We are blogging as we dig into the archaeological records archived at Independence National Historical Park (INDE) in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA. These records were created over the past 50 years as archaeologists researched sites within the park's boundaries. The Independence Park Archives is currently creating a Guide for this vast collection of documents. This blog serves toward that end. It functions as a platform where archaeologists, archivists, and the interested public can share ideas about how to make these materials more widely available and more useful to the user.
Read more about this project blog...

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Could they have invented it?

"None of our employees have experienced any effects on their hearing from using the ultrasonic cleaner." (INDE Superintendent D.C. Kurjack, writing to the Regional Superintendent in September, 1961).

A wonderful discovery! While inventorying a file of History Office correspondence I came across a 1961 letter from the Park Superintendent that reports on "an ultrasonic cleaning device in use for cleaning archeological artifacts" (above right, click to enlarge). I wondered: Could it be that archaeologists working at INDE came up with this artifact processing method? Today it is common to find ultrasonic cleaners in archaeology labs. For example, the Independence Living History Center Archeology Lab down the street uses one for the first step in the washing of (suitable) artifacts. An ultrasonic cleaner loosens dirt caked onto artifacts minimizing the abrasion from brushes or picks.

The correspondence in this folder is not in chronological order and an earlier letter, dated 1960, is a request from a west coast archaeologist asking "Would [INDE] be kind enough to have Smokey [archaeologist Jackson Ward Moore, Jr.] clean these nails [from a Glacier Bay Cemetery] by his "magic process"..." (emphasis mine). I can check with Smokey and see if this reference is to the ultrasonic cleaning idea. If so, it would be the earliest date recorded for this method among these papers.

Further on in the file I came across a letter and its response relating to archaeologists at Mesa Verde National Park who sent a ceramic sample to INDE for a test cleaning. This correspondence too made me think the idea of ultrasonic cleaning originated at INDE. Then I found the clincher, a letter from an employee at Circo Ultrasonic Corporation (in New Jersey) asking how their device -- a Model PG 60 generator and 60 T transducerized tank of 1-gallon capacity -- had fared when put to this "unusual" task. The response from archaeologist B. B. Powell describes the INDE experiments trying different cleaning agents and the "excellent" results". Also described are the various applications experimented with (the processing of different categories of artifacts -- shell, ceramic, metal, etc.). The artifacts are mentioned as coming from the site of Franklin Court. I have posted some abtracts of that letter below (click to enlarge):
Lastly, I found something that makes it clear that this was indeed a new idea for archaeology!
In the file was an NPS Suggestion Form (10-63, 1955, 99219) with delightful 1950's-era graphics. This form, filled out with a date of October 1960, is a formal suggestion for the use of ultrasonic cleaning in archaeology laboratory work based on experiments done at Independence National Historical Park (click to enlarge):

This folder of History Office correspondence in the INDE Archives documents the administration of park archaeology circa, 1955-1975. As such, it contains artifacts of the archaeological process. In this case, among other insights, these two-dimensional artifacts document some important (forgotten) history about the field of archaeology. Specifically, these archived documents record the investigation of a new method for archaeological laboratory work that has since become a standard of practice. This advancement in the field of archaeology comes courtesy of INDE archeologists working on historical period sites.
The above referenced materials all come from Folder 1, of a box still being processed at the INDE Archives that is entitled "History Office Correspondence Related to Archeology".

Monday, June 8, 2009

The City Tavern Site Excavation

I have started tackling my first box of archaeological records for this summer Archives project. The materials relate to an excavation undertaken in 1974 on a strip of sidewalk on the West side of 2nd Street, near Walnut, in Old City, Philadelphia. (Photo above, view South. Excavation mid-photo.) The dig was in advance of Independence Park's recreation of City Tavern, an establishment built 1772-73 that served as an important gathering place for social, political, and economic leaders. (See City Tavern History .)

City Tavern was partially burned in 1834 and was demolished in 1854. The site was built on again and that subsequent construction was, in turn, torn down sometime after 1960 (presumably when the park acquired the land). In building Independence Park (circa 1960s-70s) a plan was made to recreate the tavern. Toward that end extensive historical and architectural research was undertaken. Part of this preparation included contracted archaeological research at the property to be built upon. This work was done by a team from Temple University's Anthropology Department under the direction of researcher Dan Crozier.

