We took a short break here at the Lattimer Archaeology Project. I (Mike) spent a couple weeks “workation” excavating at the site of a medieval castle in Scotland. The weather was cool, the food was delicious, and the folks were friendly. In these ways, my two summer excavations, in Pardeesville, PA and Amisfield, Scotland, were quite similar. But reflecting on the two sites, there are significant differences as well. Here is a picture of me at the bottom of a seven foot deep trench:
In the trench, you can see layers and layers of rubble and soil. (Again not so different from the stony ground of Pardeesville. I think it was our friend Maurice DeLorenzo that said that the rocks here grow like potatoes!). What you can’t see in the picture is that the layers of rubble continue below me to an unknown depth. We never reached the bottom! In the soils to my right and left are bands of dark soil (midden, or garbage-ridden soil) and light soil full of rubble indicating architectural construction and destruction. Above me still sits Amisfield Tower, a fortified house finished by the 1600s. The soils about halfway down date to the construction of the tower. Below that dates from Carbon-14 and coins we recovered reveal soils at least as old as the 1400s. Below that is a mystery we are trying to solve. We do know that the Charteris Family acquired the property in the 12th century, and likely built some kind of house or fort here, which was replaced when the tower house was constructed. That is at least 600 years of history piled up around me!
In Amisfield, the grand central structure of the tower house and the adjacent manor house built in stages in the 1700s and again in the 1800s, were occupied by a single family throughout its occupation. At Amisfield, it is clear that a huge force of servants, tenants, gardeners, laborers and craftsman, working within the feudal system, constructed and maintained the buildings and landscapes of Amisfield. Today, their lives are invisible, the houses they lived in are absent.
In contrast, Pardeesville has been around for only about 140 years. Pardeesville was densely covered by modest structures occupied by large families, often extended families with boarders. Life in Pardeesville was a collective effort at survival under a perhaps comparable feudal system of the coal operators. Aspects of the lives of these individuals, families and communities, are visible everywhere, above and below the ground. These include the things they built, the decisions they made and the things they did to survive. The family relationships, memories, photographs and traditions are also still alive in the town.
There is a historical continuity between the Old World and New World scenarios I am presenting above. In Europe during the late 18th and 19th centuries, the feudal system was breaking down. Large wealthy landowners began to consolidate their lands and clear tenant farming families from their ancestral homelands to open lands for hunting or industrial scale farming. This resulted in booming unemployment and poverty from the landless rural populations. Many moved to cities, sometimes to work in industrial jobs. Many others made the decision to move overseas to look for better opportunities, at least for some period of time. The anthracite region received its first influx of this labor from Wales, England… and Scotland, in the early part of the 19th century. Similar developments led to migration from Ireland, Austro-Hungary, Poland, and Italy in latter decades.
Some have said that the feudal system these migrants left behind was not so different from the social structures they discovered in the coal company towns. While there are parallels, this is a complicated connection to make. Undoubtedly, they were met with perhaps unexpectedly difficult lives in the region. Some of their responses to these difficulties come from the social networks, survival skills and historical experiences they carried with them from the Old Country. But as history and society changed all around them, they adapted to these situations. This is how they came to call this place home.