Dig Day #11: Lab Day. Not ALL Discoveries are Made in the Field

William Pizzimenti

will-fig-1Figure 1 Lab Day #2 Everyone hard at work cleaning artifacts.

This week was our second meeting in the lab, and at the start of class each group still had artifacts to clean from their excavation units. We could not start cleaning new artifact until our artifacts from the week before were taken off the drying area. Most of the cleaned and dried artifacts were sorted first by their material type, (for example all glass items going into a Ziploc bag labeled glass). However, not all metal artifacts were placed into the same bag; metal artifacts were categorized as either nails or other metals.  Once the drying areas were cleared each group started to clean their remaining artifacts.

For this week’s blog post, I asked members from each group to share with me a few of their favorite artifacts that they found in their units. In Lot 7, they found a collection of toy fragments which was consisted of a doll’s arm, a clay marble, and wheel from a toy vehicle. Another highlight from Lot 7 is a 1923 Buffalo Head Nickel, a coin highly desired by coin collectors.

will-figure-2     will-figure-2b

Figure 2. The Group in Lot 7 found a Buffalo Head Nickel from 1923.

Lot 13 must have been the place to party back in the day. There the group found large quantities of glass bottle fragments, pull tabs, and alcohol-related bottle caps. One of the highlights from this unit is a Stroh’s beer bottle cap. The other is a Dewar’s Scotch Whiskey bottle cap. Lot 13 also found a Verner’s bottle cap another beverage company rooted in Detroit. These are only a sample from the collection of bottle caps that were found in this unit.


Figure 3. Lot 13 found a Stroh’s Brewery bottle cap. Stroh’s Brewery was founded in Detroit.


Figure 4. Found in Lot 13 a Dewar’s whiskey bottle cap

By the time I got to Lot 14’s group they had finished cleaning all of their artifacts and were starting to help Lot 7 process their artifacts. They told me that in Lot 14 they found a lot of nails in their unit, along with architectural material fragments and some ceramic sherds. While they were cleaning off Lot 7’s artifacts they showed me a number lock fragments, which were scattered throughout their unit.


Figure 5. The team from Lot 7 was helping Lot14 clean off artifacts and found a number of lock fragments.

Last but not least is Lot 15, there was a variety of objects found in this unit, from a shotgun shell to clay marbles, to glass shards and ceramic fragments. One of the highlights from this week is a piece of whiteware pottery with brown transfer print on it, which probably dates to the mid-19th century.


Figure 6. Lot 15 Whiteware pottery with brown transfer print.

This week, all of the groups worked hard and even helped each other finish cleaning their artifacts. Next week is our last class meeting before the final presentations, and we will spend the class period collecting data on our house lot assemblages and preparing for our final project research.


Dig Day #10: Into the Lab

Terri Renaud

Now that the fieldwork is over, it’s time to head into the lab to begin processing and interpreting our finds. The artifactual finds from all of the house lots will be examined and stored in Wayne State University’s Grosscup Museum of Anthropology and archaeology laboratory.

Today was our first lab day and we spent it cleaning the artifacts and setting them up to dry. The cleaning was performed in two ways: wet and dry brushing (Figures 1 and 2). The wet brushing is done by using a toothbrush to clean objects such as ceramics, bone, and glass that won’t be damaged by water. No soap or chemicals were used.  Dry brushing also uses a toothbrush, but it is used for metals or fabrics that would be damaged by the water.

artifact-cleaning-2Figures 1 and 2. Students remained in their previous excavation teams to clean the artifacts they discovered in the field. Additional WSU student volunteers also aided in the effort.artifact-cleaning

During the excavations the artifacts were collected and stored based on the context in which they were discovered. Each findspot or context was assigned a number in the field. Maintaining the association between artifacts and this context number as they are cleaned and examined is extremely important for our future analyses.  Each artifact storage bag had been carefully labeled with as much information as possible, including the house lot number, the date, and the initials of the excavators. When the artifacts are removed from the bags, we make sure the information stays with them by re-writing it on labels and new clean bags.  At no time do we want confusion about an artifact’s findspot.  We used sharpies and masking tape to label every surface where the artifacts were laid out to dry (Figure 3).


Figure 3. Artifacts were labeled and placed out to dry. Drying takes at least 24 hours.

Since our lab day was constricted by time and since we found so many artifacts this season, some of the processing work will continue next week.  Next Monday we will be finishing up the cleaning and beginning our research on the objects themselves.

