Posts Tagged With: Kiah House

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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Digging the Kiah House

Next in our student series, Martha Flores shares her experience as a first-time archaeologist a the Kiah House.

My experience at the Kiah House

The Kiah House (505 W. 36th Street, Savannah) was the first archaeological project I worked on. Working at the Kiah House has benefited me in many ways. Because I am a kinesthetic learner, the hands-on aspect of archaeology has strengthened my classroom knowledge of archaeology. Learning about archaeology in class is different than actually doing it in person.  Physically doing the process of archaeology helped me reinforce the material, but it also made me engage with my community. My experience at the Kiah House has helped me understand and really appreciate archaeology.

When I first arrived at the Kiah House, I was amazed with all the work the previous volunteer students had done. There were two test pits: one on the side of the house and the other in the backyard. I was amazed with both test pits, because you could easily see all the layers of dirt. This had a major impact on me because I clearly remembered talking about stratigraphy in class and looking at previous archaeological photos. It was nice to see something we talked about in class and put it use. While we began to set up, I saw many familiar tools, and by the end of the day, I was really familiar with the tools.

Volunteers were responsible for recording data, digging, sifting, and more. Sifting was my favorite part of the archaeological process, because you never know what you can find. I was excited to find artifacts. There were two sifting stations and both stations found similar and different artifacts. Although sifting was fun, it was also tiring; my arms were sore for two days. I also helped collect data, but I did not do any digging, because I did not want to get stuck in the pit, and I was happy sifting.

Working at the Kiah House has helped me have a better understand of archaeology. Yes, it reinforced by class knowledge, but it also gave me a better understanding of why people do it and the hard work necessary. It was exciting to see what I could find, but the context and the history behind the artifacts and site was also exciting. I started at the Kiah House not knowing what we would find but we ended finding keys, bones, marbles, and more.

At the Kiah House, I met several people; some were there because of school, others because they cared about the Kiah House, and some who were both. I was ecstatic to see my classmates and myself on the news supporting something historical. I felt like we were giving something back to Savannah, a city I grew up in. I was happy and grateful WTOC came to film what we were doing at the Kiah House. We sent a positive message to our community.

Working at the Kiah House was an experience that has helped me understand archeology but also appreciate the history of Savannah. Doing hands-on work helped me strengthen my knowledge of archaeology, rather than just learning about it in class. I hope more people from my community come together to volunteer to learn about our history and maybe one day possibly save a historical location.


Martha screens artifacts with fellow Armstrong students at the Kiah House. (Photo courtesy of Dr. Deborah Johnson-Simon)

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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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