The Big Dig at the Stauffer Farm

On Saturday morning, the Oakes Museum at Messiah College ran its semi-annual Curator Club Archaeology event.   As the official curator of archaeology for the Oakes Museum, I look forward to this day in the fall and spring.  The basic idea of the event is pretty simple: introduce children grades 3-5 to the systematic methods of archaeology in a brief  three hour time frame.   But the challenge is this:  maintain systematic rigor so that the excavations produce real archaeological evidence good enough to address historical questions.

In the past, we’ve run these Curator Club excavations in Grantham at house sites dating from the 19th to 20th century.  This year we had the good fortune to begin work at a new site south of Dillsburg called the “Stauffer Farm” (pronounced Sto-fer) owned by wonderful Diane Phillips.  The chronology of the farm, as Diane has pieced it together, begins in the 1760s when Abraham Staufer (with only 1 ‘f’ at that point) built his house out in the country.  The house underwent refurbishments and additions in the early 1800s, the 1840s, and throughout the later 19th and 20th century.  The currently standing structures in the yard–the barn, garage,  hog pin,  milk house, and corn crib–are artifacts of these different periods.

Our investigations on Saturday focused on the outbuilding shown above.  We chose to begin our investigation at this building because of its mystery and apparent age.  Inside are objects dating from the second half of the 20th century (from plastic chairs to stored slate roof tiles), and an electrical hookup proves its 20th century use.  In  the left room is a furnace and bellows that was used as a blacksmith shop.   The building in its log construction is very old and may  be one of the first built on the property.  But how old we do not know for sure.  Diane said that some people had even speculated that the Stauffer family may have lived here at an early date.  Our excavations, we hoped, would shed some light on the chronology.

But on Saturday we set three 1 x 1 meter units south of the building mainly to determine whether there were earlier structures to the south.  (Diane tells us that former inhabitants claimed there were additional outbuildings) and to capture some of the objects used in the building, stored to the exterior, and provisionally discarded over the decades.

The enthusiastic work crew that showed up on Saturday morning was the largest Archaeology Curator Club to date: 40 children, 5  history majors (Melissa Hogan, Valerie Weaver, Matt Jagnarain, Nick Schmuck, Katie Garland), 7 Oakes Museum staff (including the director Ken Mark, Beth Erikson, and 5 college students), and at least a dozen parents who stayed to watch the show.  Below Ken Mark and Beth Erikson talk to the group before work begins.

Excavating three 1 x 1 m units with 50 people will inevitably be an operation.  We’ve perfected our system over the last few years.  The key is to have reliable help.  Four of our history majors had been with me to Cyprus and participated in archaeological work there including excavation.  I put them in charge of the units.  The Oakes Museum student volunteers controlled the sifting stations.

We had 10 stations in all: Three excavation units, 3 coarse sifters, 3 fine sifters, 1 artifact station.  10 groups of 4 children each rotated between each station over the course of 2 hours.

Below Nick Schmuck supervises the kids slowly troweling their way through Level 2 (a top soil layer).

Below Katie Garland (center-right) and two Oakes Museum volunteers supervise two sifting stations.

By the end of the day, we had excavated 10-15 cm below surface in each of the units.  All of the units produced great quantities of artifactual refuse: lots of nails, glass, pottery, coal, slag, plastic, rubber, etc… Melissa Hogan’s unit at the southwest corner of the outbuilding, however, produced the most complete artifacts below surface: a concentration of metal implements, gears, and tools of different kinds.  Perhaps this is not surprising given that the unit’s placement coincided with the part of the  building associated with metal working.  But the kids–and the adults–were nonetheless delighted.

After the kids left, Matt, Melissa, and Nick stayed around to help wrap up the excavations.  We took each unit down to a level surface, laid tarps down for the winter, and backfilled.  Below, the crew takes notes on artifacts, soils, and depths.

In the spring we will return with students in my History 305 class (“Historical Archaeology”) to conduct more extended periods of field work at this site.  The artifacts, by the way, will be cleaned, processed, and eventually selected for display in the Oakes Museum.  Thanks to Diane Phillips for her generous hospitality in hosting 70 people on her property, and thank you to the history majors and other students who made Saturday happen.  Stay tuned for further work at this interesting site.

6 thoughts on “The Big Dig at the Stauffer Farm

  1. Pingback: History Department Faculty Updates « History on the Bridge

  2. I want to thank Diane so much in sharing these fotos and this blog with me, it means so much to see people taking the initiative in reparation of something that is from the past as a distant relative, I thank you for the fotos and the opportunity, also for Valerie Weaver you might want to check the history of the Weavers as there are some Weavers that married into the Stauffer Family.

    • Hi John,

      Thanks for the note. Our archaeology class is very enthusiastic about uncovering the past at the Stauffer Farm the week after spring break and working with Diane to tell the story of this site. We’ll be posting on this blog about our progress.


  3. Pingback: A Year with a History Department Blog « History on the Bridge

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