Archaeologists come to Eckley to study our past
ECKLEY, Pa. (AP) — A house at 104 Main St. has an unpainted porch and bare-board siding typical of an old miner’s home, but it suited Paul Shackel.
Shackel selected property because he wanted his archaeology students from the University of Maryland to dig around a home that had been occupied for most of the 165 years as the village developed from company town to state museum.
Just as the home is the middle of the street, it had middle-class residents. The mine owner and foremen lived in the wealthy Protestant downtown on the western side of Main Street, which Shackel and his students might study next year, whereas the lower-earning laborers who lived at a house on Back Street around which the group excavated two years ago.
On the lawn at 104 Main St., the students dug test holes every 10 feet while prospecting for the richest sources of artifacts.
They settled on two areas where soil had been disturbed, indicating that bygone residents had dug trenches for drainage or garbage disposal. In those areas, they dug square pits.
Dorothy Canevari stood in the deepest pit, her chin barely above ground level. With a trowel, Canevari loosened soil for Laurence Bolduc to sift through a screen that she shook back and forth on Friday morning.
When Canevari climbs out of the digs, she will enter law school in September but won’t forget lessons from the village.
“I’d like to do public-interest law,” said Canevari, who notices similarities between poverty today and in the mine village of the past.
“It’s very much tied into our history,” Canevari said.
Bolduc, meanwhile, a visiting scholar, looked for similarities between the mine town and French-Canadian lumber camps that she studies at the University of Montreal.
“I’m very interested in the diversity of the people you have here. A mixture of cultures, working in the same mine,” Bolduc said.
While sifting, she found a piece of porcelain with luminescent glaze that she showed to Canevari and Kyla Cools, a doctoral student overseeing the dig.
Cools said diggers this year found more bits and pieces than in the previous two summers.
Fragments of medicine bottles tie into a thesis that Cools plans to write on how residents of company towns coped with illness and injury.
Poor sanitation factored into conditions like hookworm, sometimes called miners’ itch, said Cools, who also will pore over state accident reports and union benefit cards for her research.
She sees parallels between mining maladies of the past and news reports last month about inadequate measures to prevent black lung and compensate miners who suffer from it.
“People ask all the time what archaeology can tell us” about today. “There’s a direct tie right there,” Cools said.
Census records for 104 Main St. don’t say when the house was built or who lived in it before 1920, she said.
After that, records show a Hungarian-Slovak family resided in the 1920s and 1930s followed by a Russian-Polish family. Lastly, the Rubin family headed by a woman who grew up in the village and her husband, a doctor in suburban Philadelphia owned the home through 2005. The doctor and his family used it as a second home, especially during summers and hunting seasons. A room was added to link the main house with the summer kitchen, which originally was disconnected to keep the main rooms cooler when the stove burned.
The Rubin family updated the interior but kept some historic touches. Vintage Hercules dynamite crates hang as light fixtures in the modern kitchen.
In the yard, Cools said the excavation turned up a few shoes and items that fit with residents’ backgrounds, such as a religious medallion with a Polish inscriptions.
Kate Boyle, who tested and sorted artifacts at a lab set up in another miners’ home, said, compared to other years, diggers this summer found more pieces of tin food and coffee cans and more animal bones carved by butchers. Both indicate that residents at 104 Main St. ate better than some of the families studied previously, perhaps because a horse-drawn wagon started delivering meat and food to the village by the 1920s.
Boyle, who is earning master’s degrees in anthropology and historic preservation, didn’t spend all summer in the lab.
“I’ve got to go outside to play a little,” she said. During the first two weeks of the program, she helped make architectural drawings of 104 Main St. and a sagging half of a duplex to which it is connected at 102 Main St. Students theorize that the drainage trench helped preserve the half of the home at 104 Main St. better than the other half.
Many outbuildings such chicken coops and privies are in disrepair so the team from the University of Maryland plotted every one of them before they collapse. Boyle is writing a report about them.
Shackel, who is the chairman of the Anthropology Department at the university, also used a $75,000 camera to photograph the village’s rickety band shell in three dimensions.
Since 2010 when he re-examined where sheriff’s deputies shot striking coal miners during the Lattimer Massacre in 1897, Shackel has led archaeological teams in the Hazleton area.
His summer sessions allow students from colleges and local high schools to practice techniques while they ponder people of the past.
As Alessandra Portillo and Audrey DeAngelis sorted fragments of glass from two bottles in the lab, they talked about their futures.
Portillo, an undergraduate with a degree in criminal justice also studies archaeology because of her interest in forensics. She hopes to work in a crime lab.
DeAngelis, who is starting her doctoral program, previously worked in costume at Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia. As she explained to tourists what happened in Colonial government buildings, she began reading and thinking about the nation’s early leaders.
“Much of who we are is dictated by where we come from, what we remember and the ways we remember,” she said.
Jenson Huey wanted to take part in the dig after Shackel and Cools described their summer program to students at the Hazleton Area Academy of Sciences, where he will be a sophomore. “I wanted to see how this country was made and the people who made it and the challenges they overcame,” said Huey, who is among six school students who helped on the dig. He regards miners in the village as near-slaves. Yet when the group dug up ketchup and mustard bottles and toys, Huey realized the family at 104 Main St. could afford some extras in addition to life’s necessities.
J.J. Shephard, a 12-year-old Boy Scout, joined the dig so he could earn a merit badge in archaeology. For Patch Town Days on June 23 and 24, he displayed toys found underground. They included a baseball core, tiny scissors and three marbles. Seams on the marbles indicate they were made with a machine used after 1901, Shephard said.
Michael Makowiec, another sophomore at the science academy, dug into his family’s past as he dug beneath the village soil.
His grandmother lived in the village until she was 5.
“I wanted to come here and see how my ancestors and their neighbors lived,” he said.
Information from: Standard-Speaker, http://www.standardspeaker.com