Weeks One and Two at Eckley Miners’ Village

Crew member Esther excavating at the Back Street site, Eckley Miners’ Village

The Department of Anthropology at the University of Maryland is delighted to report the completion of our first two weeks of excavations at Eckley Miners’ Village! After much consternation about whether the project would move forward, our first few days in the field confirmed that all the effort on behalf of so many was completely worth it. Read on!

 

The Site

 

This is our fourth University of Maryland archaeological field school to be held in Northeastern Pennsylvania and we couldn’t be happier to return to the Greater Hazleton area. After many wonderful years in Lattimer and Pardeesville (Lattimer 2), we were sad to say goodbye but excited to expand our horizons to Eckley Miners’ Village, a Pennsylvania Historic and Museum Commission historic site that preserves anthracite miningheritage. Eckley is just a 15 minute drive from Hazleton, and we strongly recommend anyone in the area to check it out! Their website is http://eckleyminersvillage.com and you can find out about all of their upcoming events (including Patchtown Days!) through their facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/eckleyminersvillage

 

Eckley is a planned coal company town and so different areas of the village correspond to different economic classes of workers. This summer, we chose to excavate on Back Street – the location of the poorest workers in an area often referred to as “slate pickers’ houses”. These residences were double houses, with each side consisting of a one-and-a-half story balloon frame dwelling that measured 14-by-20 feet with an unattached summer kitchen located direct behind the house that measured about 13-by-10 feet. As many as 8 to 10 people could live in a house this size. (There is an excellent example of a standing slate picker’s house at Eckley that will be open duringPatchtown Days!)

 

The majority of the slate pickers’ houses were torn down in 1950s and the foundations removed through strip mining, but a handful of foundations remain. This summer’s work is focusing on house lot 38/40, although we hope to expand to other slate picker’s double houses on Eckley’s Back Street in the future.

 

The Crew

 

I would be remiss to not mention the students joining us on this field school! For these first few weeks we are joined by five undergraduate and one post-baccalaureate students from across the U.S. When we aren’t excavating, we are introducing them to just some of the local flavor, including Jimmy’s Quick Lunch, Carmen’s Bakery, haluptkihalushkiperogies, and Valley Hi, as well as some of the local sights. It’s been a cultural experience, to say the least! They have collectively decided that, as an all-female crew, it is only appropriate that they be called the Back Street Girls.

 

The crew gets a tour of Eckley Miners’ Village from site administrator Bode Morin

A visit to the Molly Maguire’s monument in Mahanoy City

Iron pour at Keystone iron Works, Scranton

The Excavations

 

Andi excavating a test unit

As is standard with field school, we started week one with a rain day. Once we got into the field, however, the dig really started moving! Our students dug 59 shovel tests in two and a half days and had started on test units by the end of week one. We are particularly interested in the area between the house and the summer kitchen, so we started with one unit immediately behind House 38 and one behind House 40.  By the end of week two, we have expanded that number to include one unit behind House 38, one unit inside House 38, and one unit in the summer kitchen of House 38, along with two units behind House 40, one unit inside House 40, and one unit in the summer kitchen of House 40. Seven units in 6 days – I wasn’t kidding when I said this crew is moving some serious dirt!

 

In just two week’s we’ve become local celebrities! WNEP Channel 16, Scranton’s largest new station, came to the site on Wednesday to shoot a segment for the nightly news. That piece can be viewed at http://wnep.com/2015/06/10/digging-up-history. Locals who saw the news story have been contacting us about volunteering at the site and we couldn’t be happier! Many thanks to WNEP and Matt and Mike for coming out!


