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!

Dig Day #7: Spooktacular Digging

Happy Halloween….and Happy Excavating!

Hanne Willeck

October 31 was another cool fall day in the field.  In keeping with the holiday, we began with some spooky finds – a mysteriously cracked brick in Lot 13, and dead black squirrel next to the Lot 7 excavation unit!

The Lot 13 team continued to excavate around a large brick and mortar pedestal (Figure 1).  This appears to have been a support base for the corner of a structure that previously stood on the site.


Figure 1:  Brick and mortar pedestal in Lot 13

In Lot 15, the team finished digging their third layer of soil and continued into a very orange fourth soil layer.  After finding very few artifacts in both layers, it was decided that excavation would stop on this unit.  They will begin digging a new unit in a different area next week.

Nearby in Lot 14, another interesting feature was uncovered, this time a large circular hole along the north wall (Figure 2).  This may be from a drainage pipe that was part of an early plumbing system.  The hole continues more than 20 inches straight down into the ground.


Figure 2:  Circular feature in Lot 14 with one of our excavators standing in as a scale model

In Lot 7, the line of rocks from the possible wall was removed and excavation began into the clay layer underneath.  By the end of the day, the north side had revealed a darker soil section next to a sandy section containing small mortar and plaster bits.  Further investigation will continue next week.

All teams added to their collections of research artifacts with glass, ceramic, nails, metal, brick, and animal bone.  The day’s top find came out of Lot 13 – two pieces of jaw bone (Figure 3)!  This may have been from a young goat, since the teeth were still sharp and the middle section of the bone had not fused.


Figure 3:  Two pieces of jaw bone recovered from Lot 13

Only a couple field days remain.  Stay tuned to see what else we uncover!

Open Day: Nadine’s Post

Nadine Duchaine

Our archaeology Open Day was held on Saturday October 29. It was a typical Michigan fall day in that it was cool, windy and cloudy. With dark clouds rolling in we were nervous that it would rain but it held out in our favor!

It was an active day but everyone took breaks to share information with our dozens of visitors about Roosevelt Park and the community that once stood here. Visitors included family, fellow students and a curious public making up to least 80 people! Fellow archaeologists from Wayne State and nearby colleges came to look as well. All the teams spent time in their lots showing visitors what we do here.

Team Trowel in lot 13 had an exposed brick feature in the south wall of the unit. Possibly a wall? They will uncover this mystery next week when the team expands the unit. They found a fragments of flower pots and faunal remains.

Team Stratigraphy in lot 7 found a metal pipe post hole in the southern section of the unit. So far the team uncovered nails, bottles, glass and architectural material. The team had to break out some new tools, a pix axe, in order to start breaking through the clay deposit.

In lot 15, Team Plumbob, found large faunal remains, ceramics and many rusty nails! The team is in their 3rd context layer and no end in sight to the items they are finding.

Lot 14, Team Bones, my team and I were lucky enough to have no odor during Open Day. But it looks like we hit a trash deposit. Animal bones, rivet to a shoe, ceramics and many metal items were just a few things found. The daughter of our teammate Terri, informed us that our lot was also a Pokestop!

Open Day: Gavin’s Post

Open Day: Can You Dig It?

Gavin Swantick

Saturday, October 29th, a beautifully warm autumn day, was Wayne State Archaeology’s biannual Open Day.  The purpose of opening the site to the public is to educate the community about archaeology and how it applies to their everyday lives.

Guests from all over the Greater Detroit area visited the site at Roosevelt Park.  Among the various attendees were Wayne State Anthropology Department faculty and alumni, family and friends of current students working at the dig, and members of the public at large (Figure 1).


Figure 1: Visitors during Open Day view the excavations at Lot 7.

Additionally, Eric Seals of the Detroit Free Press was present to conduct interviews and to take photographs for an article about the event which was published on Sunday, October 30.  Those who attended the event were able to see active excavation work along with various artifacts which had been previously unearthed from the park’s numerous excavation sites (Figure 2).  Many attendees expressed a newfound interest in archaeology, especially in an urban setting.  Other visitors were surprised that a neighborhood had ever existed on the site of Roosevelt Park.


