Binghamton University Archaeologists’ DAY OF METAL!!!

Have you been wondering what the archaeologists are doing with all the boxes and boxes of artifacts they hauled back to upstate NY? Well, with the help of many, many student volunteers, we have been slowly and steadily washing, processing, and analyzing the material. This takes time…but we’ve made tremendous progress. The one material category that still needs a lot of attention is…METAL. Rusty, sharp, metal. But some of these objects are really informative: horseshoes, nails, door hinges, barbed wire, car parts. So today, on St. Patrick’s Day, we have initiated a large-scale effort to finish ALL the remaining metal artifact processing. We’ve got Irish music on Spotify, green donuts, and coffee…and maybe there will be green beer (or Irish coffee?) to come…wish us luck!! At the end of the day, I’ll post the most interesting metal objects that we processed here.

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UPDATE!  The Day of Metal was a resounding success!  Not only did we rock out to Irish Metal (it’s a thing…who knew?)…we processed *almost* all of the remaining metal artifacts from the Biry/Ahr House excavations.  Here are some of the most interesting objects of the day:IMG_7768.JPG

Above, Ruth shows off part of a leaf spring that was re-purposed as a post shim.  She and Randy excavated this in the Biry/Ahr backyard in 2014.


Melania had a green enameled pot handle, a white toothpaste tube, and a blob of orange oxidized rust, winning a prize for the “most Irish” artifact bag!


Doug hods up the top half of a tobacco tin, rescued in 2014 from privy fill.


And here’s a bundle of barbed wire collected from the log house, cleaned today by Tom.


Lab volunteers enjoyed a welcome pizza break!  Many thanks to everyone who came out and helped us today…and special thanks to Trish Markert, Lab Supervisor Extraordinaire, who made it all possible (and brought the donuts).  Happy St. Paddy’s Day!


Wishing Everyone a Happy Holidays!

Hi all!

We’d like to apologize for the lack of posts (blame it on it being that point in the semester!)!! We’d also like to wish you all a Happy Holidays from our labs, offices, and classrooms to your homes and families!
May your plates of food be infinitely more complete then the ones currently in our lab!

Merry Christmas!!
Happy New Year!!


From your favorite (we’d like to think?) lab folks in Binghamton, New York!


Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving from your favorite (we hope) archaeology lab crew in Binghamton, New York!

           We want to wish you all a great holiday with food, family, and friends!

We also hope you’ll enjoy the heart ring we discovered while cleaning objects in the lab a few weeks ago!


Archeology of the American Refrigerator

Hello all! My name is Nolan and I am an undergraduate volunteer here at the lab in Binghamton.

For the most part, my job in the lab is the analysis and cataloging of glass materials coming out of Castroville. While most of the glass I examine comes from bottles, jars or windows, sometimes I come across fragments of a different nature. One such example are pieces from a glass tray of about 13 by 8 inches. The tray features a pebbled exterior finish and a ribbed bottom. The words “DO NOT CLEAN WITH HOT WATER” and “MADE IN UNITED STATES OF AMERICA” are molded into the bottom as well. The front of the tray bares the phrase “COLD STORAGE TRAY”.


As shown in the photo above, I have taken on the task of reconstructing the tray to the best of my ability. This process was a lot like putting together a very sharp puzzle. As you can see from the photo, the tray was placed into a bin of kitty litter in order to help support the vessel and prevent it from falling apart. In some cases, tape was used to make sure some locations stayed adjoined.

Now, at this point you are probably wondering what a cold storage tray even is. After some
quick research, I learned that this tray likely came from a Kelvinator brand refrigerator from the late 1930s or early 40s. The tray was placed in a slot just beneath the freezer and allowed for foods like meats to be stored at a much lower temperature. The advertisement below shows a fridge from the period with a similar feature. This tray may seem mundane, but its presence at the Biry house allows us to see a sliver of what life was like for the inhabitants of the home at that time.


A Child’s First Knife

Hi everyone! I’m Hunter, and I am one of the undergrads currently analyzing and examining the materials coming out of Castroville. One of the neater things (in my opinion!) we’ve come across this semester while processing artifacts is this rubber knife handle. After a little research, we learned that this was the rubber handle to a child’s knife. This design was produced by both Arcor and the Auburn Rubber Company in the 1950’s. This indicates that the mold used to produce the product was available for purchase and use by multiple companies. The handle is about 5 inches long, and the whole piece with the knife blade included would have been about 9 inches in length. Upon examining this handle, the eye is immediately drawn to the longhorn motif on both sides. This is especially interesting and neat to see, since anyone who has spent time in Texas knows how ubiquitous the longhorn is in this area of the country! As it was produced and marketed as a child’s knife, its fun to think about a young child working alongside their parent, grandparent, or older sibling, learning knife skills and helping out in their own way. While this is definitely not what most people would consider “old” in archaeological terms, this item truly helps capture a moment in time of an individual. unnamed

We’d LOVE a chance to have a chat!