Camille being interviewed for WNEP News


The Artifacts

 

The most exciting part of this year’s field school (for me, at least), are the incredible artifacts coming out of the ground! For the first time since we began digging in Northeastern Pennsylvania, we are finding sealed stratigraphic contexts that go back as early as the 1850s! We know these houses were built in 1853, so our work is literally looking back to the people who first lived in Eckley. Annular banded, sponge decorated, cut sponge decorated, shell edged, hand painted, and transfer-printed wares are just a few of the awesome ceramics we’re recovering from these units. In addition to ceramics, a variety of other fascinating items are popping up, including a 1920s Lysol bottle, clay marbles, pieces of toy dolls, a thimble, and religious iconography, including a gilded porcelain wall crucifix and a (possible) crucifix pendant. All of these items help us to understand the lives of the people who lived in this section of Eckley – a history we hope to make more publicly accessible in the future.


Shoe sole recovered from the site.

 

Coming Up

 

Beginning June 22nd, we will be having local high school students from Hazleton Area High School, the Hazleton Area Academy of Sciences, and the Hazleton Career Center joining us! We piloted this program last summer and had a wonderful response from the students. We are even more excited to be running it again this summer. Many thanks to Mrs. Billet, Mr. Anthony Conston, Ms. Marie Ernst, and Mr. Mike Pozzessere for their hard work in recruiting and encouraging these students to join us! This year we also received invaluable assistance from the University of Maryland’s College of Behavioral and Social Sciences to help us host these students. Special thanks to everyone involved in making this happen!

 

Eckley’s annual Patchtown Days Festival is taking place Saturday and Sunday, June 27th and 28th. There will be live music, traditional Irish dances, crafts for sale, and the best haluptkis around! We will have the excavations open and an opportunity for visitors to see what we’ve been recovering from the site. It promises to be a fun couple days, all while supporting a good cause. On behalf of myself, Dr. Shackel, and the Back Street Girls, we hope to see you there!


some of the Back Street Girls on a visit to abandoned Centralia, PA – the town that has continued to burn for about 40 years because of an underground, uncontrolled mine fire.


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A Story from the Field: a buried A-horizon

This post is from field crew student Dorothy, reporting on her exciting first two weeks of fieldwork:



On the first day of field school I was reassured that we could stop digging once subsoil was reached–unless there was a “buried A-horizon.” Subsoil does not contain artifacts and it dates to before human occupation.

 

Buried A-horizons are not common. It can occur when soils are removed from another place– like a cellar, and thedeposited on a former living surface. On the third day of excavations we discovered a buried A-horizon.

 

When we reached what we though was subsoil we excavated a bit further.  Then we noticed a thin black layer underneath the subsoil which extended through the entire unit.  We took off the layer of subsoil to reveal the ashy black layer that covered the unit and were able to determine that the subsoil had been redeposited when they constructed the cellar for a double house at around the mid-1850s.

 

Photo showing stratigraphy characteristic of a buried A-horizon. The yellowish layer soil is redeposited from the historic excavation of a nearby cellar. Below is a dark occupational layer visible throughout the unit.



The builders of the house dug into the subsoil to create the cellar and placed it on top of the humus-like living surface in the back of the structure. On top of this redeposited soil we found materials related to the early occupation of the dwelling – where they tossed their trash – like bones, smoking pipe stems, and broken dishes. Finding a buried A-horizon in my first test unit was an amazing experience.



Ceramic smoking pipe fragments found in the buried living surface



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First Week at Eckley: A Story from Ceramics

We started our first week at Eckley Miners’ Village. The staff has been fantastic and very welcoming of our archaeology project.  Many thanks to Dr. Bode Morin and his staff at Eckley for working so hard to make this summer happen.




The first day in the field we began shovel testing on town lot 38/40, which is located on Back Street.  Shovel testing consists of small holes that are about 1.0ft wide and are excavated to subsoil – where no human activities occurred.  We covered the site with a 10 ft. grid and excavated the shovel tests. We were not certain what we would find, however, the hard work by the crew was worthwhile.



