Groundhogs: Friend or Foe?

Yesterday was Groundhogs day! A day when Punxatawney Phil (or Buckeye Chuck, or Woodstock Willie, depending on what state you live in) climbs out of his borrow and decides if it will be an early spring or 6 more weeks of winter based on the presence of his shadow. 

This day originated from a Christian Holiday called “Candlemas” where Christians would bring their candles to the church to have them blessed and ensure their household was blessed for the rest of the winter. Over the years, this tradition became a day of weather prediction as they believed that if there was good weather and bright skies on Candlemas, winter would continue, but if it was cloudy spring would arrive soon. 

Punxatawney Phil held by his handler.

As this tradition spread to other countries in Europe, the Germans had a variation that included a hedgehog seeing its shadow. Then, as German settlers arrived in Pennsylvania and other nearby regions, it became a groundhog that was the prognosticator for a continued winter or an early spring. 

 

This year, a few members of the upper cohort went this year and saw Phil proclaim that we will have 6 more weeks of winter to the crowd’s exasperation. As I stood there cursing Phils’ prediction and dreading a longer snowy and bitter-cold Indiana winter, I began to think of other ways rodents tend to interfere with the environment and make archaeologists’ jobs harder. 

Both present-day, and past rodents share an affinity for burrowing and creating tunnel systems under the ground that has a habit of disturbing sites throughout the United States. Their burrows tend to have a different color and texture than the surrounding soil making them stand out. Not only can they trip up archaeologists who might assume these rodent burrows are archaeological features (guilty), but they make it increasingly difficult to understand the stratigraphy of the site. Additionally, their back dirt tends to include artifacts that are thrown out of context and into upper levels, sometimes meters away from their original location. If that’s not enough, their borrowing can also disrupt larger features and artifacts caches which travel down centimeter by centimeter as the ground around them is displaced by the rodent.

Rodent Hole disrupting the stratigraphy of a unit.

We can’t always blame rodents, because humans have a history of disturbing archaeological sites just as much as they do. Plow scars and cut-and-fill areas are just two examples of the ways that different occupations of people can interfere with the features of a site. Lucky for us, Harris Matrices can help us understand and analyze the stratigraphy of a site including areas that have been bisected by rodent burrows or plow scars. All you need is plain gridded paper (or Excell) and a lot of patience as you start to relate the different stratigraphic levels to each other by context and characteristics. After your finished, your matrix will hopefully look like the one depicted here and will let you understand how each deposit relates to others.

An example of a Harris Matrix and an the associated stratigraphy.

So, while rodents do seem to make our lives harder as archaeologists, especially by predicting more winter which could curtail our spring field projects. We have tools that make it easier to understand why some artifacts are out of context and where the rodent borrows disrupted natural stratigraphy. Given this, I think it’s fair to say that groundhogs are our frenemies.

 

Further Reading:

https://www.groundhog.org/legend-and-lore

https://thesubversivearchaeologist.net/category/burrowing-rodents/

https://germannaarch.wordpress.com/2021/07/12/rodent-burrows-into-our-heart-and-our-site/

https://www.thoughtco.com/harris-matrix-archaeological-tool-171240#:~:text=The%20Harris%20Matrix%20%28or%20Harris-Winchester%20matrix%29%20is%20a,cultural%20events%20which%20make%20up%20a%20site%27s%20history.

Spatiotemporal data as the foundation of an archaeological stratigraphy extraction and management system

Machu Picchu’s Agricultural Sector

Since November is National Indigenous Heritage Month we want to feature an archaeological site that is pretty well known, Machu Picchu, Peru. However, while most people know that it was a ceremonial place for the Incan empire, they may not know that it was also likely a place of agricultural innovation. In fact, there is a whole area that the Incans devoted to agriculture. Through the archaeological evidence, we can see the intelligence and creativity of the Incans as they navigated the steep Andean Mountains.

