Chrysalis Archaeologist Eileen Kao to Speak on “Hot Button Topic”


Sharing highlights from what’s likely to be her master’s thesis, Chrysalis archaeologist and field director Eileen Kao has developed her first CNEHA presentation entitled “Hot Button Topic.” Eileen performed additional research on the Revolutionary War era British regimental buttons we found at the Seaport last year and began exploring the idea that uniforms create a sense of belonging, affecting the behavior of those who wear them. Theories abound as to how clothing creates and enforces a sense of identity, and our unearthed button treasures most certainly played a part in defining the roles of the British, who are often depicted as ruthless and unyielding during the British occupation of NYC.


Painting of John Theophilus Rawdon-Hastings (Trotter 1776)

About the Buttons

Our excavation recovered a total of six buttons from three different regiments. Because there were many different ranks and types of regiments, button styles varied. Regimental soldiers wore plain buttons with simple raised numerals and a rope border. Rarely, a button would have the regimental number only. An officer’s button was more elaborate; it often featured a domed button cover in gold or silver over a button made from bone or other material. Based on their proximity to marked specimens, plain, unmarked metal buttons likely belonged to other military personnel.

Seduction, Hierarchy and Utility

The seduction, hierarchy and utilitarian principles generally define how clothing reflects identity. In relation to military clothing, the hierarchy principle applies to uniforms that reveal a soldier’s rank and position. The utilitarian principle relates to the function and purpose of the clothing. Today’s military uniforms are predominately utilitarian and discreet. In the past, battles were fought face-to-face, and ornate details were more prevalent. The seduction principle applies to body shape and perception. While often more relevant to women’s clothing, it was also utilized to enhance the perception of masculinity and strength. For example, military uniforms that accentuated the chest and shoulders implied greater strength; tall hats and heeled boots made officers look taller and more intimidating.

Picture4Did the Clothes Make the Man?

To a British soldier, wearing the redcoat uniform meant being a part of one of the strongest and most successful imperial nations of the world. The clothing itself imparted legitimacy and authority as well as a sense of solidarity. With buttons to further define hierarchy and implied superiority, the uniform may have made a significant contribution to the infamously ruthless behavior of high-ranking British officers. Anonymity is another factor that may have influenced British military behavior. Some psychologists believe that those defined as part of a group feel immune to personal blame. Soldiers could easily hide behind their uniforms and feel less accountable for cruel behaviors or lack of compassion.


Small Buttons with Big Stories

Although it’s impossible to track the exact history of our Revolutionary War Buttons, we can safely assume that it helped to play a symbolic role in the interactions between British soldiers and the residents of New York City.

Grand Central NYC: Alyssa Loorya to Present at TEDx Conference

Chrysalis owner and archaeologist Alyssa Loorya has been invited to present at the November 1st TEDxNY conference. The annual, independently organized TEDx events bring New York’s greatest thinkers, teachers and innovators together with an audience to showcase their projects, visions and passions, and inspire listeners to create a greater impact on the world with their own ideas. TEDx presenters wrap their genius into a concise and powerful presentation that’s 18 minutes or less in length.

Alyssa’s Presentation: Grand Central NYC

The theme of Alyssa’s presentation touches on New York City as a global capital. It’s a community where real people have lived and made an impact on the world for generations from their own neighborhoods.

city hall park

Lithograph of 18th century activity on the Common (City Hall Park)

History in Pictures

A biography of the city can be pieced together using archaeological finds, past and current photographs and threads of information. Alyssa’s experience in archaeology has shaped her photography and vice versa. Old photos and lithographs help her document changing landscapes, priorities and approaches to social issues such as capital punishment and treatment of the poor.

City Hall Park in the 18th century

City Hall Park in the 18th century

Re-invention of City Hall Park

Alyssa will discuss the relevance of historical timelines such as the transformation of City Hall Park, which was once a place for public protests and executions and home to prisons and barracks for British troops during the revolution, long before the construction of City Hall.

city hall park 18th century

city hall park 18th century

Stop to Consider the Past

It’s easy to forget that NYC is a series of islands. The point was driven home when it suffered devastating effects from hurricane Sandy in 2012. As archaeology rediscovers and documents the area’s intimate relationship with water, we look to the past to help determine the best route to a more sustainable and stable future as we rebuild the city.

Real People, Worldwide Impact

From lithographs detailing New York’s first poor houses to photos of its changing skyline, archaeological evidence paints a picture of the city as a global force unlike any other. TEDx attendees will discover New York’s people, its past and perhaps its future through the careful documentation of an archaeologist devoted to its place in history.

Learn more about the TEDx program, or find an event near you, visit

From Bottles to Blood Ties: Talking About Our Bowery Adventure

If you thought our resurrection of historic elixirs was fun, you’ll be excited to learn more about the history of the recently excavated Bowery site that served as the inspiration for our brewing experiment. The bottles we found at Bowery weren’t there by accident—the location was once home to a prestigious German beer garden. Our own Alyssa Loorya will be talking about the history of Bowery’s German immigrant community at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum this November, and her archaeological expertise isn’t her only qualification—Alyssa’s ancestors are also part of the area’s history.

