This week’s #SHA2016 blog post highlights Archaeology in the Community, a nonprofit, archaeological outreach program serving the D.C., Maryland, and Virginia area! Read below to learn more about AITC, and please visit their website, Facebook, and Twitter pages!
We are Archaeology in the Community, and we LIVE to bring archaeology to the public! In 2006, AITC founder Dr. Alexandra Jones noticed that many of the young students in her Washington, D.C. neighborhood had never heard of archaeology, let alone met an archaeologist. As a trained archaeologist and educator, Dr. Jones was inspired to engage young people within her community and teach them the importance of archaeology.
The program she created, Archaeology in the Community (AITC), allowed students in her community the unique opportunity to learn about their families’ histories and their community’s past from an archaeologist who lived around the block. Dr. Jones began creating several customizable educational programs to teach archaeology in alignment with school curricula. These programs gained momentum across D.C., Maryland, and Virginia and, in 2009, AITC became a chartered 501(c)3 nonprofit that promotes and facilitates the study and public understanding of archaeological heritage.
AITC ‘s overall goal has been for “us”—the students, teachers, archaeologists, field techs, community members, curators, artists, and activists—to step up and participate in the archaeological conversation. Our voices are crucial to the health of the field. As Jennifer McKinnon writes in her own SHA blog post, “It Takes A Village to Build a Trail”:
“…No amount of research can prepare one for the diversity in meaning and importance of heritage to a community; one member has a completely different understanding of a shared bit of heritage from the next member. And it is important to incorporate as many of those voices as possible…No matter how well-funded, presented or shiny an idea is, if a community isn’t behind it, it has no worth.”
By consistently reminding our friends, our families, our community, that every artifact and site can help connect us to a particular day in history, a specific person, a local movement, a policy, and/or the global stage, we achieve our goal. Since 2009, AITC has helped increase community awareness of the benefits of archaeology and history through public events, enrichment programs, as well as provided professional development to college students interested in pursuing careers in archaeology.
At AITC, we create truly unique programs where the larger community and we can join into the conversation about archaeology through various mediums; art, food, music, written word and traditional archaeology. All artifacts, no matter how seemingly trite, embody economic, social, political and spiritual stories. AITC has partnered with educational institutions, cultural establishments, and community organizations to bring this to fruition, and has since expanded our social media presence to reach the general public.
Please visit our website and our Facebook and Twitter pages for more information and a look into some of our public events! And, if you are in town July 18th, come join us for Day of Archaeology Festival, at Dumbarton Oaks!
The first issue of Historical Archaeology, 2015, Vol. 49, No. 1, will soon hit your mailboxes, if it is not already in your hands. Dr. Barbara Voss (Stanford University) is the thematic issue’s guest editor for ‘The Archaeology of Chinese Railroad Workers in North America.’ This issue was born out of the Chinese Railroad Workers in North America Project at Stanford University. It is part of an effort to recognize the workers’ contributions in celebration of the sesquicentennial of the first transcontinental railroad, constructed from 1865 to 1869, that stretched from California to Iowa across some of the country’s most challenging terrain. To put this topic in perspective, I invite you to view a series of videos on the subject.
Dr. Gordon Chang (Professor of History, Stanford University) talks about his research, his perspective as an Asian American, and the creation of the Chinese Railroad Workers in North America Project. Dr. Chang states that the railroad workers are underrepresented in the documentary record. Although they appear in railroad payroll records, and are occasionally noted in newspaper accounts, no extant first-hand accounts from Chinese railroad workers have been found. Working with Drs. Chang and Shelley Fisher Fisken, Barb Voss helped to organize the Archaeology Network that stems from this initiative. Dr. Voss gathered together a roster of archaeologists who have worked on these or similar labor camps, and challenged archaeologists to offer a fuller picture of the Chinese railroad worker experience.
The Chinese Railroad Workers in North America Project goals are further discussed in this introductory video featuring co-directors Gordon Chang and Shelley Fisher Fishkin. While focused on the history and archaeology of 19th century railroad workers, the Project touches on important themes in the present-day globalized economy. As Fishkin notes, “China and the U.S. have been intertwined for over 150 years. Right now, especially when a lot of goods are being created through work on both sides of the Pacific, and migrant labor is a factor in shaping the products that we use both in China and the U.S., understanding how this first massive force of migrant laborers shaped both of our countries…holds lessons which are relevant to us today.
