Archeology enthusiasts converged on the Matilda Joslyn Gage House in Fayetteville last week to learn how to conduct a professional dig.
The dig at the home of the 19th-century suffragette was part of an archeology field camp sponsored by two Liverpool groups. The camp, in its first year, was organized by Dr. Gregory Sohrweide of Baldwinsville, a member of the Friends of Historic Onondaga Lake and the William Beauchamp Chapter of the New York State Archeological Association. Both groups are associated with Ste. Marie Among the Iroquois.
“The desire was to have an archeology program for the public,” said Sohrweide, who is president of the William Beauchamp Chapter. “It’s designed to introduce people interested in archeology to the techniques used by professional archeologists.”
The camp, which continues through Aug. 3, is led by Kim Christensen, a graduate student at the University of California’s Berkeley campus. Christensen also held a field camp for other graduate students earlier in the month at the Gage House. In addition to teaching would-be Indiana Joneses about archeology, the field camp also assists those who run the house.
“[The dig] helps the [Matilda Joslyn Gage] Foundation with their restoration planning,” Christensen said.
Digging the right way
“We want people to learn about archeology the right way,” he said. “We don’t want people to go out and start digging up their yards. We want them to do it in a professional way, and we want to teach people to do it professionally.”
Sohrweide said that Christensen’s expertise has proven invaluable at the dig site.
“She’s a member of the William Beauchamp Chapter and we clicked together nicely,” he said. “When we asked her, she was very willing to have us run these workshops. We wanted someone who is a professional to act as a project supervisor, and she’s very good. She gives exposure to every aspect, from surveying the land to how to dig to cleaning and cataloging artifacts.”
Christensen is running the field camp as part of her work towards her doctorate at Berkeley. She had previously volunteered at the Gage House during her time as an undergraduate student at Syracuse University.
“When it came time to do my field project, this was a natural opportunity,” she said.
Under Christensen’s guidance, the participants in the field camp have already found several artifacts, from kitchen ceramics to homemade medicine bottles to fine china, most of which, she said, can be traced to the Gage family.
An important lesson
The dig not only assists the foundation and teaches about proper archeological techniques; it also provides important information about local history.
“People think of archeology as ancient artifacts in faraway places overseas,” Christensen said. “But artifacts are everywhere. In a situation like this, it’s part of the local history and the local culture. It adds to what we know about here.”
The dig is also part of the Matilda Joslyn Gage Foundation’s efforts to further restore the property. With the aid of photos taken by Gage’s son-in-law, Wizard of Oz author L. Frank Baum, the foundation will start a major push next year to rebuild and restore much of the home.
“This is part of that,” said Christensen of the dig. “Everything we’re doing is in line with historic preservation regulations.”
Sohrweide said he plans to continue the camp next year.
“I hope it will go on and on as an annual program,” he said.
To view a blog detailing the diggers’ experiences, visit http://iis.syr.edu/WP/gage/. Photos are also available at flickr.com/groups/gagedig/. Volunteers are still being accepted at the dig site; contact Christensen at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Sarah Hall is the editor of the Eagle Star-Review and the Baldwinsville Messenger. The 2012 winner of the Syracuse Press Club's Selwyn Kershaw Professional Standards Award, she has been with Eagle Newspapers since 2006. She is a Liverpool native.