November 7, 2018

Archaeology Day Offers Hands-On Exploration Of Princeton Battlefield Artifacts, Events

BATTLEFIELD ARCHAEOLOGY: An aspiring young archaeological explorer searches for meaningful artifacts at the Princeton Battlefield.Sponsored by the Princeton Battlefield Society, in collaboration with Princeton University and the Historical Society of Princeton, Public Archeology Day on November 10 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. promises fun for the whole family, along with the opportunity to engage in hands-on work in archaeology, history, and preservation on the battlefield. (Photo courtesy of Princeton Battlefield Society)

By Donald Gilpin

The Princeton Battlefield Society (PBS), in collaboration with Princeton University and the Historical Society of Princeton (HSP), will be hosting Public Archaeology Day this Saturday, November 10, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., with an array of educational and recreational activities to engage participants. 

“You are invited to join students, Princeton University faculty, and professionals in the archaeological and historical exploration of the Princeton Battlefield,” the PBS announced.

Princeton University Art and Archaeology Professors Nathan Arrington and Rachael DeLue, who teach the University’s “Battle Lab” course, will be working with participants throughout the day to examine the history and preservation of the Battlefield.

“Princeton Battlefield Society is thrilled to be working with the University on this important and innovative course with Princeton Battlefield as its laboratory,” said PBS treasurer and event organizer Tom Pyle. “The knowledge it is imparting to students about practical archaeology

and historic preservation is without parallel.” 

He continued, “It will surely deepen their understanding of the serious challenges of practical history and cultural research. It has also catalyzed new passion for the significance of what happened here on January 3, 1777, when Gen. Washington reversed the American retreat, put the British on the run, and saved the spirit of the American Revolution.”

Learning techniques of excavation, metal detection, ground-penetrating radar, and artifact study, participants will be able to explore all aspects of the archaeological project. They will examine material traces of the Battle of Princeton, learn how battle remains are recovered and interpreted, and consider how the cultural landscape can be presented and preserved.

“I invite the public to join in activities that Princeton University students have been engaged in, an interdisciplinary examination of the Princeton Battlefield through history, art history, study of artifacts, and archaeology,” said Arrington. “We’re trying to shed light on the battle and what actually happened. We’re also interested in preservation and archaeological education.”

He added, “I’ll be there the whole day at different stations, analyzing artifacts, cleaning and analyzing. I anticipate a lot of discussion as we’re in the trenches together and a lot of teaching outside of the strict lecture format.”

At the HSP at 3:30 p.m Saturday, historian Bob Selig will deliver a lecture, “Of Skulls and Skeletons,” on military burial practices along the Washington-Rochambeau Revolutionary Route National Historic Trail.  Widely published author and project historian to the National Park Service and for a number of American Battlefield Protection Program projects, Selig will be making close connections between history and archaeology in focusing on what happens with the skeletons.

He wrote, in a preview of his talk, “In the late afternoon of 3 January 1777, New Jersey militiaman William Churchill Houston reached the Princeton Battlefield where he ‘had a most dismal prospect of a number of pale mangled corpses, lying in the mud and blood.’ They needed to be buried, but whose task was that? Can we tell who buried whom? When? How many hours, days, months later? Where? Individually or in mass graves? In natural crevices?  Lakes? Naked or dressed? Officers and other ranks together or separate? How long do they remain in the ground? Are they ever found? Who would dig them up and why? Can we identify them?” 

Other highlights of the day will include tours of the battlefield at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. titled “The Battle of Princeton: What Happened and Why Does it Matter?” conducted by the PBS historical interpreters tour corps; a lecture, “The Commemoration of the Battle of Princeton,” by Blake McGready of the Villanova University history department; and free pizza provided by Nomad Pizza to the first 126 people.