#SHA2016 Call for Papers!

The Call for Papers is Now Open!

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.!

Contact your Representatives to Maintain the NHPA

SHA’s Government Affairs counsel just learned about a possible amendment to the National Historic Preservation Act that would significantly impact the protection of land and sites, allowing federal agencies to prevent inclusion on the National Register due to concerns about “national security.” We urge all members to contact their Representatives in the House — particularly those on the House Armed Services Committee (see here) — to voice your opposition to the amendment. A sample email is provided below.

Please note that time is of the essence because the markup is scheduled for this Wednesday. Contact Terry Klein (tklein@srifoundation.org) or  Eden Burgess (eden@culturalheritagepartners.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.

Maryland Historical Trust and the “Archeological Synthesis” Project

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.

Check out the Maryland Historical Trust blog post on the “Archeological Synthesis” Project at: https://mdhistoricaltrust.wordpress.com/2015/04/10/archeological-synthesis/




Florida Archaeology Month is Upon Us!

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.

Alexandria Archaeology: The City of Alexandria’s Archaeological Protection Code turns 25!

In this week’s #SHA2016 Conference blog post, on D.C. area archaeology, we take a look at Alexandria Archaeology! This is a season of anniversaries as the City of Alexandria’s Archaeological Protection Code recently turned 25! In 2014, the City of Alexandria celebrated the 25th anniversary of the passage of the Archaeological Protection Code, serving as a preservation model for local jurisdictions across the nation.

The Code has enabled sites that otherwise would have been lost to development to be excavated and studied.

These sites have provided information about the full range of human activity in Alexandria, from Native American occupation through the early 20th century.

The excavated sites highlight the wharves and ship-building activities on the waterfront; the commercial and industrial establishments, including potteries, bakeries, and breweries; life in rural Alexandria; the Civil War; cemetery analysis and preservation; and the lives of African Americans, both free and enslaved.

Over the 25 years the Code has been in effect, the City’s archaeological staff has reviewed more than 11,000 projects that range from building a fence to developing an entire city block, and everything in between. However, formal archaeology did not begin in Alexandria until 1961.

In conjunction with the Civil War centennial, the city took steps to develop a park at the site of Fort Ward, one of the more than 160 forts built by the Union Army to protect Washington, D.C.

Spurred by citizen interest, the archaeological information recovered from Fort Ward led to a reconstruction of its north bastion, as well as the construction of a small museum and visitor center at the park. A few years later, a series of urban renewal projects began along King Street, part of a nationwide trend occurring in many American cities in the 1960s. Buildings that lined the 300, 400, and 500 blocks of King Street were torn down and replaced with newer buildings, and a large market square was built fronting on city hall.  Original plans called for 16 blocks to be demolished, but a citizen-led historic preservation movement helped to limit the scale of urban renewal in Alexandria to those few blocks on King Street.

Nevertheless, when the buildings came down, numerous brick-lined wells and privies, as well as deposits of artifacts were visible, and citizens reached out to the Smithsonian Institution to conduct rescue excavations on these blocks.  Into the void stepped Richard Muzzrole, a technician with no formal archaeological training, but with an unwavering desire to save as much of the threatened archaeological record as he could.

With guidance from his Smithsonian colleagues, Muzzrole marshalled a small cadre of volunteers and conducted salvage archaeology of the wells, privies, and other archaeological materials uncovered by construction equipment.

Muzzrole established a laboratory for the artifacts in the old Torpedo Factory, which eventually became the iconic Torpedo Factory Art Center. The visibility of the rescue archaeology, and the display of the extensive artifact collections recovered from the King Street wells and privies continued to ingrain archaeology into the civic consciousness. The Smithsonian funded the rescue work from 1965 until 1971. And, for two more years, a group of Alexandrians called the Committee of 100 continued to fund the rescue work with each member pledging $10 per month (today, that would be nearly $60 per month). Eventually, this group actively sought City Council support to include archaeology as a permanent service of the City of Alexandria government. The Council was convinced of the importance of archaeology and historic preservation, and, in 1973, the City began directly funding Mr. Muzzrole and several assistants who worked with the collections. Throughout these years, the display of excavated artifacts, public lectures, and the ongoing rescue excavations continued to forge a public appreciation of archaeology in Alexandria. In 1975, the City established the Alexandria Archaeological Commission, a volunteer citizen group that advises the mayor and Council on issues involving local archaeology and historic preservation- the first organization of its kind in the United States.