The Society for Historical Archaeology established the Overseas Chinese Research Group at their annual meeting in 1969, and published the first thematic issue devoted to Overseas Chinese archaeology in 2008 (HA, Vol. 42, No. 3, find it on our Publications Explorer). Researchers have learned and continue to learn the importance of working with the migrants’ descendants, regional and national heritage groups, and engaging historical and historian’s perspectives. This integration of approaches expands and explores the study of marginalized populations. The contribution of Chinese railroad workers is starting to be recognized – they were recently inducted into the U.S. Department of Labor Hall of Fame – as seen in the above video.
Historical archaeology has the unique opportunity to bring dimension and depth to the railroad workers’ history, to explore topics of daily life and economic networks, and to create studies that trace workers’ experiences as they encountered and adapted to new environments and landscapes. Historical archaeology adds depth and nuance to topics of labor, economic, and social histories of the American West, made possible by the completion of this first transcontinental railroad in 1869.
Historical Archaeology, 2015, Vol. 49, No. 1 represents the contribution of more than two dozen authors and researchers. It highlights several archaeological sites directly related to the transcontinental railroad (Donner Summit, California and Promontory Summit, Utah, as well as the contribution of workers after the first transcontinental railroad was completed, with articles on Virginia & Truckee Railroad camps and Mono Mills in California, Carlin, Nevada, and Montana. Topics of bioarchaeology, health practices, habitation, zooarchaeology, and the materiality of everyday life expand the view of workers’ experience. The volume ends with commentary and a call to embrace the new direction of multidisciplinary approach and multi-ethnic considerations. I encourage you to pick up this thematic issue, and read it soon.
Gordon H. Chang and Shelley Fisher Fishkin, Fragments of the Past: Archaeology, History, and the Chinese Railroad Workers of North America
Barbara L. Voss, The Historical Experience of Labor: Archaeological Contributions to Interdisciplinary Research on Chinese Railroad Workers
Paul G. Chace, Introductory Note to Chace and Evans’ 1969 Presentation, and reprint of 1969 SHA presentation, Celestial Sojourners in the High Sierras: The Ethno-Archaeology of Chinese Railroad Workers (1865−1868)
R. Scott Baxter and Rebecca Allen, The View from Summit Camp
John Molenda, Moral Discourse and Personhood in Overseas Chinese Contexts
Michael R. Polk, Interpreting Chinese Worker Camps on the Transcontinental Railroad at Promontory Summit, Utah
Lynn Furnis and Mary L. Maniery, An Archaeological Strategy for Chinese Workers’ Camps in the West: Method and Case Study
Charlotte K. Sunseri, Alliance Strategies in the Racialized Railroad Economies of the American West
Timothy Urbaniak and Kelly J. Dixon, Inscribed in Stone: Historic Inscriptions and the Cultural Heritage of Railroad Workers
Marjorie Akin, James C. Bard, and Gary J. Weisz, Asian Coins Recovered from Chinese Railroad Labor Camps: Evidence of Cultural Practices and Transnational Exchange
J. Ryan Kennedy, Zooarchaeology, Localization, and Chinese Railroad Workers in North America
Sarah Christine Heffner, Exploring Health Care Practices of Chinese Railroad Workers in North America
Ryan P. Harrod and John J. Crandall, Rails Built of the Ancestors’ Bones: The Bioarchaeology of the Overseas Chinese Experience
Mary Praetzellis and Adrian Praetzellis, Commentary on the Archaeology of Chinese Railroad Workers in North America: Where Do We Go from Here?
Sue Fawn Chung, Forgotten Chinese Railroad Workers Remembered: Closing Commentary by a Historian
Today’s #SHA2016 blog post is a repost by Charlie LeeDecker, who recently retired from the Louis Berger Group’s Washington, D.C. office, in 2014. As the D.C. Office of Planning, Historic Preservation Office notes, Mr. LeeDecker spent the last 30 plus years conducting archaeological investigations for development projects and as a consulting archaeologist for federal agencies. He has worked on dozens of projects and in every ward of the District. On May, 6, 2015, Mr. Charlie LeeDecker received a District of Columbia Award for Excellence in Historic Preservation (HP) in the category of Archaeology for his body of work in the District. The post is his reminiscences on a career that focused on the buried history of our nation’s capital.
