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!

Dig Day #7

By Cecelia Murrell-Harvey and Katie Korth

Our excavations continued on Dig Day #7, October 27th. It happened to be a wonderfully mild fall afternoon with perfect working conditions. This was our second to last day excavating, so we made the most of the surprisingly good weather and worked extra hard.

Over in Area 1, Lot 4 stayed busy with their two units that are positioned at the front and rear of an old stable. Unit 1 began their day by drawing a plan detailing each layer and its measurements, and then starting a new context layer. The new layer was darker than previous layers, seemed very nutrient rich, and did not contain a lot of artifacts. The team took a soil core sample to see if lighter soil containing more artifacts was located beneath, but this was not the case. This layer was labeled as a feature and samples were taken to the lab to be tested, because this rich soil layer just may contain manure which would provide more evidence that we are excavating a stable.

1398Lot 4, Unit 1

Unit 2 of Lot 4 spent Monday afternoon closing their unit after not finding artifacts for a couple of layers. The team photographed their excavation unit completely and drew profile drawings that will help with later analysis. Profile drawings are very detailed and show the soil layers and measurements of each wall of the excavation unit.

IMG_1391Lot 4, Unit 2

In Lot 3, the interesting deposits continued. After attempting to clear out one of the many context layers, the team found yet another context layer and what appears to be a continuation of a previous one. Much of the afternoon was spent bringing the context layers to an equal plane and excavating out some more delicate artifacts, like complete bottles, faunal remains, and an almost completely intact shoe!

IMG_1400Intact shoe from Lot 3, Unit 1

The three teams on the other side of the park in Area 2 came up with some interesting finds this week. The Lot 10 team uncovered a large drainage pipe in their 1×1 unit. This could mean the team is excavating a privy, and that the artifacts in their unit have not been disturbed they were thrown in the privy.

amandaAmanda excavating in Lot 10

 The Lot 11 team found lots of iron artifacts and bones this week, standard for our excavations so far. They thought the day was shaping up to be unremarkable, but then they found a 2 cent coin piece with the date of 1865! The coin will be helpful as they date the context layers in their unit, since the coin couldn’t have been deposited until 1865 or later.

1865 coinTwo cent coin from 1865

The Lot 12 team continued with their unit and started a shovel test pit 5 meters from the unit.   According to the maps, their unit should contain a privy, but so far the mixed soil is puzzling and it might mean they’ve been excavating backfill from when 16th street was moved. They are hoping that a few shovel test pits will reveal the whereabouts of the elusive privy, because the artifacts in the privy could be more definitively connected to the people that lived on Lot 12.

kat pic

Kat working in Lot 12

We hope for good weather next week for our last full day of excavations! Is the team in Lot 4 really excavating a stable? Did the team from Lot 10 find a privy? What will the artifacts reveal about the people that lived in this neighborhood? Check back next week for more updates on these questions.

Public Open Day at the Roosevelt Park Excavations!

By Krista Eggleston and Kaitlin Scharra

On Saturday October 25th we hosted a public open day at the Roosevelt Park excavations. The highlight of our open day was being able to share our findings with the public. We had a number of activities for guests to enjoy while visiting our individual excavation units.  Visitors viewed historic maps placing the area in context and they were shown different historic artifacts that we’ve excavated over the past few weeks.  Families even got to enjoy washing finds as they were excavated to investigate the finer details. At the end of their site tours, visitors posed for group photos in front of the excavations in Area 2, and we posted an album of them on the Unearthing Detroit project’s Facebook page.

openday2The best part of the open day was that we were able to share our excavation findings and the history of Corktown with many different people who were interested in what we are learning. In addition to neighborhood residents and local families, we were visited by many fellow scholars of archaeology from other Cultural Resource Management entities and universities in the state including Western Michigan, Central Michigan, Oakland, University of Michigan and Michigan State Universities.  These interactions allowed us to discuss the difference and similarities between Roosevelt Park and other historic Michigan sites.   About 100 visitors came to Roosevelt Park for the open day. We look forward to connecting with Detroit’s communities more in the future.

openday1During the open day, in Area 1 Lot 3, several interesting artifacts were found. Near the north wall of Unit 1 there was a thin metal artifact with a paper layer attached, most likely the remnants of a tin can. Additionally a white embossed ceramic tureen lid and multiple bone fragments recovered. In this unit there was a clay ‘shelf’ along the northern wall which was also excavated. In Lot 4 Unit 1 a circular, thin iron artifact was removed, the shape of this artifact led the excavators of this unit to believe that it may have been the lid to a can. Several thin soil context layers were excavated, the last of which revealed the beginning of a new feature in the southeast corner of the unit; these thin layers appear to be similar to the layers previously excavated by the team in Unit 2. Unit 2 has dug deep enough to hit virgin soil, meaning that no more artifacts have been found.

