The Archaeology of Gardens and Food in the Anthracite Region

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This post is from Justin Uehlein, who is beginning his dissertation research on food in the anthracite region this summer. Justin describes his research here:

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An apricot or peach pit excavated out of the backyard garden from the site in Pardeesville

The field season has kicked off, and we are progressing at our first former company double house since beginning this project in 2009. On Sunday, June 1, 2014, members of the crew began preparation by surveying our new site, soon to be under archaeological scrutiny. We staked out the site, searched for hints of former garden beds, active yard areas, and potential
excavation locations while gearing up for the excavations and hard work to begin the following day. My mind was abuzz, thinking about the fruits and vegetables that not so long ago grew in the yard space we surveyed. Mulberries, peaches, peppers, tomatoes, lettuce and much more once inhabited the yard and fed hard working anthracite coal miners and their families. Can we find their remains?

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A sawed bone fragment (probably cow) unearthed in place at the edge of a test pit in Pardeesville.

For me, this is a key question. While the vegetables were planted, nurtured and harvested, another portion of the mining family diet was a constant concern. The animals. What might remain of the goats, chickens, pigs and cows that their families raised and bartered for and ultimately ate? Were they home-butchered or taken to a local shop? How did the vegetables and meats complement each other and become the cuisine that we all enjoy in
Northeastern Pennsylvania? By excavating former garden beds and trash pits, and by talking with folks and reading historic cook books we might get a glimpse at the diet of the anthracite coal region of PA.

So, with high spirits and an insatiable curiosity we began our archaeological search. Pulling soil back from the surface, through the topsoil, and into the layers below, provides a glimpse into the historic use of the land. Archaeologists and crew members have begun to piece together life on the home-front in a former company owned coal town.

Historic cookbooks are hard to come by, excavations can be unfruitful, and reading the soil is a difficult task, but all along the way folks have been visiting and providing us with insight only local knowledge can provide. Because food is what sustains us, it is incredibly important to any working community and yet it is often left out of historic accounts of mining towns. This summer we will find out more about the roll of food in the anthracite region and we are happy to have the opportunity to do this work in Pardeesville, PA.

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About LM Project

The LMP is a collaborative endeavor which aims to recognize the events surrounding the Lattimer Massacre, an incident that changed the labor movement and impacted the world by bringing to light economic disparities and ethnic tensions in the anthracite region of PA.
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