Digging The Little Silver Of Long Ago

May 22, 2018
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Richard Veit, Ph.D., of Monmouth University showing his graduate students how to determine soil color with a Munsell Soil Color Book at the Parker Homestead dig site in Little Silver.

By Rick Geffken |

LITTLE SILVER – Directly behind the historic Parker Homestead, just a few inches below the grassy surface, archaeology students gently unearthed things forgotten by residents long ago.

Bits of glass, shells, and animal bones. The stem of a pipe, pottery shards and a coin minted in 1887. Every discovery thrilled the graduate students from Monmouth University who were looking for clues to the day-to-day living patterns and Quaker culture of the Parker family who lived and farmed here for 330 years.

“It’s a place with a well-documented history, back to the initial settlements of New Jersey,” said their guide, Richard Veit, Ph.D., chair of the Department of History and Anthropology at Monmouth University, at the March 30 dig. “The Parker House’s proximity to Monmouth University and its active Friends organization make this almost an MU field station. My students are able to contribute to the presentation and interpretation of a very important historical site in our own community.”

Before beginning the dig on the overcast early spring morning, Veit took his students through the old home for an introduction to its construction and history. He explained to them how the house was built in phases over several hundred years, pointing to the varying styles of beams, flooring, clay and horsehair insulation and brickwork.

Michael Achimov of Fair Haven, a graduate student at Monmouth University, shows the pottery shard he found at the Parker Homestead archaeology dig recently in March.

Among the budding archaeologists was Jamie Esposito of Middletown, who will be earning credits toward her Master’s of Anthropology degree during an internship at the Parker Homestead this summer. “I hope to use this intern experience to make artifact displays at the Parker House interesting for all age groups. This will help me reach my goal of working in biological archaeology and osteology,” which, she explained, is forensic analysis working with bones.

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Also at the dig were students Katie Serkus of Union Beach and Peter Samaras of Middletown. They took turns using a sifter to look for artifacts. The device is a screen mounted on a moveable frame. Shovelfuls of dirt are placed on the screen, shaken back and forth until the dirt drops through onto a tarp, and, with luck, small objects are left. They’re put in plastic bags with notes describing where they were found for later analysis. At the conclusion of the dig the sifted dirt is placed back in the holes and the turf plug replaced.

Monmouth University graduate student Casey Hanna shows other students how to carefully sift excavated soil to look for artifacts behind the Parker Homestead in Little Silver

Among the students was a former Atlantic Highlands librarian, Marilyn Scherfen, who is indulging her passion for archaeology with the group. Two years ago she spent a few days at a dig led by Veit at the Sandy Hook Lighthouse when she had an amazing experience.

“One day, my hand came across something that looked like a pebble but it was too heavy. I thought ‘It’s lead, a musket ball.’ From then on I was enchanted and told myself I wanted to do more of this,” said Scherfen.

She met with Veit to ask if it made sense “at my age to get involved in this” and was encouraged to pursue her interest. She is now pursuing a Master’s degree in anthropology. She said she doesn’t know where this new vocation will lead, but says “my personal history will be made later.”

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An intriguing aspect of the Parker family history regards slavery. A family legend about a long wooden bench in the house’s cellar says it was where “servants” ate. Keith Wells is president of the non- profit Parker Homestead-1665, Inc. He continues to research this topic and has found evidence that early Parkers did indeed own slaves. “An intern researched Parker family wills and last testaments a while ago and slaves are mentioned a few times. As distasteful and shocking as this may be to us today, in the 18th and 19th centuries some Monmouth County family farms used slaves. We’ll be looking at ways to present this unpleasant truth with sensitivity as we tell the story of this place.”

Wells concluded “This dig is important because we have a really great relationship with MU, particularly Dr. Veit and Melissa Ziobro, a professor of history. The ultimate find would be the foundation or evidence of the first house on the property. The current structure dating from 1721 was built over the original put up the mid-1660s. We believe the fireplace and chimney with its beehive oven space were part of the first house.”

This article was first published in the May 10-17, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.

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