Original Blog Post by Charlie LeeDecker
Washington, D.C., is one of the world’s greatest cities, and it’s been a great privilege to pursue a career in archaeology here, working alongside a large community of talented, passionate, and creative historic preservation professionals. One of my long-time professional goals has been to gain greater visibility for city’s archaeological resources. When I look at an old building, a landscape or even a parking lot, I want to see beyond what is immediately visible, and learn how this particular place came to be what it is today, how it developed through history, and what can we learn from the values, struggles, and daily lives of the people who lived and worked here generations ago. The archaeological record is mostly hidden from view, especially in urban areas, and sometimes when we look below the surface we find amazing stories that entertain, enlighten, and enrich our understanding of how our city came to look like it does today.
The city’s natural waterways — the Anacostia River and Potomac River waterfront areas, even the valley of Rock Creek and the smaller tributaries that feed these waterways – were the first places settled by European colonizers, the sites of our earliest industries, and the favored locations for the camps and villages of Native Americans that lived here for thousands of years before the first European explored the Chesapeake. While these areas contain the richest record of cultural development, they area also the most challenging to investigate archaeologically. In these areas, the natural or historic landscape has been layered below occupied buildings, pavement, formal landscapes, and massive amounts of fill soils that are occasionally contaminated with industrial waste.
I’ve had the privilege of working for many years in the Washington Navy Yard and the Navy Yard Annex (now known as the Southeast Federal Center). First established in 1799, the Navy Yard has played an important role in our national security and the development of military technology, and the historical significance of the Navy Yard is recognized by multiple historic districts, including a National Historic Landmark designation. We know from archival sources that the Navy Yard might include an archaeological record of the site’s early industrial history, especially shipbuilding and ordnance development. But opportunities to conduct archaeological investigations in the Navy Yard are limited by factors such as a high water table and nearly ubiquitous occupied buildings and pavement.
The relocation of Naval Sea Systems (NAVSEA) Command to the Navy Yard required rehabilitation of many historic structures, along with demolition of some buildings and new construction. Impacts to the historic districts and buildings were evaluated prior to construction, but archaeological work was deferred until the construction phase. There are serious risks with this approach – risks that archaeological resources might be destroyed without adequate documentation, and risks that archaeological work might cause delays to the construction schedule. Managing these risks required an unusual level of partnership between the construction and archaeological teams, but ultimately, the risks were rewarded beyond anyone’s expectations.
Archaeological documentation in the interior of Building 104 at the Washington Navy Yard, during rehabilitation for the NAVSEA project
Some of the best opportunities for archaeological work occurred during the rehabilitation of historic buildings, after the interiors were gutted and the floor slabs were removed. At Building 104 we were able to document remains of the Brass Gun Factory, including features associated with furnaces and a casting pit. At another site, we found massive furnace foundations associated with the New Ordnance Foundry, a structure built during the Civil War to cast large, smooth bore cannon cast that were formed in a distinctive “soda bottle” shape, known as the Dahlgren cannon. We also documented remains of the West Shiphouse, a structure built around 1825 that was used for repair of 19th-century naval vessels. Reaching seven stories in height and extending over an area of roughly 100×300 feet, this shiphouse was one of the most prominent structures along the lower Anacostia River, visible in many nineteenth-century views of the city.
Much of my work over the last 10 years has been in and around the parklands in the city’s monumental core area, including the National Mall, the Ellipse, West Potomac Park, and the Washington Monument grounds. Historically, these iconic landscapes were originally low-lying tidal flats and open water at the mouth of Tiber Creek, a tributary of the Potomac that disappeared long ago. For thousands of years, Native Americans camped along the banks of the Tiber, and after the City of Washington was established in 1790, the creek was transformed first into a canal, then a foul sewer that carried the city’s waste into the Potomac. Tiber Creek and its banks were filled during the nineteenth century. Some of the filling was a result of efforts to improve the land around the White House but most of the fills – millions of cubic yards – was deposited during efforts to maintain the river’s navigation channels and control flooding that ravaged the city.
Some of the most interesting finds were unearthed along 17th Street. One of these was a wharf built in 1807 at the foot of 17th Street where it extended into Tiber Creek. The 17th Street Wharf was a shipping point for the early city, its importance growing after 1833, when it became a hub connecting the Washington City Canal and the Washington Branch of the C&O Canal. The wharf disappeared in 1902 when 17th Street was extended after land reclamation had been completed on Potomac Flats.
Documentation of the original foundation of the Lockkeeper’s House at 17th Street; the foundation wall is 11.5 feet below present grade and was preserved in place during a sewer line replacement project.
