BY LANDY ERLICK
Dr. Eugene Boesch is an archaeology professor and anthropologist. He specializes in PaleoIndian history and has conducted several digs here at the Jay Heritage Center. Here are his thoughts on his experiences, discoveries, and craftsmanship in Rye, across the country, and around the globe.
How were you drawn to this field?
I was always drawn to history, and the people of the past. All of it was of interest, thinking how things happened. On the larger or traditional historic level but also on the small scale, individual family or community level. Picking up artifacts that may not have been touched for hundreds or thousands of years is fun. There were some historic foundations near my house growing up that I played around which was fun. No a day goes by for the last 40 years, that I have not thought about something related to the past. It’s a great escape.
Is [Rye] a prime area to find artifacts?
Yes, there are still many sites in the area, mostly historic sites. [There are] Native American sites too but those are more rare. However, more and more sites are gone each year due mainly to development. Usually, people would not realize what is a site in this area. Our historic time depth is so short and finding and recognizing Native American sites so difficult. People tend to think of archaeological sites as either the pyramids or dinosaur bones – sometimes I also get the question if I find gold and other treasures when I excavate. It says more about their hopes and likes than what the reality usually is.
What is the most interesting thing you have found?
The more interesting things in no particular order are: The African American burial ground in NYC, artifacts associated with the Rev. War battle of White Plains, 17th century Dutch stadt huys in Lower Manhattan, PaleoIndian site in Queens, 2,000 year old burial mounds in the Midwest, 18th century Ronson ship used for landfill in Lower Manhattan, crusader era site in Israel, Iron age (King David) era tell site in Israel, and Native American sites in the Inyo-White Mountains in Owens Valley, California.
If you could identify the hardest part of archeology, what would it be?
Working in 100 degree humid weather. [That] tends to make things go slow. Also, trying to make a story about a site from the excavated data can be difficult but also the most fun.
How do you push yourself to continue searching even when you can’t find anything?
There is always something to try and figure out even if there are not cultural finds. There is always the soil stratigraphy, geomorphology, glacial history or other aspects to consider even if no cultural deposits are found.
You’ve worked with kids before, how is their technique different from adults?
Kids who really are interested are fun because they have no expectations. Any artifact, no matter how small or inconsequential is so dramatic and important to them. Less interested kids also are fun because once they have become bored with archaeology they usually start to focus on their natural surroundings. All bring a source of energy.
What does an average procedure look like?
A typical investigation starts with documentary research to see what is likely to be found in the area. This is in terms of the natural environment, past and present, Native American use of the area, and historic occupations. Once you have that you start with small tests to see what actually may be present. From that point, the archaeology can go in a number of directions.
Do you have any stories of digs that were particularly rewarding or compelling?
There are many. Finding a 20 dollar god piece at the base of a privy with deposits dating to about 1770 in NYC maybe has the most humor. Whoever lost it must have been upset. It represented a lot of money at the time. The most poignant is working on a burial that contained the remains of a young woman and an infant. Their placement together in the same grave showed that others recognized the love of the mother for the child. It was something I recognized also.
With the help of Dr. Eugene Boesch, the Jay Heritage Center will be conducting a new archeological dig of the ice house in the coming week!