Historical Archaeology is the archaeology of the Modern World (1400 CE to Present). Recently in North America this field has expanded its interests beyond colonial and 19th century sites to 20th century sites.
The South Jersey Project is exploring a region in New Jersey that was almost empty of people in 1850 but by 1900 was a successful settlement of many farms centered on the town of Vineland founded in 1861 by Charles K. Landis of Philadelphia.
Vineland, New Jersey, United States
mid-19th century to the present
Dr. Robert L. Schuyler
University of Pennsylvania
Photo caption: Vineland is being explored by excavating the backyards of historic houses like this one (Site 1) on Seventh Street.
Initiated in 2001, the South Jersey Project is the primary research project for the Historical Archaeology section and the only Penn Museum project that is regionally based near the campus. It involves a long-term study of the evolution of American culture over the last 150 years in a very distinctive geographical setting – the Pine Barrens of Southern New Jersey. This arid, sandy zone, occupying much of the central and southern part of the state, was empty of standard agricultural settlement and communities into the middle of the 19th century. Such a large blank space on the map within the most populated and industrialized area in the United States (between New York and Philadelphia) was unique on the East Coast and very similar to the far American West at the time of the Civil War.
In 1861 Charles K. Landis, a young Philadelphia lawyer and real estate developer, purchased thousands of Pine Land acres in Cumberland, Atlantic and Gloucester counties. Within a twenty year period he successful created a large agricultural tract based on truck farmingand at the center of this farmland he founded Vineland as a town.
Because Vineland was a planned community ("a social science experiment") and because its founder had a number of progressive ideas (e.g. property set-backs, planting of grass and trees, innovative sanitation system, temperance based on "local option"), the community and agricultural tract drew national and even international attention. Landis (born 1833)) was an excellent example of a Victorian American and he created a viable middle-class agricultural settlement on edge of the Pine Barrens by the time of his death in 1900.
Archaeology has focused on the excavation of backyards of historic houses inside the one square mile town center of Vineland.
Vineland is also an extremely well documented town and the Vineland Historical and Antiquarian Society, founded by Landis in 1864, is the oldest private historical society in New Jersey.
The South Jersey Project is an attempt to do an "historic ethnography" on the community and its support area. A combination of archival, archaeological, oral historic and ethnographic sources are being used to construct interpretative images of the founding of Vineland, the nature of town as a living 19th century community and finally how Vineland evolved from this early stage, with the death of Landis at the turn of the century, into what is today the largest city (in its municipal boundaries) in the state of New Jersey.
A number of the backyard dumps produced a wide range of very interesting artifacts from the Morris household.
The site currently being excavated is a similar town lot (50 feet x 150 feet) but the site of a much larger Victorian House which was divided into a twin rental property in the late 19th century. During the summer of 2007 it was discovered from documentary sources that Site 2 is actually a multi-component site. It was occupied from the 1860s to 1880 by a smaller house when in that year a major fire inside Vineland burned down both this house and its rear "barn" (almost certainly a smaller stable). In 1880 a much larger structure was erected over this destruction layer and that dwelling – the twin house – stood for just over a century.
The archaeological situation on Site 2 is much more complex than that found on Site 1. There is an impressive and varied series of archaeological deposits, including two outhouse shafts, but the household sequence is more complex because of short rental occupations. Correlations of the archaeological record and the archival sources are therefore more involved and difficult.