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.

Sources:

http://www.wtoc.com/story/32304955/push-for-savannah-archaeological-ordinance

http://www.wjcl.com/article/group-working-to-bring-archaeology-ordinance-to-savannah/9974646

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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.

stele

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.

Bibliography

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

 

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A Broader Perspective

Up next in our student series, Jenna Ason looks at Lee Berger’s recent Homo naledi discovery.

A Broader Perspective

In today’s world it can be easy to get caught up and lost in the complexities that dictate our everyday lives. One can easily become distracted and overwhelmed and lose sight of the fact that there is a great big wonderful world out there beyond our day-to-day existence. A world that has been here long before any of us were born, and a world that will be here long after all of us are gone. It is invaluable therefore to sometimes take a step back to examine that broad and wonderful world that we all call home. Perhaps one of the best ways to do that is to take a look at a small sliver of this incredible world, a treasure trove of history, the Rising Star Cave.

The Rising Star Cave is located just outside of Johannesburg in South Africa. In 2013, two cavers discovered an unknown cavern within the Rising Star Cave system that contained, what they believed to be, the fossilized remains from an early hominid. Lee Berger, an archaeologist known for his involvement in the discovery of Australopithecus sediba, quickly put together a team to excavate the chamber. The challenging part for him was the difficulty of getting into the chamber itself. With a very narrow and treacherous entrance (no bigger than 18cm at some points), Berger had to find very specialized individuals who were not only willing to drop everything to come to Africa, but additionally they had to be very small.

Within that chamber they discovered something new and extraordinary, Homo naledi. It was not remains from just one or two individuals that occupied this chamber. It was remains from many individuals ranging in age from infants to the very elderly. Reportedly, this age range is what one would expect to find in a graveyard or cemetery. Something incredibly interesting about the fossil remains was the fact that they seemed to have a mosaic of features. Some of the features seem nearly indistinguishable from modern man and some features resemble Australopithecus. A combination like that is a really rare find. Then there is the question of how the remains got there. One theory that was quickly discarded was that a predator dropped them there. With the remains from no other species (save those of a lone owl) found there, this theory could be difficult to find true as predators tend to prey on multiple species. Another theory is that perhaps this cave was a very early form of burial and disposal of the dead. This is very significant in that this could be an indication of a far more complex social structure before anyone ever dreamed it could exist.

Beyond being an incredibly exciting and interesting topic, for those of us who are students of Georgia Southern University, this story has a more personal appeal. Lee Berger got his undergraduate degree in Anthropology and Archaeology from Georgia Southern nearly thirty years ago. There is still much to be learned from the Rising Star Cave system. Perhaps it will a yield a great wealth of information about an ancestor of modern humanity, and perhaps not. Researchers say the surface has only been scratched and the future of Rising Star Cave appears to be promising. Regardless of what information it may or may not yield to us, it is a good reminder of the vastness that is our world.

Further Exploration and Sources:

‘Medium’ article talking about excavations in 2017

View story at Medium.com

A short overview of Lee Berger’s Life

The documentary: “Nova ‘Dawn of Humanity”, PBS/NOVA, 2014. Season 42 ep 15.

And more National Geographic articles than you can shake a stick at

 

 

 

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Artifacts Impacting Archaeology

I am pleased to present our third student series of blog posts. We have a very big class this semester, so we’ll be traveling a little farther afield for some of our topics, but I think many will tie back to Savannah in small and big ways. Up first is Alexander Vandegrift, writing about battlefield archaeology and its effects.

Artifacts Impacting Archaeology

When many think of archaeology, they think of those who still preside around Egyptian tombs, or those who dig upon hundreds to thousands of years of history. But, many neglect those who dig in the strata of the recent past, such as battlefields. If it was not for archaeology, we would not have The Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers, where archaeologists and patriotic volunteers have dug battlefields to find missing in action military personnel. Just recently in 2015, 36 Marines that were presumed killed in action were found on a Pacific Island near where the Battle of Tarawa occurred, and were returned home to receive an honorable burial. But, for those who dig in the remnants of the Vietnam war, still face battlefield dangers.

I have always respected those who still approach historical battlefields to find artifacts, historical anomalies from what we have theorized, and still missing-in-action personnel. But, with the number of battlefields created in the recent past, specifically Civil War era to Vietnam era, one would have never of thought of the dangers that could still be present to archaeologists.

