Northeast Historical Archaeology


Geophysical surveys were undertaken at the Sylvester Manor Estate, on Shelter Island, New York, in the summer of 2000. This work helped identify and map components of the buried cultural landscape at this plantation where Dutch, English, Native Americans, and enslaved Africans labored in the second half of the 17th century and later. A second goal was to map features of historic gardens that are known to have existed, and explore the possibility of cultural features in a distant “West Peninsula” area. Ground-penetrating radar, magnetic gradiometry, and electrical resistance surveys were employed. The electrical resistance data, acquired at 25 cm and 50 cm target depths, best define architectural features in the form of linear and right angle anomalies that probably represent pavements or building foundations. Their distributions suggest two grid orientations in the layout of historic structures. The magnetic map complements the resistance data, indicating a number of linear alignments of highly magnetic stone, a general scattering of ferrous metal artifacts, and a region that probably represents a dumping ground or midden. The ground-penetrating radar data frequently offers more detail, and gives specific indications of depth to features. Anomalies in the historic garden area most likely represent earlier garden features, including flower beds, walkways, and cart tracks. The geophysical data also reveal a number of former roads, trails, and pipelines. In some instances, these findings are compared against subsequent excavations, revealing both successes and shortcomings of archaeological geophysics.