“Digging for Dummies”: Newbie Archaeology at the Kiah House

Next in our student series is Andrew Brocato blogging about his first experience with field archaeology. Andrew joined us for several days at the Kiah House.

“Digging for Dummies”: Newbie Archaeology at the Kiah House

I am currently taking Ms. Seifert’s Introduction to Archaeology course. She has partnered with Dr. Johnson-Simon from Savannah State University to begin excavating on the grounds of the Kiah House in downtown Savannah. The Kiah House was built in the early 1900’s and was at one point a public museum that catered to anyone who would go visit. I have no prior experience in any kind of excavations, and the first day I had arrived I was a bit nervous and had very wild expectations. I wore a t-shirt, pants, and boots with thick soles on the bottom for the first day. That was not the best choice of attire, and I can recommend that shorts would be much better since it is getting warmer now, and I also would recommend comfortable shoes instead of boots. The boots kept hurting the soles of my feet, and when I was on soft soil or using the sifter, it was hard to stay standing steady in my boots. On the first day, I began to assist in digging one of the two test units that we established. For the unit’s locations, we chose the backyard of the house and the side yard where it was elevated because these places are most likely to have artifacts since backyards are where people spend a lot of time and potentially bury or dump garbage or broken materials.


Andrew screens soil looking for artifacts next to the unit. (Photo credit: Dr. Deborah Johnson-Simon)

The first thing I noticed was the meticulous setup before actually digging the test unit. We marked out the rectangular shape of the unit using spikes and string, and then began selecting the tools and setting up the sifter near the unit. I must admit I very much wanted to just begin digging to see what we could find. This urge to just keep digging without any care in the world was one that I had to keep fighting the entire time. We began to dig the initial layer of topsoil, and I was extremely pumped to finally begin digging around to see what was there. But I learned something about archeology that I had never learned from movies and other popular media, which was the agonizingly slow progress made in an actual archeological dig and the tedious paperwork. We only would dig a shallow 10 centimeter level at a time then do a set of paperwork for each level. Now it was not difficult work, but it was challenging to maintain a 10 centimeter level on an incline using large shovels. It was tedious and at times frustrating with all the roots that I and my fellows kept on running into. The easiest way I found was to dig very shallow and to just try to skim the ground when I was digging instead of trying to force the shovel too hard through the dirt.

We also had to periodically dump the soil into a sifter to look for artifacts. This took a long time on the first day because there were only three of us working at one unit. Due to the soil and the general types of artifacts we were finding, it usually took all three of us to properly sift through it. Later when there were more people, it became easier, and we found a lot of ceramic, brick, coal, and nails. This was not too surprising since I surmised our unit to be a trash pile of some kind, and the brick and nails are common artifacts found when excavating homes. A little deeper down we began finding some glass and bits of decorated pottery, which was very fascinating to me. While we were digging, we took periodic water breaks and some ate some food we had brought. Overall the excavation was fun, and I learned a lot about how to properly excavate a site. I learned the hard way at times and the constant urge to just keep digging until I found something was hard to fight back, but I had fun all the same.

For more information on the Kiah house, see the Friends of the Kiah House Museum website.

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The Savannah History Museum: Artifacts to the Dentist’s Chair

Anna Peters visits the Savannah History Museum, a museum noted for their use of local archaeology and artifacts in their exhibits.

The Savannah History Museum: Artifacts to the Dentist’s Chair

On February 11, 2018, I paid a visit to the Savannah History Museum located on Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd in Tricentennial Park. Overall, I enjoyed walking through Savannah’s history from pre-colonization (before 1733) to our modern culture. I also had the pleasure of visiting two additional exhibits, one showcasing the life of Juliette Gordon Low and the other showing the material and artistic culture of southern quilters. The permanent exhibits included artifacts from pre-colonization to colonization, steam locomotion, a Savannah dentist office, the Revolutionary War, and public archaeology in Savannah. My two favorite exhibits of the self-guided tour were the Central of Georgia Railway Company and Dr. Belford’s Dental Office.

