Back to the Dry – Summer 2012 Field Season!

Yesterday marked the first day of our Summer 2012 field season!  For the next two weeks we will be continuing to investigate various parts of the Dry, building off of the survey work done over the past two years.

Based on previous surveys and the ground penetrating radar work done by Jennifer Moon, we decided to excavate an area on the Viola Mitchell homestead where we believe that her original dugout home was.  Yesterday we began the excavation process by deciding which specific areas to dig in, selecting areas within a grid that we had laid out on the surface of the earth.

Once we had laid out our units, the areas we will excavate, we carefully mapped out and labeled each area.  We began the initial excavation process yesterday by peeling away the top layers of several units.  Even after just one day of work we have already had exciting results!  Several units were producing an abundance of artifacts, many items similar to what we had found on the surface.  After digging down several centimeters on another unit, we noticed a change in the soil, suggesting that this might have been the original wall of the dugout!

As we continue our work today and throughout the rest of the week, we hope to continue to learn more about this possible wall and any other remnants of the structure.  Stay tuned for more developments from the field…

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Jennifer Moon featured in “The Baylor Line” for her work at The Dry!

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The Heritage of Canning

A canning jar base found in the field on 7/26/11

At the Dry, some of the most common objects that we would come across were related to the canning process.  Although the artifact counts tell us that the amount of canning happening varied from homestead to homestead, we still had the sense that this activity played an important role in many people’s lives.

Today, canning has come back in “fashion.”  The local food movement has encouraged more people to be in touch with the sources of their food.  If you’re interested in learning more about canning (and even try your hand at it!) check out the wonderful resource called “Canning Across America

On the site you can explore the recipes, resources, and stories shared by people from all over the country.  If you have your own experiences to share, you should contribute!


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Colorado Preservation, Inc. – “Saving Places” Conference

Earlier this month, the team from the Dry presented at the “Saving Places” conference in Denver. We had been excited about the conference for a while because we were eager to talk about the project with a more local audience (AND to present at the Colorado Convention Center, under the watchful eye of the big blue bear!)

We were in good company at the conference, with interesting presentations on diverse topics such as “Healthy Communities: Partnering Preservation, Planning, and Public Health,” and “Preserving Native American Places that Matter.”  All of the programs were organized to highlight the following goals:

Goal A: Preserving the Places that Matter
Goal B: Strengthening and Connecting the Colorado Preservation Network
Goal C: Shaping the Preservation Message
Goad D: Publicizing the Benefits of Preservation
Goal E: Weaving Preservation Throughout Education
Goal F: Advancing Preservation Practices

Dores began our presentation with an overview of the site, the project, and our hopes for the future. Jess went on to discuss the ways that public archaeology has played a central role in the way that the project is structured. Jennifer shared information on her thesis research, explaining some of the science behind ground penetrating radar and how it is being using at the site. The presentation concluded with Mrs. Darlene Derbigny’s discussion of her memories of the Dry and the site’s significance in her family history.

We had a very engaged audience who asked several thoughtful questions that will help us think about the project in new ways.  After our session ended, the group went out for a delicious lunch at a local Cajun restaurant.  It was fantastic to get the opportunity to see the group together again, and to hear feedback on the project.  All in all, the conference was a huge success!

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Society for Historical Archaeology Conference

Earlier this month the Society for Historical Archaeology gathered in Baltimore, Maryland for their annual meeting.  Conference attendees from all over the United States, the U.K., Australia, and more came to share their work and learn about the projects being carried out by their peers.  The team from the Dry was excited about the conference, not only because we could have a long awaited reunion, but also because we could have the opportunity to talk with other archaeologists about what we’ve been up to!

We were fortunate enough to present a paper on the Dry as part of a very interesting session called “The Heritage of Liminality: Memory and Materiality of the Peripheral.”  All eight papers given during the session addressed the idea of marginality, life on the edges (physically or socially).  After Michelle presented, we had the chance to talk with some of the other folks who gave papers and hear some of their thoughts.  People within the archaeological community seem very excited about the site as a place where some of the most interesting parts of American history were playing out!  Next week we’ll be presenting at the Colorado Preservation, Inc. “Saving Places” conference – more updates on that soon!

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On Dugouts

During our time at The Dry we talked a lot about dugouts: we heard stories about how the first settlers built their homes in the ground, we collected artifacts from the site of a former dugout, and we used ground penetrating radar to see what that dugout looked like below the surface.  But most of us had ever actually SEEN a real-life dugout before.  In trying to imagine such a structure, we recalled images from “Little House on the Prairie,” but that was pretty much all we had to go on…

So imagine how thrilled we were when we found out that there was still a standing dugout near Nicodemus, Kansas!  During our visit we made sure to pay a visit to the little roadside structure.  Angela informed us that this is where people from Nicodemus would stay after making a trip into the nearby town of Stockton.  Local Jim Crow laws prevented black people from staying overnight in the town, so if residents from Nicodemus needed supplies from Stockton, they had to stay in the dugout on their way back home.  The structure seemed to have held up well through the years, so we wanted to take a look at how it was able to stay standing.  Upon closer examination we discovered that the walls were not just carved in to the soil, but they were reinforced with stone.  Although the room was small, it seemed sturdily built – explaining the permanence of the structure over time.  We imagined how difficult it would be to stay in such a small space overnight, then we thought about what it would be like to LIVE in a dugout.  The chance to see a dugout in person certainly helped shape our understanding of the settler experience…

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Nicodemus, Kansas

Two weeks ago our team visited Nicodemus, Kansas, the site of an all-black settlement of homesteaders.  Nicodemus was interesting to us not only because of its fame as a pioneer black town, but also because many of the homesteaders at The Dry came to Colorado from Nicodemus.  This included Lulu Sadler Craig and her family, as well as members of the Jones family and the Garland family.

When we arrived in Kansas we were given a warm reception from Angela Bates, of the Nicodemus Historical Society and Phyllis Howard, a park ranger from the Nicodemus National Historic Site.  Angela gave us a tour of the town and countryside, including the cemetery where many residents are buried.  She showed us photos of the people of Nicodemus, and provided more insight in to Lulu Craig’s family.  As it turns out, Lulu herself was a historian, and chronicled the history of Nicodemus.

The trip gave us perspective on the broader experience of African American settlers in the West, and it was especially exciting to follow the stories of some of the individuals who settled on The Dry!

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