Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Talk and Tour

Hello all our Bermuda friends! With the election over, you can turn your attention to the cool work we are doing out at Smiths Island. Come hear about our five seasons of investigations and discoveries TOMORROW at 7pm at the World Heritage Center in St. George's, and then come to Smiths Island yourself and see the sites this SATURDAY at 2pm. See below for more details and RSVP information.  Also, we are still signing up volunteers, so if you are over 15 years of age and willing to put in a few days learning about Bermuda history and doing archaeology first-hand, shoot me an email and we will sign you up.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

A New Site for a New Season

The 2017 Smiths Island Field Crew (L to R): Xander, Sean, Katrina, Leigh, Fengyi, Karemy, Me, Ewan, and Ryan,
 with the infamous feature-attracting yellow water tank from 2010

The dig has started!  We are now all here in Bermuda (no thanks to JetBlue and JFK runway-crossing sea turtles), comfortably installed at our summer quarters in St. George's Preparatory School (thanks Garth, Mary, Unray, Kelly, and camp kids!), well fed (thanks, Somers Market!), well provisioned (thanks Cathie!), outfitted with our boat (thanks Geoffrey!) and have just finished our first full day of work out on Smiths Island. It is pretty stunning how fully nature reclaims a site in just two years' time:

July 2015
July 2017

 But our lean and fearless crew were up for the task of taking back Oven Site and getting it prepped for picking up where we left off in 2015, ready to get to the bottom of the newly discovered water cistern lying some distance from the main footprint of Oven Site and locating another structure we hypothesize should be close to it.  It was good to get back to commuting to work by boat and this year's team took readily to the water.

First order of business was culling some of the many allspice trees that grew up while we were gone and expanding the clear area around the cistern to join the excavation units there with the rest of Oven Site. We then rigged up tarps for shade, since we're finding it is a lot hotter and harder going to dig in Bermuda in July than late May (temperature swing now is 86/78 F, rather than 74/72 F).  While clearing the area, we found a very promising section of a stone wall some forty feet north of the cistern, and will make assessing this our first order of business.

Also, in clearing the area around the Cistern, we uncovered a puzzling feature cut apparently into an outcropping of native bedrock, looking much like the shrine-like alcove cut into the north wall of Oven Site, excavated in 2012. It goes quite deep. Stay tuned for more in the days and weeks ahead!

The Cistern emerging from hibernation. The new feature is above and to the left.

So, we are off to a good start and look forward to accomplishing a lot this season. We plan to spend about two and a half weeks at Oven Site and then return to Smallpox Bay to open up a very large area in search of more post holes and material related to the military and civilian occupation of the ruin that still stands there.  We welcome Bermudian volunteers and participants, so if you are interested in joining us between now and August 3, please contact me at! 

And finally, this just in from the Royal Gazette: Police raided a cannabis plantation on Smiths Island a couple of weeks before we arrived. We have been running into evidence of this for the past six years and I keep trying to interest some anthropology student to map out these sites and write the first "archaeology of contraband pot growing" thesis covering technologies of sustainability and secrecy, with maybe some oral interviews of farmers thrown in for good measure. So far no takers...

The 2017 Field Team is led by Leigh Koszarsky and Katrina Ponti and includes University of Rochester students Ewan Shannon, Fengyi Zhao, Sean Fischer, and Ryan Chui, Yale graduate student Karemy Valdez, and Bermudian Xander Cook, who is Cardiff-bound this fall to pursue a degree in archaeology.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Six Weeks Until Dirt Starts Getting Moved!

The Smiths Island Archaeology Project resumes on July 10 after a two-year hiatus - right around the corner, so to speak!  Of course, Bermuda and I both have a lot packed into the weeks in between...
 The eyes of the world will be upon Bermuda in May and June, as the Tall Ship Regatta passes through St. George's crossing the Atlantic. Then America's Cup starts up and runs through June 27 and two years of preparation and anticipation come to a month-long maritime match-up... which is partly why we are digging in July! I usually keep each year's field school t-shirt design a carefully guarded secret, but it is more timely now than it will be in July - and just arrived back from the printer. The ship is actually an engraving of the Sea Venture, the only one known to exist, from the frontispiece of R. Rich's Newes from Virginia (London 1610). Hopefully none of the 2017 racers will meet a similar fate.

