June 6, 2015 – Day 19

Written by Jill Zuckerman

Well, folks, today was the last day of excavations at the Parsons House and what a productive day it was!  Although it was looking iffy for a moment, we were able to finish all of our excavation units.  We also made a few more interesting finds as well.  We found a lice comb from one of the units inside the house and a bone-handled toothbrush from one of the units outside the house. This tells us a little about the hygiene practices employed by the residents of the house and how they dealt with hygiene problems in general.

All of our units have been dug down to sterile soil, soil that does not yield any more artifacts.  One of our units reached a depth of 126 centimeters!  We thought we may have lost Linda in that pit once or twice!  After the digging ceased, we were charged with the task of drawing what we call profile drawings.  Because the walls of our units are completely straight, we are able to see the different layers, or strata, of soils.  Those layers are carefully plotted and drawn on graph paper to scale and the soil colors and textures are also recorded.  Knowing about the soils that we are digging in can help us interpret the artifacts that are coming out.

Linda, Mary, Elana, and Jill would like to profusely thank all the dedicated volunteers, archaeologists and friends that so generously donated their time to expedite this process.  We also thank all the school children that did such an amazing job of helping us reach our research goals from Leeds Elementary, Ryan Road Elementary, the Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School and Northstar.  We definitely thank our families for being so patient while we were so busy working and last, but certainly not least, we would like to thank all the visitors from Northampton and surrounding areas for supporting our work and coming out to visit us.  Thank You All!!!

Elena reacts for us all when she discovers a mummified mouse.

Elena reacts for us all when she discovers a mummified mouse.

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Jill hard at work excavating in the buttery.


Mary sorting artifacts in the lab.

Small Crew

(Left-to-right) Elena, Linda, Jill, and Mary.

June 5, 2015 – Day 18

written by Mary Larkum

We have been fortunate to have assistance in the lab from many awesome, dedicated volunteers throughout our excavation season. Everything removed from the ground is brought to the lab in paper bags. artifact bag small

Artifacts typically come out of these bags unsorted and coated in sediment. unsorted tray_small Bag contents need gentle cleaning, usually by dry brushing using a soft toothbrush, and sorting to separate everything by artifact type. This is a process that requires time and patience.sorted tray_small

We greatly appreciate the hours of work that volunteers have freely given to assist our project. Our results to date have gone a long way to answering our primary research question namely: What was life like for women and children in Northampton during the 18th and 19th centuries?

Many artifacts are associated with activities typically considered to be “women’s work”.  For example, our assemblage features numerous sewing pins (on left), ceramic kitchen vessels such as the lid of this storage jar (on right), and cooking remains such as this burnt pig’s tooth (below, center).

jar lid small pins small

charred pig tooth smallThis wooden lice comb suggests that infestations, probably between children, were not unknown. While this hairpin shows that good design never goes out of style.

Lice comb smallhair pin small

June 4, 2015 – Day 17

Written by Elena Sesma.

Today was our last day of school visits and we were thrilled to have such an excellent group of students from Leeds Elementary School finish off the week! We were greeted on site this morning by a beautiful blue jay standing guard over our units in the yard. After finding him a safe new home, we had our young student archaeologists help us with more excavation and artifact processing. With Linda, students had the opportunity to open a new unit in the grass near where the door to the 1830 summer kitchen would have stood. Jill worked with students in another unit near the back wall of the house and found more charcoal and small animal bone fragments. Elena continued working with students in the area around the large granite boulders we discovered last week. Mary had the students assist with artifact cleaning in the field lab. The find of the day was an intact green glass inkwell, uncovered thanks to the help of the good eyes and eager trowels of our student visitors.

This afternoon, we continued work in the yard and opened up two new units inside the house- one inside the buttery and another along the north wall of the 1790 kitchen. We look forward to seeing what we uncover here and hopefully proving the consistency of the patterns we’ve found elsewhere inside the house. We also had several returning volunteers and new visitors stop by in the afternoon to learn about the project and our findings thus far. We only have two more days of excavation so remember to stop by and see what we’re doing on Friday afternoon or Saturday during our public day!

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Our blue jay visitor.

Students from Leeds Elementary School sort and dry brush excavated artifacts.

Students from Leeds Elementary School sort and dry brush excavated artifacts.

June 3, 2015 – Day 16

written by Linda Ziegenbein

Have you ever been confused about something and then a new perspective helped bring new light or insights to your problem?  Well, that is exactly what happened the other day at the site.

While we are working, we are constantly talking about what we are finding, how deep the artifacts are located, where soil changes occur, and general patterns we are starting to see.  One thing we have discussed is the high amount brick and bone we have recovered that clearly is concentrated in an area to the west of the rear door.  Our working hypothesis was that this may have been from the destruction of the summer kitchen — the one-story addition added to the rear of the house that was replaced with a screened in “palisade” sometime in the 1910s.  Perhaps, we thought, this was located near the rear door of that kitchen and they just threw everything out of the back door?

A couple of days ago, however, we were discussing a unit Jill has excavated inside of the house.  I walked over to the small square window and looked down.  Guess what I was directly above?  The main concentration of bone and brick!  It now appears that the residents of the house threw at least some of their trash out of that window where it landed directly below.  A little mystery solved and all it took was a different perspective.

The little window with the four bone-and-brick units below.

The little window with the four bone-and-brick units below.

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We have not recovered any whole bottles at this site. Here is one that Elena excavated from her site yesterday. Keeping track of where it was located, what artifacts were around it, and how deep it was found will help us understand the lives of the female residents of this house.

