Intro to the Roosevelt Park Excavation Blog


Welcome to the Roosevelt Park 2014 Excavation Blog! This blog features weekly posts authored by students who are part of the current excavation team at Roosevelt Park in the Corktown neighborhood of Detroit. Roosevelt Park stands in front of the ruins of the Michigan Central Train Station (MCS) and was originally designed to serve as a grand esplanade welcoming arriving train passengers to the city.

2012 excavations

Roosevelt Park stands in front of the ruins of the Michigan Central Station (closed in 1988).

The construction of the MCS between 1911-13 and Roosevelt Park in 1918-19 involved the demolition and forced displacement of over 200 working-class households and other buildings from the urban 19th-century neighborhood. Excavations at Roosevelt Park have been the focus of Dr. Ryzewski’s biennial Archaeological Field Methods class (ANT5280) in 2012 and 2014. During the fall of 2014 the class is investigating the contrasts in material culture, the area’s urban landscape, and the neighborhood’s demographics prior to and during the contentious displacement process.


Baist’s Real Estate Map (1911) and the pre-Roosevelt Park neighborhood.

The following weekly posts are designed to provide information about the process and finds of the excavations. Those interested in visiting the excavations in progress are welcome to attend the Open Day that the class will host at Roosevelt Park on Saturday October 25, between 1-3pm.

Updates of our progress are regularly posted on Wayne State Archaeology’s Corktown Facebook page and on the Unearthing Detroit project blog. Follow us on Twitter: @UnearthDetroit,  #RPdig,  @GLGMuseum.

The excavations at Roosevelt Park are part of a Wayne State research project that operates with permission from the City of Detroit. The artifacts recovered from Roosevelt Park are removed using scientific recording practices and archaeological methods. They are studied, curated, and will be exhibited in the Gordon L. Grosscup Museum of Anthropology at Wayne State University.

We ask that visitors to the Park are respectful of the excavation areas and do not disturb any of the park’s buried archaeological remains with unauthorized, illegal excavations. The objects recovered from Roosevelt Park tell the story of Detroit’s forgotten communities; if the artifacts are removed without proper archaeological procedures then these community histories will be forever lost.


Into the Lab!

By Paul Carlson and Drew Eppens

Archaeologists often say that for every day spent excavating in the field, we must spend at least one full week processing the excavated artifacts in the lab. For the next few weeks we are out of the cold weather and working in the warm lab. After several wonderful weeks of excavating, it is time to clean off the dirt and see what we uncovered.

5-1Artifacts before cleaning

In class this week we started by dividing into our excavation groups, with the complete collection of artifacts recovered from our sites. Once in our groups, Dr. Ryzewski gave us a quick overview of what we would be doing and the techniques that we would be using to clean our artifacts.

Certain artifacts, like metal objects and textiles, were not able to be cleaned with water due to the delicate nature of the material. These pieces were instead cleaned using a method called “dry brushing”. This technique consisted of using a small brush to carefully remove and dirt or other buildup that may be obscuring the artifact. Some more intricate artifacts required the use of a dental pick to clean hard-to-reach areas and to define features.

1-1 Mark delicately removes dirt from a battery

The majority of the artifacts recovered were nails. An artifact of interest that was dry brushed included a straight razor used for shaving. After brushing the rust off, we then took the dental pick to remove more of the rust from the crevice to reveal the identity of the artifact.

2-1a straight shaving razor!

Other artifacts, such as pottery and glass, were “wet brushed” with was similar to dry brushing except for the use of water in addition to the brush. This technique was faster than dry brushing and cleaned the artifacts much more thoroughly.

3-1Artifact washing

One of the more interesting artifacts that was wet brushed was a piece of transfer printed ceramic found in Area 1, Lot 4. This was an rim sherd, which is important because we can discover the original size of the vessel that the ceramic sherd is from based on the curvature of the rim’s edge.

4-1Brown transfer-printed rim

Once clean, the artifacts were arranged on a plastic sheet to dry for a minimum of 24 hours.  This was to ensure that any artifacts that were wet brushed had time to dry, in the event that the water weakened the artifact in any way.

6Artifacts drying

Artifacts were arranged according to type and context, in order to preserve the order that the artifacts were recovered. Over the next few weeks we will continue to process our finds by cleaning, quantifying, and researching them.

Stay tuned over the next month for posts featuring the Object Biographies that we are preparing about some of the “special finds” from the excavation.

Dig Day #9 – Our Last Day Excavating!

By Gagan Dhillon

November 10, 2014 was our last day in the field. It was a very cold and windy day, but none of us wanted it to be our last of excavating. Every team had a plan to keep digging until 2:40, then do closing paperwork, followed by back filling.


