Friday, September 16, 2011

Excavation begins at Fort Hunter

Clean-up has begun at the Fort Hunter excavation site, as it has most places in the midstate following last week’s historic flooding up and down the Susquehanna River. After re-establishing the site grid and outlining the perimeter of the excavation block, the next order of business was to remove the overburden, or backfill, covering the site. This was accomplished with the help of a front end loader skillfully operated by Dauphin County Parks maintenance man Doug Killian. Thanks to Doug for making quick work of the first two feet or so of heavily compacted backfill on top of our site.

The heavy machinery was then traded for spade shovels and smaller hand tools to carefully remove the remaining overburden, revealing the layer of plastic that had been laid down marking the extent of last season’s excavation. As this process continues the excavation block walls will be cut and trimmed to be as vertical as possible, and the floor will be “clean troweled” or lightly scraped with a masons trowels to remove any residual accumulation of debris.

Once the excavation block has been made orderly and presentable, the actual archaeology can resume. This will begin with filling out an excavation record or “square sheet” for each 5’x5’ unit within the block. Accurate record keeping and consistent note taking are the essential activities that separate professional archaeology from the casual arrowhead collecting or relic hunting.

Information to be recorded on the square sheets includes: the site name and number, the northing and easting coordinates of the unit, the beginning elevation or depth as measured from the ground surface or a designated datum point, soil color and texture, the natural soil layer or stratigraphy, the arbitrary level (in our case 3” increments) within the natural soil layer, a notation of any features or artifacts present within the unit, and of course the date of excavation and the initials of the excavator(s).

Taking the time to record this information ensures that the context in which artifacts are discovered is retained, and this in turn allows the archaeologist to analyze their spatial relationship to one another after they have been removed from the ground. Beyond the objects themselves, the science of archaeology concerns itself with where things are found, and what inferences can be drawn from their distribution. Without accurate record keeping this type of analysis is impossible.

Another rain day has slowed our progress opening the excavation block for the 2011 season, however this Sunday, September 18th is Fort Hunter Day at Fort Hunter Mansion and Park, and the Section of Archaeology staff and volunteers will be on hand to answer questions about the archaeology conducted at Fort Hunter to date and to begin this season’s excavation in earnest. Stop by and enjoy a fun and informative day at Fort Hunter this Sunday.

For more information, visit or the Hall of Anthropology and Archaeology at The State Museum of Pennsylvania .

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