With the production of artillery rounds, and other ordnance during war time, not all weapons and ammo are stamped as “safe and ready to use”. This leads to unexploded ordnance lying dormant for years within the strata of the Earth until disturbed accidentally by someone or something putting weight upon the area, or moving soil to recover an artifact. Many of these “duds” still cause damage today because of the eroding black powder or materials within the bombs become unstable. Some have lead to deaths, while others lead to serious injury.

One of the many reasons this happens is because logs, counts, and mapping of minefields can be rare or records are lost during war time. With the rise of insurgency and guerilla warfare tactics, many mines or IEDs during the past were merely placed and forgotten about, only with the hope that it would hit its mark. In fact, there are still regions within the world, predominantly Cambodia and Vietnam (excluding the Middle East since it is a still active war zone), where certain areas are secured off from the public because of the dangers of unexploded or still active mines.

Now, this does not mean that you can always find unexploded ordnance in battlefields, but it is possible anywhere within the world that has had contact with the making, transporting, or history of having explosives for any reason. Per example, in November of 2016 an unexploded cannonball was found near Broughton and Barr streets by a group who was doing an excavation in the area. Luckily, Fort Stewart Army EOD and Savannah Chatham Police Bomb Squad conducted a controlled explosion within the site, while being viewed from an aerial position by Helicopter Eagle 1, to ensure citizens were not within the vicinity. The bomb site and controlled explosion resulted in zero casualties.

This speaks volumes. When a military unit or insurgency operates within an area, they need to keep maps and counts of all mines that are placed, as well as retrieve with full counts after war time. When dealing with instances such as Savannah’s, one must be careful and have keener senses when one notices something unusual within the site you are digging. When situations are carried out correctly and carefully, life can be preserved and chance of injury can be nonexistent. Those who were digging within the area that found the cannonball made the right decisions by backing away and calling the right units to handle such a situation.

 

Sources and for more information:

http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/bodies-us-marines-killed-world-war-ii-found-remote-pacific-island-1510021

http://savannahnow.com/news/2016-11-29/savannah-chatham-police-army-eod-destroy-civil-war-era-cannonball-unearthed-downtown

http://wsav.com/2016/11/28/civil-war-era-cannonball-landmine-found-at-an-savannah-excavation-site-metro-bomb-squad-perform-controlled-explosion/

http://gpbnews.org/post/cannonballs-found-destroyed-savannah-construction-site

 

 

 

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Archaeology at the Library Nov. 13

Who: Laura Seifert, Armstrong Archaeologist and Digging Savannah Director

When: Nov. 13th at 5:30pm

Where: Islands Branch, Live Oak Public Library

What: Hear about the archaeology at the Benedictine Monastery and Freedmen School on Skidaway Island! My students and I have spent the past two years excavating the site and doing historical research. We are recovering pieces of the buildings and artifacts that the monks and students left behind such as medicine bottles, writing slate fragments, and harmonica fragments. While the monks left archival records in the form of documents, the African-American students left very few documents. We can learn about their lives (and the monks as well) in the archaeological record.

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Sorrel-Weed House: Part II

Kelly Westfield shares Sorrel-Weed House Archaeological Study: Part II in our next student blog post. Her original post can be found here from last semester.

This past September, we wrapped up our second round of excavations in the basement of the Sorrel-Weed carriage house. Unlike the first phase of our study, we were able to finish up over the course of one weekend, rather than spending four weekends in the field as we did in the spring. This was too our benefit for several reasons, not least of which was the humidity we were tackling in our underground workspace! We excavated two additional test units this time around. Test Unit 2 included the remaining portion of Test Unit 1’s pit feature found in the spring (perhaps we should call this the “coal-hole” due to the copious amounts of coal we recovered!), and in Test Unit 3, we excavated the northeast corner of the basement floor in an effort to locate builder’s trenches. The results of the study will be compiled into the original report (posted on Digging Savannah last spring, and with Professor Seifert’s guiding hand, hopefully again this fall), and a copy of the final report will be available in the permanent collection of Armstrong’s Lane Library sometime later this year. The results will also be presented at the Society for Historical Archaeology Conference in January of 2018. I am also very excited to say that a portion of the report will be published in book format sometime next year.

