by Bernard K. Means

Excavations at the Martz Rock Shelter in 1994.

Excavations at the Martz Rock Shelter in 1994.

I began my interest in New Deal archaeology somewhat obliquely.  In the early 1990s, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation was beginning design work prior to the construction of a bypass around Meyersdale, Pennsylvania.  A CRM company that I worked for at the time was engaged to examine the cultural resources along the proposed alternatives, which included dozens of known sites–including a few that had been excavated during the Great Depression.  One of these sites, the Martz Rock Shelter, was in the path of the selected alternative and was doomed to destruction.  So, the question was, did the WPA crew fully excavate the site in 1938, or was some of the site left to allow us to do an archaeology of the archaeology.  Some sleuthing through the archives not only found that some of this site was likely intact, but that the WPA crew also excavated a second rock shelter nearby.  More details on these investigations can be found here.

A more interesting development over the last several years has been the excavation of sites associated with the New Deal, particularly CCC camps.  The most recent article on the archaeological investigation of a CCC camp that I’ve read is by Jonathan Libbon, entitled “We Had Everything but Money: A Study of Buying Strategies at a Civilian Conservation Corps Camp in the Allegheny National Forest” in the latest Pennsylvania Archaeologist 82 (2):54-63.  Libbon examines consumer choice at this camp relative to other excavated New Deal sites, including domestic residences and other CCC camps.  This study not only broadens are understanding of the New Deal but demonstrates the importance of the archaeology of the 20th century in general.

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