Machu Picchu Agricultural Terraces

 The agricultural area is comprised of cultivation terraces that look like large step platforms following the incline of the mountain. These platforms were made of many layers of material such as mulch, sand, and gravel that facilitated drainage and prevented flooding which would cause landslides. Additionally, the steps utilized natural drainage as an irrigation system directly from channels that connected the levels. The terraces also maximized the amount of land Incans were able to use to cultivate crops.  The agricultural sector is divided from the urban area of the site by a long 400- meter retaining wall with a water drainage channel to prevent land erosion. By creating these terraces, the Incans could develop and adapt their agricultural practices to the surrounding landscape without worrying about landslides. 

Estela Cóndor
grows five different
varieties of potatoes
to sell in the market,
along with a yellow
tuber called mashua
(Tropaeolum
tuberosum ) that she
cooks for her family.
– Image credit: Jim
Richardson, National
Geographic

Machu Picchu resides in a subtropical climate making the environment mild, warm, and damp. This climate made it perfect for cultivating large amounts of crops. While there is still some debate on if this specific area was where the pinnacle of agricultural innovation occurred, it is true that there were many different types of crops grown at this site leading archaeologists to believe that the indigenous people of the Andes experimented with agriculture more than any other group in the world. In fact, today there are over 3,000 varieties of the potato found in the Andes alone including species such as Pitiquina, Limena, and Phureja. Some of these potatoes were even used to treat headaches and skin rashes.  Not to mention the numerous tomato and pepper varieties that we have in the world today. Most of this innovation and variation is due to the experimental agriculture of the Incans and the other indigenous groups that inhabited Central and South America.

So, if you’re looking for someone to thank when you eat mashed potatoes or french fries, it’s probably the Incans. And, if you plan on visiting Machu Picchu make sure you ask the tour guides about the agricultural innovations that occurred on the very land you’re walking on. 

 

Further Reading: 

Indian Givers: How Native Americans Transformed the World by Jack Weatherford

https://www.pptoursperu.com/machu-picchu-areas-agricultural-urban-quarry/

https://www.perurail.com/blog/everything-you-need-to-know-about-machu-picchu-terraces/

https://candide.com/GB/stories/a0e2f664-6c08-4c86-a768-59716b19c894

https://www.ticketmachupicchu.com/platforms-agricultural-terraces-machu-picchu/

Creepy Dolls: A Halloween Staple

Halloween is right around the corner and so we thought it was fitting to talk about a spooky artifact that might make you shiver. This artifact goes by a few names: a penny doll, a bisque china doll, and (the most unsettling) a “Frozen Charlotte doll”. China dolls are already the subject of many people’s nightmares, including mine, but this doll comes with an even creepier story to go along with it.

A Typical Frozen Charlotte Doll

Frozen Charlottes are small, white porcelain dolls that were made in one piece with their arms and legs molded to their bodies. They were first manufactured in Germany and then later in Britain. They also rose to popularity in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The size of the doll ranges between 1-18 inches depending on what it was used for. Smaller dolls were used as decorations on cakes or other baked goods while children played with the larger dolls. These figures are also sometimes called “penny dolls” because their simple design made them easy to mass-produce and made them accessible for children to pay for them with pocket change. 

The story of how these dolls got their name was through an old North American folk ballad called “Young Charlotte” about a vain woman who did not want to wear a coat because it would cover the beautiful dress that she was wearing to the ball. However, on the carriage ride on the way to the party, she became so cold that she froze to death. Therefore, the porcelain dolls with their limbs frozen to their body came to be associated with Young Charlotte and were eventually called “Frozen Charlottes”.

Here’s an excerpt from the folk ballad:

Her father liked to see her dressed,

Just like some city belle;

She was the only child he had,

He loved his daughter well.

Her hair was black as raven’s wings,

Her skin was lily-fair,

And her teeth were like the pearls of white,

None with her could compare

 

At a village just sixteen miles off,

There’s a merry ball tonight,

Although the air is freezing cold,

Her heart is warm and light.

And there she watched with an anxious look,

‘Til a well-known voice she heard,

And driving up to the cottage door,

Young Charles in his sleigh appeared.

 

The mother to her daughter said,

“These blankets round you fold;

For it is a dreadful night, you know,

You’ll catch your death of cold.”

“Oh, no! Oh, no!” the darling cried,

She laughed like a gypsy queen,

“For to ride in blankets muffled up,

I never could be seen.”

