by Bernard K. Means
The W in WPA stands for work. If WPA crews did not work, they did not get paid. For the Somerset County Archaeological Survey, this often meant working through the long, cold, bitter winter months. Only two things stopped fieldwork: freezing rain–which could soak men to the bone, and temperatures below 0 degrees Fahrenheit. Even a blizzard would not necessarily stop fieldwork. To keep track of where they had excavated, WPA crews in Somerset County placed sticks in postholes and in the center of pits. Canvas sheets were purchased to shield the crew when they broke for lunch. Fires were maintained in old oil drums–with firewood gathered from the woods surrounding a site, or coal scavenged from along side railroad tracks.
On Christmas Eve, 1935, Edgar Augustine, field director for WPA archaeology in Somerset County, wrote in his daily report that “Working on Hanna site. The outline of the village is showing up nicely on our map on the east, south, and west sides…..” He continued to note that
Three pits were opened today but they were not heavy producers, a small quantity of potsherd, bone and flint constituting the day’s “haul.” The scarcity of artifacts today might be attributed to the Christmas spirit; we worked four hours until lunch and then called it a day on the strength of some news items I have seen in the papers.
Augustine was referring, of course, to Christmas Day. He and is crew had Christmas day off, but returned on December 26, only to cancel the day of work because it was very cold and windy and Augustine felt that “it seems inhumane to me to ask the men to work outside in such vigorous weather.”
More on the Hanna site and other WPA excavations at Somerset County, PA, can be found here.