Posts Tagged With: fieldwork

Kiah House Experience

Nolan Swaim writes about her first archaeological fieldwork and the follow-up in the lab.

Kiah House Experience

The Kiah House is located in downtown Savannah at 505 W. 36th Street. First arriving at the house, you see an old, worn out, yet sturdy building shading the street. Around the side and back of the house were two test pits that students had already started to dig and sift through the dirt. I was very excited since this was my first time helping with an actual dig. In those few hours I was there, I got to use a lot of the information and tools we had talked about in class.

I got the chance to do all three tasks that day. When we started working, it was mostly just moving buckets of dirt from the hole to the sifter. After I got my workout in hauling buckets, I moved to the sifter. While sifting, we found nails, a lot of charcoal, glass, and even some painted dishware. Then I moved into the pit on the side of the house to dig. This was the part I was most looking forward to because I like to work with my hands to feel like I am actually doing work. The stratigraphy in this pit was very peculiar because we were not reaching the natural soil, but going deeper into very dark soil. We knew this by using a Munsell book to label what kind of soil it was.


Nolan, second from right, works the buckets at the Kiah House.

Everyone even got their fifteen minutes of fame when WTOC came to film and interview us. It was nice to know that Ms. Seifert could help shed some light on what we were doing and why it is important to preserve the historical community. I especially liked that the city would see Armstrong students working hard to help with this preservation project.

Later in class we were able to wash and study some of the artifacts we found. I personally got to wash a tooth, don’t worry it was not from a human, but probably from a pig or other animal for food. Another fun little artifact our group washed was a metal prong [rivet] that would go on a pair of jeans. We actually had no idea what it was because of the rust until Ms. Seifert identified it to our group.

My experience at the Kiah House was a great one. The environment was perfect, the ladies from the museum were funny and welcoming. I got a great first taste of what being an archaeologist was really like. I may have spent hours in the dirt, but it was a fabulous way to spend a Sunday morning.

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Lessons Learned in the Field

Robert Masters tackles his final student blog post by reflecting on the past three semesters’ lessons learned.

Lessons Learned in the Field


This semester like the previous two semesters, I am taking an archaeology class with Professor Seifert. During all three semesters, the class has had the opportunity to perform fieldwork for both extra credit and to get fieldwork experience. While I enjoy receiving extra credit for helping out with the different digs, the reason why I continue to come back is because I enjoy learning about history, especially local history. I also enjoy spending time with my fellow classmates at the digs and helping new students with the proper excavation procedures. Another reason why I enjoyed participating in digs is my enjoyment of just digging holes. This is completely different from my childhood where I would dig randomly and not take any precautions. Now after digging with Professor Seifert, I can still dig holes but at a slower pace. The reason for our slower pace is because we are digging in a scientific manner and are interested at what the ground contains, while also looking at the different layers of soil known as stratigraphy. Stratigraphy can tell us different things from soil composition, to habitation layers, and sometimes within these layers, we can find features such as postholes, trash pits, or privies.

The most important thing that I learned this semester while performing digs is not to jump into a clean hole. The reason is that we take pictures at different depth levels to show the stratigraphy for each unit (hole) that we dig. By jumping into the hole, I messed up the floor of the test unit, meaning I had to re-clean* the floor that was already clean before I jumped into the hole. This is probably one of the big things that I will take away from my experiences performing digs with Professor Seifert. Since this is my last semester at Georgia Southern’s Armstrong campus, I will not be digging for extra credit, but I may still volunteer and help with digs in the future. I would like to thank Professor Seifert and all the other experts that I have met though my time performing digs while participating in the many archaeological digs over the past three semesters.

*Use a trowel to scrap back a thin layer of soil exposing differences in soil color and texture.

Robert cleans off an artifact he just found at the Kiah House this semester.

Robert cleans off an artifact he just found at the Kiah House this semester.

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“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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