Sunday, July 23, 2017

Half-way There!

Group Portrait at Devonshire Redoubt, Castle Island

We are now hitting the mid-season mark of this year's field school and have been frantically busy this past week, both moving a lot of dirt and immersing ourselves in Bermuda's past and present. Last week, a general election shifted control of Bermuda's government from one party to another in an entirely civil manner. The next day it was business as usual at the Bermuda Archives, where the students got to look at manuscript records dating to 1616, 17th-century maps showing houses on Smiths Island, and the 1706 inventory of Captain Boaz Sharp, which documents Oven Site. And Friday, we got a spur-of-the-moment tour of the Spirit of Bermuda as she prepared for a voyage to Halifax - and then got to see her sail off Saturday morning!
Captain Phoopa Anderson graciously took us out to Castle Harbour as a birthday treat for me on his new glass-bottom boat Skinny Dipper. We got to see some of the oldest standing fortifications in English America - King's Castle and Devonshire Redoubt, both dating to 1620 and the subject of several William and Mary field schools in the 1990s led by Drs. Norman Barka and Edward Harris. A heavy downpour scuppered plans for a barbecue on a nearby beach, but serendipitously this landed us in King's Square in the middle of the town's Cup Match celebration.

A future archaeologist?
As for the digging, much of this week was spent preparing for our public presentation in St. George's World Heritage Center on Thursday and public tours of our sites this past Saturday, arranged by the Bermuda National Trust (thanks Bill and Peter!!!). The talk was well attended and gave me an excuse to wear my pink Bermuda shorts, and the tour was especially popular, with more than forty people venturing across the harbour to visit us despite the heat.
Leigh interpreting Smallpox Bay Site

A full house at Oven Site
Preparing for the tour involved several days of intensive work, particularly in removing all the backfill from previous seasons at Smallpox Bay. It was very rewarding, though, to see the full array of postholes see the light of day once again, and to plan where to put units in next week to follow out the three different lines of posts we can now discern. 

At Oven Site, we had a bit of a disappointment with the cistern.  Given the scattered presence of 17th century ceramics in the cistern's fill, we had high hopes of finding a greater concentration on the tarris tank's floor, which logically would have served as a ready-made trash pit upon the site's abandonment.

The tank's lining did prove to be tarris - a waterproof cement made by incorporating brick dust - but the very bottom-most layer was composed of a set cement-like slurry of reconstituted Bermuda stone, which was very hard to remove and had to be chiseled out. In the midst of this, we found a large heat-altered piece of a whale vertebra, but also two sherds of early 19th-century white ware incontrovertibly in situ, which dates the filling of the cistern to that period (the cistern/tank itself may be much older, but its abandonment and filling came then). Upon revealing the original bottom, we could clearly see a set of cracks that rendered it useless and leaky, and speculate that when it no longer served its original water catchment purpose, it served a last function as a  mortar mixing pit.

Profile of the Cistern Fill. Note the large post hole to the left (north) and the smooth plaster floor

The exploratory trench laid out
 But work continues to both connect this area with the previously excavated portions of Oven Site and also to expose an exploratory trench to the north of the cistern in an effort to find the larger main house we hypothesize should be nearby. Thankfully, our public talk and tour generated considerable interest among volunteers, and we should have a fair bit of Bermudian help in the two weeks we still have left to dig.

Sean is tired of using just a trowel

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.