Area 2 Lot 10 was busy digging into a very deep ash layer located along the east wall. In this ash layer bottle fragments were found, and in addition to these fragments, an intact clear rectangular bottle was discovered. The west half of the unit was also excavated and contained multiple architectural artifacts. In Lot 11 the contexts excavated here yielded numerous glass, ceramic, and bone fragments. A clay context was uncovered here and along the eastern wall the excavators have begun to dig into an oval shaped feature. Within Lot 12 a deep oval feature was also excavated and this feature included a run-off branch. The feature was along the west wall and was possibly a privy vault. In addition, a post hole was discovered on the north end of the unit. Artifacts found in this unit today were mostly of an architectural nature.

Dig Day #6

By Lorin Brace and Amanda Roach

On October 20th gray skies once again extended over Roosevelt Park as our field methods class began Day 6 of excavations. Today, however, a new team of individuals walked with us over the length of the park, this new eye that peered over our excavation units as the day progressed was a media team from Science Magazine. Their presence added to the day a healthy motivation and excitement to share archaeological knowledge with the public.


Students prepare to excavate Area 1

This week In Area 1 Lot 3, further advancement of the excavation unit exposed some interesting deposits. A number of different contexts and artifact concentrations were appearing throughout the unit. There was a very concentrated deposit of iron and nails embedded into the East wall as well as a concentration of bone and ceramic in the North. In addition to this their previous context layers started to reveal more evidence of an ash deposit in the north end of the unit.


Students excavate the different deposits in Lot 3

The two units in Lot 4 continue to exhibit many differences, despite their proximity. Unit 2 includes a large ashy burn layer with a large concentration of nails and architectural material, while Unit 1 contains multiple features with a wide range of artifacts.

10_20Photo3A well cleaned excavation unit – Lot 4 Unit 2

In Area 2, Lot 10 the team continued excavation of an architectural feature of a reasoned to be demolished wall. Below this was a distinct line that separated two contexts in the unit. A large Ash layer RP 74 was located in the Eastern region of the unit, separated by a fairly straight line delimiting a separate context RP 75.

10_20Photo4 A small toiletry bottle (of Brownatone hair dye) uncovered in Lot 10

In Lot 11 the excavation of the 1x2m started to break through the clay layer and reveal artifactual finds. There was a concentration of iron nails, brick, and coal throughout the unit. Alongside these finds, fairly large animal bone deposits were located in the east and north regions of the unit. The team is also continuing to investigate a clay formation in the Southwest.

Lot 12 finished excavating the Southern half of their unit down on top of the features that were visible in the North half. In total there were three distinct features identified in the floor of the unit. Feature 16 is particularly interesting, and appears to be some sort of trench that runs parallel to the house lot boundaries.

10_20Photo5Three different features uncovered in Lot 12

Dig Day #5

By Dovie Jenkins and Katie Orlicki

Dig Day #5, October 13th, was another rainy day but that didn’t keep us from excavating our units in Roosevelt Park. As groups continue to dig through their units more and more artifacts are being revealed, especially in Area 1. Area 1 is composed of three units in two different lots. Each unit’s excavators are continuously exposing ceramics, bricks, glass, and nails. This week’s exciting finds from Lot 4 of Area 1 included ceramic pieces from a tea cup and a small ceramic doll head that is about the size of a thumbnail. While Lot 4 is coming across a few ceramic pieces, the archaeologists in Lot 3 have come across a lot of animal bones this week. The bone fragments that have been found were identified as being from a cow and a pheasant.

1016_F1 Ceramic doll head from Unit 1 in Lot 4

As groups continue to dig and units get deeper, more interesting stratigraphy is being exposed. In Lot 3 there are a number of different context layers being uncovered at the same time. There is an ash layer from what is thought to be from two different burn pits, a layer of mottled soil around the burn pits, and there is also a reddish/orange clay layer. Units 1 and 2 in Lot 4 have also been coming across different clay stratigraphy as their units continue to increase in depth.

F2Context layers from Lot 3, Unit 1. A. Burn pit 1 consisting of ash, coal, and slag. B. Burn pit 2 made up mostly of ash and coal. C. Mottled soil surrounding both burn pits. D. Layer made up of reddish/orange clay.

Area 2 made a lot of progress, despite the bad weather. Architectural elements like brick, mortar, nails, and plaster were common materials recovered in all three units, but the distribution of these materials is quite different for each lot. Lot 10 is located in the general area of a previous structure, and they’ve recovered many whole bricks. However, they have also unearthed evidence of burning associated with these bricks. One possible interpretation of this evidence offered by the group suggests that the previous structure may have been set on fire before being demolished. In addition to bricks and other construction materials, lot 10 also discovered lovely fragments of pottery decorated with a faint “crackle” design.

F3 Pottery sherds with faint “crackle” design Lot 10, Area 2

Lot 11 once again had an enthusiastic guest excavator. They recovered many animal bones, which are likely food remains. Lot 11 also uncovered building materials, brick fragments, mortar, hinges, and nails. Yet, unlike the other excavation unit in area 2, most of these materials are fragmented. In addition to food remains and building materials, the lot 11 group also found broken bits of pottery and many types of glass.

