Updates coming soon

I’m a bad blogger.

As with almost everything I do, I’ve been inconsistent. The year and some months since my last update has been lousy with archaeology projects, and I have a lot to write about.

Some of what I want to present deserves a more polished treatment than a throw-away blogpost, so I’ll make an effort to create some article-like postings in the weeks/months to come.

So stay tuned for…

…18th Century farmsteading in northern Maryland, and how being well-off is all relative.

…Animal bone analysis from an 18th century tavern inn, and what it can tell us about communal dining during Colonial times, and how it has changed over time.

…Enslaved peoples, and their quest for food (on top of all their other hardships).

and more.

But no promises.

The last few months

I haven’t updated for a few months as there wasn’t much going on in terms of archaeology for me. I had been working on project reports and some quick and dirty faunal analyses of sites from the south.

Most recently I helped one of our company’s other head archaeologists on an 18th century plantation site near Quantico, Virginia. The plantation was build in the 1740s and abandoned sometime in the first half of the 19th century.

The site had been badly looted before we got out there.

When we got out there we knew where the main house was, as there was a big pit in the location of the cellar.


We tried to find some of the outbuildings, but had no real success. In a few of our test units we found a large number of brick fragments and wire cut nails, which suggest buildings might have been demolished in the vicinity. Still, nothing definitive, like a floor or foundations.

There was this brick square. At first we caught it in a small shovel test pit, but after opening up two 1 x 1 m test units around the feature we began to notice that the bricks look like they’re 20th century, and post-date the plantation.


Still no clue as to what it may be.

Tomorrow I begin work on one of my own projects. We’re going to be checking out portions of a historic town on the Susquehanna River near the MD/PA border where a bridge replacement might damage the remains of some 18th century buildings. I’ll be posting frequent updates.

MALARKY! and braaaaiiinnssss

Today is going to be a blitz update. Just a stray thought before it escapes into the ether entirely.


Why are they so popular?

There is a lot of talk about zombies reflecting social ills and how they are metaphors for rampant consumerism and all that.  I cry bullshit!

They may serve those needs nicely, but zombies give writers, film makers, artists, and especially fans, carte blanche to do messed up things to the human body without the  guilt one might feel about deriving pleasure from pain (the physical kind) of our fellow man.

They fetishize maiming and mutilation.

They let us off the hook to visualize the awful damage we can cause to the human body.  I think that release holds a certain appeal to many people. Not because they’re ticking time bombs. Quite the opposite. It may be that the zombie experience, and the guiltless and inconsequential laying on of bloody-violence to the human form is cathartic,  and it may even reset the clock on those time bombs?

I don’t know. I hate gore in films (Especially in “An Uncomfortable Truth”), and find the idea of a zombie apocalypse absolutely terrifying and depressing.

That is all I have to say about that.


The world’s oldest joke

Humor can exist only within a cultural context. To understand how the ridiculous breaks the rules, you first need to understand the rules. Hence, if we ever do meet aliens, and they ask us why the ‘ktish~z0rk*? crossed the !phlegmak’&&f,  we’ll take it as a deep philosophical challenge and not the friendly ice-breaker for which it might be intended (incidentally the punchline is “because it was covalently bonded to the Terran chicken”).

With that in mind, can we modern westerners find humor in our distant ancestors cracking wise?

In 2008 British Comedy station Dave (yes, Dave) commissioned historians from the University of Wolverhampton to take a plunge down the mirth canal and retrieve the worlds oldest known recorded jokes.

The oldest dates from circa 1900 BC, and comes to us from Mesopotamia, the lands that now make up Iraq (an area known for its humor). It goes as follows:

“Something which has never occurred since time immemorial; a young woman did not fart in her husband’s lap.”

I don’t really get it, but 4000 years later we’re still making fart jokes. Perhaps personal humiliation is universal.

As you move forward in time, the humor begins to appear wittier to our (or at least my own) modern sensibilities.

A 10th century AD Anglo-Saxon wit let out this doozy

“What hangs at a man’s thigh and wants to poke the hole that it’s often poked before?

Answer: A key.”

Don’t forget to tip the serving wench, and try the gruel. I’ll be here until til the next waxing moon.

So what have we learned? Witty remarks about sex and the passing of gas  transcend time and cultural boundaries. So when those aliens do show up, you know what you got to do.  Just make sure they have keys, doors, and assholes first.