The Central of Georgia Railway Company was established in 1835 because cotton shipping through the Savannah port was diminishing. Their rails eventually stretched from Savannah all the way to Macon, GA. Ultimately, the initial process of building this large railway lasted eight years and was completed in 1843. At that time, it was the most extensive railroad in the world. The museum showcased many intact artifacts ranging from tickets, pay stubs, and handbooks to dishes, teaware, and conductor hats. The museum also has a life sized steam locomotive displayed in the middle of all the exhibits.

C of Ga

Objects from the Central of Georgia Railway displayed at the Savannah History Museum.

The other exhibit is a recreation of Dr. William T. Belford’s dental office. For over 60 years, he practiced dentistry here in Savannah working most of his time alone, with no assistant or receptionist. He also continued to use his older equipment well into 1970s until his death in 1980. He purchased his equipment in 1919, so just place yourself in his worn dentist chair and imagine his tools chipping at your teeth. Yikes! Displayed in cases below the reproduced office are some of these actual tools and aids for common teeth problems, with papers and little booklets applying to his work.


Part of William Belford’s Dental Office.

The Savannah History Museum should be on every tourist’s “to-see” list and even citizens that need a little brush up on their own town’s history. The museum does its job educating people on Savannah’s history by incorporating hands on activities and involving public speakers dressed in period clothing. Even the horrific wax figures can help a child or adult understand what it was really like to live in that period of time. The continuation of donations and public outreach can really make a big difference in future enhancement of the museum’s exhibits and continue to educate the oncoming generations.

For more information on visiting the Savannah History Museum, click here.

Another student reviewed the Savannah History Museum several years ago. See her posting here.

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A Push for Local Archaeology

Unna Yared continues our student series with a personal reflection and a newcomer’s view of Savannah and its historic and archaeological importance.


A Push for Local Archaeology

Our history tells the story of who we are and where we came from. It can help to shape our future through lessons from the past. One major way we gain information about the past is through artifacts found using archaeological methods. Savannah is an example of a city rich in history. That history contributes heavily to an ever growing tourist industry, in the form of multiple museums to year-round ghost tours. A sense of unique identity can be attributed to the city’s architecture and artifacts. Now, this cherished history is in danger due to the increasing demand for newer buildings without the proper archaeological ordinance in place to protect the very history that makes Savannah the city we all know and love.

An archaeology-specific ordinance would go beyond the protection of architecture and surface level landmarks. According to Citylab.com, a new archaeological ordinance in Savannah would allow for developers to continue building in Savannah, however now a “city-appointed archaeologist” could help oversee the project to ensure artifacts were being handled properly. The Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation actually listed the city as one of the 2018 “Places in Peril” due to the serious lack of local archaeological regulations (Savannahnow.com). A push to protect Savannah’s underground history is not new. For years, advocates, educators, and historians have tried to create positive change in favor of this ordinance to no avail. So if we know that this is an important issue that affects the city of Savannah as a whole, what can we do to convince lawmakers this is worthwhile?

The main concern, as it is in most other things, deals with money. Developers worry an ordinance while affect their construction projects with no real incentive on their end to care about the preservation of these subterranean artifacts. Since Savannah is a growing city that relies on corporations and businesses to continue building in the area, local government cares about their opinions and if an ordinance will affect construction. However, Savannah’s history is one of the biggest pushes for tourism, especially in the downtown area. More artifacts equal more history, which equals more potential tourism and money. The visible architecture and structures are not the only historical part of Savannah worth preserving. If archaeologists have the chance to find more artifacts that add to this history, tourists will come. Aside from the increased business and money this could bring to the city, incentives for the developers themselves may be a strong way to push for this ordinance. As much as archaeological research should be about the preservation of our history, unfortunately the reality is that money very much matters to the people who make these kinds of decisions.

I have only lived in Savannah for the past three years, but something about the city has stood out to me more than simply the good food, beautiful buildings, and even the history. It is the sense of pride held by those who get to call Savannah home. To those that are proud to be Savannah natives, I challenge you to do even further research on this ordinance. These artifacts are part of the reason why Savannah is the city you all love today. If you want to ensure that this city keeps growing to be as great as it always has been, then get involved with local government. Push for an ordinance to be included on the next ballot. Do whatever you can to highlight the rich history of the city so all of us may have better knowledge of the past instead of only narrow-minded concern for the future.


