Archaeology At The Allen House

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The Monmouth County Historical Association has conducted three summers of excavations on the grounds of the Allen House. These excavations have taken the form of summer camps for 12-15 year olds. The purpose of the excavations is to find out more about the people who lived and worked at Allen House, and how they used the property. As well, the camp is structured to teach youngsters hands-on about history and archaeology. To date, over 21,000 artifacts have been recovered from the site, and are undergoing analysis. Artifact types include: foodways related artifacts (animal bone, shell, food storage vessels, food service vessels, bottles); lighting and fuel related (lamp glass, coal); clothing (buttons, hooks); recreation (pipe stems); and gardening (flower pots). Objects are made from a variety of materials, including ceramics, metal, glass, bone, textiles, plaster, and leather.

Excavations in different areas of the site are producing collections of artifacts which are quite distinct from one another. This is exciting, since, while we have a pretty good idea of how the space was divided inside the tavern and the types of activities which took place there, there is only scant information regarding the layout and use of the yard area. To date, four distinct areas of the site have been excavated: Area 1, around the smokehouse; Area 2, near the well; Area 3, against the foundation of the main structure; and Area 4, out in the northwest area of the lawn.

Figure 1: Artifacts from the Kitchen Midden (Area 1): a. Hand-painted polychrome creamware cup, ca. 1760-1785; b. Wine bottle neck and finish, late 1700s; c. Coarse red earthenware bowl, lead glaze; d. Hand-painted blue and white pearlware gift cup, ca. 1790-1830; e. Green shell-edge pearlware, ca. 1780-1830; f. Animal bone; g. Hand-painted polychrome creamware cup, ca. 1760-1830; h. Animal tooth.

Excavations in Area 1, conducted in the first two years of camp, revealed a kitchen midden, or garbage dump, dating from the 1780s to ca. 1814, when the tavern was run by a series of tenant keepers. An analysis of the animal bones, or faunal remains, from this area is pending, funded by a generous grant from the Archaeological Society of New Jersey. This analysis will tell us what types of animals were being eaten, how old they were, what parts were eaten (steaks or stews?), and whether the animals were butchered on-site, or purchased already dressed. Artifacts from this midden were mostly related to the preparation and storage of food, with some tablewares, and very few personal artifacts.

Figure 2: English pistol flint from Area 2.

Area 2, located around the well, was a focus of excavations this past summer, as we explored a layer of buried brick. It was quickly apparent that this was not structural brick, as there was no associated mortar. While we initially thought this may have been an area of brick paving, we now think that the brick was deposited as a result of work done on the well circa 1800, based on artifacts found in close association. The collection of artifacts from Area 2 is very different from those found in the kitchen midden. While the midden artifacts are clearly kitchen related, artifacts from around the well tend to be more personal in nature, including buttons and pipestems. An English pistol-flint was also recovered from this area.

Figure 3: Artifacts from Area 2. a. Scratch blue stoneware, ca. 1740-1770; b. Banded stoneware drinking cann, 18th century; c. Brownie Pin, ca. mid-20th century; d. Bone button; e. Faceted black glass button.

Artifacts from Area 2 also have a much longer date span than those from the midden. Where the midden artifacts date primarily between 1780 and ca. 1814, artifacts recovered from around the well date from the 1740s through the mid-twentieth century. Early artifacts include scratch blue stoneware, delft, a piece of banded stoneware drinking cann, and white salt-glaze stoneware tablewares. Also recovered were pieces of stemware, including this stem and foot from a wine glass. These early artifacts very likely represent the years that the tavern was owned and run by Josiah Halstead. Later artifacts include locally made stoneware from the early 1800s, and a Brownie Pin, lost by a little girl on the house grounds.

Area 3 is located around the foundation of the main structure. Unfortunately, excavations have revealed that much of this area was heavily impacted by the restorations and renovations of the Allen House in the early 1970s. Little information on the early years of the property is available from this area.

Figure 4: Artifacts from Area 4. a. Molded edge salt-glaze stoneware plate, ca. 1740-1770; b. Brass shank button, plain; c. Child's thimble, brass; d. Lead shot.

Area 4, out on the lawn, revealed an area of structural brick and mortar -- our first evidence of what may be a past outbuilding. Excavations in this area have been minimal, so any interpretation would be premature. Artifacts recovered appear to be, like those from Area 2, of a more personal nature, and include a child's thimble, a bone button, and a single piece of lead shot. Ceramics and glass were also recovered.

Slowly, the pieces of the puzzle are falling into place at Allen House. There is artifactual confirmation that some of the ceramic patterns currently on display in the interpretation were, in fact, used on the site. The use of the yard is also becoming more apparent, ranging from the location of the kitchen midden, to areas where people were likely to lose their personal items. Future excavations will continue to clarify the life and activities of the people who lived, worked, and visited the Allen House.

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This site created and maintained by Carole Sinclair Smith

Updated: August 6, 2001