Monthly Archives: August 2017

Postcard from Rachel Podd, Digging Up Medieval Bones in Poland

The History Department received this great postcard from PhD student Rachel Podd, who spent part of the summer at archaeology field school. Here’s what she had to say:

Note: For ethical and legal reasons, I cannot post photographs of the human remains excavated during this summer. Accordingly, the photographs within this blog post are from the Giecz website.

Skull with a coin between its teeth.

Over the course of three weeks in July, due in part to generous grants from Fordham, I was able to take part in an archaeological dig and field school run by Ohio State University in Giecz (pronounced “Getch”), Poland. Though modern Giecz is quite small, with a population of around 150 people and an hour walk to the nearest train station, it was once a center of profound political importance to the Piast dynasty, the first historical dynasty of Poland. In 966, Prince Mieszko I was baptized as a Christian, possibly at Ostrów Lednicki, and accordingly, the Piast stronghold at Giecz, which was likely constructed during the eighth century was expanded to include a chapel, though construction was never completed.

Ostrow Lednicki, the chapel where Prince Mieszko I was baptized

Excavations of the stronghold at Giecz began over ten years ago, uncovering over 300 human inhumations. The burials also included a variety of grave goods, namely silver beads, swords, bone combs, and coins. Beginning in 2014, however, the excavation of a second cemetery about a five minute walk from the stronghold, in what is today a corn field, began – the burials are likely that of a small village which supported the Piast stronghold, dating from roughly the year 1000 CE. Over the course of two years, 29 adults and 26 juveniles, 22 of which were under six years old, were uncovered. Over three weeks this July, we uncovered seven more burials, four of which were juveniles.

The site of Rachel’s dig.


The school where Rachel and the other archaeologists stayed.

Field school was both incredibly rewarding and tough – luxury was hard to come by, as we slept on air mattresses in the unused middle school in Giecz. Each day began at 6:00 AM with breakfast. Afterwards, a small group would remain behind to wash artifacts and bones, while the rest would head out to the field. Excavation continued until 4:00, when the main meal of the day would be served, and then lecture until 7:00, with quizzes twice a week. Topics included identifying bone fragments and determining side, as well as sexing and aging skeletons and paleopathology (that is, determining disease from skeletal remains).

Ultimately, the bones of medieval people offer us one of the most comprehensive methods for understanding the lives of the so-called medieval 99%. In a world where literacy was restricted to the elite, and the survival of written records spotty, particularly in a country like Poland which was heavily and repeatedly damaged by foreign incursions, the bodily remains of medieval men, women and children offer us a method of ingress into life cycle, burial practice, occupation and health.

Some pottery recovered from a midden near the site.

Thanks so much Rachel!

If you are interested in further information on medieval osteology in general, and the excavations in Giecz in particular, please see the works and links below: [this is the main website for the Giecz field school, and has more pictures and information]

Mays, Simon. The Archaeology of Human Bones, 2nd ed. New York: Routledge, 2010.

Kowaleski, Maryanne. “Medieval People in Town and Country: New Perspectives from Demography and Bioarchaeology.” Speculum 89, no. 3 (2014): 573-600.

Fleming, Robin. Britain after Rome: The Fall and Rise 400-1070. New York: Penguin Global, 2010.


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Filed under Grad Student News, Postcards

History Major Katherine DeFonzo on Her Internship at the Smithsonian

History major Katherine DeFonzo in the Archives Center at the Smithsonian in Washington, DC.

Earlier this summer, History major Katherine DeFonzo reached out to faculty member Christopher Dietrich about the work she was doing at her internship at the Archives Center at the American Museum of National History (a part of the Smithsonian Institution). Katherine wrote:

I just wanted to share with you a project that I’ve gotten to work on during this first week of my internship at the Smithsonian. I remember watching a scene from All in the Family during your class, and the museum recently received many boxes from the collection of Jean Stapleton, who played Edith Bunker on the show. My fellow interns and I have spent much of this week organizing and cataloging them! It has been very exciting: in the collection we found her programs from the Emmy Awards, many newspaper clippings about her performances, and some letters written between her and other famous individuals, including Bill Clinton! It has been interesting to see how her roles reflected the changes that took place in the US during her lifetime.
We wrote back to Katherine to find out more about her internship and her experience this summer working as a Reference Intern at the Archives Center. She told us a bit about how she got the position, the work she’s been doing, and how it relates to her work at Fordham.
As a History major, I am considering pursuing a career working in a museum or archive. Hoping to gain experience in this area, I applied to several internships at various Smithsonian organizations through the Smithsonian Internship online Portal, including the Museum of American History Internship Pool. Mr. Joe Hursey, a reference archivist in the Archives Center at the Museum, reached out to me. I was offered a position as a reference intern.


I work 9-4 each day from Monday through Friday. During the hour before the Archives reading room opens, it is part of my job to tidy up the reading room for the day and re-shelve document boxes that were used the previous day. Each day, I have a two or three hour shift helping to staff the reference desk. When researchers come into the reading room, it is my responsibility and that of my fellow interns to pull and bring out the boxes that they have requested. I have also occasionally been tasked with responding to phone or e-mail questions from researchers. When not working on the desk, I work on processing and assisting with the upkeep of various collections. This has involved alphabetizing and sorting by date collection materials; copying newspaper articles from those collections; and sometimes rehousing photographs and slides from the collections. My fellow interns and I were also tasked with helping to come up with the series and subseries titles that would be used to organize some new collection materials. As part of my internship, my fellow interns and I also got to hear some curators in the museum share their experiences with us, and we were able to visit other historical institutions throughout Washington D.C. such as the Library of Congress Manuscript Division and the Archives of American Art.


As a student in the Honors Program who almost always has at least one book checked out of the Fordham Library, I am glad that this internship gave me the opportunity to better understand the extensive knowledge that librarians and reference archivists must have in order to serve the students and researchers who come to them for assistance. I have always believed that preserving and making accessible primary source documents is essential to the preservation of history, and I am grateful that this internship allowed me to see some of the ways in which that is done. While none of my Fordham classes have involved a hands-on component that could have prepared me for the actual processing work that this internship has required, the extensive amount of writing that I have done as an Honors Program student has prepared me to write the blog post that I have about the Jean Stapleton Papers, which I hope will be published. I hope that I will be able to utilize some of the research skills that I have improved over the course of this summer as I begin to complete research for my Honors Thesis.
Thanks so much for the update, Katherine. The History Department is proud to have one of its own helping out at at such an important repository of American history and culture.

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Filed under Postcards, Public History, Undergrad News, Undergraduate Research