The Archaeological Collections Project (ACP) was a two-year undertaking initiated and directed by ProfessorRita Wright with Dr. Jen Piro that began in May 2006 in order to seriously address the deteriorating condition of excavated materials stored in the Department of Anthropology. Drs. Bert Salwen and Howard Winters, faculty members in the department and now deceased, were well known archaeologists who researched the urban archaeology of New York City and the prehistory of New York State and Illinois, respectively. The collections were from field work they and their graduate students conducted including rescue operations, field schools and research projects. For anthropology majors at NYU, this hands-on project provided an introduction to archaeological methods and laboratory techniques, while exposing students to some ethical and legal responsibilities of researchers concerning the proper handling and ownership of artifacts.
The Archaeological Collections Project was conducted in accordance with the Principles of Archaeological Ethics outlined by the Society for American Archaeology Ethics Committee at its April 10, 1996 meeting. Specifically, the project focused on three ethical principles: 1) Stewardship – “…to work for the long-term conservation and protection of the archaeological record by practicing and promoting stewardship of the archaeological record.”; 2) Public Education and Outreach – “[to] reach out to, and participate in cooperative efforts with others interested in the archaeological record with the aim of improving the preservation, protection, and interpretation of the record.”; 3) Records and Preservation – “Archaeologists should work actively for the preservation of, and long term access to, archaeological collections, records, and reports.”
The project followed a series of protocols aimed at the long-term preservation of the archaeological collections. Students began by identifying and cleaning stored artifacts. After identification, artifacts were placed in archival bags and labeled with archival tags according to context information, including site name, stratum, category number, and artifact type. This step was affectionately referred to as ‘bagging and tagging’ by project participants. Next, a computerized database was created for each site to provide an inventory of the collections and to enable swift data manipulation by cultural institutions. Finally, the artifact collections were donated and shipped to appropriate repositories for permanent storage, including state museums, local historical societies, and private landowners.
Many anthropology majors at NYU received valuable lab training in archaeological methods and techniques through their involvement in this project. These students classified and archived nearly 250 crates of archaeological material from prehistoric Native American and historical period sites in New York City, New York State, New England, and the Midwest. We highlight three artifact collections that show the breadth of materials that had been housed at the Department of Anthropology and that we curated. They included prehistoric and historical collections.
1) Old Fort, located in Ulster County, New York, was excavated by an archaeological team from NYU in the summer of 1972, led by Dr. Howard Winters and Dr. Ira Berman. Excavated finds included numerous projectile points from ten different phases of prehistory, as well as scrapers, drills, and grinding stones.
2) The site of 25 Barrow, in New York City’s Greenwich Village Historical District, was excavated by Dr. Salwen and Dr. Diana Wall in 1987. In the mid-19th century, 25 Barrow was “inhabited by working-class to middle-class skilled laborers and proprietors of small businesses.” The artifacts thus provide a window into the domestic life of the site’s urban residents.
3) The site of Deutsches Haus was excavated in 1976. The location originally housed the first laboratories of the NYU Medical School, as early as 1821. Deutsches Haus is now the NYU German Cultural Center, and it is located in the Washington Mews in the Village Historic district.
The Old Fort collection contained a variety of well-preserved prehistoric artifacts. The projectile points shown here were diagnostic to the Archaic Period (ca 10,000-3700 B.P.):
This Charleston Corner-Notched Projectile Point (Figure 1) is the oldest artifact in the collection and dated to the Early Archaic. This artifact differs noticeably from other projectile point types found at the site, in terms of its comparatively large size and thin profile. The presence of a deep corner-notch also distinguishes this point from others found at Old Fort.
Another artifact from the Archaic period is this Projectile Point referred to as Kanawha (Figure 2). Kanawha points are distinguished by a shallow bifurcated base with a short stem and rounded edges. The blade of the point is triangular and appears to show some evidence of sharpening as the edges of the piece are slightly concave and serrated.
Projectile points from the Lamoka Phase are the most frequent type found at Old Fort. Twenty-seven have been identified in the collection. Lamoka projectile points are typically small in size and rudimentarily made, with a narrow blade and a stemmed or side-notched base, which is usually left thick or unfinished. The shape of these points varies from long and thin to short and wide. This small asymmetrical point is the only one made out of quartz in the collection (Figure 3). It is also an example of the crude, percussion-chipped workmanship typical of points from this phase. The point looks unfinished and blunt, with uneven sides.
This Lamoka projectile point (Figure 4) is an example of the long, thin shaped point type—the blade is more than three times longer than the base (as compared to the quartz point, where the blade is only twice as long as the base). The blade of this point is also very thin, another noticeable difference from the quartz point. This long point type is thought to have been used for arming spears which were held in the hand.
