PHAST 2020

Written by Miriah Amend

From the backwoods of Meadville, to the capital of Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Highway Archaeological Survey Team (PHAST) traveled around the state to conduct Phase I survey for several PennDOT projects this summer. The PHAST program provided archaeological field experience for four students from the IUP Department of Anthropology as well as GIS experience for a student from the Department of Geography and Regional Planning. The 2020 PHAST Crew completed 13 projects this summer, at most projects this consisted of digging shovel test pits, or STP’s, each one ranging from a few centimeters to a meter deep in the ground. We worked in a lot of different environments, forests, open fields, even a steep slope. What all these places had in common was being right next to a road or bridge that is planned to be improved or replaced by PennDOT.

 

Adapting to changes brought on by the COVID-19 Pandemic, the PHAST team did things a little differently this summer. Masking up and distancing during field work and van rides were new challenges, but this summer had familiar field challenges as well- many projects were surrounded by poison ivy or stinging nettles! With all of our projects being off busy roads, we always had to be careful when working, especially when crossing roads or bridges. Weather-wise, the crew was lucky, we only missed one day of field work due to thunderstorms! We spent this rainy-day cleaning artifacts and working on writing and making figures and maps for our reports. At the end of the day, archaeology could still be done, rain or shine!

Working alongside Dr. William Chadwick, the PHAST crew also assisted in a cemetery relocation project just outside of Indiana this summer. The crew took turns using ground penetrating radar (GPR) technology in order to locate potentially unmarked burials. Getting experience running the GPR was a great way to get our feet wet in the exciting world of geophysics, and the preliminary analysis of the data suggests that there we did in fact pass over a few unmarked graves.

Another project the team tackled was between Titusville and Meadville, up in the northwestern part of the state. There, our crew pulled out a variety of historic artifacts such as early 1900’s bottles, ceramic pieces, and various metal scraps, including an old metal shoehorn. This project area was near the foundation of known historic mill, so we weren’t too surprised to find historic material in this area, although I don’t think any of us expected it in this quantity!

 

Wrapping up the summer, the PHAST crew found even more artifacts- early historic pottery, glass, and even faunal remains! These were recovered during our last project, a bridge replacement near Murraysville. With these findings, additional STPs were required and this project turned from taking one day, to several. Who would have expected historic artifacts to be underneath a dense layer of rock just under the surface? It just goes to show the importance of Phase I survey, you never know what may be just below ground until you look!

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Go Forth and Record

Recording sites is an extremely

Front page of the PASS Form

important part of archaeology.  While simply recording a site is much less glamorous and excited than actually getting to research and excavate a site, it does not mean it is any less important.  Arguably, the recording without excavation is more important than the actual excavation.  The State Historic Preservation Office manages the survey documentation and is in the process of creating a new online database called PAShare.  This will eventually replace CRGIS.  Both these databases house all the information about recorded sites.  These sites can include large archaeological investigations to small isolated point finds.  Regardless of their scale, they are all equally important.  Information about possible sites can help to improve CRM investigations, identify locations for research and field schools, and improve predictive models.

Anyone can record a site.  All the forms needed for any type of survey, record, or other investigation can be found on the PHMC’s website at https://www.phmc.pa.gov/Preservation/About/Pages/Forms-Guidance.aspx.  The form specifically for site recording is the Pennsylvania Archaeological Site Survey (PASS) form.  Most of the information in the form is regarding features, artifacts, and time periods present at the site.  It can be used for historic sites, precontact sites, and multi-component sites.  It also asks for information about the site’s location including slope, elevation, bedrock type, water locations and topographic setting.  The environmental information allows for a better categorization of site types and locations.

CRGIS search page

Not all the information provided in this form is given out to the general public.  Contact information for the recorder and property owner is kept confidential.  The exact Lat/Long location of the site is also confidential.  One of the ethical responsibilities of SHPO and any archaeologist is to protect archaeological sites from looting.  Providing exact locations to the general public could lead to looting or inexperienced, unauthorized excavations that harm the site’s integrity.  Location information can be accessed by authorized personnel who are given permission by the SHPO.  Contact information is left completely confidential so there is no worry about some annoying archaeologist contacting you and begging you to dig holes on your property.

