Posts Tagged With: Savannah

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.

Source

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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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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The Dirt on Archaeology

To celebrate the last day of classes (unless you are an unfortunate soul with Friday classes), we have another student blog post. JC Jones gives us the Dirt on Archaeology.

That’s right we’re talking about the dirt, or more appropriately soil. Specifically the layers of the soil. Its most commonly associated with the passage of time. Different layers in the ground are slowly deposited over time, and eventually this leads to distinct layers. When I was working at the Benedictine Monastery and Freedmen’s School site, usually the soil was differing shades of gray. It was bland and somewhat disappointing to be honest. In class we heard about how cool stratigraphy could be, and then we finally go out to dig and there is barely any difference.

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Test Unit 5 at the Benedictine Monastery and Freedmen’s School showing subtle changes in stratigraphy, or layers of soil and rock.

Then I got the opportunity to participate in a dig at the Sorrel Weed House, and this showed me the second and more useful side to stratigraphy, features! We were working in the carriage house basement, and we had to remove a brick floor to get to the soil layers. Once that was done a major difference in the soil could be seen. Most of the soil was the same color, but to one side of the test pit was a large black semicircle. Basically someone in the past had dug a hole and filled it in again. It’s a fairly simple task, but being able to see that decades later is amazing. Then as we started digging down further, the soil had other changes, and the excavation was done using natural layers. Every dig I’ve ever done has been based on arbitrary levels since there was little variation in the soil, but this was different. These different features and layers had me pondering on how they were created. What did people do to cause this change in the soil, or is this natural? This experience has opened up a whole new area of archaeological investigation to me. I’ll never underappreciate the color of soil again.

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Completed test unit at the Sorrel-Weed House, showing more dramatic soil layers and features.

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The Sorrel-Weed House: Reinterpreting Savannah’s Antebellum History

Next in our student series is Kelly Westfield, who is leading our excavations at the Sorrel-Weed House.

The Sorrel-Weed House is a Greek-Revival mansion located at the corner of Harris and Bull Streets in downtown Savannah. The home, which towers over the northwest portion of Madison Square, was built for Francis Sorrel by Charles B. Cluskey and was completed about 1841. As the grandeur of the home suggests, with its three generous stories, multiple verandahs, elaborate ceiling medallions, and copious iron work, it was built for one of Savannah’s elite during a prosperous era in the city’s history, made possible largely by agriculture and slave labor. Francis Sorrel was a wealthy merchant and cotton factor, and like many of his contemporaries, a slave owner. The detached living quarters and former carriage house that sit directly behind the home are a living reminder of this. Built in the stately house’s shadow just a short distance across a narrow garden, the carriage house was likely where many of the home’s former slaves lived and worked.

Desirous of getting some hands-on experience in the field in my Historical Archaeology class this semester, I met with Professor Seifert to discuss possible projects. My interest was timed perfectly; the Sorrel-Weed House staff had just recently approached Professor Seifert about conducting an archaeological study in the basement of the carriage house to uncover the source of a curious depression in the floor. It was decided in January that we would dig one test unit in the basement, and over the course of four weekends between February and March, thanks to the generous help and expertise of my fellow classmates and Professor Seifert, we completed the first official archaeological excavation ever undertaken at the Sorrel-Weed Home. We are currently still processing the artifacts and other data, and a report will be forthcoming in April.

The Sorrel-Weed House currently operates as a “must-see” site in Savannah’s ghost tour industry. In fact—it’s probably better described as the must-see site for paranormal activity, notorious not just in Savannah but in the Southern United States. Sorrel family oral tradition describes tragic events, which are the foundation of the site’s public interpretation programs, are believed to hold the answers to these hauntings, and, it was theorized, to the cause the depression in the carriage house basement floor. As the story goes, Francis Sorrel’s wife was overcome by the grief of her husband’s affair with one of his slaves. In her despair, she took her own life by leaping from the home’s third floor balcony. Her death was followed shortly thereafter by that of the slave, Francis Sorrel’s ‘mistress’, found hung in the upper level of the carriage house, and as it is rumored, not by her own hand. For reasons that can only be guessed at, it was thought that the unfortunate slave was then interred underneath the basement floor.

We were guided by two notions going into this project. First, it was unlikely, and would be nothing short of extraordinary, that we would find human remains. Secondly, this was potentially a great opportunity to learn more about urban slavery in Savannah. As we had predicted, our excavations did not uncover any human remains, but we did discover the cause of the depression: a long, deep, subfloor pit. Our test unit did not run the length of the feature, but we hope to return in an upcoming semester and trowel our way through its remaining portion.