The Lock Keeper’s House that stands at the corner of 17th Street and Constitution Avenue gives a hint of how different today’s landscape is from that of the 19th century. The C&O Canal Extension followed the shoreline of the Potomac from Georgetown, ending at the 17th Street Wharf. At that point, a canal lock accommodated the changing elevation between Lock 1 in Georgetown and the tidal waters at 17th Street. When 17th Street was extended in 1902, the Lockkeeper’s House was moved about 50 feet, but its original foundation was left in place where it was exposed during the replacement of a sewer line. After exposure of the Lockkeeper’s House foundation, we should not have been surprised that the actual canal lock would be found a few feet away. Sure enough, as the tunnel for the sewer line proceeded beneath Constitution Avenue, there it was!
Perhaps the most spectacular find along 17th Street was the “Mother of All Sewers,” aka the Tiber Creek Sewer Outlet. As the city developed in the nineteenth century, the Washington City Canal became a major nuisance, essentially an open sewer that collected waste from much of the downtown area. In the 1870s the city began to cover the Washington City Canal, converting it to an underground sewer. Following the area’s natural topography and hydrology, the sewer outfall was located at the intersection of 17th Street and Constitution Avenue, where waste emptied directly into the Potomac. Like the 17th Street Wharf and the C&O Canal Extension, the sewer outfall was engulfed during the land reclamation process that led to the creation of West Potomac Park. Exposed during construction of the Potomac Park Levee, the sewer outlet was an immense structure, measuring some 40 feet across its headwall.
With these and the findings from many other studies, the understanding of archaeology in the District has been increasing. Some of my most satisfying projects have been those that presented the greatest challenges and that required strong partnerships among project proponents, review agencies, and construction teams. Without the commitment of all stakeholders, some of the city’s most interesting archaeological resources might have remained virtually unknown and forgotten. The amazing opportunities to document the historic foundries at the Navy Yard, the wharf beneath the pavement of 17th Street and the canal lock below Constitution Avenue would not have been possible under conventional archaeological survey methods and would not have happened without committed partnerships among all of the project stakeholders. Going forward, I hope that the preservation community will continue to challenge us to think creatively to search for new ways to bring the city’s archaeological heritage to light.
View of the headwall of the Tiber Creek Sewer outlet along 17th Street, NW. Exposed during construction of the Potomac Park Levee, the Lockkeeper’s House is in the background, at the corner of 17th Street and Constitution Avenue. Measuring 23.5 feet across and 13 feet in height, the outlet is large enough to accommodate two lanes of vehicular traffic.
Last November the SHA’s Public Education and Interpretation Committee (PEIC) participated in theNational Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) conference. This large, well-attended annual conference was held in Boston this year at the Hynes Convention Center. The target audience is composed of teachers, superintendents, principals, and curriculum developers. Like previous years, the SHA has participated as a collaborative effort as part of the Archaeology Education Clearinghouse (AEC). This year, the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA) joined the SHA at the exhibitor booth, and the Society for American Archaeology (SAA) sent support materials. The SHA sent local Boston members to participate in the conference, and we provided support through our local group, the Massachusetts Archaeology Education Consortium (MAECON).
The NCSS supports many facets of social studies, and specifically includes archaeology as part of their mission, seen in this image of their branding materials in the exhibitor hall.
As part of SHA’s PEIC, we should be thinking of ways to support the mission of national groups like NCSS who are trying to facilitate the teaching of archaeology to educators. This top down approach of teaching teachers to teach archaeology is an economical use of our time. Yet, despite a warm welcome, archaeology was only subtly sprinkled throughout this conference.
Our AEC booth had pamphlets about our various organizations (SHA, SAA, AIA, and MAECON). We had targeted information for teachers in the form of handouts with resources they could check out on their own time. We also had CDs with curriculum plan ideas. Finally, since a majority of the participants were local to New England, we had handouts explaining local Massachusetts resources.
At the SHA annual conference in Seattle we discussed ways to improve our NCSS exhibitor booth. We are specifically working to improve our own branding to send a clearer, more coherent message to educators at this conference. Sometimes our message, “Teach with Archaeology,” gets lost. Though the idea of improving branding and marketing seems abstract and complex, it can easily be tweaked with a few modest changes. Some that we discussed include the production of AEC business cards, an updated website, and clearer, unified signage.