The formation of the Archaeology Commission was the first step in professionalizing the practice of archaeology in the city, which in turn led to Alexandria hiring Pamela Cressey as its first City Archaeologist in 1977. Since that time, Alexandria Archaeology has grown from a rescue operation in the Old Town area to a City-wide community archaeology program. Throughout the 1980s development in Alexandria continued at a brisk pace, threatening, damaging, and likely destroying archaeological resources.

Many of the development projects were private enterprises, and did not fall under the federal cultural resource protection laws.

To stem the loss of archaeological sites, the Alexandria Archaeological Commission spearheaded a preservation initiative that culminated in 1989, with the drafting of an archaeological ordinance requiring a five-step review process for all site plans that involve more than 2,500 square feet of ground disturbance.

This Archaeological Protection Code sets out a process whereby the private sector absorbs the cost of archaeological excavation and analysis before ground disturbance occurs on large-scale construction projects.   Incorporated into the City’s Zoning Ordinance, the Code requires coordination with other City departments—the planners, engineers, landscape designers, and other regulatory officials who oversee the site plan process. Implementation involves review of all City development projects by staff archaeologists. The staff determines the level of work needed for each project, and, when required, a developer must hire archaeological consultants to conduct investigations of potentially significant site locations and produce both technical and public reports on their findings. From these beginnings, Alexandria Archaeology now manages over 2,000,000 artifacts collected from over 100 archaeological sites scattered across the City.

The collections are open to researchers, and a small sampling of the artifacts are on display for benefit of the public at our museum, in the Torpedo Factory Art Center, alongside 85 studios designed for artist-public interaction.  The Archaeology Museum’s glass windows and public laboratory encourage visitors to observe the archaeological process in action.

Numerous research projects are undertaken as well, which include public participation through volunteer work, education in the museum, and outreach activities. Volunteerism is the watchword of Alexandria Archaeology; we could not exist without the contributions of hundreds of volunteers.

More than 100 give of their time and talents in an average year.

One special volunteer still works in the lab after more than 30 years. Volunteers work in all aspects of the program from digging and laboratory work, to education, research, oral history, and editing.  In 1986, a group of volunteers formed a 501(c)3 organization, the Friends of Alexandria Archaeology (FOAA).  FOAA sponsors events, publishes a newsletter, maintains a website, Facebook page, and Twitter account, and supports the Museum in all its work.

The future looks bright for Alexandria Archaeology.

It has been 50 years since Richard Muzzrole first poked a shovel in a privy on King Street.

Here’s hoping that we have another 50 years in front of us of community archaeology in Alexandria! Please Visit our Website: www.AlexandriaArchaeology.org Friends of Alexandria Archaeology: http://www.foaa.info/

Writing for Historical Archaeology

by Chris Matthews

As the editor of Historical Archaeology I am privileged to see so much great research come across my desk. HA is the leading source for research on the archaeology of early modern and modern eras worldwide. Yet, despite this global recognition, I have come to understand that the process of publishing in Historical Archaeology is not as transparent as it could be. So, I’d like to go over the process in this blog post.

How to submit an article to Historical Archaeology for review

Articles published in Historical Archaeology go through a rigorous and productive peer review process. To get this process started authors, of course, need to submit a paper. The formal guidelines for submission are available here: http://sha.org/index.php/view/page/for_authors. The following addresses the questions I hear most often:

Length: manuscripts run on average about 25-30 pages, double-spaced, 12 pt font. This does not include the references, tables, or figures. We usually can be flexible on length, so if you are worried your article is too long or short go ahead and check in with me to get my input.

Figures: We are able to include several images and tables with your article. We realize these are essential to presenting your research. As a rule of thumb 10 images is about the max number of images. As tables can run from just a few rows to sometimes dozens, the number of tables we publish with an article is closely tied to how large they actually are.

Formatting: Manuscripts should be formatted to the HA Style Guide which is available on the SHA website (link provided above). As your article will be reviewed and likely revised, I am usually able to accept manuscripts with minor formatting variations.

