Binghamton Academic Center Archaeology


Fieldwork at the Chenango Point/Binghamton Mall site was conducted over five field seasons (1989-1990, 2005-2007), each of which involved differing levels of effort and corresponding methods.

1989-1990 Investigations

The Phase 1 field investigations consisted of systematic backhoe trenching, which revealed stone foundations and artifacts dating to the 19th century, as well as stone tools and pottery dating to the prehistoric period (c. 3000 B.C. and c. A.D. 1000). The Phase 1 results indicated that potentially significant sites survived mostly intact under the asphalt of this urban block (Versaggi et al. 1990). OPR&HP required a Phase 2 site evaluation to assess the types of data present on the sites and to determine whether the research potential of these data qualified the site for eligibility to the National and State Registers of Historic Places. PAF staff completed in-depth research on the artifacts and historic records, and recommended that the information buried under asphalt was significant and could yield new information on both the prehistoric and historic past of the Southern Tier of New York.

In 1990, the City of Binghamton successfully argued that disturbance to the site would be limited to a series of construction footers, and SHPO agreed to authorize Phase 3 data recovery only within those footer locations. Fieldwork for the Phase 3 was completed in January of 1991 with archaeological crews excavating 95 individual units within 84 footers. Units were either 1.5 by 1.5 m (5 by 5 ft) or 1 by 2 m (3.3 by 6.6 ft) squares. Most footers contained intact soils that did not show evidence of serious disturbance, a remarkable fact given the urban nature of the block. Of the 84 footers, 57 or 68% were intact . These excavations yielded a substantial amount of data on features and artifact distributions, resulting in the definition of at least two prehistoric components (Late Archaic and Late Woodland) and furthering our understanding of 19th century residential life in Binghamton (Wurst and Versaggi 1993). Those areas that would not be directly impacted would presumably be preserved under the parking lot and would theoretically be available for future research.

2005-2007 Investigations

The 2005-2007 investigations included mostly Phase 3 data recovery. However, sections of the block (the AVRE parcel) were not part of the 1990 excavations, and proposed utility work in roadways and sidewalk areas required monitoring. The field methodology differed for each of these tasks, ranging from monitoring to a combined Phase 1B/2 to Phase 3. These types of combined field methodologies are common for complex urban projects.

Phase 1B/2: Site Examination

The combined Phase 1B/2 testing strategy on the AVRE property consisted of STP and unit excavation that would provide more systematic data on the presence/absence of intact soils as well as the distribution of artifacts, and features within these soils. In areas outside the deep foundation of the AVRE building (which was still standing during excavation), STPs were placed in a 5 m (16 ft) grid. When intact soils with artifact concentrations were identified, crews excavated standard units measuring 1 by 1 m (3.3 by 3.3 ft). Combined Phase 1B/2 testing was also conducted in the area west of Water Street in the Block 3 (DAC) parcel. This area was also excluded from the 1990 excavations. The same strategy of a 5 m (16 ft) STP grid and unit excavation was used.

Phase 3: Data Recovery

Within areas outside the AVRE parcel, PAF implemented the field methodology included in the Data Recovery Plan (Versaggi et al. 2004). The data recovery plan for these excavations specified a mixed approach of mechanical and hand excavation with intensive assessment of stratigraphy. One of our primary aims in stratigraphic assessment was to avoid sampling disturbed or low potential deposits in this urban context and assure that excavation depths were sufficient to sample Holocene deposits.

The Phase 3 field methodology was based on a multi-stage framework. Initially, the asphalt and fill were stripped off a property using a backhoe with smooth bucket. Project directors monitoring the backhoe used Sanborn mapping and previous research to locate and define major foundations, which were then exposed and cleaned. Assessments of soils, disturbance, and spatial structure were then used to plan sampling strategy for excavation units. Units were generally 1 by 1 m (3.3 by 3.3 ft) and excavated by hand; all soils were screened through 1/4 inch mesh. After all systematic hand excavation was completed, a backhoe was again used to strip selected areas of each property down to subsoil to locate any features not intersected by the unit sample.

The 2005/2007 research at the Chenango Point/Binghamton Mall site utilized historic properties as subsets of the project area. Focusing on historic properties made the most sense as they represent relatively discrete constellations of historic features and refuse disposal patterns and modern disturbance is frequently limited to properties. Disturbance would also affect our assessment of prehistoric potential.

Researchers identified five distinct historic properties to the east of Water Street and an additional historic property to the west of Water Street on the DAC parcel. The area to the west of Water Street contained three residences during the 19 century and at least three additional structures in the 20 th th century. However, only a narrow strip of the area was intact, and historic deposits were limited. Therefore, our primary concern here was with intact prehistoric deposits. The area sampled on each property is somewhat difficult to estimate in practical terms due to the variability in disturbance and intact soils in this urban context. Some properties, such as the Dickinson/Mather property, had no intact A horizon deposits while others had extensive sheet midden. The area sampled on each property in units ranged from approximately 5% to nearly 60%. In addition, backhoe stripping comprised additional area examined for features and several properties were completely stripped down to subsoil by backhoe. A more than adequate and representative sample of feature and sheet midden deposits was obtained from all properties that had intact deposits. Horizontal and vertical control of the site was established through a systematic reference grid with an arbitrary central datum established in 2005. Survey tasks for the 1990 excavations were performed by Hawk Engineering using their reference points. After the 1990 fieldwork, the City of Binghamton had only patched the footer locations within the parking lot and it had never been repaved. The outlines of the 1990 footers were still visible in most cases and we used these to tie in the 1990 excavations with the site datum established in 2005. We have a high degree of confidence that the 1990 footer locations are well within reasonable error parameters and were able to assess footer location in relation to the 2005 grid coordinate system during excavation. All data recovery and site examination units and features were referenced to this grid and the results were used to produce a map of the site (see back insert). Units were referenced according to a standard grid coordinate system with the site datum as origin point.

Unit sampling was based on systematic and judgmental strategies. Judgmental sampling was primarily used on the AVRE parcel. Areas of intact soil outside of major features were generally too limited to usefully employ systematic or stratified random sampling here. The STP grid on the AVRE parcel does provide some systematic information on artifacts and soils. On the DAC parcel a combination of systematic and judgmental strategies was used. After assessment of disturbance and site structure, a systematic sample of units was placed on a 5 m (16 ft) grid across an historic property in potentially intact areas (the only exception to this was the Mather/Buffum property, where the grid was partly reduced to a 2 m (6.6 ft) interval due to the limited testing area on this property). This systematic sample was spaced to fall between test units excavated in 1990 and was aimed at better evaluating the spatial distribution of artifacts and features. A judgmental unit sample was excavated based on the results of the systematic sample and the 1990 excavations (Wurst and Versaggi 1993).

Feature procedures varied based on the types of feature and their characteristics. Major foundation walls, associated dwellings and other large structures were cleaned, mapped, and recorded. Historic shaft features, such as privies, were bisected to achieve a soil profile and generally excavated with 5 cm (2 in) arbitrary levels within natural soils. Flotation and pollen samples were taken from these features and profile and plan drawings and photos were done. Other features, such as historic and prehistoric post molds, prehistoric storage pits, etc. were also bisected and excavated using either 5 cm (2 in) arbitrary within natural levels or natural levels depending on the size of the feature, complexity of stratigraphy and artifact composition and consistency. These features were also systematically drawn and photographed. Flotation samples and pollen columns were also taken from intact yard areas around historic properties. These samples were aimed at determining yard usage and landscape characteristics. All properties had at least one flotation sample and pollen column taken from the surrounding yard.


Site History





Last Updated: 8/7/17