Next in our student series is Pamela Imholz, who has worked on the Benedictine Monastery and Freedmen School site from the beginning and gives us a wider perspective.
My interest in archaeology started later in life after I had visited sites from England to Turkey from 1997 through 2004. The breadth and sophistication of the architecture that had been excavated from the Roman empire was very impressive, from Bath, England to Ephesus, Turkey. Returning to Savannah, I decided I wanted to better understand the history of the people, culture that built America. After doing a lot of reading and visiting some local historical places, I decided to “go back to school” and enrolled in Armstrong State University (it was Armstrong Atlantic State University at that time) in their 62+ program. Several semesters later I have had the opportunity of participating in many field trips and excavation projects with the Professors and students here.
Starting in the Spring of 2016, our archaeology class had the opportunity to excavate an area on Skidaway Island that was believed to be the site of the Benedictine Monastery and Freedmen School of the 1870’s, after the end of the Civil War. The location is the future site of a home construction, so we were given permission to work the site before it was destroyed. Based on the research done by our Professor, a 40 by 40 foot grid was laid out on the lot. Twenty five shovel test pits were dug on the site. Several of these shovel test pits uncovered artifacts from a wide range of years, from Native American ceramics to artifacts from more modern times. We did, however, find evidence that suggested the approximate location of the Benedictine Monastery as well as the School. In the fall of 2016, excavation pits of 1 by 2 meters were dug at the location thought to be the Monastery. This semester, spring 2017, we started digging pits of the same size at the site believed to be the school.
Our hope is to find artifacts that enable us to better understand the lifestyle and environment that the Benedictine Monks and Freedmen students experienced as well as document and preserve this bit of history. While no local stakeholders from the original student group have been identified, we have reached out to the Benedictine Military School here in Savannah as well as St. Vincent’s Archabbey in Latrobe, PA. A team of cadets have participated in two of our work weekends and have found many very interesting artifacts, including a Native American projectile point, pottery sherds, and a brass button, which fueled their interest and excitement of being part of an historical archaeology work site. Father Andrew, the St. Vincent’s Archabbey Archivist in PA, has also visited the site and identified an artifact that appears to be the metal “clasp” used to hold the Cope (a cape-like liturgical vestment) that was worn by the priests during Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. Needless to say this was exciting for all of us!!
If Savannah is going to save its history from further destruction by developers, it is important that the local citizens become interested and active in letting the local politicians know the importance of Historical Archaeology. What better way than getting our young citizens involved as well?