On January 30, Brian Bingaman and a photographer from the Lansdale Reporter visited an active archaeological dig to “job shadow” the CHRS, Inc. archaeology crew. Mr. Bingaman had initially been scheduled to visit our Lansdale office to learn about artifact processing, but higher temperatures and thawed ground gave us the opportunity to discuss and demonstrate field work. Features were excavated, preferred tools of the trade were explained, and Mr. Bingaman was able to witness the methods used in CRM excavations, seeing the attention to detail necessary for both excavation and field notes. His article appeared in a February issue of the Lansdale Reporter.
Below is a link to the orignal newpaper article (which is also pasted below):
Below is a link to the photo essay:
Lansdale archaeology, historic preservation company CHRS exhumes pieces of the past
A motorist slows down when he notices the archaeologists from Cultural Heritage Resource Services Inc. in Lansdale have returned to their Delaware County dig site.
Recently snow and extreme cold have delayed this third and final phase of the stratified layer excavation. But today temperatures will reach the 30s, and warm sunlight is shining just right in the area of the Marcus Hook SEPTA train station.
“Find any gold yet?” the passing motorist asks.
Archaeologist Rachael Fowler explains that there is a historical society in town, and its headquarters, The Plank House, was frequented by the infamous pirate Blackbeard because his mistress lived there.
When he was in these parts centuries ago, Blackbeard’s agenda was not likely to involve hiding pirate plunder, Fowler opined.
The approximately one-acre area of the dig, marked off with orange mesh plastic fencing, puts them right on top of people’s back yards.
“We try to be as unobtrusive as possible,” she said of the high-traffic residential area.
The circa 1927 bridge that crosses over the train station is due for replacement. CHRS director of archaeology Tom Lewis said that per state law, just as an engineering or environmental survey is required before construction begins, projects of this nature require an excavation for artifacts of historical or cultural significance. Although this seemingly guarantees work for archaeological firms like CHRS, Lewis pointed out that state budget cuts can take that work away.
According to Fowler, most people think the crew of seven CHRS archaeologists are looking for dinosaur bones or buried treasure. In this case, the buried treasure they’re unearthing is artifacts such as antique glass bottles, children’s toys and dish fragments that came from three late 19th century to early 20th century homes that exist only on historical maps and deed records. What they find will be taken back to the CHRS offices on Cannon Avenue, carefully washed off, labeled and cataloged. CHRS has promised a detailed report, likely to be written by Fowler, to both PennDOT and the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.
Lewis, who has worked for CHRS 29 years, noted that Marcus Hook had one of the first successful African-American communities in the USA, and wondered if these homes might have some link to that history.
So far, the best proof that there were houses here are the brick-lined privy shafts that have been uncovered. Since the homes that once stood here were built before organized trash removal, “they had to fill it out with refuse after taking the nasty stuff out,” Fowler said, referring to the shafts’ original use as outhouse pits.
“We’ll be able to tell what they threw away. We’ll find bones with butcher marks,” she said.
“The Philadelphia area was pretty into shellfish at the turn of the century,” Lewis said when asked about clam shells that may have been buried for 100 years.
Cultural heritage preservation is something that Mike Rowe has likely tried on the TV show “Dirty Jobs.” “You’re going to get pretty gross,” Fowler says, noticing that this writer has worn work boots and cold weather outerwear, but not ski pants or insulated pants.
“I’ve been out in days with -18 wind chill. (In warmer conditions,) there will be ticks. There will be poison ivy. Still, it’s better than my best day at a desk job,” Fowler said.
Despite the cold, and the sloppy, muddy ground, the dig site is abuzz with activity. Discolorations in the soil have been found, suggesting more filled-in holes. Clumps of dirt are being set aside to be shaken through a screen; some will have to wait until they thaw. Archaeologist Adam Richardson has pulled some glass medicine bottles from the ground. That the bottles are unbroken is a lucky find. Lewis is examining the site from multiple angles through the lens of a surveyor’s camera. Per procedure, the entire dig site has to be mapped and graphed, showing grid-by-grid what was found where, and how far down.
Specific areas of the site are referred to as test units, which represent a cubic meter and roughly a ton of dirt. Two people are assigned to each test unit.
The sample of the archaeologist’s tools of the trade include shovels; root clippers; screens; trowels; split spoon samplers, which take a 20-cm. core sample that shows if there are changes in the soil; and an array of measuring tools, including a submeter GPS.
The dig, which began in September, will — he hopes — be wrapped up by April, Lewis said.
The crew gradually starts to break for lunch — which will involve something warm on a day like today — at around 12:45.
To learn more about CHRS, visit www.chrsinc.com.
Follow Brian Bingaman on Twitter @brianbingaman.
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