As Brian Albright explains it, performing an excavation is more than just finding artifacts; it’s learning to put these pieces together in order to form a coherent narrative about the past. The Rutgers–Camden graduate student likens it to doing a jigsaw puzzle, only you don’t know how many pieces there are, and you don’t know what the final picture looks like. But as the pieces fall into place, he says, you have the thrill of preserving history for future generations to study.
Albright, an archeological field director and GIS analyst for global engineering firm AECOM in Trenton, has been honored with a 2013 New Jersey Historic Preservation Award by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s Historical Preservation Office and the New Jersey Historic Sites Council. The Collingswood resident earned the award for his contribution to an archaeological excavation performed recently at the Reeders Creek West site in Ewing Township.
“It is recognition for a lot of hard work that people did,” says Albright, who is pursuing a master’s degree in American history at Rutgers–Camden. “We received the award for our contributions to the understanding of Native American settlement and subsistence patterns in the Middle Delaware Valley.”
From October 2010 to February 2011, Albright and a team of archaeologists under the direction of principal investigator Frank G. Mikolic tediously performed the excavation on a patch of land between two highway ramps at the base of the Scudders Falls Bridge. Piece by piece, the team recovered nearly 16,000 Native American artifacts and 19 features – collections of functionally-related artifacts – spanning the period of time between 3150 B.C. and A.D. 1430.
Albright explains that the project was funded by the Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission, in order to meet federal environmental compliance regulations under the National Historic Preservation Act. The excavation was carried out in two locations – one in New Jersey and one in Pennsylvania – in preparations to replace the bridge, which carries I-95 over the Delaware River. After the sites were deemed culturally significant, the commission was required to avoid them or to perform mitigation, which, in this case, meant data collection.
According to Albright, the most notable feature of the New Jersey site was the large amount of plant and animal remains and residue that was unearthed. The team found remnants of blackberries, hickory nuts, mustard seeds, as well as bear, deer, duck and cattail residues, in addition to a large amount of debitage – the waste material left over from making stone tools. “From these artifacts, we can develop a decent understanding of what kinds of plants and animals were being processed –cooked, cleaned, preserved, stored and eaten,” says Albright, who earned a bachelor’s degree in anthropology from Penn State University in 1995.
On a larger scale, Albright says, the artifacts and features allow the archeologists to look at the New Jersey and Pennsylvania sites together in order to gain a better understanding of how prehistoric Native Americans in the Middle Delaware Valley organized their settlements and their seasonal food collection activities. For instance, he notes, on the New Jersey side, there was no evidence of fishing, whereas right across the river on the Pennsylvania side, less than a half mile away, there was evidence of herring, salmon and other fish species. “Even though these sites are really close together, they are carrying out very different activities,” says Albright. “The New Jersey site also had more evidence of longer periods of occupation.”
Albright explains that a thorough understanding of historic events and processes at an archeological site is imperative to understand what has taken place there. He adds that archeologists also look at nearby prehistoric sites as comparative data sets, as well as take into account what they already know about Native American settlements at the point of European contact.
Albright is currently pursuing his master’s degree in American history at Rutgers–Camden in order to meet the U.S. Secretary of the Interior's professional qualifications standards for Section 106 review projects. Upon earning his master’s degree, he will be qualified to serve as a principal investigator on Section 106 review projects.
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Media Contact: Tom McLaughlin