F4Animal bones left over from the previous residents’ meals Lot 11 in Area 2

Lot 12 made considerable progress excavating their main excavation unit and their shovel test pits. They have found all kinds of materials, including brick and other building materials leftover from road construction, but they have also recovered several whole artifacts.

F5The group from lot 12 huddles around a screen in search of small or broken artifacts Lot 12 in Area 2.

Dig Day #4

By Kat Slocum

October is upon us and so is the cold rain! During our fourth dig day on October 6th everyone worked diligently to continue excavating our units, despite the inhospitable weather.

In Lot 3 of Area 1, the field team had several interesting finds including a large quantity of architectural material, animal bones, glass, and two features. In archaeology, features are defined as structures within a context layer. They may include a post hole, fire pit, privy and many other traces of the past built environment. The team in Lot 3 has hypothesized that their two features may be a fire pit and a midden (a trash deposit). Slava (pictured below) and her team worked hard last week to collect artifacts while fighting the cold rain.)

(photo 1) Slava

Pictured above is Slava Pallas, a graduate student at WSU. She is working with her team to determine the extent of the two features found in last week’s dig.

Nearby in Lot 4 there are two excavation units underway. Unit 1 has revealed a variety of architectural material and last week they even found what appears to be a fuse cover (pictured below).

(photo 2) R & SPictured above is a unique artifact with the black lettering “R & S” with a production number beneath. Future research is needed in the lab to know more.

In the second excavation unit in Lot 4, students have found some notable artifacts, including star patterned glass (pictured below).

(photo 3) Star glass Don Adzigian, holds up the newly unearthed star-patterned glass.

Area 1 is revealing a great deal of artifacts and archaeologists are working hard to sift all cultural material/artifacts from the soil in their units. It’s a dirty job, but exciting when they find something that hasn’t been seen in decades!

(photo 4) SarahSarah Beste meticulously sifts through soil and keeps an eye out for anything to be sent back to the lab for research.

Over in Area 2, the excavation teams are benefited by having some very prominent historical features guiding their excavation. To this day there are staircases leading up to the front of the houses that stood here during and prior to the construction of Michigan Central Station. These staircases located on real estate and fire safety / insurance maps, to help pinpoint research areas.

(photo 5) stairsPictured above are two of the staircases still visible under the shadow of Michigan Central Station.

The three excavation units in Area 2 are providing buckets full of artifacts. These artifacts include mostly architectural material, glassware and concrete. In Lot 12, students are noticing that their unit seems to have been covered by some sort of fill from construction. We think it may be from construction of a nearby road or even a destroyed structure in the backyard of the house. We expanded the unit in an effort to find out what the material may be from and how far it extends.

With so many things to find and so many questions remaining, it’s worth stopping by for a visit during our Open Day on from 1-3pm on October 25th. Come out, volunteer, and discover Detroit’s history right under your toes!

Dig Day #3

By Paul Carlson and Athena Zissis

Another beautiful day at Roosevelt Park in Detroit! Our second full day of excavations on September 29th yielded much information for our team. Area 1 had a particularly exciting day with each of their three units producing exciting artifacts while Area 2 also had a productive afternoon.


Excavations of Lot 12 in Area 2

In Lot 4 of  Area 1 the team in Unit 1 expanded a 50×50 cm shovel test pit (STP) into a 1X1 m excavation unit to explore a potential feature found the previous week. When opened, they found another feature, but also possible evidence of the 2011 excavations – a wooden stake marking the boundary of the alleyway! Lot 4 took advantage of some extra help and opened a second excavation unit closer to the road (Unit 2). In doing so our volunteers exposed evidence of past burning activities. Not only was ash uncovered, but also charcoal and signs of headed rocks. Included was a broken tea cup base (see photo below). Thanks to our volunteer team for helping out with the excavation of Unit 2 in Lot 4!


Teacup base from Unit 2 in Lot 4

The most exciting find of the week for Area 1 was from Unit 1 in Lot 3; a deposit of several glass bottles was uncovered at the top of a new soil context. The most unique bottle was a small cobalt blue “Bromo Seltzer” medicine bottle dating to the 1890s.


Bromo-Seltzer bottle from Lot 3, Unit 1

Like Area 1, Area 2 has three active excavation units. Lot 10, closest to the church on Rose Street, started an STP along where they believe an old alleyway and a building stood in 1915. Due to a high yield of artifacts, predominately broken glass and building materials, they chose to expand it to a 1X1m excavation unit. Lot 11, directly to the south, hopes to be uncovering part of an old outbuilding with their 1X2m unit.


Unit 1, Lot 12 is a 1x1m excavation unit

Again further south, Lot 12 is working on a 1X1m excavation unit. This unit has been quite the puzzle for the excavators. It seems that they have found a potential posthole feature which lines up with what could also be a posthole feature in Lot 10, meaning that the alleyway had been located. They found a series of artifacts including glass, ceramics, and animal bones, but what is particularly interesting about this unit are what appears to be two distinct features. These features will be explored further next week.

Looks like next Monday will be an exciting day for everyone!