Proofread!: Before submitting please proofread your manuscript. Typos or missing words can being distracting to reviewers who may react negatively to your article as a result!

Submission: Articles should be mailed to me at the address below, though I am also able to accept articles as email attachments. Even if you elect to mail me your manuscript, all files associated with your articles (text, images, and tables) need to be submitted electronically on a CD-ROM. It is smart to follow up with me after submitting your article to make sure I have received it.

Christopher Matthews
Department of Anthropology
Montclair State University
1 Normal Avenue
Montclair, NJ 07043

The Review Process

Once I receive an article I go over it to ensure that the content and presentation are suitable for review. Foremost, this means that article considers materials and contexts that are of interest to the readers of the journal. Because the practice of historical archaeology in some parts of the world refers to any period with writing, we occasionally receive submissions that are not appropriate. At this time I also look over the formatting and the figures to make sure that the article will be workable for the reviewers.

The next step of the process is to assign your article to an Associate Editor. If you look on the inside cover of the journal, you will see a list of those who have volunteered to serve as journal Associate Editors. Associate Editors supervise the peer review process, and they will be your main contact during the review process. I will introduce you to each other by email. The Associate’s job is to read your article and then identify and solicit three readers to prepare detailed comments on your research and writing and to evaluate your article in terms of its readiness for publication. Readers are selected based on their expertise in the specific fields of study your article addresses. You are welcome to suggest possible readers if you would like. The peer review process usually takes about 6-8 weeks. After the reviews are complete, the Associate Editor will send you the results including copies of the peer reviews and their own conclusion, based on these reviews, regarding whether your article is to be accepted for publication. Results are typically one of the following:

1. The article is accepted for publication as is (rare!)

2. The article is accepted for publication after the author completes minor revisions

3. The article is not ready for publication because it requires some revision and should be resubmitted for a another round of review (“revise and resubmit”).

4. The article needs significant rewriting before it can be reviewed again

5. The article is not suitable for the journal

Most articles published in HA come back from peer review as “revise and resubmit” (#3). This result should not be discouraging. Rather, this is exactly what the peer review process should produce since it allows you to revise your work with the input of experts in the field. This is how we have been able to publish such high quality research in the journal now for almost 50 years. However, you are welcome to respond to the peer review comments as you see fit. For example, if you disagree with the comments you might find a way to address this concern in the revised paper.

On to publication!

As many of you know Historical Archaeology publishes four issues per year. Two issues each year are guest edited thematic collections and two are based on individual contributions. I will prepare another blog post on thematic issues as part of this series since the process for these issues is slightly different.

We normally publish 5-6 research articles in each contributed issue, so this adds up to about 10-12 research articles per year. Your article will be put in the queue for publication based on the date it is formally accepted for publication. Right now the journal has no backlog so we are usually able to publish your article about a year after it is accepted.

We are very happy with this turnaround time since it will allow your research to be in print in a timely fashion. Once your article is assigned to a specific issue it will go through two stages of production before publication. The first is copy-editing. Richard Schaffer is the journal’s copy editor. When your assigned issue is ready, he will read through your article to address any formatting concerns and send you queries regarding the changes he suggests. After Richard has completed the copy editing, the issue as a whole is sent to the compositor who will produce printer proofs. I will send you a proof of your article as a pdf file by email. It is expected that you will return your corrections within 72 hours. You can make changes to the article using Adobe Acrobat’s editing functions or you can enter these by hand and either scan the pages for return by email or make a list of change by page, column and line number.

When we have all of the corrected proofs they are returned to the compositor who then makes the changes and the prints and mails the issue out. We also post the articles on the SHA website where SHA members have access to the full run of the journal. You can see these here: http://sha.org/index.php/publications/cart

So, that is how the publication process work for HA. We are always working to improve how we get the job done and are considering now changes such as an online submission and review process. When these changes are made I will use this forum to let you know. This will be the first of a series of blog posts on publishing in Historical Archaeology. In future posts I will discuss Thematic Issues and offer some suggestions and strategies for writing a great article. Please use the comments to let me know if you find these posts helpful and if there are other concerns that I do not address that you think would help. You can also email me directly at: shaeditor@gmail.com.

