifacts such as whole bricks, ceramics, glass, and metal objects like nails. In total the project yielded a couple hundred artifacts. We don’t have an exact date yet for the site as we have not yet completed a full analysis of the artifact assemblage.

After it was all said and done, we drove our van for 7,000+ miles around Pennsylvania, successfully completed multiple surveys, learned new skills, ate great food, and unsurprisingly visited multiple breweries along the way (remember we are archaeologists).

Applications for next summer’s crew will open this winter.

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