For the property owner, there is no obligation or responsibility if a site has been recorded on your property.  The SHPO and government will not limit your access or take away or property.  It is only a recording of archaeological sites and will not impact a property owner’s use of the land.  The recording only comes into play if a Section 106 and CRM survey is needed.  In those cases, the record helps to guide survey analysis and project locations.  The more sites that are recorded the more information can be provided for CRM work without having to go straight into the field.  The only problem is that most of these sites are recorded as a result of CRM work and are only representative of areas that have been impacted by construction.  The survey map is less of a map of sites and more a representation of urban expansion and construction.  Some SPA groups such as the Westmoreland Archaeological Society have started to locate more sites and other groups such as the Carnegie Museum have been going through collections and old excavation reports to record new sites.  As stated, anyone, not just professionals, archaeologists, or institutions, is able to record a site, so go forth and record.

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Remembering Today

Today marks the 19th anniversary of one of the darkest days in American history: the attach on The World Trade Center known only by its date, 9/11.  While many years ago now have past, it still feels like yesterday to many people and indeed is only yesterday when speaking archaeologically.  However, archaeologist played an important role shortly after the event and still work at the site and in aspects relating to the event.

Forensic anthropologists, some of whom come from archaeological backgrounds and many who have had archaeological training, worked tirelessly from the day of the attach through July 2004 to recover and identify 19,970 human remains.  This recovery operation acted similarly to archaeological excavations; sifting through piles of debris and identifying every bone or charred piece of metal.  After the collection, the remains were identified using DNA analysis and returned to their families.

Ten years after the catastrophe, an 8-acre, outdoor tree-covered 9/11 Memorial Plaza was created on Ground Zero.  This plaza contains two pools

Aerial image of the 9/11 Memorial Plaza.

surrounded by the name of the 2,977 victims of the World Trade Center, Pentagon, and Flight 93.  A year later the 9/11 Memorial Museum was opened.  This museum treats Ground Zero as it would an archaeological site, using artifacts from the disaster, location, and personal stories to transport visitors to the event.  Artifacts (rubble) from the Towers were repatriated back to the site and placed in public areas for people to walk through.  These include large pieces of steel, an elevator motor, fire engine from a company that lost 11 members, and a broadcast antenna from the North Tower.  These large artifacts and the in situ structural columns create an atmosphere similar to the ruins of other archaeological sites were visitors ask the question “what happened here”.  The museum structure itself is called Reflecting Absence and is located below the ground, drawing attention not only to its absence but the absence of the Towers themselves.  Exhibits use photographs, footage, and personal testimonies to create a soundscape allowing witnesses to narrate the exhibits rather than signs.  This is a feature that is not possible at many archaeological sites whose events took place hundreds or thousands of years ago.

 

The exposed hull of the 18th century ship. Source: Archaeology Magazine

Archaeology had one final interaction with Ground Zero.  In 2010 during the construction of a Vehicle Security Center, archaeologists monitoring the project discovered a portion of an 18th century trade ship in exceptional condition. The 32-foot-long portion of this 70-foot-long brigantine vessel likely brought livestock, wood, and food to the Caribbean and brought back sugar and other goods.  The vessel was likely brought to shore for repairs but when this section was deemed unsalvageable it was discarded.  During this time, the shoreline was expanded.  The clay-rich fill soil used to expand the shoreline covered the vessel creating an anaerobic environment perfect for preservation.   It is rare to find these vessels in such incredible condition.  The archaeologists decided the best course of action was to carefully excavate, dismantle, and preserve the ship for research.  However, because of the need to continue construction, the team had only 5 days to complete this task.