(Jump to Verse 8)

“How very fast the freezing air

Is gathering on my brow.”

With a trembling voice young Charlotte cried,

“I’m growing warmer now.”

And away they did ride o’er the mountainside,

And through the pale star light,

Until the village inn they reached,

And the ballroom hove in sight.

 

When they reached the inn, young Charles jumped out,

And gave his hand to her,

“Why sit you there like a monument,

And have no power to stir?”

He called her once, he called her twice,

She answered not a word;

He called all for her hand again,

But still she never stirred.

 

He stripped the mantle off her brow,

And the pale stars on her shone,

And quickly into the lighted hall,

Her helpless form was born.

They tried all within their power,

Her life for to restore,

But Charlotte was a frozen corpse,

And is never to speak more.

A Frozen Charlotte doll in a bottle with a cork that fell in. Image Credit: NPS

 

 

To make it even creepier here is a frozen charlotte that was uncovered at Fort Stanwix in Rome, New York. As you see, she’s encased in a bottle but archaeologists have yet to find out why. Potentially she was meant to be displayed or the bottle was to be broken in order to free her. Both choices are fairly eerie and remind me of the many dolls that dominate horror movies. However, the popularity of this doll at the time shows that the children who played with them were not so scared. Regardless, it is always fun to come across an artifact with such a back story and hopefully you feel the same when learning about it!  We wish you a safe and happy Halloween! 

 

Further Reading: 

https://www.nps.gov/articles/-frozen-charlotte.htm

https://www.nps.gov/long/blogs/frozen-charlotte-figurine.htm

https://umaine.edu/folklife/what-we-do/programs-and-events/maine-song-and-story-sampler-map/places/wells-young-charlotte/?fbclid=IwAR3J2I1kgRch37dq-ICML_jyhm6oZswuLemNxfDsbXso8fNkYW3kN06w62o

https://apps.jefpat.maryland.gov/diagnostic/SmallFinds/Toys/LargeImagePages/18MO609-FrozenCharlotteDoll-1.html

An Archaeologist’s Wish List

Happy International Archaeology Month! Don’t forget to get out and celebrate International Archaeology day tomorrow, October 15th. There are plenty of events to attend including IUP’s Archaeology Open House that we are having for the first time since Covid! However,  If you are looking for another way to celebrate archaeology month, you might be interested in giving your favorite archaeologist a little gift for all of their hard work. Or, maybe you’re starting holiday shopping (it’s never too early) and are looking for ideas for the archaeologists in your life. Whatever the reason, here is a wish list of items that we really “dig”.

 

For the young archaeologist: 

These gifts are perfect for anyone starting out in the discipline who is working on building their personal tool kit. 

The Marshalltown Trowel: 

If you’re going to be a field archaeologist, you need a sturdy trowel. The most recommended trowel in the business is the Marshalltown. You can get two different trowels from Marshalltown, a pointing trowel, which is the standard tool used for hand excavating units, and a margin trowel which is squared and perfect for getting those beautiful, straight walls. Get them here: https://marshalltown.com/cat-1261-trowels

 

 

 

 

 

A Tape Measure:

Most people have these lying around the house, but is it in meters? Archaeologists typically use the metric system so make sure they are equipt with the right kind of tape measure by gifting them one! Plus, it’s one of the more accessible gifts as they can be found in any hardware or “home improvement” store. 

Work Gloves:

This one tends to go forgotten, especially with new archaeologists, but it is one of the more important protective measures that we can take. No one wants glass or a nail stuck in their hands while screening. You can purchase these anywhere, but make sure they have reinforced palms and are durable since they tend to get beaten up in the field. Here’s an example: https://ytgloves.com/

Munsell Mug :

If you’re looking for a cute tchotchke-like gift you could get a “Munsell color chart” mug in a variety of colors from cafepress.com. We use Munsell charts as a systematic way to identify the soils we come across. Your favorite archaeologist can practice by using it to identify the color of their morning coffee or tea!

 

For the seasoned CRM professional: 

These gifts are for the archaeologists that have been in the biz for a while. They probably have all the tools they need and more so these are items that will help make their life in CRM a little bit easier! 

