Friday, October 12, 2012

Solving Histories Mysteries

Visitors to our blog for the past month or so have followed our archaeological investigation at Fort Hunter Mansion and Park where we have been searching for evidence of a French and Indian War period fort. This is our last full week at the site (36Da159) which will soon be covered and secured for another year. We have been able to share our enthusiasm for the investigation with a steady stream of visitors to the site and some of them have come back to volunteer with the excavation. Many young visitors stared in awe at the exposed well and mounds of dirt. Hopefully, all were left with a new appreciation for archaeology and the heritage of our past.

Young visitors at our excavation on Indian Festival Day 2012

Screened soil which will be used to backfill part of the excavation block.

Indian Festival Day Atlatl Demonstration

The investigation of the well was wrapped up this week. The bottom of the well was at 35.83 BD (below datum). The soil matrix was the same - ash and cinders - for the bottom 26 feet and the artifacts were all late 19th and early 20th century in age. We recovered parts of an oil lamp spread out between 12 and 15 feet in the well suggesting that it was filled rather quickly. If this well was associated with the fort and any fort related materials were discarded into it, we believe those materials were probably cleaned out when Colonel McAllister made improvements to the property beginning in the late 1780’s.

Stones jutting out fron corner of the ice house, upper left side of photo.

The rocks that seem to be an extension of the icehouse over the well will be investigated at the end of the week. There are various theories as to their function and we would like to investigate them further to resolve those questions.

Earthen fill exposed on back side of builders trench for well.

We continue to be impressed with the size of the well pit and the complexity of its design. The well shaft is 32-34 inches in diameter and the large cobbles forming the shaft are about 18 inches wide. Behind the cobbles is a 15 inch wide layer of packed pebbles. This week we discovered that the pebbles are supported by a layer of earthen fill about 12 inches wide. Digging the well did not simply involved excavating a hole large enough to hold the cobbles lining the shaft but in fact started with a hole 10 – 11 feet wide and up to 35 feet deep. This amounts to 3,324 cubic feet or 123 tons of rock and soil – all removed by hand.

Excavated feature No. 63 in north end of block.

Tin glaze ceramics and a gun flint were recovered from a linear feature in the northern most unit of our excavation block. Although it mostly contains 19th century artifacts, there may be other features in this area that date to the 18th century. This will be an area that we would like to potentially investigate in 2013.

Front yard feature, possible road/ditch.

We are continuing to investigate a road/ditch-like feature in the front yard. This feature was initially identified in 2010 and additional testing in the area will continue next year.

                                      Short video of our investigation of the well shaft, feature 49

We are finished with our excavation this Friday. Plans for covering the site include backfilling the southern portion of the excavation block and shoring the walls of the northern section. The well will be partially backfilled but remain open for one more year in order to continue our investigation of its construction. It also facilitates drainage in the excavation block.

Our excavations are coming to an end for this year, but the investigation will continue for months to come. The artifacts will be washed, labeled, identified, inventoried and researched. The field maps will be digitized and compared with prior year’s maps to search for patterns which might indicate stockade lines, or additional features. The photographs will be cataloged and paper documentation organized and filed for another year; preserving our findings for future archaeological research. Analysis and comparison of the recovered artifacts with those from other French and Indian War period sites, which have undergone archaeological investigations, will help us to formulate a plan for next year’s investigation.

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

1 comment:

  1. the video of excavating the well was fantastic!!!