Smiths Island is actually the second of my two field schools this summer. I leave next week for Ghana to take part in the University of Rochester/University of Ghana's joint field school investigating Elmina Castle - the oldest surviving European building in Sub-Saharan Africa.  We will be doing structural recording and analysis blended with photogrammetry and laser scanning surface recording of the entirety of this enormous castle complex in order to both create a high-resolution digital model of the fortress as it stands today and also historically date all its sections, from the original Portuguese construction in 1482 through the Dutch modifications made after its capture in 1637 and more recent (post 1872) British alterations, as well as assessing various conservation events in the 1950s and early 2000s. This project is "archaeology without dirt" in that we won't be actually excavating anywhere, but the rigorous application of logic and undertaking a Harris Matrix-like assessment of TPQ/TAdQ/TAQ dating for all of Elmina's walls, floors, roofs, windows, doors, passages, etc. will certainly be challenging. Plus I get to try out the new DJI Phantom 4 and working with georeferenced aerial imagery in Photoscan, which will let us get at portions of roofs and inaccessible towers that we otherwise couldn't model. Going from currently chilly Rochester to Ghana's humid and constantly 90-degree climate will also take some getting used to.  Bermuda will seem positively cool in July after Elmina!

We will have a smaller but equally stalwart team for 2017, with five undergraduates from the U of R and a Yale graduate student especially interested in the slave experience in a comparative Atlantic context. The inimitable Leigh will be returning to Smallpox Bay as Katrina steps into Jim's sizeable shoes (he actually wears size 13), since he will be busy dissertating about pirates and digesting a month of data gathering in British archives.

Bermudians who are interested in volunteering, please contact me in June so I can put you on an email list and give you updates as we get close to starting. Remember, the only way to get one of our exclusive 2017 field school shirts is to formally do the field school or volunteer for at least three days - to earn it. In the mean time, enjoy America's Cup and don't drink too much rum!

Saturday, January 14, 2017

The 2017 Field School starts in just six months!

It's easier to deal with Western New York winters when I have a Bermuda field school to look forward to... Actually this year, I will be doing two field schools - the first with the University of Ghana in May and June teaching digital archaeology at Elmina, an enormous, infamous slave trade castle built in 1482 and working with photogrammetry and laser scanners to build high resolution 3D models of the site and working out its construction evolution.  Anyone interested in participating in this field school can click HERE for more information!

The 2017 Smiths Island field school will run from July 9 to August 5, after the excitement and crowding of Americas Cup has passed and life has returned to normalcy - or as normal as Bermuda ever gets! We are very excited to have spacious new quarters for this summer, staying at the St. George's Primary School (thank you Garth and Mary!!!). Not only will we have fantastic views of the harbour (we are right next to the Unfinished Church and thus have the view of all 18th c. Bermuda governors!) but also unlimited access to a playground and soccer/cricket field for after-hours recreation. My Inner Child will be very happy.

Click HERE to download an information sheet and application. The deadline is March 1, 2017 but I will be accepting qualified applicants on a rolling basis before then. Space is limited to FIFTEEN STUDENTS, so apply early!

Our focus in 2017 will be on completing the excavation of the artifact-rich cistern and finding the hypothesized main house adjoining Oven Site, greatly expanding our uncovering of the Smallpox Bay site to map the posthole clusterings thought to reflect Governor Moore's brief 1612 town, and hopefully making maps and preliminary assessments of two new promising sites at the west end. If all goes well, we will make some real breakthroughs and start to tell the stories of two completely new and entirely undocumented homesteads that look to be at least 300 years old. I can't wait to get started!

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Hot off the Press! Now Taking Applicants for the 2017 Smiths Island Archaeology Field School...

More details to come, and an update on how our sites fared after Hurricane Nicole after I make a quick visit to St. George's in early November. Please email me for a full application!