Archaeologists Are Worried About Savannah’s Building Boom.” CityLab. N. p., 2017. Web. 26 Feb. 2018.

Georgia Trust: Savannah’s Underground History in Peril.” savannahnow.com. N. p., 2018.

Web. 26 Feb. 2018.

Is This Southern City the New Brooklyn?” Vogue. N. p., 2017. Web. 26 Feb. 2018.

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Were the Inhabitants of the Freedman’s School the First Environmentalists?

Next in our student series, Michelle Tesser investigates the three glass bottle stoppers found at the Benedictine monastery and Freedmen school.

Were the Inhabitants of the Freedman’s School the First Environmentalists?!

These bottle-stoppers unearthed at the Freedman’s school and monastery on Skidaway Island tell us something about the inhabitants of the area in the 1800’s—but what? Were these people the first ‘hippies’ or ‘hipsters’– an environmentally conscious community!?


This molded aqua glass bottle stopper would have had cork around the shank, allowing the bottle to seal. (Photo credit: Laura Seifert)

Historical records tell us after the Civil war, Benedictine monks were invited from Europe to build and run Freedman Schools in the Savannah area. In 1878, after success on Perry Street in downtown Savannah and a failed attempt on Isle of Hope (that pesky yellow fever outbreak ruined it all!), the monks opened a ‘manual labor’ school on the grounds of Hampton Place, a defunct (and burned out) plantation. This school had no tuition, so the students spent part of their time getting a formal education and part working the fields, with the intent of selling the crops for profit to fund the school. This was a concept that didn’t go over too well with the parents of these children. As newly freed slaves, they envisioned a better future for their kids. Also, most African Americans were Protestant and unsupportive of the Catholic monks. The school never made enough money from crops, and as attendance declined steadily, the school closed in the 1890s.

But the bottle stoppers! What do they mean? What can they tell us? How were they used and why? Were the monks and students environmentally conscious, concerned with non-biodegradable refuse?


Amber bottle stopper with some patina, which is the glass decaying. (Photo credit: Laura Seifert)

No, plastic wasn’t used in bottles back then! Drinking vessels were all reusable containers. Whether a ceramic mug or glass bottle used for storing drinking water or cow or goat milk, there were no disposable Styrofoam coffee cups or plastic Evian bottles. These glass stoppers were used just as the caps on our reusable water bottles: to keep the contents clean and contained.

Glass stoppers were the third most common type of bottle closures used in the late 1800’s, behind cork and crockery, so it’s not surprising they were found in abundance here in Georgia. The styles varied from ornate, used in fancy decanters, to form-functional, like the ones unearthed on Skidaway Island- but the purpose was the same: to insert into the bottle and protect the contents within. They are sectioned into three parts, for purpose of definition and craftsmanship. The portion inserted into the neck of the bottle is the shank, the finial is the section protruding from the bottle and can be grasped to open or close it, and the neck joins the two halves together. These stoppers are crafted in a mold, then ground down to fit the intended bottle securely, creating an airtight seal. Some glass stoppers were reinforced-so to speak-with a layer of cork, wax or both to ensure the contents wouldn’t be contaminated. As shown in the picture above, some were embossed with logos of the manufacturer, just like our metal beer bottle caps- although those are on the surface, not etched into the metal like in this glass stopper. A simple concept, just like our modern versions, but the beautiful craftsmanship is much cooler and prettier than our twist-tops or water-spouted sports bottles.


Benedictine Monastery and Freedmen’s School, Phase 1 report

Historic Glass Bottle Identification & Information website

Michigan State Campus Archaeology Program blog

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Archaeology and You

Native Savannahian Mara Smith reflect on the benefits of public archaeology to Savannah and elsewhere in our next student blog post.