We hope everyone’s enjoying the periodic posts we’ve been sending out from Dr. Van Dyke’s lab at Binghamton University! Please let us know if you have any questions or want more information on anything we post! Or if you have any questions about what it’s like to work in the field or lab! We love to share what we do!!


A Gun-flint in the Trash and Trash all over the Floor


My name is Erin (I met several of you this summer while we excavated) and I’m excited to get to play show-and-tell with one of the particularly cool things we found this summer. A French gun-flint.

While excavating in the back room of the house, in the kitchen-that-later-became-a-bathroom, Max and I excavated a section of floor that was yellow-ish and hard. As we began to come down through it, we began to notice that there seemed to be a fair amount of artifacts sitting on top of the dark gray floor underneath. We left the objects in place, hoping to get a better idea about what was going on once we had the entire yellow-ish layer removed. What it revealed was neat.

“What was it?” You may be thinking…excitedly?!

It had been dumped onto the surface of the floor. What was neat about it, was that it looked as if someone had taken some kind of trash container and messily tossed its contents across the floor. The trash still seemed to sit in the messy lines that it had been dumped out in.


Among the things we found in the trash were four shoes, several large chunks of bone, window and bottle glass, nails, scrap metal, sticks of wood, ceramic fragments, eggshells, a wooden button and what is probably a French gun-flint.

Gun-flints, for those who don’t know, are bits of knapped stone that fit into the jaws of the cock on early flintlock rifles. The cock slams the piece of chipped stone into a piece of metal called a frizzen, above what’s called a pan. The snap of the flint against the frizzen, creates sparks, which ignites the powder in the pan. If everything goes right this fires the gun.

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The gun-flint found in the trash is kinda special for a couple of reasons. First, when the majority of the founding families in Castroville arrived, gun-flints had begun to slide their way out of use by the general public. Archaeologically, we had been finding percussion caps (metal caps that are far more productive at creating sparks than flint and more reliable in inclement weather) fairly frequently in the back yard, but we had not, up to this point, found a gun-flint. Another interesting thing about it was the material it was made from. Gun-flints, for the most part, can be traced back to their countries of origin through their color. French gun-flints are distinctively honey colored.


While we’ve seen other objects that might have come with the original families from Alsace (for example, a European button that likely dates from the same period and may have been worn on the journey over or may have been bought once they got to Texas), this object is unequivocally French. It’s a special French connection that could not have originated in any other place, but France. It’s possible that it too could have been bought, once the immigrants got here, but with the change in technology (the trend towards percussion caps in guns) and because the territory and the local economy most likely had tighter connections to Mexico and Spain (which had their own sorts of gun-flints) and considerably less toward France, it makes more sense that they carried the flint with them across the ocean to the Texas frontier.

It’s also interesting that it ended up in the trash at all. While it has been used, and is pretty worn, it could have been retired and re-used as a fire starting tool. It wasn’t. It could have been kept around as a memory of other times and places. It wasn’t. Their throwing it away might suggest that the flint had little value for the family as a connection to their past. It might also reflect a changing of household technology. It could show that for the people living on the property, percussion caps had more practical value for the future. It makes me wonder if they might have gotten to what would be Castroville, realized that percussion caps made more sense than gun-flints, especially in Comanche territory, and made the change, after using up the one flint they had. They may have decided to buy new guns, or convert the old one(s) into weapons that used percussion caps-whichever decision they made–to buy or convert–really makes little difference.
Their choice seems oriented toward the practical future, rather than the past they were moving away from.

Regardless, in a weird way, a stray bit of France still rested beneath their feet in the kitchen while the family grew and became more American.

Photo 1: Photo of the Kitchen floor with the Trash strewn across it.
Photo 2: Flint-lock mechanism, image reproduced from
Photo 3: Gun-flint laying on the surface of the floor. Photo courtesy Maxwell Forton.

Indiana Britches!


If you’ve been following our blog, then you know that I love to talk about buttons! This may seem an odd thing to get excited about, but I’ve found that clothing buttons have been a great tool for our archaeology in Castroville. As archaeologists, we strive to reconstruct the social lives of past peoples, and clothing can be a great reflection of these social processes. The clothes we wear may embody such forces as economy, gender, and social values that shape our daily lives. Previously I have written about a metal button that may have belonged to an original settler of Castroville, and a puzzling set of buttons found in a latrine deposit that came from a WWI army coat!

Another button that has been especially useful to our research came from 2014 excavations of a trash pit in the backyard of the Biry House. Embossed across the front of the button is the company logo, Buckskin Breeches. Knowing the name of the company, we were able to trace the origin of the button and narrow it’s date of manufacture to within a few decades. The habit of putting company logos on to buttons was a process begun at the end of the 19th century, by clothing companies trying to build brand loyalty with customers.


