Scott Jordan, urban archeologist
October 9, 2010 12:02 PM   Subscribe

Urban archaeologist Scott Jordan has spent his whole life uncovering New York City's remains: I have been digging for New York's artifacts since 1969. My first dig was on Governor's Island, which was my father's duty station, and I stumbled upon a time capsule of New York's military history in the moat of old Fort Jay. In the dirt under the old drawbridge were relics dating from the War of 1812 all the way to the Civil War including buttons, musket balls and bullets, coins, pottery, and even a small cannon ball. posted by nickyskye (13 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Wow, what a level of dedication. I once spent five weeks of a summer vacation co-digging huge holes in the bends and banks of the Susquehanna under guidance of an archeologist from the college nearby, so I know about the dirt part; but we found a single pottery shard, one bullet and an elderly soda can and nothing else. Apart from that the most ancient bit around was his 1962 Buick.
This is cool. Also some of those bottles are truly beautiful.
posted by Namlit at 12:55 PM on October 9, 2010

What a fantastic lifestyle. I wonder if some more "mainstream" academic archaeologists have problems with his work and lack of method.

I'm one of those people who is fascinated by found artifacts, whether it's in the gutter or buried in the dirt. It amazes me how much stuff is buried (and continues to be buried) by us, and all that I need to do is get a shovel and a little gumption.

And a permit.

And a cultural resource management license.

And the property owner's permission.

And some luck.
posted by Think_Long at 1:07 PM on October 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

Awesome - that guy deserves a MacArthur fellowship.
posted by twsf at 1:11 PM on October 9, 2010

This is really cool. I studied anthropology/archaeology and I did a month-long dig in the Carribean and man was it hot and boring. Archaeology can be pretty darn tedious and not nearly as exciting or sexy as certain movies will have you think it is. Though we did find some cool animal remains and a few broken pot pieces. But something like Urban Archaeology seems far more interesting and relevant on a more immediate level.
posted by 1000monkeys at 2:16 PM on October 9, 2010

The Flea Market he sells his artifacts at (in the schoolyard at 76th and Columbus) is itself a kind of historic artifact, having been there for almost as long as I can remember, and not changing all that much over almost 40 years. It's my favorite flea market anywhere.
posted by Faze at 2:39 PM on October 9, 2010

I got to that Flea market almost every week and I keep saving for friend's birthdays and holidays to buy his wonderful found glass.
posted by The Whelk at 3:51 PM on October 9, 2010

Ironically, I was ON Governors' Island just today; even though they've fixed up a lot of sites on the outside, if you peep through windows here and there you can see lots of empty rooms with crumbling plaster, but here and there the occasional...thing, like a wicker chair or a toaster or something. I'm not surprised he got his start there.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:37 PM on October 9, 2010

i love it when people bother to notice the hidden mysteries in the garbage and detritus that surround us.

this story reminded me of the artifacts to be found littering the beaches of dead horse bay, in brooklyn. it's where robert moses dumped the belongings of all the people he'd displaced when building the BQE. along the beaches you'll find hundreds of antique bottles, children's toys, old shoes, bits of brightly colored glass, combs, rusty roller skates, and a couple of old boats sinking into the sand -- along with slices of horse bone, left over from a long-gone 19th-century horse rendering plant (before the arrival of trains and cars, it's believed that the city had more horses than people). the place is creepy and fascinating, in a living-history kind of way. it's also open to the public (but it's protected land, so you're not supposed to take anything from the beach). i went there earlier this year on a tour with robin nagle, an anthropologist and NYU professor, and howard warren, another anthropologist whose passion for nyc's history is matched only by writer pete hamill.
posted by flyingsquirrel at 5:52 PM on October 9, 2010 [4 favorites]

"It belongs in a museum!" *Grabs it and runs off*
posted by circular at 5:56 PM on October 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

If this is of interest to you, and you ever find yourself in London, be sure to give yourself some time to do some mudlarking.

Basically, go down to the Thames at low tide, and see what is washed up on the banks. You are guaranteed to find some 17th century clay pipe stems, and if you're lucky, a nearly intact pipe. If you walk down the stairs under the Millenium Bridge on the St. Paul's side, there's a pretty good bank right there. I have an intact clay pipe that I found from that spot (it is the 17th century equivalent of cigarette butts, but being a few hundred years old makes it cool again, amiright?)
posted by grajohnt at 11:06 PM on October 9, 2010 [2 favorites]

Thank you so much for posting this. I dearly love New York history, keep telling myself I'm going to study it extensively and for real.
posted by SaharaRose at 7:37 AM on October 10, 2010

Wow, those collages are a really neat way to make interesting folk art out of otherwise unusable refuse. He's a really interesting character, thanks for the video.

There is an extraordinary amount of interlacing in that video, though.
posted by nTeleKy at 3:02 PM on October 11, 2010

Think_Long: "What a fantastic lifestyle. I wonder if some more "mainstream" academic archaeologists have problems with his work and lack of method."

Rumple and I hashed this over a few years ago in another thread about amateur "archaeologists" like this guy, and the answer is a simple yes. Yes, we do. My comment linked there is directly applicable to this guy's vandalism as well.
posted by barnacles at 2:01 PM on October 14, 2010

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