Friday, June 10, 2016

The Quiet Year

In a normal year, the Smiths Island Archaeology field school would be halfway finished at this moment. The students would be finishing up their collective work (standardized training, really) at Oven Site and dispersing into smaller teams at the other sites - Cave, Smallpox, perhaps the dock/wharf complex at Pitcher's Point. This year, however, we have suspended operations in order to catch up on database and paperwork and also for me to further develop some of my other research projects - particularly Virtual St. George's, which will feature 3D historicized reconstructions of Bermuda's first capital at various moments in the town's four-hundred-year history, developed using a videogame engine. Indeed, during a flying research visit in February, I shot more than 19,000 photographs to use in this digital reconstruction, and I supervised several students creating ArcGIS layer maps for St. George's in 1750, 1775 and 1815. 

Seaward facing side of Elmina, Portuguese from 1482 to 1637 and Dutch thereafter

Great Britain's Cape Coast Castle
New research opportunities have also taken me beyond Bermuda in both time and space.  In January, my University of Rochester colleague Renato Perucchio and I began a long-term collaboration with the University of Ghana to develop 3D models of Ghanaian Transatlantic Slave Trade castles and forts, starting with Elmina, which was built by the Portuguese in 1482. We also visited Fort Amsterdam (aka Koromantin), Fort Patience, James Fort, and Fort Usser and worked with U. Ghana Archaeology Ph.D. students to record them. The sites are enormous and challenging, both in terms of their physical size and complexity and as sites of history, shaped by clashing cultures and interests through which some Bermudians' ancestors doubtlessly passed.
Entry to Fort Patience
All of these coastal sites also reflected a further core element of Bermudian history: shipbuilding, fishing, and boat handling, which underscores the shared African and European roots of its maritime traditions. 
3D model of Elmina, derived from UAV drone footage

Fort Amsterdam model, mid-processing

More recently, I completed an intensive week-long digital archaeology field project in Oplontis and Herculaneum, using a variety of digital archaeology approaches to recording and recovering eroded examples of Roman graffiti and frescoes on First Century AD sites destroyed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79. My U of R colleague Nick Gresens and I led a small team of three undergraduates (including Smiths Island Field School veteran Cameron Barreto) to work at Oplontis, the 95-room Villa of Poppea (Nero's wife).
photogrammetry model of Roman graffiti, appx 5 mm
In addition to conducting photogrammetry surveys and laser scanning villa walls with a FARO focus and hand-held Artec Spider scanner, we employed a FLIR infrared thermal imaging camera and a one-of-a-kind UV cross-polarization camera recently invented at Rochester Institute of Technology (our neighbor) and thus far only used to image planets and nebulae. We are just back and starting to process the 460 GB of data we compiled.  

UV imaging of an amphora's painted labl

Active IR imaging: applying heat (via a halogen lamp) and studying the differential absorption within the wall fabric

Cameron watching the FARO scanner do its work

Oplontis Villa A stratigraphy: the site was buried under 24 feet of volcanic ash, rock, and pyroclastic
flow (lava). Kinda makes Oven Site look easy, since we can excavate it with trowels instead of jackhammers.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Digital Archaeology and Database Initiatives in 2015

3D digital model of Smallpox Bay ruin and excavations,
 based on 373 photos and with a dense cloud of 21.6 million points.
Stemming from Principal Investigator Michael Jarvis’s recent appointment as Director of Digital Media Studies at the University of Rochester and his increased access to new technologies, software, and devices, this season’s work included training students in a variety of new cutting-edge digital archaeology initiatives. Based on the 2014 season’s success in developing an interactive 3D model of Oven Site using Agisoft’s Photoscan software, the P.I. and Digital Archaeology specialist trainees Miriam Beard and Alice Wynd conducted photogrammetry surveys of all five sites, with Oven Site and Smallpox Bay being surveyed at the beginning, middle, and end of the season.
Although highest resolution processing awaits a return to the University of Rochester and access to the BlueGene supercomputer, we were able to generate excellent medium-resolution point cloud and textured models during the field school. Subsections of sites (the fallen wall scatter of Smallpox Bay; the interior of Oven Site’s oven, the Oven Site cistern) were also modelled separately.

Sparse Point Cloud preliminary model of Oven Site, including the Cistern in the upper left corner.
 Model derived from 722 photographs. View faces east.
 The 3D models derived from the photogrammetry series for all sites will be archived at the University of Rochester, provided to the Bermuda National Trust and Bermuda Government (if requested) and made available to interested scholars and the general public through Michael Jarvis’s professional webpages.