My Artifact Obsession: Colonial Metals

The following post was previously published in the SHA newsletter as the introductory piece of a new series intended to identify professionals with expertise in particular classes of material culture who can assist others with artifacts in their collections. In light of the SHA’s recent polling of the membership’s comments on the 36CFR79 consultation process, and our Society’s response to the consultation, the issues surrounding collections stewardship and de-accessioning remain very much alive, especially in the domain of collections expertise. The Collections and Curation Committee have been sponsoring a series of blogs and newsletter items on members who communicate their specialist interest to the membership in the interest of sharing knowledge and expertise, which essential to good collections management practice. These posts, titled “My Artifact Obsession”, relate to material classes of artifacts such as metals and ceramics, but also to sources of information for collections assessment. New posts sponsored by the Committee will be released in tandem with publication in the newsletter. If you are interested in or have questions regarding the “My Artifact Obsession” project, please contact Committee member Sara Rivers-Cofield at sara.rivers-cofield@maryland.gov. If you are sponsoring or participating in projects incorporating collections-based components similar to “My Artifact Obsession,” the Committee would welcome your suggestions and recommendations for future blog posts. Please contact Sarah Platt at seplatt@syr.edu. This piece was originally published in the spring 2014 edition of the SHA Newsletter.

Introducing a new newsletter feature: My Artifact Obsession

Historical Archaeologists have finally reached a widespread consensus about professional curation standards and storage conditions. Not everyone is in accord, but for the most part we have learned the error of our brown-paper-bag ways and moved into an archivally enlightened era of polyethylene bags and acid-free everything. We have even adopted preventive conservation techniques and treatment strategies to keep our collections intact forever and ever, amen.

But our work is never finished, and frankly, how we store things is the easy part. Something even scarier, harder to enforce, and yes, even more expensive than proper packaging still looms over the curation crisis. We still, as a profession, have not reached agreement about what is and is not actually worth retaining in those archivally stable time capsules we create.

There is no centralized resource offering guidance on archaeological collection strategies.  Yes, each site is unique and therefore the decision of what to keep should be made on a case-by-case basis, but in practice that leaves the decisions to individual lab employees, repositories, and local regulatory agencies, none of whom are likely to be experts on the value of every artifact type for long-term research. Some might document and discard without much thought, while others could decide to keep it all just in case that fantastical creature, the future researcher, will need it. Neither scenario is desirable. Ideally you’d have people who really know their brick, shell, and glass make those decisions for that specific collection, resulting in collections with a Goldilocks retention scenario that is juuuust right; no future deaccessioning required.

Our default setting should be “think carefully and ask around,” but we need to know who to ask. Who decides how much brick is enough? Which shells to keep? How much window glass should be stored? Unfortunately, there is no directory of artifact specialists we can turn to when we have a site full of little pieces of something we know nothing about. Most of us have a network—someone we call about gun parts, and someone else we e-mail with a mystery ceramic— but most personal networks have gaps.

If there was a curator genie willing to grant me three wishes, I would wish for archaeological yellow pages where I could just look up “brick” or “nails” and there would be a name and number to call for trustworthy advice on how to deal with all of that messy architectural stuff. My second wish would be to ensure that all advisors in my new artifact yellow pages would provide their expertise for free. Finally, I would wish that all metals would stop corroding immediately because I love them. More on that later.

Since there is no curator genie, the only way to make my wishes come true— well, 2 out of 3 anyway— is to lead an effort within SHA’ Collections and Curation Committee to build these proverbial yellow pages.  The idea emerged at the 2012 SHA meetings in Baltimore as I listened to frustrated colleagues  share accounts of closed repositories, whole discarded collections, and lack of guidance on the dreaded D-words—deaccessioning and discard. I thought that if SHA as an organization could get these distressed archaeologists in touch with colleagues who have specific material culture knowledge, it would create a valuable resource for professional consultation on questions of artifact significance. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a small e-mail distribution list for the brick-inclined, the bead people, the button lovers, and so on?

Since then this has become one of the goals of the SHA’s Collections and Curation Committee. Members had already been developing a toolkit to evaluate archaeological collections in terms of significance, potential contributions to knowledge, and worthiness of prime real estate in storage. The toolkit is a thinking exercise that has value even if no action is taken, because awareness of what has already been collected is essential for determining what to collect in future. Still, the assessment tool is of limited value if the people using it lack a strong network of material culture specialists who can help identify the collection’s artifacts and their value for interpretation. The bottom line is that we need these specialists to speak up and identify themselves.

