Barn Project, Archeology, and the New Normal by Nina Schreiner
Last month we completed the first step in our barn construction project. All construction projects on historical sites must consider their impact on archaeological resources. At Woodville Plantation, the visible site consisting of ca. 1780 mansion, outbuilding, and reconstructed gardens actually sits atop underground deposits of artifacts and cultural soil patterns that archaeologists call features. These deposits have the potential to show us how the Nevilles, Cowan-Wrenshalls, and earlier Native American inhabitants used the Woodville landscape. To ensure that our planned barn construction does not destroy these clues to the past, we used an archaeological testing strategy called Phase I survey.
In a survey project, archaeologists excavate small shovel test pits at regular intervals across a site. First, we superimpose a grid onto the site topography, then decide on a testing interval, and finally dig the pits. Theoretically, this system will locate artifact concentrations and parts of features for further exploration in the future. It is also used to identify areas that do not contain archaeological deposits, which are considered safer to disturb. We used this strategy to survey the spot where a barn and parking lot extension will be constructed over the coming year.
The greatest challenge we faced was fielding a team amidst the Covid-19 pandemic. During this new normal, our utmost concern at Woodville is the safety of visitors and volunteers. In the weeks and months leading up the project, we repeatedly discussed ways to safely include the public. When Allegheny County entered the Yellow Phase of social restrictions just before work was scheduled to begin, we decided to allow limited participation. Several members of the Society for Pennsylvania Archaeology provided welcome assistance by working in small teams of three people, wearing masks, and practicing social distancing.
Results of the survey indicate that the area potentially affected by the barn and parking lot is mostly clear of archaeological features, with two exceptions. Near a field well in the corner of the property, we found a linear series of nails and strap metal, potential evidence of a historic well structure. Downslope, we recovered several chipped stone and pottery artifacts, including a Late Archaic (Brewerton) side-notched projectile point. We intend to explore the latter concentration with additional excavation before barn construction begins. Stay tuned for updates!
Our thanks to the following individuals for your assistance; this project would not have succeeded without you.
Mary Kay Schreiner