Engendering the Past. Part, the second

After a bit more research today I discovered that Beverly R. Codwise was actually a man.

An interesting man though.

He was born in 1844, and may or may not have been the same Beverly Randolph Codwise who served as a private in the 39th Virginia Cavalry Battalion.

Yes, Virginia! What more, the 39th was Robert E. Lee’s personal cavalry unit.
I still haven’t figured out if Mr. Codwise was a native Virginian who moved to Maryland after the war, or if he was from Maryland.

In either case, his presence in a Confederate unit is not surprising, when one remembers that Maryland was a slave state, and many Maryland planters were sympathetic to the southern cause. The State even took a vote on whether or not to secede.

Whatever the case may have been, in 1872 Mr. Codwise began to buy large tracts of land in Montgomery County Maryland.

He had a son with his second wife Mary Codwise. The child, also named Beverly R. Codwise was born in May of 1880, who died two months later.

Mr. Codwise began to sell of small parcels of his land at the turn of the century, when the suburban living movement took off and the small towns around DC began to grow. A portion of his land was deeded to the Montrose School, a small two room schoolhouse built in 1908 which still stands today.

Mr. Codwise died in 1924 and is buried at Rockville Cemetery.


Engendering the past

Engendering the past is one of those post-modern archaeology terms that deals with (among other things) associating gender with particular artifacts or activity areas. For example, hunting camps are typically associated with males.

It’s a giant can of worms, and both troglodytes and hippy shit-heads use it in obnoxious ways. It never really came up in my own work, but a recent project has me thinking.

I began doing historic background research for a project I’m starting up at work. I’ll be surveying a small road right-of-way in Rockville, Maryland.

Rockville was a small town that grew up on trade road build from Frederick in central MD, to the Potomac port of Georgetown, just outside of DC.

In 1755 Rockville was just a little cross-roads tavern. In fact, General Bradock and his troops set up camp at the tavern on their way to the front during the French and Indian War.

The town grew over the years, became the Montgomery County seat, and is a decent sized semi-suburb of DC today.

Anyhow, when searching through historic plat maps of the project area, I noticed that much of it was farmland belonging to a B.R. Codwise during the second half of the 19th century.

Today I discovered that the B in B.R. Codwise stands for Beverly. And Beverly Codwise invented the lever style wagon-brake in 1863.

At first I was all impressed that a woman was a landowner and inventor in 19th century southern (lets face it, antebellum Maryland was southern) American society.

So cool, huh? A historical anomaly of sorts. But now I’m beginning to wonder. None of the documents I have seen regarding B.R. Codwise use pronouns.

Isn’t Beverly also a man’s name? I’m picturing some dippy British Lord. And for some reason the show Mr. Belvedere keeps coming to mind.

Maybe I’m wrong. I hope it’s a broad! 😀

I forgot…sort of

Hello again,

I feel somewhat embarrassed crawling out from below my stone, some five months since I last posted.  Following all the sweeping changes of the last few months I kind of forgot I had this blog, but I also sort of stopped giving a crap.

A chance email from a friend earlier today jogged my memory, and so I figured I’d bring things up to date.

I moved to the DC area with my wife in September and she began her job as a museum specialist in the Smithsonian, while I kept looking far and wide for work.

The Smithsonian may be a very prestigious institution but my wife’s pay is crap. So for about a month or two we lived at the edge of poverty, our savings cleaned out by the cross-country move and the very high cost of living in the DC Metro area. Both of us began thinking about the option of food-stamps without actually uttering the words.

Then I finally caught a break.

In November I was hired by a large multi-national environmental consulting and engineering firm to be one of their senior archaeologists.  What that means is that I get to plan and execute archaeological survey, testing, and recovery projects ahead of large development projects.  Its a pretty good job with great pay and a goodly amount of responsibilities.

I don’t get to do my own research, but I have been able to take part in some interesting projects in Virginia, Maryland and Delaware over the last few months.  That’s three more states under my belt. I think that brings me up to eight in which I’ve put shovel to earth.

Right now I’m finishing up the project report on work we completed in Howardsville, Virginia. Howardsville is a small hamlet settled by freed slaves after the Civil War and continuously occupied by the descendants of the first settlers until today.  The community is largely abandoned now, and the youngest people still living there are perhaps in their 50s.  The location will probably be developed soon, so it felt good to be able to do some work that is documenting almost a century and a half of life in what is a vanishing community.