Saunders Clipboard: 

Archaeologists do a lot more paperwork in the field than you might imagine. Therefore, this aluminum clipboard with storage is perfect for CRM professionals who work in undesirable weather conditions. The storage portion keeps site forms, notes, and maps clean and dry and the clipboard portion gives them a nice surface to write on so their notes are legible. You can find these on Amazon: https://a.co/d/47jsYTu

Munsell Soil Color Book:

While you could get a CRM professional the Munsell mug mentioned above, they might find the actual Munsell color chart more useful. This way they don’t have to rely on waiting for the shared copy to become available and instead can whip out their handy color chart whenever they want! Get it here: https://www.pantone.com/munsell-soil-color-book

Hot plate:

If you want to spoil your CRM archaeologist, you can get them a hot plate so they can make decent meals in their hotel rooms. This will save them money in the long run since they won’t have to spend their per-diem on meals out. They can also use this to boil water for hot beverages so if they are an avid coffee drinker, this would be perfect! There are definitely other small kitchen appliances that are useful like an electric kettle, an instant pot, etc. but CRM professionals have been using hot plates for years and it really is a versatile tool. There are plenty that you can find on amazon or, at a Bed Bath and Beyond type store. 

 

I hope that this list helped spark some ideas for what to get your friends and family who are archaeologists! Whatever you choose, they are sure to be grateful. However, the most important gift that any of us can get is your support as we pursue this career that we are so passionate about. 

Experimental Archaeology Projects You Can do at Home!

It’s been getting chilly and crisp in Indiana, PA this past week and I don’t know about you but fall weather makes me want to sit inside and make something. If you are like me, you might be interested in experimental archaeology which is a practice where archaeologists make and utilize technologies of past people in order to understand them better. Archaeologists use experimental archaeology to test hypotheses of how and why people used different technologies. Typically, materials are gathered from the environment around you making it an accessible hobby for anyone interested in the technologies of the past.  Here are some experimental archaeology crafts that you can do while you enjoy the lovely fall weather! 

The first and most beloved example is flintknapping! This is a process that pre-contact societies used to make stone tools. It involves carefully chipping away at specific parts of a “raw” stone, also called a core. You first start with percussion flakes which chip off because of the force you apply to certain parts of the core. Then, you take off smaller pieces by applying pressure to an edge of the core with a deer antler or some other type of sharpened tool. This step refines the tool into whatever you want it to be such as an arrow/spear point or an adze. If you have kids or if you’re worried about injuring yourself you can also try “soapknapping” which takes some of the same ideas of flintknapping as you carve your stone tool out of a bar of soap. The supplies needed for flintknapping are flint/chert which is what you make your stone tool out of, a hammerstone, a piece of leather to protect your leg, a billet made from deer antler or hard wood, and an antler tine or sharpened wood for pressure flaking. 

The process of flintknapping. Credit: Closter Nature Center

 

If stone tools aren’t your thing maybe you would like to make a basket out of pine needles, sweetgrass, or other dry plant materials that you can forage. There are many ways to make a basket but one of the most comprehensible ways is by coiling. To make a coiled basket you first have to collect the materials. Once you have your pine needles or sweetgrass make sure to wash them, bundle them, and lay them out to dry before you start working with them. Once they are dry, you can finally begin by wrapping a cord that is attached to a tapestry needle around a bundle of around four to six pieces of your material. Your foundation cord should be wrapped 10-15 times and be ¾ inch long at first. Then, you will curl the end in and start the spiral formation by pushing the needle through the middle of the two beginning rows and sewing the new rows into the previous coil. If this sounds incredibly confusing don’t worry, there are step-by-step instructions linked at the bottom under “Sources and Further Reading”. 

Making a coiled pine needle basket.

If you’re looking for an easier project, you could make a pinch pot which is one way Native Americans made pottery for food storage and cooking. To make a pot you need to either find clay in a local clay bed,  buy it at your local craft store, or make it by looking up a salt-dough recipe. If you collect your clay, you will likely have to process it so if you are looking for a really easy project you might want to stick with air-dry clay. Once your clay is prepared, roll it out and then roll it into a ball. Then you will put your thumb in the center to make a crater in the clay and from that crater you can pinch the sides of your pot to your desired thickness. From there you can add imprinted designs using a pencil or anything else you have around your house! If you are using air-dry clay then you can simply set your project out to dry but if you are using a salt-dough or you gathered clay you will have to bake and fire it respectively. 