IMG_1208

Excavating the second half of the “coal-hole”, likely a late 19th century trash pit.

But what kind of a blogger would I be if I didn’t tell you some of the highlights from the study? Not a very thoughtful one I would suspect. So here goes. For those of you out there still clinging to the possibility that we may have found an intact skeleton, possibly providing palpable, and I might add, horrific evidence to support the infidelity-suicide-murder-cover-up plot, we are three test units deep (pun intended) and have yet to find any human remains. The suspicious depression in the carriage house basement floor was the result of a deep pit (the “coal-hole”). The feature contained a motley assemblage of artifacts, including animal bones (lots of them!)  ceramics (from utilitarian to high style), glass bottle sherds, a seemingly endless assortment of heavily corroded metal artifacts, and a curious piece of jewelry that has yet to be identified. A piece of a pharmaceutical bottle recovered from Test Unit 2 and embossed with the words “hyp—-” is an exciting new lead. With further research and the identification of this artifact, we may be able to nail-down additional dates and perhaps learn something more about illness and early medicinal practices in Savannah.

IMG_1323

Metal artifacts recovered from the “coal-hole”. The smaller piece was recovered on top of the larger piece. It is possibly a pulley or large caster wheel.

Although we hoped to learn about the experiences of the enslaved individuals who were said to have once occupied this space, the artifacts recovered cannot be tied to Black lifeways or culture. These results are further complicated by the background research for this study, which does not establish the carriage house as an antebellum structure. The most promising lead that may speak of enslaved lifeways are perhaps the animal bones recovered, many of which contain butcher marks. If these can be dated and are antebellum faunal remains, they may tell us information about the foodways of the enslaved at the site. Even more interesting, the faunal remains may tell us more about the influences of Haitian foodways and culture in Savannah. Francis Sorrel was born in Haiti and lived on the island until he was a young adult. A search of the Laurel Grove South Interment Records at the City of Savannah Research and Municipal Archives shows that one of Francis Sorrel’s young bondwoman, Matilda Daois, was interred at Laurel Grove South on November 28, 1855 after dying of consumption. Daois is a surname that perhaps speaks of Creole or French origin. Overall, the artifacts recovered provide numerous opportunities for further research. I look forward to seeing these future studies and hope that I may be able to contribute at a later date.

Did I mention that I found a young woman named Molly owned by Francis Sorrel, sent by steamship to New York City in 1855? While this is far from validating the tale of her tragic fate just five years later, it does show that there was a woman named Molly who once lived at the Sorrel-Weed House. What was her life really like, and what other narratives can we derive from research about her and her fellow bondpeople to incorporate into the telling of Savannah’s history? Molly was far from being the only slave who lived and worked at the Sorrel-Weed House, and their stories, like hers, are about much more than tragedy and death. I hope to one day return to the enslaved history of the Sorrel-Weed House and focus research efforts on deriving these narratives. In the meantime, I challenge you (yes you!) to invest your research and academic efforts into shedding light on the untold number of enslaved lives that have come and gone in Savannah and help to incorporate their stories into the city’s tourism landscape.

 

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Importance of Electrolysis

Next in our student series is Robert (Austin) Masters. He writes about his project conserving iron artifacts through electrolysis.

Importance of Electrolysis

Last semester I was fortunate to take Professor Seifert’s Historical Archaeology class at Armstrong State University and participated in digs at the Benedictine Monastery and Freedmen School site and the Sorrel Weed House. When I first registered, I was not sure if I would enjoy the class. After the first couple of classes and digs, I knew that I was interested in archaeology and wanted to do more.

At the very end of last semester, John Roberson, our consultant, set up an electrolysis system in the anthropology lab. The main reason that we perform electrolysis is to preserve metal artifacts. This process stops the oxidation in the artifact. Once we had the machine up and running, I wanted to help preserve some of the iron artifacts discovered at the Benedictine Monastery and Freedmen School site and the Sorrel-Weed House. These items include possible door hardware, a piece of a knife, springs from a mattress, and other iron objects. I am doing this project because preservation of artifacts is something that has interested me, and without the use of electrolysis, iron artifacts will continue to rust and will eventually turn into dust. By preserving these artifacts, it will allow us to study them and understand what they were used for and how they were used in the past.

IMG_1203

Robert adds the sodium carbonate to the electrolysis system.