Where we seemed to really hit the mark at NCSS is having an emphasis on hand outs and deliverables that teachers can reference later. It is important to make incorporating archaeology into teaching as easy as possible, suggesting strategies that can immediately be implemented into classes. Prompts such as “things you can do tomorrow…” or “things you can do next semester…” will help turn our “teach with archaeology” message into clear action items for teachers.
This approach goes hand in hand with the importance of demonstrating an understanding of the standards that are in place for curriculum development in schools. To be relevant to educators, we must demonstrate how archaeology supports Core Curriculum; how it can be integrated into classrooms to support requirements teachers already have to meet. It is especially helpful for us to suggest ways to teach WITH archaeology, not suggesting that it be taught as a separate unit.
While the AEC booth was the only group explicitly presenting archaeology at the exhibitor hall, a few other groups were interpreting history that we know was influenced by archaeological discoveries, but did not necessarily connect the dots back to archaeology itself. Colonial Williamsburg, for example sold kits for artifact interpretation. A group called Art in History sold paintable ceramics with associated lesson plans. And other historical sites such as Mount Vernon, and Plimoth Plantation presented history but did not directly tie it back to the supporting archaeology.
Besides the booths at the exhibit hall, the conference also had one and two hour long workshops. Only a small handful of workshops this year included archaeology, and some of these were cancelled. Topics included the archaeology of China, the archaeology of Boston, teaching with objects, and starting your own dig. I anticipate that additional workshops on archaeology would be well received at this conference. The workshop I presented had roughly 50 engaged participants, many of whom were interested in finding more information about archaeology to bring back to their classes.
Moving forward, I think one way for archaeologists to engage with teachers and curriculum directors more thoroughly is to try to speak their “language.” Staying up to date on new ideas and trends in teaching philosophies will help us gain this access. For example, concepts like inquiry, problem-based learning, and teaching with objects, are great ways for archaeologists to tap into what is going on in teachers’ worlds and begin to access classrooms.
On Wednesday evening, Rep. Joe Wilson’s (R-SC) proposed amendment to the FY16 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) passed the House Armed Services Committee. The amendment – based on language proposed by Rep. Issa (R-CA) (H.R. 135) – would allow heads of federal agencies to block or revoke National Register listings for reasons of “national security,” a term not defined in the proposal.
The amendment passed 35-27, largely along party lines, with two exceptions: Rep. Chris Gibson (R-NY) voted against and Rep. Brad Ashford (D-NE) voted in favor. Rep. Turner (R-OH), Co-Chair of the Historic Preservation Caucus, initially expressed concerns about the amendment, but ultimately did not cast a vote. Reps Davis (D-CA), Tsongas (D-MA), and Bordallo (D-Guam) all spoke against.
SHA’s Government Affairs counsel Cultural Heritage Partners, PLLC worked closely this week with partners at NCSHPO, the Trust and the Society for American Archaeology (SAA) in an effort to defeat the amendment. Despite the cooperation with these partners – as well as great support from SHA members, many of whom reached out to their Reps’ offices to voice their opposition – the amendment is now part of the House NDAA and will head to the House floor. We anticipate this could happen by the third week in May.
SHA is continuing to work with our partners to identify a House member willing to offer an amendment to strip this language from the bill. We will also focus on the Senate, as we did last year; last year’s Senate (when it was majority Dems) did not include a similar amendment in its version of the FY15 NDAA. We will work to make this happen again.
Please keep an eye on SHA emails and social media next month, as we expect to ask members once again to reach out to their Representatives. While we do not have a confirmed date for the floor vote, we expect the House to take up the NDAA sometime during its next session, from May 12 to 21. If you have questions or suggestions, please contact Eden Burgess (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Terry Klein (email@example.com).
The deadline for online abstract submission is June 30, 2015. Mailed submissions must be postmarked on or before June 30, 2015. No abstracts will be accepted after June 30, 2015!
The SHA 2016 Conference on Historical and Underwater Archaeology Committee invites you to Washington D.C. to commemorate the 100th Anniversary of the National Park Service (NPS) and the 50th Anniversary of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA). The 2016 Conference will take place at the Omni Shoreham Hotel located immediately adjacent to restaurants and within a short walk to the metro. Since 1930, the Omni Shoreham Hotel has hosted presidents, world leaders and inaugural balls— the Beatles stayed here during their first trip to the United States. The hotel is located in one of the District’s upscale residential neighborhoods just steps away from the National Zoo.