Field crew digging shovel tests at Eckley



The results of the shovel tests indicate that much of the soil close to the property boundaries was removed at some point, either through erosion or by some mechanical process.  There is only a thin humus layer on top of the subsoil. However, the shovel tests closest to the house had material culture related to the occupation of the former residents.  This information gave us a clue about where we should place subsequent excavation unit.



Beginning the 5′ x 5′ test unit excavations



Each excavation unit is 5.0. ft by 5.0 ft. and on Thursday we began our excavations. The results were amazing! Toward the back of the house and close to the summer kitchen we found cow and pig bone, and much of the ceramics the field school students recovered dated to the 1860s, from the time when the town was first settled.  It looks like we have material from the earliest occupation of Eckley, which will help us understand, work, labor, and the new immigrants’ transition to Northeastern, Pennsylvania.



Blue shell-edged plate rims recovered from test unit excavations



Take a look at these ceramics. They tell a great story about the lives of the residents.  They are all –what we call – shelled edged plates, and they all look alike, as though they came from the same set of dishes.  However, when you look at these ceramics closely, they are all slightly different.  Some have some embossing in the shell edged design, and some are painted slightly differently.  Apparently, the residents were buying individual dishes as they could afford them as they tried to keep a matched set in their household.

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Summer Field Project, 2015: Eckley Miner’s Village

The crew begins summer fieldwork at Eckley Miner’s Village (photo by Paul Shackel)


We’re back in the field!

 

Welcome from the University of Maryland’s 2015 Archaeological Field School! We are holding our fourth year of excavations at Eckley Miner’s Village, located in Weatherly, Pennsylvania. Eckley is a coal company town dating to 1854 and is currently administered by the Pennsylvania Museum and Historic Commission. It is open for guided and self-guided tours all year. More information about Eckley can be found at: www.eckleyminersvillage.com

Excavations will run from June 2 until July 10.

 

This summer we are focusing on a row of houses known as the ‘slate picker’s’ houses. We believe these houses were torn down in the 1950s or 1960s, but several of their foundations remain. We hope that excavating around these foundation will increase our knowledge about patch town life in general and the experiences of the poorest paid coal mine employees in particular. We are extremely grateful to PMHC and Dr. Bode Morin, the site administrator, for allowing us dig and for being so accommodating! We have use of a house on Eckley Main Street that we plan to have open as our laboratory during Eckley’s Patch Town Days this year on June 27th and 28th. Come join us and see what we’ve dug up!

 

It would also be remiss to not mention the great field crew we have with us this summer! We have a total of 5 students and volunteers who will be joining us on our excavations this summer. They are undergraduate and post-baccalaureate students from a variety of states, including Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, and Arizona. We are thrilled to have them at the site and we are excited to explore Eckley’s pastalong side them this summer. We will update this blog regularly with our tales from the field, so check back soon!




Our Total Data Station allows us to lay in a survey grid with laser precision!



Camille at the Total Data Station



Joe Michel, research collaborator and survey team advisor



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Introducing Rebecca

We are excited to introduce Rebecca S. to the project! Rebecca is an undergraduate at the University of Maryland majoring in anthropology with a minor in the University of Maryland’s START program. She is a Maryland native and interested in the environment and anthropology. She has worked on other archaeological projects and is hoping to broaden her research experience by working with us this semester!

In addition to cataloging artifacts, mending broken vessels, and learning the National Park Service and Pennsylvania Museum and Historic Commission archaeology guidelines, Rebecca is also embarking on her own mini research project to look at the relationship between child mortality, wealth, and age married at the turn of the 20th century. We hope that this question can begin to highlight some of the nuances of life in Lattimer and Pardeesville and tell us more about the living conditions for the working class at this point in history. While her research is just now in the preliminary stages, we hope that Rebecca will eventually write up some of her findings for the blog! Stay tuned!

Throughout this year Rebecca contributed nearly 100 hours of her time to help us catalog and analyze all of amazing finds from last summer. We hope to keep the blog updated with what we discover!