Dig Day #9: Backfill Day!

Mallory Moore

November 14th was a very eventful day for all of the excavation teams here at Roosevelt Park. This day was our very last chance to dig as we backfilled all of our units after an hour into the class period. After today we will not be returning to Roosevelt Park this semester. Even with this limited dig time, all of the teams were very productive.

The Lot 7 team found a great deal of plaster, wood, nails, and remnants of the house’s wall that once stood in the area. The team began to hit sterile soil in the northwest corner and found this layer throughout their entire unit towards the end of our dig time.

The Lot 13 team uncovered a metal pipe with an unidentified purpose in their unit going from west to east in their unit. This team also fully excavated the brick column in the center of their unit. They believe this column’s purpose was to support the house structure rather than an outbuilding because of how well-built and sturdy it is (Figure 1). The metal pipe is believed to have been placed their well after the column was placed, as indicated by the different soil layers around the pipe.


Figure 1: Column and pipe from Lot 13

The Lot 15 team worked on completing a .5 meter by .5 meter shovel test pit in their area because they had missed the outbuilding they had aimed for when completing their standard sized unit. The team discovered a broken tobacco pipe bowl, a large iron stake or nail, and a good amount of brick and mortar. The building materials indicate they were in an area where a small structure once stood.
Lastly, my team in Lot 14 dug for a brief amount of time to confirm we had reached the sterile soil, and once we did we were able to stop. Once we cleaned up the walls and completed all of the final recording details, we were able to remove all of the artifacts protruding from the walls. We discovered several bricks and nails, a few bones, and a piece of transfer-printed ceramic. Along with removing the artifacts, our team was able to excavate the hole in the north wall of out unit to determine if anything else could be learned from the inside (Figure 2). There were not markings or artifacts in the hole so its purpose is still unknown at the present time.


Figure 2: Excavated hole from Lot 14 with a trowel for scale

After the first hour of digging, all units had to stop and begin the process of documenting and mapping their units. Each unit team had to photograph all of the walls and pick one of the walls to do a scale drawing of on graph paper identifying the different soil layers. After this process the artifacts were removed from the walls of every unit and backfilling began. We put all of the dirt that was removed over the last few weeks back into the units. This process is important to the field of archaeology because as much as we want to learn from the past, it is also important to preserve the land for the future.

Dig Day #8: Final Dig Day

Allison Hebel 

As the last dig day drew near, ambitious groups trekked out early Monday morning to excavate.

The group working in Lot 15, who completely excavated their unit last Monday (October 31st), opened a new unit in Lot 16 (Area 3). Although their last unit in Lot 15 produced relatively few artifacts, their new unit turned out to have quite the surprise. They discovered an intact creamer thought to be made of white ironstone (Figures 1 and 2). It is rare to find anything intact in the field. What can this creamer say about the previous residents’ dining practices?


Figure 1: The size of the creamer


 Figure 2: An inside look at the creamer from Lot 16

The ladies of Lot 13 also began early on Monday. The pressure to make progress and finish their unit drove them. After clearing the crumbly brick and mortar debris out of the unit, the group discovered a column made of four full intact bricks and one half brick (Figure 3). The brick column is a lot smaller in terms of its width than previously imagined, but much deeper – it continues downward for at least four more bricks. What made these bricks stay intact and the ones on top disintegrate? The race to expose the depth of the column will drive them out again early next Monday.


Figure 3: Brick column in Lot 13

It was all hands on deck in Lot 7. Breaking through their thick clay layer and closing their unit was their top priority. The students’ goal was “to dig as fast as humanly possible”. To all of our excitement, they discovered a large piece of decorated wall plaster or paper! Once dried and examined this will tell us something about this house’s interior design. They plan to return early next Monday before digging closes for the season.

Team Bones in Lot 14 also made a lucky find. They discovered a tobacco pipe bowl with a partial stem attached (Figure 4). What can this pipe tell us about personal habits? This group planned to excavate to the bottom of the privy chamber discovered last week, which extends 119cm from the grass to the ground. They made a lot of progress today.   


Figure 4: The pipe bowl and stem from Lot 14

This was a day of exciting discoveries, but a bittersweet day because it is the end of the excavation season. Before we fill in our units next week, most of us will be here early racing against the clock to make our final discoveries and finish excavating. Until next time!