During the final days of the 2015 field season, we also attempted a fine-resolution 3D surface capture of Oven Site using a Kinect for Windows sensor, laptop running Skanect software, and a boat battery and AC power inverter to make it work in the field. Although a trial scan of the interior of the Oven Site’s ovens was successful, attempts to scan the rest of the site (open to natural daylight) failed, due to the reflective nature of white Bermudian limestone. 

The 3D Kinect laser scan trial proved a failure, but there are several alternatives that may yield better results. The Kinect may have greater success with another program, such as Artec Studio 9.2 or FARO SCENE or SCENE LT. Also, a higher resolution 3D scanner such as the FARO Focus X130 or X330 promises to be able to capture white surfaces in direct sunlight.

Finally, after reading a review in Make magazine, the P.I. obtained a Seek Thermal infrared camera compatible with IPads and smartphones capable of detecting slight temperature changes within rooms and environments. If suitable, the Seek Thermal promised to potentially identify buried features visible through heat signature differentials a little after dawn and dusk, since this would constitute the same dynamics upon which infrared photography remote sensing site detection is based. A partial survey was conducted at 6:00 am (just before sunrise) to 6:30 am on Saturday, June 27 in the wooded Cottonhole Bight valley area, with no discernible results (other than detecting the movements of wild brown rats) for site identification. Additional trials may yield better results, however, at cooler times of the year when night-to-day temperature swings are more pronounced.

Finally, Lab Supervisor and Data Manager Leigh Koszarsky oversaw the entry of nearly all artifacts recovered to date into ArtiBase, a Microsoft Access database of her design, based on established SGARP context sheet protocol and artifact inventory standards established by Dr. Brent Fortenberry. Veteran students Alice Wynd and Miriam Beard did much of the data input and also trained first-year students in proper entry techniques. Although the artifacts in 200 contexts had been entered in an Excel datasheet in 2014, a quality control audit found numerous inaccuracies, prompting the wholesale re-entry of these contexts afresh. The data architecture Koszarsky designed maintains separate forms and tables for each Smiths Island site and cross-references context site information (layer/feature fill/cut, unit size, Munsell color, soil type, etc.) with artifact inventory information. As a result in the future, site supervisors can have immediate access to profiles of artifacts recovered in all previously excavated areas as they proceed, allowing better real-time interpretation of new patterns of material in new contexts as they are recovered. With the exception of totals for contexts excavated between June 26 and July 4, ArtiBase is complete for all contexts excavated in every site since 2010.

Artifact Count
Oven Site
25,137 (incl. 12,383 bone, 3992 metal & 3434 charcoal)
Smallpox Bay
Cottonhole Bight
2012, 2014
Cave Site

Artifact Totals, by Site

Cave Site and Limekiln Site Summaries

Cave Site

Discovered in 2010 and 2013, Cave Site is completely undocumented in the historic record. It is located approximately a tenth of a mile south of the 1872 stone farmer’s cottage ruin at the center of Amenity Park but does not seem to be associated with it. Excavations commenced during the 2014 season with a three-meter-long exploratory trench bisecting the southernmost of the cave’s two openings to determine the depth of stratigraphic deposits within the cave. This work revealed a posthole situated midway across the front of the southern opening as well as a 30 cm step down to a flattened floor just within the cave’s interior. Few subsurface artifacts were recovered, but two sherds of Astburyware suggested occupation in mid-18th-century. We also observed that the cave roof had been laboriously smoothed as an improvement and exhibited numerous tool marks.

This season’s investigations focused on completing the exploratory trench through the back wall of the cave in order to assess the extent of usable space and discern additional cultural modification. Numerous metal detector hits along the back edge of the cave suggested that deposits naturally sloped down to the rear area and concentrated there, so this strategy promised to reveal additional information about the site’s occupants and their activities. Historical evidence and cave sites found on Barbados and other British islands suggest a connection between caves and enslaved Africans; this year’s excavations particularly sought evidence of this and of the sorts of activities that occurred in this obscure, hidden location. Finally, we sought to assess whether Cave Site is an isolated example or whether there are additional rock outcrops and occupied cave sites nearby in this area of Smiths Island, including a promising but nearly completely buried location approximately eight feet from Cave Site’s northern opening.