Archaeology and You

I was raised in Savannah. By that I mean, I was born in Candler Hospital right off of Derenne. When I was younger, my family took day trips into downtown Savannah. I remember my dad giving me little history lessons about the beautiful city. Like, how the cobblestones on River Street made their way there, or he would point out the tunnels that pirates would use to travel around the city (and I’m so gullible, I still believe them all). As I’ve gotten older, I don’t notice the history as much. Going into Savannah, I walk past monuments, statues, and placards memorializing significant sites as if they aren’t even there. I’ve done a few tours here and there. The Juliette Gordon Low house was one I visited, because even though I was never a Girl Scout, I can down a box of their cookies in less than ten minutes, and for that opportunity, I must thank Mrs. Low. Because I am a native Savannahian, I’ve begun to neglect the city’s history and stories that it’s trying to tell. What’s even crazier is the fact that there is more to be uncovered here, and it took me 21 years to find that out. There are so many ways that we as citizens of Savannah can be active in the uncovering of our city’s past that will be beneficial to so many.

The public can benefit from local archaeology. Having the local community participate in uncovering some of their city’s history provides “community links.” It gives those like me who are born and raised here a sense of connection to their city. There is a sense of identity that wasn’t there before. What’s so great about archaeologists reaching out to the public is that people of all backgrounds and ages can be welcomed to participate. The basics of archaeology and archaeological sites can be used to help even young students practice skills that they may never learn in school. Skills that include: scientific judgement, geography, and local history. On the other end of the spectrum, we have senior citizens who are wise and have experience. Including some of the eldest locals allows for information that isn’t written down, something equivalent to the oral traditions of Native American tribes. Our locals should be interested in Savannah’s history. Savannah is known for being one of the older cities in the United States, and to be able to say that as a citizen of Savannah, you participated in the uncovering of some of its history is incredible. Having new knowledge of the past will always add to the culture, community, and the preservation of history and will create a sense of pride in our city (even if some things uncovered may not necessarily deserve a round of applause).

If you didn’t already know, Savannah makes a lot of money from TOURISM. Do you have any idea what kind of influx of tourists we would get if we were to uncover some crazy old artifact in Savannah? Why do people even come to Savannah for vacation? Is it for the big oaks? The pralines? Is it because it’s one of the only cities you can carry open containers around? I used to find it hard to believe that some people actually come for the history! It’s eye opening to know that there are people out there who still enjoy and value the work of anthropologists and archaeologists. This encourages more digging! Because Savannah is already rich in history, there is more than likely no shortage of possible discoveries. The more uncovered, the more “authentic archaeology” there is to keep people coming back to our beautiful city. More tours! More outreach! More education! All of these can come from the research and work of archaeologists.

So, if you gain nothing from my little post, I hope you take away the importance of your participation in your home’s history. Maybe where you live doesn’t have the magnitude of history that Savannah does, but that’s all the more reason to reach out and help out. We as citizens have everything to gain, and nearly nothing to lose from local archaeology. Learning about our past can give us insight that we never knew was possible. Keeping our city’s heritage, cultures, and traditions is all worth the little bit of effort our community can provide. Start by taking a class, or if you find yourself in Savannah, ask some questions or even better ask how you can get involved! Start small and learn something about Savannah that you didn’t already know. Expand your knowledge and when there’s nothing left on that subject, then start asking questions! Now is the best time to discover, preserve and educate.


25 Simple things you can do to promote the public benefit of archaeology.” National Register Publications, US Department of the Interior, National Park Service.

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Recovery of the CSS Georgia

Chris Caster reviews some lessons learned from Historian and Armstrong alum Michael Jordan’s latest documentary, “From Ironclad to Artifact:  The Journey of the CSS Georgia”.

Recovery of the CSS Georgia

I attended the Gray’s Reef Film Festival on February 10, 2018. Historian Michael Jordan’s film entitled “From Ironclad to Artifact:  The Journey of the CSS Georgia” was presented that evening in the Trustees Theater. This was an amazing venue with a lot of very excited people that made the evening a blast. Before the film, there was were some introductory remarks by historian and filmmaker, Michael Jordan. If you find the story of the CSS Georgia interesting, further information and the documentary itself can be accessed via the link below.


Archaeologists worked from this barge to recover the CSS Georgia. Professor Seifert took this picture from Old Fort Jackson during the “Raise the Wreck” Festival. Digging Savannah was a festival participant.