Electrolysis is used to preserve metal artifacts that have exposed to salt, either in the water or in the air. In simple terms, electrolysis is an oxidation reduction reaction. In the Armstrong lab, we have a simple plastic tank that can be found at many hardware stores. The tank contains the artifacts, which are connected to the negative side of the power source. The anode, which is a piece of iron rebar, is connected to the positive side of the power source. Both the rebar and artifacts are in a bath of electrolytes (water and Sodium Carbonate, Na2CO3). The length of time artifacts stay in the tank depends on the size and corrosion of the artifacts. Smaller artifacts may only stay in the tank for few weeks, while a cannon could take months to years to ensure the preservation of the artifact. Once the electrolysis is complete, the artifact is coated in epoxy to form a barrier between the artifact and oxygen. After electrolysis and coating, the artifact can either be placed on display in a museum or placed in a depository for further research down the road.

IMG_0074

Iron artifact prior to conservation

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Hauntings in the Hostess City

Armstrong archaeology student Amelia Lux, a former walking tour guide, draws from her experiences at the Sorrel-Weed House to highlight the role archaeology plays in uncovering the Hostess City’s haunted history.

Hauntings in the Hostess City

As a tour guide in the historic district for three and a half months last summer (it turns out I wasn’t cut out for the heat, the walking, or all of the Forest Gump questions) I learned my fair share about Savannah’s charms and mysteries. I specialized in walking tours covering the general history of the city (yes, it was Georgia’s first city), the Civil War (yes, it was that Sherman), and the stories of ghosts that still linger here (well, no, I’ve never seen one personally… but!).

Savannah is home to a rich history, a flourishing culture, and some of the most beautiful sites the eye can behold. That’s not to say the city is without an ugly side; stories of deceit and betrayal, of crime and passion, and of lust, love, and murder swirl through the Spanish Moss-covered oaks in Wright Square, rise from the graves at Colonial Park cemetery, and peer from the upstairs balcony window of 432 Abercorn Street. Of all of the city’s ghostly tales, by far, the tour groups begged to hear most, was the story of the Sorrel-Weed House.

Legend has it (and by legend, I mean my 62-year-old tour mentor Willy) that the home was built in the mid-19th century by a wealthy plantation owner named Francis Sorrel. After the death of his wife, Lucinda, he married her younger sister, Matilda. Neither marriage was enough for Francis, whose heart belonged to one of his slaves, Molly. During the home’s construction, Francis requested a special carriage home for Molly, where the two could consummate their love under the veil of night. After the home’s completion, Matilda caught the pair together from the third story balcony, where she jumped to her death, shattering her skull on a large stone left from the build. Several weeks later, Francis’ lover Molly was found hanged in her room, where the two had solidified their love. Her death was ruled a suicide, though the suspicion of murder hung in the air.

While there is no way to re-piece the exact events from that night, archeology allows us to try. Currently, we are in the midst of a dig in the carriage house basement— the first-ever project of its kind to take place in the home. Last weekend I joined several of my peers in the excavation process. Though not many artifacts were found, a piece of porcelain and several iron pieces were collected. Additionally, we recorded the various measurements of our unit, and took several photographs detailing its stratigraphy, which could help corroborate the home’s haunted history, or reject it altogether.

Coming equipped with an expectation to see shadowy figures and hear faint cries for help, the day proved to be especially interesting for me. While I made a point to avoid being alone in the basement, nothing out of the ordinary was seen or heard. The experience did, however, alter my perception of the tourism industry in the city.

So much money is made by exploiting these homes for their history. We would be doing ourselves, and our visiting friends, a great service by performing digs at some of the city’s “most haunted” places in an effort to uncover the past, and, by giving a voice to the characters whose stories we love to tell, and retell, time and time again.

At the end of the day, I left with dirt on my shoes, (and, somehow in both my hair, and pants) as well as a new outlook on archaeology. I had spent my morning sifting through fresh dug-dirt, examining clumps of iron and coal, differentiating between the various layers of soil we’d uncovered, and trying to piece together what it all meant—before re-filling the unit (which I learned, is a crucial, and awful part of the process!) While we can expect lab results within a few weeks, the project is on-going, meaning I’ll have plenty of chances to go back and uncover more of what makes not only the Sorrel-Weed House so special, but also the sweet, southern city we call home.

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