May 31 – June 2, 2015 – Days 13-15

written by Linda Ziegenbein

What do archaeologists do when it starts to rain?  On this project, we move indoors!  While the site was closed on Sunday and Monday, a couple of us continued to work at the site.  On Sunday, Peter Ames, a professional archaeologist who has volunteered at the site, and I excavated Unit Y31 which is next to the house and marks the eastern-most boundary of the site.  We didn’t uncover much, which convinces me that this area — part of a garden for about a hundred years — will not yield significant data for future research.  Remember that one of the reasons for this project is to record any subsurface data so that a new basement can be created below the house.  Signing off on this area means that we can focus on the area inside the house and just outside the rear door where we have discovered a lot of animal bone.

On Monday, Elena and I worked on a unit that Elena has been excavating in the house.  It was raining, so Elena excavated and handed me buckets of soil to screen for artifacts below a tent.  The stratigraphy (layers of soil) in the house is becoming clear.  For the first 10 cm level, we will discover many sewing pins, some newspaper fragments, and possibly some ceramic sherds or maybe a button.  These are mostly things that are small enough to have slipped between the boards in the house.  Nancy Rexford, the Director of Historic Northampton, specializes in the history of women’s clothing and she estimates that many of the sewing pins were created before 1850.

Below that initial level, the artifact density (the number of artifacts) decreases dramatically.  We will find perhaps a sewing pin or two and then charcoal and brick fragments.  What is interesting is that we haven’t found much that relates to the earliest period of occupation of the site. My opinion may change once the artifacts have all been washed and I get a good look at them after the field season ends, though!

Today, the brave kids from Leeds Elementary joined us in the damp, dreariness of the morning.  The rain prevented us from excavating, but the students helped us screen soil from the house for artifacts and helped in the lab.  We got some 18th and 19th-century games out for the kids and we all had a lot of fun.  I’m looking forward to the return of the dry weather and will let you all know what is happening as we enter our final week at the site.

A pinch pot carefully made by one of today's students.

A pinch pot carefully made by one of today’s students.


Mary shows the students an image from 1863 of the Clapp family in Northampton. While the Clapp family did not live in the Parsons House, the image allows us to compare their family to that of the Wrights (then living in the house).

We did quilling -- a craft using carefully rolled paper -- with the kids today.  They were much more proficient at this than some archaeologists (me)!

We did quilling — a craft using carefully rolled paper — with the kids today. They were much more proficient at this than some archaeologists (me)!


The base of unit Y31- notice the irrigation pipe and the reddish stain at the bottom of the unit. We screened the soil from that stain separately and found…nothing. This is good information that will allow us to choose future units to excavate.

May 30, 2015 – Day 12

written by Jill Zuckerman

Wow! What a Saturday!  We had another great turnout today here at the Parsons House.  Jill continued digging inside the house in a small room dubbed, “the buttery”.  Unfortunately, there is no documented evidence of butter actually being produced there.  Elana and Linda continued digging in the yard with our many volunteers and Mary continued cleaning and cataloging artifacts with her wonderful volunteers.  We would especially like to thank the professional archaeologists that so generously volunteered their time today.  Without their help, we certainly would not have this much great work done!

In addition to excavations, a whole host of games and toys were available for our younger visitors.  We wanted them to understand how children’s lives in the 18th and 19th centuries were very different from their lives now.  Children back then did not have toys at their disposal or even that much time to play.  Many children were hard at work in and around the house.  When they did have some down time, they often made their own toys.  So today, our small visitors learned about some of these toys.  We provided hoops and sticks, which were a huge hit, bubbles to blow only using a straw, clay to make marbles, tops, jacob’s ladders, jump ropes, and broken plates to be reassembled.  All the kids had a blast!

We have one more week here in the field and so much more work to do.  We can’t wait to see everyone next Saturday, June 6, for our last public day at the Parsons House Archaeology Project!!

UMass archaeologist Kerry Lynch talks with a budding archaeologist.

UMass archaeologist Kerry Lynch talks with a budding archaeologist.

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Some of the great visitors at the site today.

May 29, 2015 – Day 11

written by Mary Larkum

We were delighted to welcome Mr. Weeks’ 3B class from the Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion School today. They were awesome and we had a lot of fun exploring archaeological excavation and artifact processing with them. I would also like to give a huge shout out to Stephani, Eileen and Jamie who kindly volunteered their time to work with me in the lab. They did an outstanding job cleaning and documenting samples, and we really appreciate their hard work and enthusiasm.

Of the many interesting discoveries made today, the two that stand out to me are the cow mandible (jawbone) uncovered by Maxine and the base of a medicine bottle excavated by Linda.

The mandible is from the right side of a cow’s jaw. A similar mandible fragment was discovered yesterday and that one, too, is from the right side of a cow. This indicates that we have the remains of at least two separate cows in our assemblage. The photo in yesterday’s blog showed a jawbone in situ in the ground. Here you can see today’s mandible discovery after cleaning in the lab.

The medicine bottle base excavated by Linda is interesting because it is from a local Northampton manufacturer. The letters “NOR” and “MASS” were molded as a raised inscription and are clearly visible on the side of the bottle.

The embossed bottle fragment.

The embossed bottle fragment.

Another cow jawbone discovered at the site.  Isn't it amazing what a little cleaning can do?

Another cow jawbone discovered at the site. Isn’t it amazing what a little cleaning can do?