Buckskin Breeches was a clothing company located out of Evansville, Illinois. Previously named the Goodwin Clothing Company, the name was changed to Buckskin Breeches in 1907. The company would continue to go by this name until 1929, when it would be changed to Stanley Clothing Company. This change of names may seem innocuous, but it enables us to assign a frame of time for when our button would have been produced.  Since the clothing company was only called Buckskin Breeches from 1907-1929, this means that our button could have only been produced from within that time frame. The larger implication for this find, is that we can now use this button to help date other artifacts found within the trash pit. This trash deposit could date to no older than 1907, since this is the earliest point that the name Buckskin Breeches was used. Therefore we know that we are dealing with a trash deposit dating from the 20th century.

Additionally we now know that at least some of the clothes being worn by the people of Castroville in the early 20th century were coming from non-local companies. While work garments could be purchased at local general stores, the American consumer had far more options available to them by this time. The Buckskin Breeches button found its way to Castroville all the way from southern Indiana! Shopping for mass-produced merchandise had become a national pastime, with the introduction of department stores and mail order catalogs making an unprecedented number of goods available.

This little button is an example of how even the most humble of artifacts has the potential to be a tool for archaeology. We now know that this household was engaged in larger social trends of buying non-local goods and have been able to build a tighter chronology on the deposition of a large trash deposit. Both of these facts are helping us in our mission to preserve and interpret the history of Castroville.

Photo Captions

The Buckskin Breeches button.

The factory from which the trousers would have been made.

The Archaeology of a Texas Barbecue

fullsizerenderHello all! Alex here, I’m kind of a guest consultant that specializes in the study of biological remains such as bones. In this case, I look at animal bones for the folks here in the lab! Bones can tell us a lot about the animals or “fauna” that were present in a specific place and time, as well as the people who kept them. Domesticated animals are crucial as sources of food, however, the kind and cut of meat people eat is heavily influenced by different things such as class, ethnicity, religion, and, ultimately, geography. By seeing what kinds of animals were and weren’t eaten at Castroville, we can learn a lot about the people there.

So far, I’ve examined over 100 skeletal fragments from the total assemblage. Although it might sound like a lot, it’s really only a small fraction of what’s there, but I’ve already learned quite a few interesting details about the people on the property. For instance, during faunal analysis, one of the things we can learn about the animals is their age at the time of death. At birth, long bones like those in your arms and legs actually develop in separate pieces with the tips (epiphyses) eventually fusing with the center (diaphysis) at adulthood. So, when I came across a bovid (cow) long bone with unfused epiphyses, it seemed a bit odd. Meat from young cows, called veal, is generally more expensive than beef from adults. Unless the household is wealthy enough to afford it, a veal cut would be rare to find in an assemblage.

These bones, found with the veal bone, seemed to have been charred, but not destroyed by fire. This indicates that they were cooked at a high temperature very close to a source of open flame, likely grilling or roasting. I checked with some of the other folks in the lab who are more familiar with the history and people who lived there and they were able to confirm that veal barbeques were known to happen from time to time at the house. In the end, I was able to make sense of what I was seeing as well as provide evidence for accounts of events at the site.

World War I Uniform Buttons

Hello, again, from Max Forton in the lab!

A few weeks ago I shared with you one of the clothing buttons we’ve been studying. There are many more interesting buttons in the collection, and today I’ll be talking about a set of buttons that has presented something of a mystery for our crew. When excavating a buried privy in the backyard of the house in 2014, we found a set of buttons from a World War I-era uniform jacket! How these buttons wound up in such a strange setting is a question we are still trying to answer.

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These four brass buttons are among some of the more intriguing ones in the collection. Each bears the image of an eagle clutching the arrows of war and olive branches of peace, ringed by stars. A maker’s mark of American Button CO. *NEWARK N.J.* can barely be seen on the back of the buttons. This design, known as the “Great Seal” motif, was introduced to US Army buttons in 1911, and this particular maker’s mark was discontinued in 1920. This gives a ten-year time frame during which this button would have been manufactured. Most significantly, this time frame encompasses the United State’s involvement in the First World War.

The buttons would have been part of a standard U.S. Army Field Uniform, with five removable Great Seal buttons on the front, and smaller buttons on the shoulder. So far, we have found four of the five front fastening buttons. The context for these buttons is puzzling, though, as they were found in a feature that had been a privy in the backyard of the house. This privy had at some point in the early 20th century been repurposed as a garbage dump and been filled in with such common household refuse as animal bones, broken ceramics, and glass bottles. How and why these four uniform buttons ended up buried with this everyday garbage is unclear. It is possible that the whole uniform jacket had been thrown away and subsequently decayed, but we did not find a fifth front fastening button or the shoulder buttons associated with this uniform. Perhaps the buttons had become disassociated from a particular uniform and were simply loose buttons that got thrown out during a routine cleaning of the house.


There were many brave soldiers from Castroville who served their country in the Great War, and it is likely that these buttons came from one of their uniforms. Henry Biry was a resident of the house who served in WWI, but family members recount that his uniform was stored in a trunk on a different property. Thus, the original owner of these buttons remains a mystery.

Next year will mark the 100th anniversary of America entering the Great War. Over 4 million American were deployed in World War I, and roughly 110,000 gave their lives. The four uniform buttons serve as a stark reminder of a time of great conflict and change for our country and the world.