In an effort to bring our artifact enthusiasts out to play, we offer you the newsletter series, My Artifact Obsession. This will be a venue for artifact addicts to explain to readers why their particular beloved category of material culture is so important. In return for granting the artifact-obsessed this space to wax poetical or straight up lecture colleagues about their fixation, each author must be willing to join our network of specialists, receive inquiries, and offer advice to fellow professionals about their favorite artifact category. We don’t yet know what the product of this effort will look like because we need to build the network before we can figure out how to make it accessible. For now we just want e-mail addresses for people willing to help colleagues with one or more of the following:

  • Artifact ID/Dating
  • Appropriate research questions
  • Appropriate sampling strategies
  • Pre-discard documentation needs
  • Books/sources on the topic

This may seem like a lot to tackle— after all, loving artifacts shouldn’t be punishable by unwanted inbox clutter— but ideally we are looking for the artifact-obsessives of the discipline who like getting e-mails about their favorite finds. For example, I will offer myself up first in the following treatise on the importance of metals. Specialties can be more specific though; like looking at oyster shell instead of all shell— that is up to each volunteer. Furthermore, we are NOT asking specialists to offer cataloging advice to untrained lab staff, or provide IDs for the public’s garden/beach/metal detecting finds. The goal is to introduce the SHA membership to material culture specialists through the My Artifact Obsession series, and assemble groups of such specialists to assist professionals with specific collections-based inquiries.

If you’d like to share your artifact obsession, join the expertise network we are forming, and potentially influence curation policies that affect your data pool, e-mail me at sara.rivers-cofield@maryland.gov

My Artifact Obsession: Colonial Metals

A few years ago one of my co-workers bought me a magnet for Christmas that reads “Easily Distracted by Shiny Objects.” It is true. I am. But in my defense, I also get excited about a nice matte green patina and even rusty iron. I am into pretty much all of the “Little Metal Things” recovered on colonial sites. I revel in the feeling of turning a formerly unidentified metal object (UMO) into an innovative contribution to site interpretation, and I’m getting pretty good at the 17th and 18th century IDs. The industrially-produced 19th and 20th-century stuff mostly stumps me, but still, I hold out hope that someday I’ll see that UMO in a new context and its identity will be revealed.

But that can only happen if the metal is still there to be identified, and thanks to its tendency to corrode, survival is not a given. I don’t worry too much about the little copper and white metal doodads that feed my obsession; these tend to be stable, and even small unidentifiable blobs of copper and lead are usually awarded “small finds” status. But I do worry about what the archaeological world at large is doing about my beleaguered rusty iron. I hope it’s just a rumor, but I have heard of repositories that simply don’t accept iron artifacts because they are heavy and take up space and they’ll just turn to powder anyway; as if the value of an artifact for understanding cultural heritage is somehow tied to its ability to obediently await future researchers without decaying.

If that kind of thinking is feeding our discipline’s sampling strategies, then I can’t help but speak out in defense of iron. Yes, it is expensive to conserve iron artifacts, but there are ways to set priorities and limit costs. For example, it’s not terribly expensive to document and identify iron objects with x-rays.  I can hear the protests now though: “Who has access to x-ray? I suppose I could try to find one, but that would be pretty difficult. Building conservation and x-ray funds into a scope of work could break the budget and it’s a hard sell to clients. Really, how do you justify the expense of special analysis or treatment for a bunch of rust balls that look like a collection of fossilized poo? It’s just too hard, too expensive, and a silly waste of resources.”  My response to such arguments is this: No! This is so wrong! You know what else can look like fossilized poo? Colonoware. I don’t see anyone saying that’s not important enough to care about. And you know what else some clients think is too hard, too expensive, and a silly waste of resources? ARCHAEOLOGY. Every last bit of it.