In this 1974 photo you can see the property with a City Tavern historic marker sign, taken prior to the archaeological fieldwork and prior to the construction of the tavern on the property (View West toward the Merchant's Exchange Building. Folder 11, color slides 1, row 1, column 1). This image (another view looking West) is a modern Internet photo of the City Tavern structure that was recreated at this location. City Tavern is a famous restaurant serving 18th century dishes created by culinary expert Walter Staib.

In compiling a 'box list', or inventory, for this batch of records, I examined D. Crozier's exceptionally fine field log where he recorded daily activities taking place on site. I also evaluated the associated site maps and photograph collection flagging any items that are glued in place. The adhesives in use 40 years ago can sometimes now be unstable.

During the examination of the field log I read some interesting 'corridor talk' (insider tidbits) about visitors to the site, including a news team which aired a story about the excavation. The public was interested in archaeology excavation then too! Crozier notes on May 21st that a back hoe operator who was 'driving by' helped to back fill the site.

I have yet to peruse the final report for this project but in viewing the photographs I was struck by the limited extent of the excavation at this property prior to construction. The sidewalk area - the region of the front of the building -- was focused on. This would firm up the position of buildings fronting 2nd Street. More to follow...

Friday, June 5, 2009

Getting Started...

"Don't do anything that can't be undone". This could be a motto for work done in the archives. The Archivist summed up my introduction to the project this week with these wise words of advice. This was just one of the important things I learned during my orientation.
That first day began with all the necessary basics. Safety issues were addressed (fire exits and extinguisher locations) and paperwork was signed (e.g. volunteer hour tracking sheet). Expectations were shared, confidentiality aspects were recognized, and appreciations (sent in both directions) were expressed. I was introduced to the other volunteers and to Bert, the Archives mascot (see sidebar image).

Then work began in earnest with a review of the existing 'working files' for building a finding aid for the INDE archaeology records. Several volunteers overtime (between 2000-2005) have laid the foundations for this project by organizing hundreds of folders full of archaeological site information. Photographs and maps were pulled for re-sleeving in archive-quality materials or for flat curatorial-standard storage. Dozens upon dozens of boxes were inventoried to find out what specifically they contained. With this overview of previous efforts (re achievements) I gained some understanding about the levels of scale of cataloguing that are involved in organizing the records in this repository (e.g., box lists, shelf lists, control files, central files, series storage locations, finding aids).

I also learned about some of the guidelines directing the archives work and which will also be used for generating the finding aid ...for example, Directors Order 28 (NPS Records Management), Park archaeology standards produced by the NPS Records Management Program, and the 2008 NPS Museum handbook Appendix D, Part II (pages 126-141, Manuscripts and Archives 'How to do it').

It was determined that I will first get some hands-on practice by dipping my toe into the different levels of scale of archival processing. This will involve processing some items that need to be brought into the archive system. These are stored at the moment on 'Truck 23' -- a massive rolling set of shelving in the 'Archives Storage' area. Among other items, 'truck 23' contains some 1970s-era field documentation for the City Tavern excavation that was recently transferred from Temple University and also some records for a project undertaken in conjunction with a sprinkler system added to Independence Square. These records had been previously housed in the Park's museum collection.

I will begin my work by drawing up box lists for this field documentation (creating an inventory of the items in each of the boxes). While at it, I will identify curatorial issues (photos needing re-sleeving, maps needing to be pulled, etc.), note any duplicates of files, and consider whether these records could be intra-filed in extant stored collections. I will also take notes for characterizing the nature of the records for use in the forthcoming finding aid.

Photo: The "Archives Processing" room where I will be working. Right, part of 'truck 23' with materials awaiting processing. Photos by P.L. Jeppson

Wondering about Archival Repositories?

A good online treatment of archeological repositories can be found at the 'Managing Archeology Collections' web pages of the National Park Service Archeology Program. These links 'cut to the chase':

Types of repositories
Types of records related to archeological projects
Function and Programs of Repositories (including Archives)
Collection Management Links
The Future

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Broader ‘context’…

The on-line world of Archival Science includes blogs relating to news and services from archival repositories as well as personal blogs written by people working, volunteering, and researching in archives. Identifying these genres helps make clear the broader context for this blog project, as does the museum perspective comment contributed yesterday by INDE Curator K. Diethorn:

I'm very interested in how users (particularly students at all levels) would like to access the park's archeological reports and for what purposes. Ultimately, this kind of information can suggest potential program ideas (e.g. exhibits) that really speak to what visitors (real and virtual) want to know about archeological material culture.