by Bernard K. Means, Virtual Curation Laboratory
My interest in New Deal archaeology began with work conducted in Somerset County, Pennsylvania, on mostly Monongahela Tradition archaeological sites. The Monongahela Tradition is an archaeological construct that was originally defined based on these New Deal investigations in Somerset County, especially of three village sites. Most of the work was directed by Edgar E. Augustine under the auspices of the WPA. My initial foray into New Deal archaeology involved a major highway construction project in the 1990s that was slated to destroy a rockshelter site, the Martz Rock Shelter. My basic goal was to determine whether there was any intact deposits untouched by the WPA archaeology crew–there were! I later expanded by research into the Somerset County Archaeological Survey–as the New Deal work was designated–to provide a broader context for the report on the highway project (U.S. 219) and also as a key part of my dissertation research, and subsequent monograph Circular Villages of the Monongahela Tradition (2007, the University of Alabama Press). For my dissertation research, I obtained accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS) dates on over a dozen village components excavated by the WPA–and radically revised the chronology for that region. Details of all the above can be found on a web site hosted by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission: Digging During the Depression in Somerset County, Pennsylvania.
What prompted the above reflection on my long-term research into Somerset County New Deal archaeology–and the application of new technologies to old data–was a research trip to the Virginia Museum of Natural History in Martinsville, Virginia (details of this research trip can be found by clicking here). There, I talked about digital archaeology curation with Dr. Elizabeth Moore, their Curator of Archaeology. Dr. Moore is a zooarchaeologist and, because of this, I showed her a plastic replica of some bead stock from Fort Hill, a Monongahela village site excavated in Somerset County by the WPA. The plastic replica was generated from the digital model we created of the original artifact. Working just from the plastic replica, Dr. Moore was able to identify the bone and species of the animal from which the bead stock was derived: the bone was the right radius from a wild turkey. I’m sure that whatever WPA worker retrieved that bead stock from Pit 35 at Fort Hill had no ideal that some day, something out of science fiction–a laser scanner–would document and allow the creation of a duplicate of that artifact.