If we think it’s worth it to spend time and money conducting careful excavations and processing artifacts for long-term curation, then we have to be careful about dismissing any class of artifact without getting as much information out of it as we can. Privileging one artifact class over another because of the expense of conservation or analysis undermines the arguments we use when justifying doing archaeology at all. The whole endeavor is supposed to be about collecting information. Wilfully letting a portion of the information corrode into oblivion without using existing tools to properly document them undermines our credibility. The burial environment already robs us of so many organic and other unstable materials, how can we justify neglecting a whole segment of finds we actually do recover? Imagine saying, “I know a Phase III on that huge 18th-century plantation might reveal a lot about our cultural heritage, but it that would be too expensive. Let’s do a Phase III on the tiny lithic scatter nearby instead and let the plantation get destroyed.” That’s the same kind of argument as limiting curatorial investment to stable artifacts.

Now I am not so obliviously ensconced in the state-of-the art (ca. 1998) Maryland Archaeological Conservation Laboratory that I don’t recognize the financial challenge that iron preservation and analysis presents. I might have an x-ray machine down the hall, but I know most folks don’t. What I don’t quite understand is why everyone doing historical archaeology wouldn’t make that equipment a priority. Total station? Yes. Ground penetrating radar? Yes. X-ray? Apparently not.

I just don’t get that. X-ray is our friend. It magically zaps through all that poo-looking corrosion to show the true artifact inside. Let’s take nails as a case in point. I may love little metal things, but even I find nails boring, and frankly, I don’t see much use in keeping them at all when they go untreated. They just take up space and fall apart. They are, however, highly diagnostic when you can tell if they are wrought, cut, wire, T-head, L-Head, etc. X-rays allow you to see that; they turn unidentified corroded nails into measurable and diagnostic architectural data. Catalogs with nail counts can be dramatically different when all nails are identifiable, and site interpretations more accurate as a result. Furthermore, if you x-ray a box of nails for $350 and discard them instead of paying the $350 box fee to store them, then I say you’re doing the curation crisis a solid.

Scissors discovered in a bag of unidentified iron from a 17th-19th century site aboard the Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland (Naval District Washington). X-ray showed that the crusted object with brick adhered to corrosion was in fact a very fancy pair of embroidery scissors. Since the x-ray is to scale, an outline can be made of the scissors even though they have deteriorated.

Yes, it is expensive to own and maintain x-ray machines and certified staff to use them, but isn’t it worth it to dramatically improve the interpretation of historic sites? Don’t we want accurate catalogs? Don’t we want to document our finds before they turn into powder? Don’t we want to identify that amazing never-before-seen iron artifact that changes everything we know about the site so we can conserve it instead of ignoring it? Yes people. We want it. We just have yet to make it a discipline-wide priority.

I submit that we can be smarter about this. We can recognize that iron is a fact of life on historic sites and plan accordingly for some treatment, a whole lot of documentation, and informed discard. It makes a lot more sense than accepting inaccurate catalogs and long-term storage of corrosion powder as standard practice.

Not everyone has to love on the metals like I do, but pretty please let us at least send this message to all of our ferrous utensils, tools, farm equipment, architectural hardware, transportation hardware, cooking vessels, clothing fasteners, stoves, and miscellany: we care about you. We understand the importance of peering through your crusty exterior to the meaningful object inside. We know it’s not your fault you’re unstable, and we don’t think that the thousands of shards of indistinct redware we collect are somehow more important than you just because they don’t fall apart in the bag.  Even if you are dying and we can’t afford drastic measures, we at least think you should be x-rayed for posterity. And if you are a UMO, you should be preserved for a researcher who might someday discover what you are.

In the hope that you readers will take this “love your metals” pledge, I offer my services in helping you identify them if I can. Colonial metals in particular are my favorite and bring joy to my inbox. If you, too, love metals, let’s make a club and have a distribution list! Send me your interest and your UMOs, and all of our reports may be enriched. sara.rivers-cofield@maryland.gov  PS- Don’t show me your nails. Even my love of iron has limits.