There are some lessons to be learned from the decades-long effort to recover and preserve the wreck of the CSS Georgia from the edge of the Savannah River.  Depending on the size of the site and materials to be recovered, many of these lessons can be applied to future archaeological work in the tidal marshes of coastal Georgia.

The first consideration is safety.  Working in the water at the edge of the marsh or digging in the marsh silt itself can be hazardous.  The clinging silt provides a significant challenge, making underwater visibility extremely low.   The archeologists had to deal with tidal surges that could easily sweep workers away from the site.  Underwater work can best be performed only near high or low tide when the waters are relatively still.  There is no stable land to support lifting equipment, so they had to work from boats.  When they were recovering large artifacts, they needed lifting equipment that was strong enough to pull the artifact out of the silt and lift a considerable weight of silt along with the weight of the artifact.

From the beginning, it is necessary to have adequate tools and technology to record the artifacts’ relative positions before they are moved from the site.  This is particularly difficult when the artifacts are embedded in soft mud or submerged in water where they cannot be seen easily.  As the site is excavated, the tidal surge moving against the remaining artifacts is likely to cause them to change position. This makes accurate recording of their initial positions relative to each other extremely important.

The salt marsh environment’s lack of oxygen is one reason many of these artifacts have been preserved.  Once the artifacts have been brought out of the riverbed, it is necessary to make immediate plans for their preservation or restoration.  Any artifacts that cannot be restored immediately should be stored in a low oxygen environment until they can be restored.  This is best accomplished by wrapping and labeling them, then burying them underwater in a well-marked and easily accessible location.

The restoration process for most metal artifacts involves first removing any surface accretions.  Then conservators use electrolysis to restore the surface chemistry of the artifact.  Over a period of a few weeks up to several months, the electrolysis process gradually leaches away surface impurities and repairs some of the corrosion on the surface of the artifact.  After electrolysis, the object can be further preserved by applying an epoxy surface coating.


Armstrong students fieldtripped to the CSS Georgia conservation lab on Hutchinson Island. On the far right is Jim Jobling, the Texas A&M conservator. Foreground is some of the many buckets containing artifacts submerged in river water awaiting conservation. (Photo credit: Laura Seifert)

In the case of the CSS Georgia, a large amount of ordnance was recovered – cannonballs and various shells that might still contain explosive charges.  Defusing such items and rendering them harmless requires skills of military bomb disposal technicians.  Anytime such items are found in a dig it is necessary to leave them undisturbed and wait for professional assistance to handle them safely.

Artifacts made of wood are much more difficult to recover and preserve.  A variety of worms and microorganisms will tend to bore into and eat away at the wood.  The surface texture of the wood along with its structural integrity will deteriorate over time.  In the case of the CSS Georgia, most of the wood recovered had been attached to the iron armor, which supplied support for the wood during the recovery operations.


Shackles found on the CSS Georgia. Conditions on the ironclad would have been miserable, especially at the height of summer. These might have been used to punish sailors who broke rules. Reproduction shackles can be seen in the upper left corner. This photo was also taken on the October 2015 student fieldtrip to the conservation lab. (Photo credit: Laura Seifert)

One final lesson that can be learned from this story is that responsible development can be a friend to archaeology. The motivation and the funding for the recovery of the CSS Georgia came from the project to widen and deepen the Savannah River shipping channel.  Although the location of the wreck had been known for many years, funding to remove and preserve it had not become available.  Only when the harbor deepening project made its removal necessary could the project receive the necessary funding and support.

See the documentary!

From Ironclad to Artifact:  The Journey of the CSS Georgia



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5 Worst Fictional Movie Archaeologists

Ray Phipps continues our student series by ranking the worse movie archaeologists by their sins.

The 5 Worst Fictional Movie Archaeologists

To be an archaeologist it takes patience, dedication, and years of training. Definitely not the most glamorous profession or rewarding in a monetary sense. It is, however, rewarding to see your countless of hours of hard work pay off by piecing together parts of history. With that in mind we can understand why Hollywood veers so far from what actual archaeology is and leans more towards “adventure archaeology” or, simply put, looting. This sells tickets and funnels money into the pockets of Hollywood stars. As an avid movie goer, I can respect some of these movies for their sheer entertainment factor, but as a student of archaeology I can’t help but cringe at some of the anachronism of these same movies. So, I’ve decided to compile a list of five of the worst archaeologists in movies.