The theme of the conference, A Call to Action: The Past and Future of Historical Archaeology, will focus on the preservation and interpretation of archaeological resources important to the larger historical narrative of all people. Our theme is a broad vision that encourages participants to consider the impact of the NPS and NHPA on the history of Historical Archaeology. We also encourage presenters to reflect on all aspects of our collective archaeological heritage and to explore how it has been examined, interpreted, and preserved. We expect that the theme will foster many papers and symposia that explore the manifestations of the past and future of historical archaeology.
The SHA 2016 Conference Committee hopes to encourage flexibility in the types of sessions offered. Sessions can take the form of formal symposia, panel discussions, or three-minute forums, and each session organizer may organize the time within each session as he/she wishes. Sessions may contain any combination of papers, discussants, and/or group discussion. More than one “discussion” segment is permitted within a symposium, and a formal discussant is encouraged, but not required. All papers will be 15 minutes long. We strongly encourage participants to submit posters, as the latter will be given significant visibility in the conference venue.
The SHA will not provide laptop computers for presenters. If you are chairing a session in which PowerPoint presentations will be used, you must make arrangements for someone in your session to provide the necessary laptop computer.
The call for papers is posted: http://sha.org/index.php/view/page/annual_meetings
Please review the PDF on the SHA page which has detailed information about the conference, papers, and submission guidelines. The online abstract submission system can be accessed at: https://www.conftool.com/sha2016/
The SHA.org page, as well as Facebook, Twitter, and the Blog will be updated regularly with conference information with links to hotel reservations, travel tips, travel award application, volunteer forms, and other pertinent information. Be sure to follow the 2016 conference on Facebook and Twitter using the hashtag #SHA2016.
Any questions about Washington D.C. can be sent to the Program co-Chairs, Julie Schablitsky or Lisa Kraus, at the general program email address: <shaDC2016@gmail.com>.
See you in D.C.!
Please note that time is of the essence because the markup is scheduled for this Wednesday. Contact Terry Klein (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Eden Burgess (email@example.com) with any questions.
Thanks for your help with this critical issue!
Dear Representative ____:
My name is ______ and I am a constituent.
I understand that this Wednesday, the House Armed Services Committee will be marking up the NDAA and that the markup may include consideration of a bill that would amend the National Historic Preservation Act to allow federal agencies to object to the listing of a site on the National Register due to “national security” concerns (HR 135).
I strongly oppose such an amendment, as it is overly broad and the amendment is poorly drafted. In addition, I am aware that last Congress, DoD’s Maureen Sullivan, Directorfor Environment, Safety, and Occupational Health at the Office of the Deputy Under Secretary of Defense, testified against a similar bill (HR 3687) as unnecessary and likely to cause confusion. Ms. Sullivan also testified that DoD sees no benefit to the bill and that DoD has never been stopped from maintaining or repairing any building, or from conducting any training exercise, because of the National Historic Preservation Act’s requirements. NPS and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation also oppose the bill.
I urge you to oppose this amendment to the NDAA. Thank you.
As part of our #SHA2016 series on Washington D.C. archaeology, below we repost a wonderful archaeological project undertaken at the Maryland Historical Trust by Research Archaeologist Matthew D. McKnight. The mission of the Maryland Historical Trust is to preserve and interpret the legacy of Maryland’s past through research, conservation, and education of their historical and cultural heritage. The “Archeological Synthesis” Project is an important online resource for anyone interested in Maryland archaeology, and it shows the great work being done by archaeologists in the D.C. area:
Maryland’s “Archeological Synthesis” Project
by Matthew D. McKnight, Research Archeologist, Maryland Historical Trust
Are you a student, weekend researcher, or preservation professional with an interest in Maryland archeology? Are you a professional archeologist looking to conduct some background research on a specific artifact or site type? Have you been confounded in the past by lack of access to so much of the CRM “gray literature”? If so, the Maryland Historical Trust (MHT) has a new online resource that may be of interest to you.
On Maryland Day (Wednesday, March 25th, 2015) the MHT’s Office of Archeology launched a new online tool to provide members of the public with greater access to data obtained through tax-payer funded and publically mandated archeological research. Funded by generous support from the MHT Board of Trustees and the Maryland State Highway Administration’s Transportation Enhancement Program, the Maryland Archeological Synthesis Project has been underway since late 2007, reviewing the nearly 50 years of archeological site reports generated in compliance with the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 and similar state and local legislation. The overall goal of the project has been to characterize this data for as wide an audience as possible and produce a number of online and print products to make the information more accessible. Two volumes on Maryland archeology (one on prehistory and one on Colonial archeology) are still in the works, but the first major public offering of the Synthesis Project is now available on the web at https://webapps.mdp.state.md.us/apps/synthesis/.