Sam and Katie draw the profile of their unit’s wall in Lot 3

In Area 1, the Lot 3 team was very busy working against the clock to finish up last minute details. The most important thing on their minds was to finish excavating today. Having reached context RP106, they were finding less artifacts. In this layer they also found a trench that started on the south end and angled toward the trash heap along the unit’s north end.  They also added another bottle to their collection – a medicine bottle that held a cure for the kidney, liver and bladder illnesses.

post2Mark prepares the Lot 4 Unit 1 wall for a profile drawing.

The team in Lot 4 Unit 1 were in the home stretch at the beginning of class and focused mainly on drawing their wall profile. Their excavations didn’t hit sterile soil, but there were patches of it peaking through. Feature 9, which the group believes is a post hole, still continued while feature 8 was fully excavated. A small bag of artifacts containing a few pieces of glass and ceramics was all that was found in Lot 4 today.

post3Lot 4, STP 2 located a sprinkler pipe installed at the park in the 1920s

Meanwhile, STP 2 in Lot 4 revealed building materials (a big chunk of brick) and a pipe running north to south of the STP. The group believes this is a pipe from the park’s early sprinkler system, which was installed in the 1920s.


Lot 11 at the end of excavations

In Area 2, the team at Lot 11  were in the process of cleaning up and taking profile pictures when I interviewed them. They hadn’t found any artifacts this week.


Lorin draws Lot 12’s stratigraphy

The crew at Lot 12 was busy mapping their stratigraphy. They also conducted a nearby STP in which found fragments of pottery and a bottle fragment.

In Lot 10, the team finished their wall profile and excavated up to RP94. They found a cement floor pieces, bricks, metal and some ceramic bits.

After the final paperwork was done we started to fill in the units that we spent weeks carefully digging. Many students had grown attached to their units and made sure to take group photos with their lot crews before backfilling them. Our next class will be our first lab day!

Dig Day #8

By Samantha Malette and Erica Atkinson

November 3rdDig Day 8 – was the last full day that the class could devote to excavating our units. Luckily, the sun decided to shine for most of the day, and some students arrived a bit early to get a jumpstart on the day’s work, as there was a lot to do!

Fig1Paul arrives early on site to help Unit 1 Lot 3 sort out their finds.

In Area 1:

The group that finished digging Unit 2 in Lot 4 from last week dug a shovel test pit to compare the stratigraphy in the soil to what they found in Unit 2. The result? There was no noticeable ash layer in the STP, like there was in the unit, suggesting no burning happened in that area. They found artifacts that included a hinge, marble, drinking glass, and many architectural materials.

Unit 1 in Lot 4 continued to dig out the two features from last week. In the smaller feature, an animal scapula and some small ceramic pieces were recovered. After these were taken care of, the team dug down 25cm in their current context layer…finding no artifacts! The soil was an ashy gray, changing into an orangey gray.


Fig2It’s a tight squeeze for Unit 1 in Lot 4 as they dig deeper.

Unit 2 in Lot 3 was also very busy with a lot of dirt to move! In the northern half of the unit, it was a flurry of artifact recovery – exciting finds included another shoe, some medicinal bottles, and faunal remains. This supports yet again that this is, in fact, a trash dump – but could it be a filled in privy? Digging in the southern half of the unit, three small features emerged, but these didn’t end up being very interesting artifact-wise. By the end of the day, they were at a context that looked very similar to the one over in Unit 1 in Lot 4.

Image 3A hog’s jawbone, with large tusk-like teeth, recovered in Lot 3 at the beginning of the day.

In Area 2:

Today was good for Lot 10; they hit the foundation in their excavation unit. They came across a very thick ash layer. In their north half of their unit there was a thick iron deposit containing as nails and tin can remains. In the southern portion of the unit they found a concrete basement floor and a broken piece of drain pipe.

lot 10Lot 10 hits a concrete basement floor!

Lot 11 made great progress. They went to work to progress through the current context to the next clay layer that was coming up across the whole excavation unit. In Lot 11 they found glass, bone, lots of nails and mortar. In their southwest wall they found a chain that eventually fell out while cleaning out the wall.

lot 11Lot 11 after the day’s worth of excavations.

Lot 12 was having a productive day in their excavation unit. They came across a giant ceramic drainpipe that was intact. The pipe dates to the 19th century and is no longer in use. Since they are nearly done excavating their unit, the Lot 12 team found less artifacts. Near the Lot 12 excavation unit the team dug a shovel test pit in which they found very different soil layers and more architectural remains than in Unit 1.

lot 12The 19th-century drain pipe in Lot 12.

What is left to discover next week? Will Lot 3 get to the bottom of their junk pile? Stay tuned for our final day in the field– when we have to fill it all in!