Interior of the Atlantic Garden (NYLP Digital Collection)

Interior of the Atlantic Garden (NYLP Digital Collection)

Meet the Atlantic Garden at 50 Bowery

The first German beer gardens, which originated in Bavaria, were outdoor areas where beer, other alcoholic beverages and food were served, but the Atlantic Garden at 50 Bowery was much more than a place to stop for a brew. Originally the site of a mid-nineteenth century theater hotel, 50-52 Bowery was reborn as the majestic Atlantic Garden in 1858. It was opened by German immigrant William Kramer, who came to America in 1854 with few resources and no family. After obtaining bartending experience from his job at the nearby Volks Garten, Kramer partnered with two others to open the business. At the time, a large German population called the Bowery home, and the new beer hall was an ideal attraction. Featuring German beer and food along with upscale, family-friendly entertainment, the Atlantic Garden soon gained a glowing reputation, and it maintained its dignity well into the late nineteenth century until the neighborhood began to change.


New Novelties Every Week!

A preserved copy of an Atlantic Garden program details featured attractions such as concerts, comedy shows, touring entertainment troupes and musical accompaniment on the Mammoth Pneumatic Orchestrion. The document is peppered with advertisements for local businesses and fine products, including one promoting the benefits of advertising in the program itself. It finishes with a wine list, full menu and partial list of the season’s scheduled vaudeville performers.

wine menu

Loorya Family Ties

Alyssa’s interest in the Bowery excavation has always included a personal element. Her own great-grandfather owned a business just around the corner from the beer garden. Herman Loorya (1867-1935) immigrated to America from the Russian Empire in 1884. He was married to Esther Aronson (1869-1938) and owned a cutlery business at 112 Canal Street with his brother-in-law, Hyman J. Aronson (b.1867) from 1893 until 1904. According to census records, Hyman and Esther’s parents were from Germany. Alyssa will offer more information during her November speaking engagement at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, a National Historic Site that focuses on the history of immigrant communities and their life experiences.



A Look at 19th Century Diseases

bone syringe, ny archaeology

While 19th century medicinal remedies promised a cure for dyspepsia, arthritis and even ornery moods, more serious maladies were taking their toll on New York City’s population. Newspapers, diaries and letters from the Colonial and Early American eras reported disease outbreaks in the city and other urban communities. News of frightening and often fatal diseases such as yellow fever, malaria, cholera, smallpox, typhus and influenza was responsible for widespread panic. Over the years, 19th century medical experts held a variety of interesting theories about the spread of these diseases, and doctors and citizens alike practiced an array of techniques to try to prevent and treat them.

Bad Air: Early Beliefs About the Spread of Disease

Before anyone figured out that germs were responsible for transmissible disease, the theory of disease origin focused on miasmas and zymoses. A miasma was a foul-smelling, polluted or poisonous air emitting from rotting organic matter. Zymoses were diseases believed to develop from fermented organic waste. People of the 19th century associated disease with warm summer air, rotting garbage and decay. Any sort of pollution was suspect. Some believed that yellow fever was due to burials contaminating ground water. Although diseases like malaria and yellow fever were actually carried by mosquitoes, circumstantial evidence supported the miasma theory at the time. Epidemics were worst during the summer when the air was warm and the mosquito population was at its peak, but no one pointed a finger at the flying bugs until 1880.

cholera, archaeological firm

Local Containment and Treatment Efforts

When outbreaks occurred, local newspapers published an estimate of how many people were infected; this often caused wealthy residents to flee to their rural homes in fear. The infected poor were treated in seclusion, and those who died were buried in separate areas. Treatments for serious diseases were far less pleasant than today’s antibiotics. Repeated bloodletting using scalpels, needles, live leeches or flesh-punching scarificator machines was a common practice. Hot or cold water soaks and irrigation of various body cavities was also popular. Alcohol-based herbal remedies, much like our bitters and elixir concoctions, served as pain relievers and depressants. It wasn’t until the turn of the 20th century that heroin and other opiates were made available for pain management.

New York Cleans It Up

Eventually, the medical profession’s obsession with dirty, smelly air led to an interest in the process of decay and the discovery of disease-causing microorganisms. Germ theory gained acceptance throughout the mid-1800s, but even before it was fully embraced, clean-up efforts were already helping to prevent disease; experts just didn’t know the true reason they were working. By the end of the century, most cities had developed sanitation departments to control water contamination and waste. In 1881, the New York City Department of Sanitation got its start as the Department of Street Cleaning. Coastal areas like the South Street Seaport area were used as dumping grounds for residential and commercial waste. New York’s citizens eventually petitioned the legislature to clean up the accumulated garbage. They weren’t aware of the tiny pathogens lurking in the waste, but they were on the right track.