This Archeological Synthesis Database is a first-of-its-kind online catalog of archeological sites within the state where Phase II and Phase III test excavations have taken place. Focusing on compliance-driven research, the database is linked to MHT’s Site Survey files, but is also tied to synopsis reports and cover sheets generated by reviewing larger excavation reports. The synopsis reports contain capsule summaries of the overall site reports, organized so researchers can quickly pull out the most relevant information needed for determining if a particular site is of interest. Cover sheets deal with the history of archeological activity at a site, specifically the justifications for fieldwork, research objectives, and potential for future research. Best of all, the entire database is keyword searchable. Simply type in your research topic or an artifact type and get back a list of sites that may be of interest. More robust searches can even be carried out on variables like soil type, archeological research unit, county, etc.
Two versions of the database are available online. One portal is open to the general public; the other is available to professional archeologists who meet the US Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Professional Qualifications. Search functionality and the universe of sites within the database are identical in both versions. However, geographic locations and site setting information within the Public Access version of the database are intentionally vague to protect site locations. The Professional Access version of the database includes detailed site location information and is only available to authorized archeologists who have obtained a Medusa account with archeological data privileges.
After considerable public expense to undertake archeological work, test results should not be buried on a library shelf. The only way to advance archeological research is to build upon past experience, but the data from past work needs to be readily available. This project begins to rectify both long-standing problems while giving back to the public a view of the State’s rich archeological heritage. You can read more about the Maryland Archeological Synthesis Project at http://mht.maryland.gov/archeology_synthesis.shtml.
Every March Florida celebrates Florida Archaeology Month. During the month-long celebration, statewide programs and events are coordinated to encourage Floridians and tourists to learn more about the history and archaeology of the state. Preservation, of course, is an important theme that is worked in to many of these programs. Awebsite is dedicated to the celebration and includes a full calendar of events and information about the Florida Anthropological Society and the local chapters located throughout the state. Organizations from across the state have access to the online calendar to submit events that they are hosting in recognition of Florida Archaeology Month. Florida Archaeology Month is a coordinated effort by the Florida Anthropological Society, the Florida Department of State, Division of Historical Resources, the Florida Public Archaeology Network, the Florida Archaeological Council and various local museums, libraries, public and private school systems, historical commissions and more.
Public programs that are put on during the month of March include lectures, tours, youth activities, primitive arts festivals, teacher workshops and much more. Each year there is a different theme, usually a specific time period in Florida’s history or prehistory. Sometimes this theme will coincide with an anniversary or commemoration of a specific event in Florida’s past. In 2012 the theme was the Civil War in Florida, to commemorate the start of the Sesquicentennial of the Civil War. In 2013 it was Viva La Florida 500 to mark the 500th commemoration of the landing of the Spanish on Florida’s coast. In 2014 it was the Paleoindian period in Florida, and this year it is Innovators of the Archaic. This theme has giving archaeologists an opportunity to showcase the various types of technologies that were in use and developed during the archaic period in Florida. This lends itself very nicely to hands-on activities with children…and children at heart! It also gives archaeologists the opportunity to show how archaeology intersects with STEM subject areas, which has been a primary objective in the state’s education system the past few years.
Every year a poster depicting the current theme is printed and distributed to the public and to libraries, schools, state parks, state offices and other venues to be displayed. These are meant to be promotional and informative tools, but have become quite the collector’s item as well. On one side of the poster there is always an artistic rendering depicting the theme. On the other side of the poster there is always a timeline with significant sites and events from the time period. The goal is that eventually the posters can be lined up to create a comprehensive timeline of Florida’s history and prehistory. All the posters are saved on the website in the archives in a downloadable format so that the public has access to the ones from previous years.
Between the poster and the website, the hope is that the public has a way to access the information from Florida Archaeology Month year round. Every year, this celebration provides various venues and organizations with the opportunity to promote Florida’s heritage and gives them a reason to showcase their community’s and Florida’s archaeological resources. Because archaeology is a multidisciplinary science, it is possible for almost everybody to participate in some way.