Figure 2: Dr. Ryzewski explains the process of site profiling to Open Day patrons.

Overall, the public seemed impressed with what has been unearthed so far, and showed great support for Wayne State Archaeology.  For example, Dr. Suzanne Baker of Oakland Community College commented that she “thought the students did an excellent job presenting [their excavations] and answering questions” (Figure 3). She also said that her daughter, a high school senior interested in archaeology, was excited to attend.  The purpose of the Open Dig Day is both to inform and educate the public about the importance of archaeology in Detroit, and in that sense, the event was a rousing success.


Figure 3: Kailey McAlpin shows off artifacts found at Roosevelt Park to Open Day guests.


Dig Day #6: Features in Full Swing

Kailey McAlpin

Monday, October 24th was another successful day in the field for WSU archaeology students!

Team Trowel in Lot 13 spent the day excavating a feature made up of primarily architectural material (Figure 1).  The feature could possibly be part of a foundation wall, but is unusual in that artifacts were discovered on, under, and within the feature!  Stay tuned as Team Trowel continues to uncover more about their mysterious architectural feature.figure-1Figure 1: WSU archaeology student Ashlee Jed and WSU archaeology Professor Dr. Ryzewski hard at work in Lot 13

In Lot 14, Team Bones was busy digging up a feature of their own (Figure 2).  Diggers found a great deal of artifacts while excavating the feature, including animal bones, metal, coal, a pumpkin seed, and animal teeth.  It looks like Team Bones may have stumbled upon a trash deposit and we can’t wait to see what types of artifacts they discover next!

figure-2Figure 2: Terri Renaud, member of Team Bones, carefully unearths the feature in Lot 14

Next door in Lot 15, Team Plumbob made great progress transitioning from their second to their third soil layer (Figure 3).  Within these soil layers, students found some special artifacts, which included an eyelet, pieces of fabric, a brick, pieces of decorated pottery, and animal bones.  Due to the scattered distribution of artifacts, Team Plumbob believes that their excavation unit may be situated in the backyard of what was once a residential property.  Only time (and more digging) will tell!

figure-3Figure 3: Team Plumbob sifting soil with the Michigan Central Station in the background

Over in Lot 7, my team (Team Stratigraphy) was busy unearthing two features that appeared in the second soil layer (Figure 4).  The first feature included a row of large rocks surrounded by clay and may have been used to level the ground in order to build the foundation of a house.  The second feature was a circular, yellow discoloration in the soil and may indicate that either a metal pipe or a post hole was once placed there.  The second soil layer also yielded high volumes of artifacts, leading Team Stratigraphy to believe that their excavation unit may be part of the backyard and the foundation of the house that once made up a residential property.

figure-4Figure 4: Zack Diedrich and Hanne Willeck, members of Team Stratigraphy, sifting soil and photographing architectural features in Lot 7

Will Team Trowel figure out what their feature represents?  What will Team Plumb-Bob discover in their third soil layer?  Why were there so many artifacts discarded next to the house on Lot 7?  And what ever happened to that weird smell in Lot 14?!  We’ll keep you posted with the answers to these questions and more as we continue to excavate Roosevelt Park!

Dig Day #5: International Visitors

Tameshja Brooks

With nice weather and the help from our friends from the University of Windsor across the river, each lot got a lot accomplished at Roosevelt Park today. Unfortunately, Lot 14 was still dealing with the awful smell from last week, but soldiering through it they uncovered a deposit that would turn out to be a pit-like feature (a trench for a privy?). They also found a flower pot fragment and began to reach their next context in the northwest corner. Clinker, glass and bone were sifted out with help from Sam and Nicole from University of Windsor’s history class on Detroit in the 1880’s. Brody, another student from Professor Huffaker’s class, also helped them trowel around a brick that appeared in their northwest corner.

fig1Figure 1. Professor Shauna Huffaker from the University of Windsor’s History Department assists in sifting in Lot 7. 

Nearby in Lot 15, our diggers thought they were right on point in finding the outhouse in their house lot. While working through their second soil layer they found wood planks, glass, and most notably a large animal bone fragment.

fig2aFigure 2. Lot 15’s animal bone fragment.

