By: Matthew Bjorkman
Over the summer I was the crew chief for a monitoring project at Fort Necessity in Farmington, PA. This was my first opportunity to work professionally as a crew chief, as well as my first experience with monitoring work. Monitoring is different than most archaeology jobs. Our job was to watch and monitor a construction crew working at the site, and make sure that no archaeological resources were disturbed. If archaeological resources were unearthed, we would need to excavate and document the resources in a timely manner, so work could continue. The crew and I would also have to provide information to the construction crew, comprised of non-archaeologists, about what we were seeing and about the possible impacts the construction could have on archaeological features or artifacts.
The construction crew was working to remove an old parking lot and retention pond that were constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC) in the 1930s. At the time of the construction of the parking lot and retention berm, the National Park Service (NPS) had a philosophy of getting visitors as close to the park as the possible and having the park in good condition to receive these visitors. The CCC parking lot is located just northeast of the reconstructed fort, so close that visitors at the time would not even need to exit their vehicle to see the fort. The retention pond was constructed to help control drainage and make the park more accessible. For some back story, Fort Necessity is located in a large, natural clearing called the Great Meadows. At the time of the battle in 1754, the Great meadows would have been less inviting to human traffic than it is today. The two creeks in the meadow (Great Meadow Run and Indian Run) would have snaked through the meadow and would have been surrounded by grasses and wetland plants. By all accounts, the Great Meadows was a wet place, especially during the Pennsylvania summers when thunderstorms routinely pummel the area. Long story short, when the land became a national park, multiple modifications were made to the landscape for the sake of the visitors. Today, the NPS has a new philosophy about presenting Fort Necessity to the public. In 2016, the NPS began implementing the Great Meadows Restoration Project to remove artificial landscape modifications (among other things) to restore the Great Meadows to how it would have appeared in 1754. The project that the crew and I got to work on was a part of this project.
As the work began it became very apparent that monitoring is not like the other projects that I have worked on in the past. It is MUCH easier. We did not have to dig through clay in the hot, summer sun. Instead, we got to watch large machinery do it for us. The CCC parking lot is not like a typical asphalt parking lot we are all familiar with. This parking lot was created using fill, mostly clay, that was packed down to create an impervious surface for vehicles to drive on. The parking lot was buried over the years by topsoil and vegetation that had grown over it after the parking lot went out of use just a few years after it was constructed. The construction crew removed the topsoil with a bulldozer and a trackhoe at an impressive rate (minus the rain delays, because, Pennsylvania).
As the topsoil was removed, the crew used metal detectors to look for metallic artifacts and walked across the area to visually inspect for other artifacts. After the topsoil was removed, the construction crew began removing the parking lot fill layer. This was when communication between the archaeology crew and the construction crew was the most important. Underlying the parking lot fill is the historic A horizon, or in other words the historic ground surface. It was this layer that we did not want to dig through as it has a high potential to have archaeological resources. It may seem funny to hear that the archaeologists did not want to find artifacts. However, this project was not an excavation, it was to monitor the construction to ensure archaeological resources were not affected. As the construction crew moved through the fill, we needed to be vigilant and prepared to stop the machine operators if features appeared, or before the historic A horizon was contacted. Thankfully, the crew and I were able to develop a good working relationship with the operators (they even let me sit in one of the machines and showed me how it works!) and develop trust in each other’s expertise. In all, the removal of the parking lot and retention pond went very smoothly.
I said earlier that our goal was not to find artifacts, but we did find some interesting things that are worth reporting in this blog post.
The metal detectors helped us locate some items of interest. We found a Yale brand padlock faceplate (Figure 1) that probably dates to the late 1890s- early 1900s. The bulldozer pulled up the base of an old flagpole (Figure 2) that once stood in the field as well as a US Department of Interior survey datum marker (Figure 3). A side note, in the picture you will notice that printed on the survey datum are the words “Unlawful to disturb,” and when we pulled this up I got very nervous, but it all turned out well. My two crew members (Shout out to Britney Elsbury-Orris and Hannah Winters) located three articulating pieces of a blue transfer print ceramic vessel (Figure 4). Lastly, in the parking lot fill layer, we located a completely intact glass insulator (Figure 5), that were commonly used on telegraph lines in the 19th and 20th centuries.
In all the project was a great experience for everyone on the crew. Fort Necessity is a wonderful and notable place that I have had the pleasure of working at over the last two summers. I was personally able to gain valuable experience leading a crew, but more importantly I learned how to interact with the construction crew and develop a working relationship that allowed for the project to go smoothly. The guys working the machines were a pleasure to work with and I hope I can work with them again on a project someday. Lastly, go visit Fort Necessity National Battlefield! It’s free, fun, and not that far from Indiana or Pittsburgh. While you are there make sure to visit Jumonville Glen and Braddock’s Grave which are located just up the road from the fort.