Archaeology on a Shoe-String in the District of Columbia: An Introduction to the DC Historic Preservation Office

The District of Columbia is a strange political entity and our unique status has unexpected effects on local archaeology. But that makes it a perfect place to focus on the upcoming 50th anniversary of the National Historical Preservation Act (NHPA) of 1966 and the 100th anniversary of the creation of the National Park Service (NPS) in 1916, to be commemorated at the #SHA2016 conference. Why? Because Washington is a “special” federal enclave rather than a state and many District affairs are subject to federal laws. The District has a State Historic Preservation Office, or SHPO, that was established by, and is annually funded as a result of the NHPA regulations. The federal government owns 21.6% of the land in the District, so one-fifth of our land mass is directly subject to Section 106 of the NHPA. And 17% of District land is managed by NPS, making them a major partner in many archaeological projects.

Washington, D.C. is also a residential city with numerous historic districts and its own preservation laws, and procedures. The SHPO also serves as the “local” Historic Preservation Office (DC HPO). The District has a rich cultural history that began long before it was chosen for the nation’s capital which includes both prehistoric and colonial resources. In recent years we’ve seen an explosion of development that has led to dozens of city-funded archaeological surveys in addition to the ones conducted for federal projects. The bulk of these local projects were on city park and school properties, which comprise some of our largest non-federal open spaces. Among the sites identified are significant prehistoric camps and quarries, Civil War-era military and contraband camps, antebellum estates and tenant farms, former cemeteries, and urban row houses and alley dwellings. Archaeology offers a unique perspective – and sometimes the only material evidence — on events that were often ignored or overlooked in documentary sources. As the city’s Archaeology Team, we operate at both the federal and city levels, consulting with agencies on project concepts to ensure locations that merit survey are identified early on in the planning process, reviewing survey work plans, and commenting on draft technical reports. We are also responsible for maintaining and managing the archaeological collections, all paper and digital records, the site files, our Geographic Information System (GIS), and the archaeological survey report library. Any outreach, and education we get to conduct is pure “gravy!” Our efforts are somewhatconstrained because Chardé Reid, the assistant archaeologist, is a limited-term contract. Despite the challenges, we have forged a public outreach program on a shoestring! We have developed strategic partnerships with a variety of groups, and rely on the contributions of our graduate student interns and volunteers. Stipends are sometimes available for our interns, but the real payoff for them is the experience in a SHPO, and mentoring as they enter the job market.

Archaeology has quite a bit of community support in the District and Washingtonians turn out at our events, tune in to radio shows, and email us all the time! Mitchell Park is a great example of this. The park is located on the site of a large farm-house built by Anthony Holmead in 1795, and is a National Register-listed property. When a neighborhood group, Friends of Mitchell Park, raised funds to renovate and improve the park, they also funded an archaeological investigation of the Holmead House site. Community members now serve as site guardians and vigilantly protect the resource, which remains buried beneath their feet. Community support for archaeology may be tied to other concerns, as when groups attempt to use site preservation as a tactic to impede development even before any investigations occur. This is a tricky line for us to walk, since we promote an archaeological preservation ethic, but we also need to be sensitive to public benefits of development. We can’t short-circuit the review process to appease one constituent, because there are many competing needs and perspectives.

We do as much public outreach as possible given all our other responsibilities and limited staff. As the city grows and our demographics change, it becomes increasingly important for residents (especially young people) to understand the city’s history, diversity, and unique neighborhoods. We talk to schools, clubs, community history and heritage groups, and at neighborhood libraries, and we bring along displays and artifacts from our collections. Student interns are a big part of these outreach events and often plan and program them. We have gained the most ground by partnering with local non-profits, such as Archaeology in the Community. They have the capacity to organize annual events like Archaeology Day (in October) and Day of Archaeology (in July). Even NPS has gotten involved at the local level by starting a summer Urban Archaeology Corps program comprising District high school through college-age youth, who learn about local history, archaeology, and NPS careers. While few UAC participants plan to study archaeology, their feedback indicates they like learning about their neighborhood history and regret not getting more of it in school.

The lens of archaeology is our tool for providing alternative perspectives on the District’s long and diverse history. We have the ability to look at groups often overlooked by more traditional history. The lens, while powerful, requires that some remnants of the past remain in the ground. Therefore, continued protection and management of archaeological resources are needed. But our efforts also need support from an educated and empowered public, who embrace and advocate for archaeology because they believe it enriches historical narratives. Identification and preservation of archaeological resources is best done by concerted efforts of preservation partners at every level, including Federal, District, and neighborhood entities. We look forward to engaging more groups as we increase our outreach capacity and visibility through our limited – but successful — “shoestring” efforts.

