Historical Archaeology

Historical Archaeology is a multidisciplinary field combining written historical records with archaeological data to study the past since the fifteenth century. North American historical archaeology begins with European colonization and aims to understand the development of the modern world within a variety of local contexts. New York contains a wide range of historical sites including Dutch settlements, farmsteads, Erie Canal structures, Industrial sites, ship wrecks, battlefields and fortifications, and many different types of urban sites across the state. The goal of historical archaeology at the New York State Museum is to preserve, study, and disseminate information about New York’s rich heritage through fieldwork and archaeological collections at the museum.

News Articles

Powell House Foundation
Published February 5, 2024 | Historical Archaeology

NYSM Historical Archaeologist Michael Lucas and his team were recently featured in the Times Union for their fieldwork and research leading to the identification of Albany-area farms owned and operated by African Americans during the 1800s.

Discover how the study of the artifacts...

Trash Talk
Published January 31, 2024 | Historical Archaeology


On Thursday, February 8 from 6-7:30pm, NYSM Historical Archaeologist Michael Lucas joins the New Amsterdam History Center for the online event, "Trash Talk: A Lively Discussion of 17th Century Refuse, Recycling, and the Reshaping of Manahatta's Shoreline." 

What was “trash” in...

Cowrie Shells Moneta (left), Annulus (center), and a Reticulated Cowrie Helmet (right) from the NYSM Historical Archaeology Collection.
Published February 23, 2023 | Historical Archaeology

Billions of Moneta and Annulus cowries from the Indian Ocean were traded for enslaved people along the west coast of Africa from the 15th through 19th centuries. Much larger reticulated cowrie helmets, native to the warm waters of the Caribbean, were not traded for enslaved...

Silver spoon from the Powell Farmstead with Hannah Elizabeth Powell’s (nee Kilbourne) initials.
Published February 7, 2023 | Historical Archaeology

Agriculture has been central to the cultural history of the Hudson River Valley from the first indigenous farmers to 17th-century Dutch farms, and finally through the development of modern mechanized farming during the 19th century. Regrettably, the role of free African American farmers in the...

Commeraw Stoneware
Published August 2, 2022 | Historical Archaeology

New York stoneware vessels bearing the name “Commeraw” have been included in collections for years, but more recently they have become recognized for their historical importance. Thomas Commeraw was an African American potter who worked in the Corlear’s Hook area of Manhattan from 1793 until the...

Lead Balls from Fort Franklin
Published September 7, 2021 | Historical Archaeology

In August 2021, the New York State Museum acquired 200 artifacts from the LAMAR Institute in Savannah, Georgia. These artifacts are the result of the only systematic archaeological study of three Revolutionary War battlefield sites on the north shore of Long Island. 

Fort Franklin...

Ball Clay Pipes
Published May 11, 2021 | Historical Archaeology

Ball clay tobacco pipe fragments are one of the most common artifacts found on archaeological sites from the 17th through the 19th centuries. There are many reasons for this including the fact that most people smoked, tobacco pipes were relatively cheap and broke easily, and they survive well in...

Albee Square Collection
Published May 6, 2021 | Historical Archaeology

In March of 2015, archaeologists excavated 3 wells, 3 cisterns, and one possible privy at 420 Albee Square in Brooklyn, New York. The New York State Museum acquired the resulting collection in 2020. The artifacts recovered from the excavations illustrate the changing demographics in Brooklyn at...

Artifacts from the Pierce House Collection
Published March 8, 2021 | Historical Archaeology

The NYSM Historical Archaeology Collection recently acquired the Pierce House Collection containing a wide variety of mid-nineteenth century household artifacts from a farmstead located in the town of Lewis, Essex County, New York. Documenting the transition from a tenant to owner occupied...

Small Footed Crucible
Published February 11, 2021 | Historical Archaeology

Many of the Historical Archaeology Collections at the New York State Museum were recovered during compliance work prior to the construction of roads, buildings, and other structures. Larger compliance projects can result in the recovery of 100,000 artifacts or more. Time and budget constraints...

Excavation Site showing Stone Foundation and Drain Pipe
Published January 6, 2021 | Historical Archaeology

Ann Lee founded the first communal settlement of the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing, commonly known as the Shakers, in Watervliet New York in 1776. Lee died in 1784, but the community she established continued until 1915. Archaeological excavations at the West family...

Painting: "Still Life with Fruit" by Pieter Claesz (1644)
Published November 17, 2020 | Historical Archaeology

Archaeologists can glean a tremendous amount of information from soil sediments collected at archaeological sites. Pollen grains, phytoliths, seeds, and other remnant plant material can survive for thousands of years below ground under the right conditions. These data allow for the...

19th-century wine bottle fragment excavated at the Shaker Settlement, Watervliet, NY
Published July 14, 2020 | Historical Archaeology

Ann Lee founded the first communal settlement of the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing, commonly known as the Shakers, in Watervliet New York in 1776. Lee died in 1784 but the community she established continued until 1915. Archaeological excavations at the...

A piece of grape shot (left) and an exploded mortar bomb (right) recovered during scientific excavation at the Lake George Battlefield Park
Published June 24, 2020 | Historical Archaeology

The NYSM Historical Archaeology Collections now includes artifacts from the 2014, 2015 and 2016 excavations at the Lake George Battlefield Park in Lake George, New York. David Starbuck, who conducted the first professional archaeology in the park in 2000 and 2001 (the artifacts recovered during...

Magnetic susceptibility results overlaid with surface artifact locations show a strong correlation between finds and MS "hot spots"
Published April 6, 2020 | Historical Archaeology

The New York State Museum, in collaboration with the Open Space Institute and Stockbridge Munsee Mohican Tribal Preservation Office, recently completed a controlled surface artifact collection and a magnetic susceptibility survey (MS) at the location of a tenant house owned by former Albany...

Several shell buttons were also recovered from the Ten Broeck Mansion outer kitchen excavation; this one shown has two holes
Published December 19, 2019 | Historical Archaeology

Archaeologists from the New York State Museum and the University of Albany completed two collaborative field schools in Historical Archaeology at the Ten Broeck Mansion, located in Albany, NY's Arbor Hill neighborhood during the summers of 2017 and 2018. These excavations concentrated on...

Dr. Michael Lucas, Curator of Historical Archaeology (left) and Marty Pickands, retired museum archaeologist (right) overlooking excavation by SUNY Albany field school students -- photo by Derek J. Healey
Published December 21, 2018 | Historical Archaeology

The museum's curator of historical archaeology, Michael Lucas, and project manager of The Archaeology of Slavery in the Hudson Valley, is featured in the Winter 2018-19 issue of...

Lafayette Plate
Published December 20, 2018 | Historical Archaeology

Historical archaeology is a multidisciplinary field combining written historical records with archaeological data to study places, objects and issues of the past. In North America, historical archaeology begins with European colonization. One of the issues -- highly relevant to present day North...

Man in collection area
Published January 14, 2016 | Historical Archaeology

Jordon Loucks is a Ph.D student at SUNY Albany and works at the Museum to conduct research for his doctoral program.

Jordon's research is focused on early 19th century immigrants in the Northeast United States, with a particular emphasis on Irish immigrants. "A typical day for me at the...

Hicks-Seaman Ceramics
Published June 26, 2015 | Historical Archaeology

The State Museum recently acquired an archaeological collection from the former Institute for Long Island Archaeology at Stony Brook University. This collection consists of artifacts from 47 significant archaeological sites, including both prehistoric Native American and historic Euro-American...