A pinch pot made by a young girl from Abbott Farm excavations. The center scar is from a twig impression in the clay. NJSM # AE98089.

No matter what project you choose, you will be able to get into the mindset of the people who created and used these technologies many years ago. This is what archaeologists are interested in, understanding the people of the past through the materials that they produced. By making these materials ourselves, we can get a sense of what it was like to make them and experiment with different processes to test the feasibility of certain hypotheses. We can also have fun while we’re at it which is a big benefit! 

 

Sources and Further Reading: 

https://exarc.net/experimental-archaeology

 

Flintknapping: 

https://archaeology.uiowa.edu/flintknapping-0 https://www.elymuseum.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/HAH-worksheet-Pre-history-Stone-Age-Knapping.pdf 

https://wildernessawareness.org/articles/stone-tools-and-flintknapping/

 

Basket Weaving: 

http://www.nativetech.org/basketry/coilinstr.html

https://www.knowitall.org/interactives/anaturalstate/pine-needle-basket/

https://www.floridamuseum.ufl.edu/sflarch/collections/seminole-baskets/technique/

 

Pinch Pot:

https://exploreandmore.org/sanity-savers-make-a-pinch-pot-for-the-archaeological-society-anniversary/

https://www.instructables.com/Harvesting-Your-Own-Clay-Dirty-But-Delightful/

https://exploreandmore.org/sanity-savers-salt-dough-unicorns-and-easter-eggs/

https://thepotterywheel.com/pinch-pot-history/

https://newjerseyarchaeology.wordpress.com/2016/02/04/miniature-clay-pot-an-ancient-toy/

 

Image Credits:

https://closternaturecenter.org/?event=primitive-technology-2

https://thekidshouldseethis.com/post/how-to-weave-pine-needle-baskets

https://newjerseyarchaeology.wordpress.com/2016/02/04/miniature-clay-pot-an-ancient-toy/

 

First Graduate Colloquium of the Semester: What We Did This Summer

This past Wednesday we had our first Graduate Colloquium of the semester! IUP graduate students travel all over the country during summer breaks to participate in various archaeological projects which is why we wanted to feature their adventures in our first colloquium. There were 5 presentations in total whose topics ranged from field schools to cultural resource management work at sites around the country and abroad! 

In a classroom a projector screen displays the words "What we did this summer" with a green logo that says SEARCH. A man in a black hoodie stands to the right near a computer.

Our first presenter Zach Meskin talks about his summer in CRM.

Zach Meskin, a member of the second-year cohort, gave the first presentation. He spent his summer working for the cultural resource management (CRM) firm SEARCH. At the beginning of the summer, he was sent to a sugar cane field in Louisiana where he conducted a phase one survey. They used 30×50-cm shovel test pits and either 10 to 50-meter intervals depending on if there was a high or low probability of finding cultural material. There ended up being 1,400 test pits placed throughout the field in total but in his shovel test pits, he did not find much cultural material.

After Louisianna, Zach traveled to Miami, Florida where he worked on phase three of a pre-contact Tequesta site. This was a completely different experience since he worked in 4×4 meter blocks and wet screened the dirt because of the thickness of the mud. They found many different artifacts throughout the units including drilled shark teeth, finger-incised pottery, faunal remains, and shell tools. There was also a historic component to the site so they found Spanish artifacts including a six-sided die made out of bone.

 

In a classroom a projector screen displays the words "Squirrel Hill Field School" with a picture of a raccoon holding a trowel. A woman in a dress stands to the right near a computer.

Our second presenter Laura Broughton talks about her experience as a GA for IUP’s summer field school.