Two units were excavated sequentially within the cave (N5 E2-3), completing a lateral east-west profile of the cave interior’s extent. The stratigraphic sequence followed that of N5 E4 excavated in 2014 but the units were far richer in artifacts, particularly large mammal and fish bones. Evidence of rodent burrowing and the mixing of 18th and 19th-century artifacts within the cave deposits reveal disturbances mitigating against a temporally fine-tuned reconstruction of occupation activities. Datable artifacts ranged from additional examples of Astburyware and plain white saltglazed stoneware to Creamware annularware, suggesting intermittent occupation spanning circa 1725 to circa 1825. Charcoal, a bone-handled knife, peach and other pits, and large quantities of both cracked and sawn mammal bone reveal that occupants regularly consumed food here - perhaps even feasted - and that the site served as a socializing/gathering  place. That said, the near complete absence of hand-blown glass bottle fragments and tobacco pipes suggests that this socializing did not apparently extend to drinking and smoking.

This season's excavations revealed that both the cave floor and ceiling had been deliberately smoothed by humans. Both follow natural limestone bedrock cleavage but exhibit numerous tool marks. The floor has been flattened but has a slight step up in unit N5 E4. The rubble layer lying atop the flattened floor seems to relate to the modification of the roof after the floor had been altered, suggesting that these events did not occur simultaneously. Unfortunately, no material was recovered atop the flat floor sealed by the stone detritus - artifacts that would help us date the earliest usage and first modification of Cave Site; perhaps the first occupants kept this floor clean and deposited rubbish outside the cave, in which case it may be possible to recover this through future excavations.
Cave Site, western end of interior trench (N5 E2), facing west. Note the deliberately
smoothed floor with tool marks and the south profile stratigraphic sequence,
showing a stone rubble layer as the bottom-most deposit.
Southern profile of Cave Site interior trench.

This season's work inside the cave has revealed a considerable usable space made through human improvement, with about four to five feet of head clearance when the floor was first  levelled. It also provided specific evidence of socializing and significant food consumption using a few strikingly high quality items (like a bone-handled knife and an Astburyware vessel) but not smoking or drinking. A few small rounded non-Bermudian stone pebbles and flint stone flake recovered seem culturally significant, since they were deliberately brought into the cave, but otherwise we recovered no culturally/ethnically diagnostic artifacts to associate the site with African or African-Bermudian usage.  Future archaeological investigation will target the area to the south of the interior cave trench and the open area in front of (to the east of) the cave's southern opening to both determine if the 2014 posthole relates to a structure of some sort and to gather more evidence of the cave's occupants and their activities. 

Testing near Cave Site included a pedestrian survey to the south and excavating a meter-square unit (N10 E5) near another rock outcropping. The survey found a significant, high exposed rock ridge approximately 120 to 150 feet south of Cave Site, with several partly filled deep declivities and 19th-century surface finds - an area that warrants further investigation in future seasons. The N10 E5 unit yielded charcoal, bone, and 20th-century artifacts but hit natural bedrock after 30cm and did not reveal the nearby rock cavity to be large or deep enough to constitute a new cave entrance.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Smallpox Bay Overview

Smallpox Bay Ruin, pre-excavation
The easternmost of our SIAP sites adjoins two small bays on Smiths Sound. The site is a standing stone roofless building ruin whose architectural features indicate an 18th- or early 19th-century construction date. Historical research suggests that the site may have been used as a quarantine station for inbound sick passengers and crew, since Smiths Island was one of two official mandated quarantine anchorages mentioned in Bermuda acts from 1731 through the early nineteenth century. Previous archaeology found evidence of mid-18th-century occupation extending into the mid-19th century, the latter with a distinct British military character. The 2014 season identified "G.R." (George Rex) and a broad arrow carved into the inside north wall, indications of an imperial presence. Intriguingly, artifacts recovered also included toys such as marbles and a cast copper alloy cannon barrel, suggesting the presence of children on an otherwise military site. Excavations within the ruin also revealed several postholes that predate the stone structure, as confirmed by the northern stone wall overlying and sealing a large posthole. A midden or heavily concentrated artifact layer discovered approximate fifty feet to the southeast of the ruin found at the very end of the 2014 season yielded several early 17th-century ceramics as well as numerous mid-18th to mid-19th-century artifacts consistent with the established ruin occupation dates.

