WINGS WorldQuest Flag!

WINGS WorldQuestI am thrilled to share the news that the Swampscapes team has been awarded a WINGS WorldQuest flag to carry during our upcoming expedition.

WINGS WorldQuest aims “to foster awareness of the contributions of women explorers, promote interest in the sciences, introduce exciting career opportunities and inspire people to be curious, thoughtful and engaged in our world.”

This exciting honor of being selected as a Flag Carrier highlights the importance of exploring ‘our own backyards,’ of sharing the research process and results with a wide audience, and of encouraging women to take on leadership roles in the field sciences.

The more examples of women in these roles the public can see, the more girls and women may be encouraged to follow pursuits of exploration and discovery, and, I hope, the more boys and girls, women and men, alike will come to expect women scientists and explorers to be in these roles.


Rabbit Hole of Catsup


“B Pride of Long Island Brand Tomato Catsup,” may contain coal-tar based dye

I fell down a rabbit hole while I was downloading photos from the expedition camera.  It started as a brief quest to date a surface find, the complete (!) ketchup bottle in the photo.  Society for Historical Archaeology hosts Lindsey, Lockhart and co.’s fabulous Bottle Identification site here.  Unfortunately, the maker’s mark on the  bottle base is not very clear, but it is clearly embossed: “B// Pride of Long Island//Brand// Tomato Catsup.”  Yep, ‘catsup,’ not ‘ketchup.’

Catsup was a thing in the 19th and early 20th century.  Tomato catsup, mushroom catsup, walnut catsup: ads and recipes for these products are all over period newspapers.  But so are stories about adulterated foods.  In 1901, the State of Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station tested this brand of tomato sauce and found a 16 fl oz. bottle costing 15 cents contained the dye Eosin and the preservative Salicylic acid .

Here’s what Connecticut had to say about it (emphasis added):

“Among the colors used are eosin, ponceau, tropeolin, magenta and others of coal-tar origin. They impart to the sauces a brilliant red color which those who are unaware that the uncolored products have a dull red or brown color, believe is the natural color of the fruit. The objections to their use are: first, they deceive the purchasers while they in no way improve the quality of the sauce; second, they may serve to hide inferior material used in their manufacture; third, they are possibly injurious to health; and fourth, they put genuine uncolored goods to a disadvantage in the market.”


This problem of icky stuff in tomato-based condiments persists through at least 1917 when the Eastern District Court of New York wins a case against the manufacturer of this brand for trying to sell 270 cases of adulterated catsup.  Pennsylvania, New York and other states conducted testing similar to CT’s and found similar results over more 15 years.  Chemicals they found in other processed foods and milk are equally icky.

As for the bottle itself, it probably dates between the 19-teens and 1930s.  Its mix of characteristics- round body instead of paneled typical of early 20th century ketchup bottles, embossed brand name but not bottle capacity, it does NOT have screw cap, the maker’s mark on the base is mushed- and the fact that I haven’t figured out when the company stopped making catsup (they started in 1893) make a more precise date hard to say.  If you’ve got any info or ideas, let me know!   I’ll just be over here eating my french fries.  🙂

1902  Twenty-Fifth Annual Report of the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station for the Year Ending October 31 1901.  State of Connecticut Public Document No. 24.  Tuttle, Morehouse and Taylor Co, New Haven, CT. (accessed 21 May 2016)

1996 Smith, Andrew S.  Pure Ketchup: A history of America’s national condiment, with recipes.  University of South Carolina Press, Charleson, SC.


The Silly Side of Fieldwork

So much of what we do in archaeology- in science in general- is ‘very serious data collection.’  This last field trip was all about recording the microtopography of our islands.  In a practical sense, that meant one of us stood at the Total Station pressing buttons and writing down numbers* while someone else held the stadia rod on a series of designated points on a grid.  All. Day. Long.  The resulting maps look super cool and are hugely informative but the data-gathering process is not always exciting.

It’s not all serious out there, though.  How might one get a pile of fancy technology from one side of a narrow but deep canal to the other when there is no bridge?  Float it on a raft, of course.  It looks ridiculous, we know.  But it takes less than 15 minutes (including the part when Emily** flips the boat) to get all people and gear across and it’s wicked fun.

*yeah, we still write them down on paper even though the device records them electronically.  I also carry a compass even though we have two GPS systems.

**not shown.  she was fine and probably just wanted to check if the canal really was deep.

Once upon a time…

by Ella Beaudoin


Fungi photo by Ella on Emily’s phone

Today was full on lady of the lake imagery and thorny thickets worthy of Sleeping Beauty’s castle. Mapping That Other Island (TOI) was the quest. We began by crossing the cool black waters of the canal that lay between us and the long trek to TOI. Using an inflatable tiny boat we shuttled ourselves and our gear through the surprisingly deep water. Then came the bashing through thick undergrowth. It always stuns me, the strength and resilience that people must have had to journey into the swamp, but today, the first sunny day of the week, its easier to understand why you might stay.

After an intrepid fight, where Emily and I got thoroughly stuck in the sharp embrace of thorny vines, we all made it to TOI. A clear space lit through the leaves with soft sunlight, ferns gently rustling. We may have been biased, lugging our heavy packs and gear bags, but in front of us lay a sun gilded paradise. A place of rest protected by the spiky undergrowth. We set about our job of taking points at 5 meter intervals to begin to understand the geography of the site. This took us all day, jumping over fallen logs, disturbing frogs from their leaves and waving the prism (the instrument that, combined with the total station’s computing power tells you where in space the point you are taking exists) up, down and around, yelling “do you see me now?”