Chardé Reid, Assistant City Archaeologist, DC Historic Preservation Office

Lois Berkowitz, volunteer at the DC Historic Preservation Office

Ruth Trocolli, City Archaeologist, DC Historic Preservation Office

Photo cred: Jason Hornick.


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Historical Archaeology at George Washington’s Mount Vernon

Greetings from Virginia! Though the #SHA2016 Annual Meeting is some months away, we are assisting the social media committee in presenting the archaeological outlets that the Washington, DC metro area has to offer. Archaeology plays a major role towards interpreting George Washington’s Mount Vernon, and we are pleased to take this opportunity to briefly introduce our program and some of our recent projects.

George Washington called Mount Vernon home for 45 years, and though two wars and a Presidency often called him away from his estate, Mount Vernon was his life’s work. Washington transformed a modest farm house into the mansion we see today, significantly altered the grounds around his homelot to create a formalized ornamental landscape, and successfully farmed an 8,000 acre plantation. A period of estate decline following Washington’s death in 1799 sparked a nation-wide effort to preserve Mount Vernon, spearheaded by the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association (MVLA) who bought the mansion house and the surrounding 200 acres in 1858.

View form the Central Passage towards the Potomac. Photo Cred: Karen Price

While archaeological investigations at Mount Vernon have occurred since the 1930s, the majority of collections are from the professional archaeology program established in 1987 and a survey of the property conducted in 1984 and 1985. Excavations have yielded over a million artifacts providing a rich assemblage to study the intertwined lives of the plantation community: enslaved individuals, hired white workers, and Washington family members. Since the department’s inception we have excavated significant sites within Mount Vernon’s historic core including the south grove midden, a large concentration of trash associated with the Washington family from c. 1735–1765, and the House for Families cellar, the main slave dwelling used from c.1760—1793 located at Washington’s Mansion House Farm. Archaeological excavation and research has contributed to the re-discovery and reconstruction of George Washington’s whiskey distillery, a major operation which may have been the largest one of its kind in the United States by the close of the 18th century.

A visitor to the Estate. Photo Cred: Karen Price

Our archeology team is part of the Preservation Division of the larger Mount Vernon Department of Historic Preservation and Collections. Esther White directs our division, with archaeological fieldwork under the supervision of Deputy Director for Archaeology Eleanor Breen and Assistant Director for Archaeological Research Luke Pecoraro. Karen Price is our lab manager and photographer, and Leah Stricker serves as the field crew chief. Within the division is Deputy Director for Architectural History Thomas Reinhart, assisted by his staff of architectural conservator Steve Stuckey, and preservation technicians Elizabeth Rival and Caroline Spurry. Our staff also includes Eric Benson, who manages our GIS and viewshed preservation efforts. With our small staff we work together to fulfill the goals of our department to maintain, research, and manage the valuable historic resources at Mount Vernon.

The Mansion and Bowling Green after snowfall. Photo Cred: Karen Price

Current fieldwork will return us to the south grove this summer to fully investigate the transformation of the space form a work yard to a formal landscaped area, and we will continue an ongoing program of public archaeology in the estate’s slave cemetery. Our survey of the slave cemetery is an attempt to better understand the layout and number of individuals interred in a plot located just 200 feet south of the Washington family tomb. Our field and labwork keeps us busy year-round, and we regularly post updates via our FaceBook page—Historic Preservation at Mount Vernon—and invite you to follow us. An intensive evaluation of the finds from the south grove midden including high-quality artifact photographs was launched in web form recently and can be viewed here: http://www.mountvernonmidden.org/. Our website provides a great resource for these sites and programs in addition to the other activities going on at Mount Vernon: http://www.mountvernon.org/research-collections/archaeology/.For those of you who want to join us in the field this summer, check out our field school in historic preservation – http://www.mountvernon.org/research-collections/archaeology/volunteer-or-intern-with-the-archaeology-team/.


Famed 19th-century orator Edward Everett once remarked “A visit to the National Capital is but half made unless it includes the home and tomb of Washington.” When you make the trip to attend next year’s annual meeting, we hope that you will take some extra time for a visit to George Washington’s Mount Vernon. 





































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