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A Visit to Eckley Cemetery

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This post is from Camille, who writes about her experiences this past summer finally getting to see Eckley cemetery:

After a year of trying to find a guide to take me, I was finally able to visit the Eckley Cemetery with the help of some local volunteers. I had heard ghost stories about war veterans who never returned home, coal miners seeking revenge for mistreatment, and children taken before their time. Images of a shadowy graveyard with a creaking wrought iron gate haunted my imagination. But after a year of waiting for my chance to visit the legendary Eckley Cemetery, a new sensation washed over me: profound sadness.

The Eckley Cemetery is located due south of present-day Eckley’s Miner’s Village on land now owned by Pagnotti Enterprises, a coal mining company. Large berms have been built up on three sides of the cemetery, with large white boulders guarding the final side to keep the strip mine out. A short road leads out of the cemetery but abruptly fades into the flat, grey, eerie landscape of the reclaimed strip mines. I was informed that Pagnotti machine buildings used to serve as landmarks to find the cemetery, but these buildings have all disappeared in the last six months. As a mater of fact, the most recent images available on Google Maps still show the building standing.

While I haven’t been able to find much on the history of the cemetery, I know that this was not the only cemetery for the town. Graves date from the early 19th century to the early 20th century, with the majority of surnames on the headstones being of English or German descent. None of the people who accompanied me to the cemetery knew who these people were — where they came from, whether they had families, or why the last traces of them on Earth had been abandoned on an island in the middle of a landscape that looks more like the surface of the moon than rural Pennsylvania.

On the day that I visited, however, it was neither the obscurity these once proud people had fallen into nor the grey wasteland that surrounded me that shot straight through my soul: it was the state of the cemetery.

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With confusion over how to visit the cemetery (the cemetery is surrounded by private Pagnotti land, but Pagnotti is required to grant access to the cemetery) and no resources to speak of, maintenance at the cemetery has been carried out by a handful of dedicated individuals who spend their weekends pulling out poison ivy, chopping down sapling oaks that attempt to take root in the only land around not made of solidified sluice, and spraying for weeds. My guides informed me that a Boy Scouts of America troop used to come out every year and do this work as part of their community service, but threats made by Pagnotti forced the troop to abandon their work.

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As I walked around the overgrown and rapidly deteriorating cemetery, I imagined the men and women that built Eckley: the families that attended church on Sunday; the children that attended school and played baseball in the street; and the miners who descended into the ground every day not knowing whether this would be their last. These people grew gardens and canned tomatoes, peppers, sauerkraut, and beans. They picked coal out of the culm banks and feared the Black Maria, the Coal and Iron Police, and more. Maybe they dreamed of going to school or starting a business, of moving to the big city or returning to the Old World. As the lives and experiences of the people who’s graves I now stood in front of swirled in my mind, I decided that these people deserved better than what they had. History and geography might have dealt these people a bad hand, but today (and every day) we can work together to make sure that their memories and their contributions to American History, to the Industrial Revolution, and to the spirit of labor is never forgotten. Archaeologists can tell these people’s stories by digging up the conditions of their daily lives. For the forgotten, overgrown souls in the Eckley Cemetery, I hope that our work on the Lattimer Archaeology Project can somehow honor their contributions. I hope that our passion to tell the story of life in the Anthracite region spreads. And I hope that I can get a sharp pair of branch cutters and a few friends to help me take out some of those oak saplings next summer.

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New post at the Lattimer Massacre site

Just posted a new story about employee ownership of the Lattimer Colliery in 1938; an episode we just discovered in the newspaper archives. Check it out here:

https://lattimermassacre.wordpress.com/2015/01/31/a-brief-workers-utopia-employee-ownership-in-lattimer-1938-1939/

An article from the Evening Journal (Harrisburg) from 1 June 1938 reporting on employee ownership of the Lattimer Colliery

An article from the Evening Journal (Harrisburg) from 1 June 1938 reporting on employee ownership of the Lattimer Colliery

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