This season's investigations had three main objectives: 1) deepen our understanding of the site's usage and occupants in the c. 1750-1860 main activity period, 2) attempt to discern a pattern among postholes cut into the bedrock that suggest a multi-period site with one or more timber-frame buildings predating the standing ruin, and 3) attempt to date any identified earth-fast structures in the interest to testing the hypothesis that Governor Richard Moore may have begun to build Bermuda's first town at this location in late July and early August 1612.
The collapsed southern wall of Smallpox Bay ruin. 
Note "Salisbury" on the lowest course of the wall.

Smallpox Bay Ruin suffered significant damage from Hurricanes Faye and Gonzalo in October 2014, which resulted in the south wall of the ruin collapsing. Curiously the interior side of the collapsed wall was revealed to have the word "Salisbury" carved into it through exposure to the elements, graffiti suggesting either the surname of an occupant or a personal or regimental affiliation with this southern English town. With the east and west walls currently not tied together and given the vulnerability of the site to southerly winds (the direction typical for a hurricane strike), the future integrity of the standing stone ruin is very much compromised. As such, we prioritized digital recording of the structure by tasking Miriam Beard and Alice Wynd, two veteran field school students, with creating 3D models before, during, and after excavations commenced (see below).

Site Supervisor Leigh Koszarsky directed excavation of a total of 26 contexts, completely exposing the ruin's interior in a clearing excavation designed to reveal posthole patterns. Strata was shallow and jumbled, and the presence of floor joist footings carved into the walls reveals that the house had a wooden, rather than an earthen floor.

Artifacts recovered from these units further strengthened the interpretation of a military-domestic blending: additional regimental and military buttons (XXth Regiment, Royal Artillery, Royal Engineers) were recovered alongside numerous civilian metal and bone buttons, copper alloy straight pins, hooks, and eyes, a thimble, a bone-handled brush, and a door key. Numerous mammal and fish bones and ceramics provide clear evidence of food consumption, despite the absence of a chimney and fireplace within the ruin. Leigh Koszarsky's additional historical research on the yellow fever epidemics that struck the 42nd and 56th Regiments lead her to interpret the Smallpox Bay site as a place where healthy soldiers - and perhaps their families - were sent to separate them from Barracks Hill, the epicenter of the contagion. This reading nicely accounts for the range of artifacts recovered and explains the presence of women and children at this intermittently used military site.

The clearing excavation revealed pronounced overlapping linear patterns among closely spaced postholes of uniform dimensions, as well as the building trench cuts for the construction of the standing ruin and a natural fissure.

Posthole patterns within the Smallpox Bay ruin, by size and depth. View facing west. A seventh posthole in the orange series was found in 2013 in a unit on the other side of the north wall.
Because the orientation of the standing ruin shares only a north-south orientation with the posthole patterns, it remains for future excavations to reveal the full extent of the earth-fast structures that formerly occupied the site. Posthole fill failed to yield any datable or diagnostic artifacts - which would be consistent with construction on a previously uninhabited location and a brief occupation followed by the abandonment of the structures. The midden site's lowest strata yielded both North Devon Plain earthenware and Surrey Borderware (aka Tudor Greenware), dating to the late 16th and early 17th centuries.

In sum, the 2015 season found clear evidence in the form of early artifacts and features that supports the hypothesis that Governor Richard Moore's briefly established 1612 town may have been situated at or near the Smallpox Bay site. The location makes sense, given the documented presence of the Plough in Smiths Sound and the ease with which a smaller shallow draft vessel like it could have moored close to shore at either of the bays immediately to the south. (A fifty-passenger ship like the Plough was probably in the 50-70 tons range and likely drew only eight to ten feet; accounts of the English landing at Jamestown in 1607 noted that the much larger Susan Constant, Godspeed,  and Discovery tied up to trees on James Island's shore.) It is unlikely that large quantities of early 17th-century artifacts can be recovered, due to the brief occupation period of the town, but a future clearing excavation strategy to the north, east, and west of the Smallpox Bay ruin has the strong potential of revealing the posthole footprints of several timber-frame structures, providing additional examples of the construction techniques of Bermuda's earliest domestic architecture.
Smallpox Bay Site Supervisor Leigh Koszarsky