5 – Indiana Jones (all four movies) played by Harrison Ford – Probably the most iconic fictional archaeologist of all time and one of the worst at conducting archaeology. In the opening scene of Raiders of the Lost Arc we see Indy and a rag tag group of individuals trudging through a remote jungle with the guidance of what appears to be an ancient map. Ah yes, the classic treasure map folded away in your pocket, exposed to the elements and probably ruined forever. We’ll just move on past that and get to the good stuff. Indy races his way into this ancient site with no data recording, destroying countless artifacts, and destroying ancient pressure plates (that surprisingly still work after hundreds of years) all for a piece of gold. Now while he ignores the most basic approaches to conducting actual archaeology, it can be argued that few artifacts he does retrieve he intends to preserve, as we can see from one of his famous lines “It belongs in a museum!” Still, not enough to absolve him of this list.

4 – Benjamin Gates, National Treasure part I and II played by Nicholas Cage- Now Gates isn’t actually referred to as an archaeologist in this film, he does call himself a “treasure protector”, which is part of what an archaeologist does, but his definition of treasure probably differs from mine. Gates somehow manages to steal the Declaration of Independence in order to discover a hidden message on the back…by using lemon juice! I don’t think I have or ever will meet an archaeologist that would ever recommend doing that to a document. Throughout the movie Gates somehow bumbles his way into finding these priceless artifacts with little to no help, data recording, or equipment. Thankfully they only managed to make two movies and not finish with a trilogy of bad archaeology.

3 – Daniel Jackson, Stargate played by James Spader – An archaeologist by trade, Daniel is asked to inspect an ancient Egyptian artifact that turns out to be a portal to another civilization. That’s it.* That’s the extent of any hint at real archaeology in this film. Part of an archaeologist job is to learn more about a civilization, and Daniel has a portal that goes directly too one still thriving. Instead of finding artifacts though Daniel and his team spend more time destroying…everything they come across. I feel like all the artifacts in the British Museum stand a better chance with a stampede of elephants than anything in this movie.

2 – Everyone in all of The Mummies – Did anyone root for the bad guys at some point in these? No? Must have just been me then. Somehow, they reinvented Indiana Jones with two people, Rick O’Connell (Brendan Fraser) and Evelyn Carnahan (Rachel Weisz). Rick being the whip cracking, pistol waving hero and Evelyn the smart, studious scholar who is supposed to be an expert in Egyptology, but is actually pretty terrible at it. They claim to want to preserve many of the artifacts they find, but for some reason they have this really nice house with a lot of artifacts on display. Anyways, they manage to steal the Book of the Dead and for some reason, Evelyn, can’t manage to read the text with her mouth closed; therefore, they unleash a scary-murderous mummy thing that they were warned about. Unfortunately, they managed to put things right (to my dismay). On the bright side, maybe this movie will help deterring looters from digging up ancient tombs.

1 – Lara Croft, Tomb Raider played by Angelina Jolie twice – What? The name doesn’t explain my reasoning behind putting this at number 1? Fine, there is absolutely nothing in this movie that can be seen as archaeological. Croft is simply a looter who masquerades around the world with little to no clothes on hunting for treasures, destroying priceless artifacts, making ruins out of ruins, if that’s even possible. Croft stands alone at the top of this list as the absolute worst portrayal of someone with any inkling of archaeological background.


[*Editor’s Note: If I may nerd-out for a minute, I would argue that Daniel Jackson does use his archaeological skills, because he uses his anthropological skills. He does participant observation while living with the people at Abydos. He even stays behind and marries into the community! And of course, later in the TV series, he continues to use his archaeological knowledge (although often to fight bad guys) and is always arguing with Jack O’Neill (two ll’s) about preserving information and sites.]

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One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Also it’s trash.

Up next in our student series is Stephen Grosse, who argues for an archaeological ordinance in Savannah.

One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.  Also it’s trash.

