One by one, the objects materialized from the ground: ancient pottery, porcelain, a Colonial candlestick, even a 19th-century presidential button.
A small archaeological dig unearthed big artifacts at the Whitall House Friday morning. The dig shed some light on these items, but helped make the house a little more convenient to tourists with the installation of a wheelchair accessible ramp.
Within an hour, Pete Matranga and his crew from the URS firm had already dug to soil dating back 10,000 years. Digging a square hole, the crew carefully recorded the layers of soil and screened for artifacts. Matranga said the hole and several other pits dug previously yielded artifacts from the Colonial period and items predating settlers.
“We have found a good amount of prehistoric pottery with residue from what they were cooking in it,” said Matranga.
All items will be taken back to the URS lab, where Matranga says stylistic dating will be used to produce a full report and shed light on how the items tie in with the landscape.
Other items found in the digs included a pipe stem, candle stick base, redware and porcelain all dating from 1780 to 1815.
“It was a really small dig, but it yielded so much,” said Jennifer Janofsky, curator and Whitall House and Red Bank Battlefield Megan Giordano Fellow.
Janofsky said it was especially exciting to her to find relics from Native Americans in the dig, as the area is mostly thought of as a Revolutionary War site. Her favorite item found is an 1828 Andrew Jackson victory button.
With no way to date the items until they are brought back to the lab, URS senior archaeologist Douglas Mooney estimated some of the pottery found at the site dates back to anywhere between 500 B.C. to 500 A.D. Displaying only simple geometric designs, the pottery was most likely decorated by pieces of twine pushed into the clay, Janofsky said.
“It’s exciting,” she added. “In this small space, they hit so much.”
Not limited to strictly American relics, previous digs on the property yielded artifacts from China and Japan. Since James Whitall worked in importation in Philadelphia, Janofsky says it is very possible the pieces could have belonged to Ann and James Whitall. Mooney added being on the Delaware River and directly across from Philadelphia, Whitall had a prime location for import.
“Before the Revolutionary War, Philadelphia was the largest center in the U.S.,” said Mooney.
After the lab follow-up, the artifacts will be sent to the state museum in Trenton for storage. From there, she expects the Whitall House and the museum to enter into an agreement so that the artifacts can be displayed at the house.