Artifacts from the historical periods are equally significant and provide a basis on which to determine the socioeconomic groups that lived in the areas that now surround NYU. Excavations in Greenwich Village at Deutsches Haus and 25 Barrow uncovered glassware, creamware, whiteware, and porcelain ceramics. The assemblages at Deutsches Haus and 25 Barrow provide an interesting contrast of evidence between socioeconomic classes.
This decorative Creamware Spouted Vessel (Fig. 5a) found at Deutsches Haus from the mid-19th Century was probably a tabletop or display item rather than one for everyday kitchen use, which would be plainer in style. It identifies its owners, the early occupants of Deutsches Haus, as most likely middle or upper class, as they were apparently wealthy enough to own items which were not of everyday use to them.
Other interesting finds at Deutsches Haus include this Blue Pharmaceutical Bottle (Fig. 5b) that was likely used by the medical school during the mid- to late-19th Century, and several other types of glassware. This delicate, eight-sided Glass ‘Umbrella’ Ink Well (Fig. 5c) is dated to about 1855-1870. This Twelve-Sided Medicinal Bottle (Fig. 6) was used to contain medicinal remedies, though remedies in the 19th century typically contained nothing more than alcohol, sugar and water! Finally, this small glass bottle (Fig. 7), which is dated to about 1855-1870, was likely used for storing hair dyes or other forms of pharmaceutical liquid.
In contrast, the collection from 25 Barrow Street, found in a backyard cistern at the site, contained a number of everyday household artifacts. This piece of a large washbasin (Fig. 8a), manufactured between 1841 and 1860, is of substantial weight and useful for light washing and scrubbing. The washbasin, along with this large plate from 1851, is “Gothic” ironstone whiteware (Fig. 8b), which was commonly used by the working class in mid-19th century New York. Other items of interest found at 25 Barrow include ten glass medicinal bottles like the one shown here (Fig. 8c), and this serving dish, also whiteware, decorated with a blue transfer willow pattern (Fig. 8d). The 25 Barrow assemblage supports what is historically known about the site. A widowed nurse, who previously occupied the house with her family, eventually turned the residence into a boarding house. The woman’s occupation explains the abundance of medicinal bottles, and perhaps the blue willow pattern serving dish is one remnant of a previously higher household income. The more common, inexpensive, ironstone whiteware was probably used to serve the boarders at 25 Barrow.
Records and Preservation, Public Outreach and Education
The newly archived collections leave an important legacy for students and professional scholars, who study the prehistoric and historical periods in New York City, New York State, New England, and the Midwest. In addition to curating the objects, databases were created and sent to several museums as part of our efforts to reach out to the public and to place the artifacts in proper repositories. Presentations of our efforts also were made to students in our introductory archaeology courses, Dr. Wright’s course Discovery Archaeology in New York City and at the Anthropology Undergraduate Research group’s first conference.
The materials curated by the project have been transmitted to the New York State Museum, Columbia University and the Illinois State Museum, as well as the following museums and storage facilities: Queens County Farm Museum (Floral Park, NY); the Ridgewood Historical Society (Queens); the Queens Historical Society (Flushing, NY); the Illinois State Museum, Southern Illinois University; Sands Point Preserve (Port Washington, NY); Columbia University; Bull Jackson Homestead (Montgomery, NY); Croton Point Nature Center (Croton-on-Hudson, NY); the New York State Museum; and the Connecticut Archaeology Center (University of Connecticut).
The Old Fort collection has been returned to the owner of the property on which the site is located, in accordance with New York State law. The 25 Barrow and Deutsches Haus collections were donated to the Anthropology Department at NYU for student research and laboratory use. The collections are available to scholars interested in research on the two sites. Requests should be made to R. Wright () in the Anthropology Department.
This project could not have been completed without the enthusiastic support of numerous NYU undergraduates – and the occasional graduate student – who volunteered or were provided with small stipends to complete the work and its overall success: Susan Chen, Katie Chiou, Katie Cohan, Carlos Del Rio, Heidi Ellis, Liana George, Jasmine Greene, Nalleli Guillen, Susy Horton, Paul Markowitz, Sophia Mavroudas, Ed Maxwell, Liz McCall, Alex Neinast, Kathleen Paul, Cate Randall, Sarah Ranlett, Leila Saber-Khiabani (Hobart and William Smith Colleges), Angela Scarduzio, Sarah Spano, Ann Stegina, Jillian Swift, Amanda Thai, Ashlyn Tom, and Steve Worthington (Ph.D. candidate).
We also thank Dr. Joseph Diamond of SUNY New Paltz for his help in identifying the projectile points from Old Fort and the glass bottles from 25 Barrow and Deutsches Haus. Additional thanks goes to Carlos Del Rio, whose research on the Sleepy Hollow Lake collection was used in this presentation. Finally, we owe a debt of gratitude to Dean Santirocco, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, whose generous sponsorship from the College of Arts and Sciences and the Center for Ancient Studies in the summer of 2008 allowed for the project’s timely completion.