One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.  Unfortunately, that trash can sometimes take hundreds of years and require a team of highly educated people with tiny little brushes to deem it that.  Fortunately, should you happen to leave behind that Kanye West commemorative mug, rest assured that if it survives throughout the years, someone is going to find it, and someone is going to lose their mind over it.  Years from now, a good looking man with just the right amount of stubble on his chin will have faced any manner of ingenious traps and devices set to protect this mug and after securing it from its resting place inside the ‘Frozen shrine of Craig’s junk drawer’ he will show it to the world for all to marvel at.  The second age of ballyhoo will have commenced.   That is, unless you live in Savannah, Ga.  In that case the mug is bulldozed over as soon as you depart this world and with it the future of our species departs with you.

In Savannah, there is, as of yet, no ordinance for archeological preservation.  Which is odd considering that most of Savannah is actually built on top of what is left of most of Savannah.   You might think that the law requires developers to have a site surveyed before they begin construction.  Okay, to be fair, it is quite possible that you never actually thought about that, and this might be the first time you even considered that this might be a good idea.  It’s all up to the city when it comes to these ordinances, and Savannah has been behind the times when it comes to adopting this particular measure.   To be fair again, developers are required to use archeologists if they are using federal money or federal permits, but that is about it.  It’s all up to them, and they do not have much incentive to include what, to them, might be a disruptive process in an already tight schedule.

In 1987, an archeology ordinance was presented to the City Council by the Metropolitan Planning Commission.  It didn’t pass.  That was the last time anything of its kind was considered. Thirty-one years ago. When hair metal bands where still roaming the earth.  Groups still keep the fire burning however.   The Savannah Archaeological Advocacy Group has as recently as last June, attempted to see new legislation begin.  However, despite the best efforts of these passionate and talented individuals, the status quo is maintained.  There is just too much development in Savannah.  According to the MPC’s Historic Preservationist Ellen Harris,

“I think there’s been a concern among the development community and others that an archaeology ordinance could cause delays and additional expenses for projects. So there’s been some hesitation for the community to whole-heartedly adopt an archaeology ordinance,”  wtoc.com

Without saying a lot, Ms. Harris spoke truth to the actual problem.  The development community does not want it.  In Savannah, they do not need it.  So, where does that leave us?  Well, as always, it it’s a David versus Goliath situation.  Except there are a hundred Goliaths, and every year more and more come in.  Savannah is a growing city.  Every year more people move down here to escape the hellish conditions of the north.  The tourism industry continues to boom as well.  These things require both commercial and private development.  That means lots of money flooding into many different hands.  So how do you defeat an army of well-dressed Goliaths?  In my opinion, it’s going to take public support, which leads me to me original point.

One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.  Keep bugging your City Council members.  Get in touch with the Metropolitan Planning Commission.  Contact your state representatives (as an aside I know how farfetched that is).  The point is, people respond to other people responding.  It’s your trash that will be found in a few hundred years.  Protect it.  I won’t lie, it keeps me up at night, not knowing if my scale model replica of Kit from Knight-Ridder will ever make it into the twenty seventh century.  In the end, it’s not really trash.  It’s who we are.  It will be all that people in the future have to go on.  Something like that is worth at least a few minutes of your time.  Make time for it.




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Georgia Public Archaeology Network?

Kris Rice, student blogger, makes the argument for a Georgia Public Archaeology Network, comparable to Florida’s excellent program.

Georgia Public Archaeology Network?

For nearly 14 years, Georgia’s neighbor to the south has maintained an active public archaeology network that our state would do well to emulate.  Its use of volunteers in the protection of historic resources is particularly innovative.


Crystal River, FL, Archaeological State Park: A stele at one of the many historic and cultural sites around Florida where volunteers actively participate in archaeological monitoring, preservation and public outreach. A stele is a stone or wooden monument, typically used for burial or boundary marking.

In 2004, under Republican Governor Jeb Bush, the Florida legislature approved legislation enabling the creation of the Florida Public Archaeology Network (FPAN).  The following year, the legislature granted funding for ongoing operations of the network, which continue as a University of West Florida program based in Pensacola.  Eight regional centers operate out of four universities around the state.  FPAN is careful to avoid duplicating existing programs, does not conduct archaeological research or manage heritage sites, and works closely with community partners throughout the state.