Although we did not find any artifacts to corroborate the tragic oral tradition about the Sorrel family, the story unequivocally illustrates pervasive and profound experiences in Savannah’s past. I would be lying if I said I came to this realization right away; for certain, the allure of the stately home and the sheer opportunity we were given preoccupied me from understanding the bigger picture. No doubt, my experience mirrors that of many visitors to the Sorrel-Weed House. But as I buried myself in research, I realized that even if we did not find any artifacts to corroborate the unfortunate events in the home’s history, the oral tradition and the site’s interpretation program have major implications for several painful realities in Savannah’s history. Sexual exploitation by slave owners, unilateral extramarital affairs, oppressive gender codes, and brutality towards slaves, including what would today be considered murder, were legion in the Antebellum South. These historical realities transcend ghost stories and the mystique of Antebellum mansions, and they are facets of our history that archaeology has the potential to teach us more about.

The Sorrel-Weed House project and the class itself has made me more culturally aware, and by doing so has fulfilled one of the most valuable goals of archaeological studies. More importantly, my experience is one that can occur on a larger level; when projects like ours continue to be undertaken and are open to the public, they have the ability to impart a larger cultural awareness within the community. When I imagine the experiences of the women in the Home’s oral tradition, and think about how I might have managed in their positions, I feel sadness and compassion for them, and the countless others who endured the same circumstances. I also now feel strongly that historians and archaeologists have an ethical responsibility to continue to learn more about these women and other muted groups, and to retell their stories. Future excavations at the Sorrel-Weed House have the potential to do just this. In the meantime, I would like to extend many thanks to Professor Seifert and to the folks at the Sorrel-Weed House for their unremitting hospitality and for seeking us out for archaeological investigations at their site.

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Discovering Dave: Spirit Captured in Clay

We are excited to announce the documentary, Discovering Dave: Spirit Captured in Clay, is coming to Armstrong on January 22 at 6pm. Scrapbook Video Productions and the Savannah River Archaeological Research Program produced this historical documentary film about Dave, a literate slave potter from the Edgefield District of South Carolina. Dave’s pots and jars give us a unique and rare opportunity to learn more about Dave as an individual as well as South Carolina’s Edgefield District potteries. The film has been snapping up awards left and right. Don’t miss it! Our screening will be January 22 at 6pm on the second floor of Armstrong’s Student Union Center. Click here for more detailed information in our press release.

San Diego Film Festival 3

Parking on the Armstrong campus

Parking on the Armstrong campus

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Dr. David Hurst Thomas Archaeology Lecture this Thursday!

November 6
Distinguished archaeologist Dr. David Hurst Thomas will be speaking about his work on St. Catherines Island. Encompassing nearly 40 years of work, Dr. Thomas has excavated Native American sites 5,000 years old through to the 16th century Spanish mission, Santa Catalina de Guale. Bishop Hartmayer will introduce Dr. Thomas and speak about the importance of archaeology and the Spanish mission site. The lecture will take place at Benedictine Military School at 6pm. Many thanks to our co-sponsor, the Catholic Diocese of Savannah.

Dig Sav poster Fall2014_DHT_ad-page001

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Dig Sav Guided Hike at Skidaway Island State Park

Big thanks to everyone who came to today’s guided hike at Skidaway Island State Park. We visited several archaeology sites covering 6,000 years of history! Our next walking tour is October 12 through downtown Savannah. It starts at the Battlefield Park flagpole (next to the railroad musuem). All of the tours start at 4pm and are recommended for kids over 12 and adults.

Starting out on the hike.

Starting out on the hike.

Some of the kids found artifacts like this small sherd of colonial bottle glass.

Some of the kids found artifacts like this small sherd of colonial bottle glass. 

We learn about the Civil War earthworks and plantation history of the island.

We learn about the Civil War earthworks and plantation history of the island.

Oyster shells from Native American shell middens are one the most common artifacts at the park.

Oyster shells from Native American shell middens are one the most common artifacts at the park.

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Archaeology students visit local dig

Armstrong students enrolled in archaeology and anthropology classes have been visiting an archaeology dig three miles south of the school. Archaeologists are excavating three historic sites: two plantations and one of General Sherman’s 1864 Civil War camps. More information on the site is available at Abercorn Archaeology and on their Facebook page.

The archaeology sites spread out around this amazing 400-year-old live oak tree.

The archaeology sites spread out around this amazing 400-year-old live oak tree.

Archaeologist Rita Elliott explains the site's history and stratigraphy to Intro to Archaeology students.

Archaeologist Rita Elliott explains the site’s history and stratigraphy to Intro to Archaeology students.

Students try to identify artifacts found on site.

Students try to identify artifacts found on site.

Archaeologist Scott Morris maps a possible chimney.

Archaeologist Scott Morris maps a possible chimney.

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