‘Digging the Bronx’ book offers archeological survey

‘Digging the Bronx’ book offers archeological survey
The recently released book ‘Digging the Bronx: Recent Archaeology in the Borough’ is a survey of writings about archaeology in the borough that is edited by Allan Gilbert, a Fordham University professor.
Photo courtesy of Allan Gilbert

A new book was published for people who literally ‘dig’ the Bronx.

A new book called ‘Digging The Bronx: Recent Archeology in the Borough,’ published by the Bronx County Historical Society and edited by Fordham University professor Allan Gilbert offers a survey of writings about archeology in general and recent archeological work in the borough.

Gilbert, who had a hand in writing three of the book’s ten chapters, as well its preface, said that the book was about 25 years in the making with multiple contributors being encouraged to write about their archeological experiences.

Digs in the borough occur for a wide variety of reasons: for environmental remediation purposes, and field schools that involve colleges and universities in digs and public archeology that involves volunteers looking for artifacts in their own communities, said Gilbert, a professor in the university’s Sociology and Anthropology department.

Readers could also expect to learn more about archeological practice by reading the book, said its editor.

“With time the book became more than simply a collection of essays on Bronx archeological sites,” said Gilbert. “Each chapter deals with one of the different ways that archeology gets done, with the Bronx offering case studies.”

The book offers amateur avocational readers an opportunity to expand their knowledge of archeology and its practice, and dispels some of the notions some individuals have about archeology: that it is a romantic and simple pursuit.

“Many people think you find these wonderful artifacts and that they are easily understandable as soon as they are found,” said Gilbert, adding that this is rare and he wanted Digging the Bronx to convey some of the complexity of archeology.

“Archeology is a complex thing that can be done in a variety of ways,” said Gilbert.

Some of the locations written about in the book include Fordham University’s Rose Hill campus where a 17-year excavation of the remains of a country estate took place from 1985 to 2002, an embankment in Riverdale Park that unearthed Native American artifacts, and Van Cortlandt House, located in Van Cortlandt Park not far from the last stop on the IRT #1 line on Broadway.

In Riverdale Park, excavations found remnants of a Native American ‘shell midden,’ a heap of shells from shellfish like oysters, that the area’s early inhabitants put into large piles, as well as remnants of items such as a Lime Klin, a vessel for creating quicklime, which was used for making building materials such as plaster and mortar.

The Riverdale Park excavation, which included an educational component that involved the community and Wave Hill, is an example of public archeology because it involved community volunteers and a cultural organization.

Digging the Bronx’ editor said that he wanted the book to convey that this type of work requires a great deal of prior planning and delayed gratification, likening it to looking at a “three dimensional jig-saw puzzle with most of the pieces missing.”

The book’s sales proceeds are earmarked for the Bronx County Historical Society according to Gilbert.

Reach Reporter Patrick Rocchio at (718) 260–4597. E-mail him at procchio@cnglocal.com.

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