At the end of the day we exhaustedly followed our bashed, slashed and torn way through the trees back to the canal. At its edge was our deflated boat. Two punctures which had slowly sucked its life away. We patched our vessel with half sticky duct tape, and devised a method in which Becca would be dragged back and forth across the canal, with Emily and I passing her our gear. All of us praying that we could work faster than the air seeping from our tiny ship. Needless to say with no gear harmed and only partial falls into the canal leaving Emily and Becca with wet legs we ended our day exhausted and thankful for the blankets, such as the one I am snuggled in now, back in our little cabin.

That Other Island

IMG_7370Yesterday’s to do list:
✔️drive to Refuge
✔️check road conditions (not good)
✔️walk roads to Swamp access point
✔️see large bear on road
✔️inflate raft with hand pump
✔️patch hole in raft
✔️float gear & people across the canal  in several trips (fun!)
✔️bash through the Neverending Thicket to That Other Island
✔️swear ‘just a little’ on the way (ha!)
✔️lay in grid
✔️try another way through the Neverending Thicket to canal
✔️swear a little more
✔️ferry all back across in raft (patch held! still fun!)
✔️deflate raft
✔️walk back to car

My intrepid crew were exhausted at the end of the day, with good reason.  So we took today off to visit Jamestown.  Sun in the forecast for the whole weekend!


IMG_7476 (1)

photo board of the day (see below for said spider)

By Emily Duncan

It’s my first time in the field, and my second time in the Great Dismal Swamp. When I had first heard about this adventure in the field, I was a little nervous. Why would I want to spend a week in a place called the Great Dismal Swamp? It sounds dismal and swampy, neither of which are positive adjectives. After two days here, however, I could not be more in love – with archaeology, with the history, with the two tremendous archaeologists at my side, even with the Swamp itself. It has not entirely lived up to its name – I have not found it to be Dismal in the least. Just today, I spent hours mapping out the terrain on the island, plotting points using the Total Station for the second time (I’d only just learned yesterday), stalking back through the brush and nasty sharp vines to stick little flags into the mushy ground, my feet soaked and sore. And yes, it sounds Dismal and certainly Swampy, but I haven’t been this excited about anything as I have being in here doing fieldwork. Using the technology at our disposal, we have mapped the island and as we sat on the leather couch in the cabin we’ll call home for the next five days, Becca showed us her computer screen. Our island laid out in different shades of blue and grey, our baseline points running across the middle. That computer screen showed me the progress we’re making, despite having yet to stick a shovel in the ground to dig. And that has me excited to return to the Great Swamp tomorrow, though Dismal it may be.


said spider



After a few days in the metropolis, we’re back to start another 7-day field session tomorrow.  Ella, Emily-from-AU and I are excited to make the most of any weather windows we get.

I had occasion in meetings in DC this morning to be grateful for two ‘senior scientists’ whose work guides my own in different ways.  First, I was asked ‘Having agreed on the importance of maroon history (which is largely unknown in the US), was there a secondary message to take away from the project?’  My response unabashedly channeled Lee Berger: Here is the Dismal, practically in the backyard of well-known sites like Jamestown and Colonial Williamsburg.  That we find archaeological evidence of maroons, about whom we know so little, so close this well-studied area reminds us to step beyond the comfort of established sites (even if there is still much to learn from them) and to explore.  Thanks to Lee for modeling the exploration ethic.

Second, Dan and I met by phone to discuss my progress.  This is supposed to happen: he’s both my doctoral supervisor and the pioneer of archaeology in the Dismal Swamp Refuge. With tough methodological and practical questions from both sides, today’s conversation felt especially productive.  Thanks to Dan for taking the time and energy to help me wrestle with the big picture and the minutiae of the Swamp on the eve of field school for his latest project.





The overnight rain led to more road closures in the Refuge and gave us the opportunity to carry our Total Station and other equipment an extra few kilometers.  Even though the extended walk took 45 minutes off each end of our time in the Swamp today, we accomplished a fair bit out on the “island.”

The green blobby image up there is an early result of the week’s mapping.  It’s a shaded contour map based on elevations of points on the grid.  We measure points with the Total Station in a series of roughly parallel transects (there are a lot of trees to work around) and QGIS draws a contour line connecting points of the same elevation.  On this image, the darker greens are higher (and drier) and the lighter greens are lower (and much more wet).

Our systems- for hauling gear, setting up and collecting data- become more refined each day.  We began the week with a well thought out plan of where to establish the datum, which way to orient the grid and the resolution at which we would record points.  The planned datum spot had limited visibility due to large trees so we shifted to a place with a better view of the area.  We planned to collect points every 5m but soon realized we would miss important details and the map would give a false impression of the amount of dry land.  So, we shifted to a 3m grid.  Technical issues in the weeks before coming to the field led us to a last minute change in software packages for the Total Station and controller (thanks to CarlsonSoftware  for saving the day!) and we’re definitely still discovering handy tricks for the new program.

The rain kindly held off until 10 minutes after we got to the car this afternoon but it has been pouring ever since.  Anybody have a canal boat? 😉