The network’s goals are to educate and engage the public in archaeology, to serve as a professional resource for local governments, and to assist the Florida Division of Historical Resources.  It is the first goal that may be of particular interest to archaeology buffs in Georgia, who should encourage our legislature to institute a similar program.

temple mnd

View of Crystal River from the observation deck of the 30’ tall Temple Mound, the largest in the park.

Although each of the regional centers offers a wide variety of local volunteer opportunities and trainings, the state network also sponsors the popular statewide Heritage Monitoring Scouts program.  Interested volunteers assist in monitoring and documenting the effects of climate change and sea level rise on archaeological, historical, and cultural sites and help to provide public education and outreach.

FPAN also offers Cemetery Resource Protection Training, to teach volunteers how to preserve and protect historic grave markers, and conducts in-service education for public and private school teachers around the state.  In addition, the network offers training for recreational divers and dive instructors on identifying, monitoring, and protecting shipwrecks and other submerged cultural resources.

burial mound

One of two platform mounds at Crystal River, believed to have been used for ceremonial purposes. The site of the park was among the longest continuously inhabited in the state; human occupation dates back more than two millennia.

If you agree that Georgia to involve volunteers in the protection of our fragile and endangered cultural past, please contact your state legislators to ask for their support of a statewide archaeological network here.

Following is contact information for the Chatham County delegation; for other counties, consult www.legis.ga.gov.

For more information on FPAN, visit the network’s website at: www.flpublicarchaeology.org.

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Archaeology in the Movies

Next in our student series is Christopher Howell, who examines the most recent “Mummy” movie and discusses the classic tropes and stereotypes within.

Archaeology in Movies

Archaeology has a difficult relationship with the cinema. Many famous movies that portray archaeology do it all wrong, a classic example being the “Indiana Jones” franchise. While it is fun to watch and considered a classic to most Americans, it is vastly wrong in its portrayal of archaeology. Another popular movie franchise that features archeology is the new “Mummy” movie.

“The Mummy” movie poster (Source: imbd.com)

Before I start talking about archaeology in the movies, I should probably describe the movie. “The Mummy” is about a man named Nick Morton (played by Tom Cruise) who find a sarcophagus of an ancient Egyptian princess in village while fighting off an enemy unit. After unearthing the tomb, archaeologist Jenny Halsey (played by Annabelle Wallis) is sent in to explore the tomb with Nick and his friend, and Nick ends up releasing the mummy and being cursed. The rest of the movie is spent trying to stop the released mummy from destroying the world. That the plot in the simplest form.

In the “The Mummy” (2017) there isn’t very much archaeology going on, but it does give insight into a classic problem in archaeology, which is looting. Looting has gone hand in hand with archaeology since its creation, mainly since some of the very first “archaeologists” were looters. Looting is one of the first actions in the movie because the main character (Tom Cruise) travels to the village in search of items and artifacts that he can take and sell. This is actually quite common today in archeology, because many groups such as ISIS will raid sites and sell artifacts on the black market as a way of making money. One other aspect that I liked and was accurate is that the main archaeologist in the movie is female. Movies, like the original “Mummy” and “Indiana Jones,” give people false impressions that archaeology is a man’s job when it isn’t, and there are quite a few famous female archaeologists throughout history.

One big problem with the archaeology in this movie is something that almost all of these movies have, which is the fact that there is one treasure in the center of the tomb. This is the classic trope, which is not true in the real world; examining a site would take anywhere from weeks to years not a couple of minutes to an hour. Archaeology sites are filled with multiple square-shaped holes that each have their own different artifacts (or none sometimes). I also doubt the U.S. military would care anything about an archaeological site, because even today many archaeology sites have become abandoned due to fighting in the Middle East. The last trope that I want to discuss, especially because of this movie, is the mummy’s curse. The mummy’s curse does not exist; it is one trope that was made famous by these types of movies.

Those are some of the main points about archaeology in the movie I wanted to make clear. While the beginning of the movie is the only part that has anything to do with archaeology, it does offer small insights into archaeology and allows for certain popular tropes to be cleared up.


“The Mummy”. DVD. Directed by Alex Kurtzman. Universal Pictures, June 9, 2017.


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