Our next presenter was Laura Broughton, a member of the first-year cohort. She worked as a graduate assistant for both IUP-run field schools this summer and this presentation was about Squirrel Hill. She was also joined by the disembodied voice of Emma Lashley, another member of the first-year cohort, who joined us over zoom. Squirrel hill is a pre-contact Monongahela village site located on the Conemaugh river. It has been nominated to the Historical Register and has a long history of collection and looting. Therefore, many of the artifacts found were flakes and small pieces of pottery. 

The goal of the field school was to educate students on how to conduct an archaeological investigation and to get a better understanding of the organization of the site and how it fits into the larger Monongahela system in southwest PA. In one area of the site, they investigated a rectangular anomaly in the Ground Penetrating Radar data by placing four 1×1 meter test units. They did not find much but they think that it could be an Iroquois Longhouse. In another section, they investigated other geophysical anomalies and had much better success. Students found post molds that looked promising and more than 20 features in a singular unit which could indicate a bunch of housing structures in that area. Lastly, STPs were conducted to determine the extent of the site boundaries. 

 

In a classroom a projector screen displays the words "What I Did on my Summer Vacation" with a picture of him as Washington in the painting Washington crosses the Delaware. A man in a checkered shirt and ball cap stands to the right near a computer.

Second-year grad student Kristopher “Monty” Montgomery talks about his summer vacation.

Next up was Kris “Monty” Montgomery who worked at both the Miami site that Zach worked on and was the other graduate assistant for the Squirrell Hill field school where he “shaped the next generation of archaeologists”. His words.  After he worked at Squirrel Hill he went to work for SEARCH in Gonzales, Texas for a phase one “due diligence” survey that was paid for by the client and not required under any kind of compliance. The survey was limited to intermittent stream crossings. Interestingly, they did not collect artifacts and instead recorded and analyzed them in the field. 

Then, at the end of July/ early August, he was sent to Macomb, Illinois, and Fort Madison, Iowa where he worked with two other firms to conduct phase one for a large natural gas pipeline. Finally, at the end of August, he worked at the Miami site that was mentioned above. During his time at the site, they hit the water table meaning they were less digging through dirt and more scooping goo and placing it into buckets. 

 

In a classroom a projector screen displays the words "Longwood Archaeology Field School." A man in a grey t-shirt and ball cap stands to the right near a computer.

Our fourth presenter Luke Nicosia talks about his summer as a crew chief for a field school in Virginia.

Our fourth presenter was Luke Nicosia, a member of the second-year cohort as well. He was recruited by Longwood University to work as a field supervisor in Clover, Virginia which is in the Southernmost part of the state. He lived at a field station while he was working down there which he equated to a summer camp cabin with no internet. However, the sites that he worked at made up for it. The first part of his summer included working at the Sanders site and opening large units to search for pre-contact materials. They found many projectile point knives and flakes.

 The second site Luke worked on was a historical site at Milberry Hill where students worked on advanced research. They ground-truthed anomalies and identified a few features including a drainage system related to the main house, an outbuilding with a sub-floor pit that may have fallen apart over time, and potential pre-contact hearths. After the fieldwork, he worked with students to write a site report and submit it to the state to review.  

 

In a classroom a projector screen says " Forensic Archaeology Field School 2022" with a photo collage. A woman in a dress and a man in a button down stand to the right near a computer.

Our last presenters Laura and Arthur Townsend talk about their summer abroad in Germany!

Finally, we welcomed Laura Broughton back, this time with Arthur Townsend, to talk about their summer abroad working as GAs and crew chiefs for IUP’s forensic field school in Germany. They investigated a site around Buchen where a B-17 bomber crashed during WWII in 1944. There was already an excavation by another group in 2019 but they did not fill in their excavation causing there to be essentially a pond at the site. After this was dealt with, the IUP field school excavated in 2×2,2×4, and 4×4 meter units bordering the 2019 excavations and used ground penetrating radar to locate other places to dig around the area. Since the ground was rocky and had a lot of clay they used pickaxes and shovels to excavate. They also realized a lot of cultural material was in the leaf litter so they put it through the screen to ensure they were collecting all the artifacts. They mostly found bones, aluminum, cast iron, and glass. Both presenters said they learned a lot about how to lead a crew and improved their note-taking and photography skills. 

As you can see, we had a great turnout. Thank you to everyone that presented!