On top of these finds the students feel confident they are right above their next context layer, which means careful digging and more paperwork in their future.

Over in Lot 7, a lot of items related to past inhabitants’ leisure activities were found. The students uncovered things like marbles, a die, and a wheel possibly from a toy. These artifacts  may link to children of the families that once lived there.

Last but not least, my Lot 13 made great headway on the multiple context layers that threw us into a paperwork frenzy last week. We expanded our excavation unit in order to expose the feature we thought to be a trash pit and, it yielded many artifacts, just as we hoped.

fig2Figure 3. Lot 13 preparing to expand the excavation unit.

In summary, each group walked away from the day with a lot of discoveries and goals for next week’s class. Check us out next week to find out more about our progress here at Roosevelt Park. And don’t forget to mark your calendars for our Open Day on Saturday October 29, from 1-3pm!

fig4Figure 4. Cute puppy helper / mascot of Lot 14. 


Dig Day #4: Artifacts Galore!

Lisette Wittbrodt

Monday, October 10th was another great day for digging. The day started off a little chilly but once we got going, the sun warmed us right up. All the groups made some exciting finds and lots of progress today!

The group in Lot 14 was continuing to uncover their outbuilding, and unfortunately could smell the decaying body of an animal somewhere in their unit. They didn’t find the smelly animal, but did uncover sherds of paned glass, an oyster shell, construction materials and faunal remains, including one very large, fractured bone sticking out of the north wall, which made the smell worth tolerating.

Lot 7 is broken up into two groups. The first, working on STP 4 at the corner of an outbuilding, found a very large ceramic sherd, as well as a mostly intact arm of a porcelain baby doll. They found these artifacts in their second layer, and hope to find a clay layer next, which would possibly mean they’ve located the floor surface of the outbuilding.

The other group working in Lot 7 decided to expand their third STP into a full unit measuring 1m x 1.5m. The group is working along the former corner of the house, which was once the main architectural feature on the property. They had much success with their artifact recovery, collecting toys, including a red die made of glass and a metal wheel about 2 inches in diameter, possibly belonging to a toy truck. The students working here also found a nickel from the 1920s with a buffalo on one side and a Native American’s head on the other, lots of bottle caps, colored glass, faunal remains and ceramics. They found their artifacts in the first soil layer of their unit.

Over in Lot 13, the group exposed the base of a feature they presumed to be a trash pit. The feature extends all the way up the south wall (figure 1) from the top of the fourth soil layer. They were also busy discovering pieces of ceramic and structural materials extending out from the south and west walls, as well as a pale brick on the north wall. They did a lot of work classifying and documenting all of their finds today.


Figure 1: Feature on south wall of Lot 13 outbuilding.

My group split up to work today. Two of our members continued to work in Area 3 at STP 5. They found a large piece of wood three soil layers down that cut straight across their hole going east to west. They had to cut it out to proceed. Also in their third context, they found two bones – one was part of an animal’s arm – and the other one had a more irregular shape and may have been part of a vertebrae (figure 2).


Figure 2: Animal vertebrae bone found in STP 5, Area 3.

Brendan and I worked in Area 1 with everyone else. We started a new unit today in Lot 15 after estimating measurements based on our maps and selecting a likely artifact-rich spot near an old outbuilding on a house lot that once faced 14th Street. Just in our first layer we found several bottle-caps, a shotgun bullet casing, a 1977 nickel, part of a broken comb, and a red button, along with many other artifacts (figure 3). We also found a lot of glass sherds, including some colored and textured pieces, and a small piece of milk-glass which may be a piece broken off from a teacup handle.


Figure 3: Various artifacts collected from Lot 15.

Overall, this was a productive day, and each group made great finds and collected artifacts to contribute to our research for the rest of the semester!

Please mark your calendars for our Open Day at Roosevelt Park on Saturday October 29, from 1-3pm. All are welcome to come and see our excavations in progress, and to learn more about the site from the Wayne State students participating on the dig. (This event is weather permitting and won’t be held if there is rain).