9/11 was a horrific event that sparks a huge chain of conflicts that are still going on today.  Every single person, profession, and heart was impacted by this event.  There are those heroic first responders who rushed to the scene risking and even giving up their lives to save others, the courageous passengers of Flight 93 and other regular people who acted to help others, and all those people to helped in the aftermath of the tragedy.  This even extended to archaeologists who aided in recovery and were allowed to preserve the memory of the event for all time.  Thank you so those who helped others during this time and who still help others today.

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Source: Kerrigan, Ian   2011 Exhibiting 9/11: Interpreting Archaeology and Memory at the World Trade Center Site. Exhibitionist, Fall: 20-24.

Decolonization of Archaeology

Collaborating in Archaeological Practice by Chip Colwell-Chanthaphohn and T.J. Ferguson

There is a commonly known phrase that states that history is written by the victors.  In the case of archaeology, history is written by the research which in many cases is someone outside of the culture being researched.  Many times, especially in European archaeological investigations, archaeologists are studying ancient civilizations that are no longer in existence.  However, in the United States (and across the Americas) archaeologists investigate the cultures and ancestors of living descendant communities.  Early American archaeologists were Western antiquarians who collected artifacts and researched monuments and graves in order to discover the history of their newly claimed lands.  The public wanted their new home to have a similar historical depth to it as their former European homes.  This research often involved excavating of graves and looting the grave good and human remains.  Thomas Jefferson, the father of American Archaeology, investigated the mounds near his home to discover who actually constructed them.  While this investigation did conclude that ancestors of the present Native Americans were the builders, he completely ignored the importance of the mounds to the current population.  He claims to have seen tribes gathered around the mounds but then continues to excavate what appears to be child graves without any concern for the tribe’s feelings.

Decolonizing Methodologies by Linda Tuhiwai Smith

That lack of interest in descendant communities’ cultures, feelings, ideals, and practices relating to the archaeological sites continued until the 1960s when indigenous communities began to protest sites and archaeology.  Because of these efforts, there are now laws that require consultation with Native American tribes throughout the archaeological process and enforce respect for their beliefs especially in regard to burials.  Unfortunately, these laws only go so far, and the histories of these descendant communities are still interpreted from a Western point of view.  While some people may argue that modern archaeologists attempt to interpret their finds without that Western bias, this is just not possible.  Interpretations are directly influenced but experience, culture, and ideals in which the individual lives.  With that in mind, those most qualified to interpret history is those whose history is being interpreted, meaning that indigenous people should be interpreting indigenous archaeology.  However, because archaeology is dominated by the European ethic groups who colonized the Americas, it is not possible for only those of the same background as the research subjects to interpret their material culture.  This idea also perpetuated the idea that only certain people can study certain subjects.

Access Link: https://montpelier-documents.s3.amazonaws.com/Interpreting%20Slavery%2010-30-18.pdf

The best way to combat the colonization of archaeology, is not to simply consult with indigenous populations but to directly involve them in the research.  Indigenous populations (and other descendant communities) should ask and influence research questions, guide the excavations, determine what can and cannot be excavated, and play large roles in the dissemination of information.  Participatory research also prevents the descendants from being and feeling like purely test subjects rather than active players in their own history.  They have the opportunity to answer their own questions, not just accept the answers to other people’s questions.  In the end the people who are the least bias toward history are those who are descendant from that history.  While this post has a focus on indigenous communities, participatory archaeology can be done or all descendant communities throughout the Americas and the world.

This is a tall order that will take a lot of effort to accomplish.  Not every individual in a descendant community will be active or responsive to archaeology regardless of their inclusion.  By also involving them in the public aspect, more individuals, both descendant and non-, may gain a new perspective and appreciation for the history in their own backyard.

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Sources:

Atalay, Sonya

2006    Indigenous Archaeology as Decolonizing Practice. American Indian Quarterly Special Issue Decolonizing Archaeology 30(3/4): 280-310

SAA Archaeological Record May 2010 Volume 10 Number 3