A late update from the field

Hello everyone!

I want to first apologize for not updating the blog during June’s field season. A lot has been going on and life has taken up precious time of mine. However, I can give a brief synopsis of what we did and what we found.

This was an off year for the College of Charleston/The Charleston Museum’s joint field school venture, but that didn’t stop me from investigating the site! I was luckily joined by my colleague and collaborator on the site, Dr. Jon Marcoux, and seven great students of his from Salve Regina University.  We also had our most trusted and experienced volunteer back for another round of sweat and dirt, Robert Welch.  Having such a small group of people this time around was really a pleasant experience. I had lots of time to instruct the students along with Jon, and also much needed time to ponder the site and landscape and brainstorm ideas and interpretations. Although we take lots of notes and photos and keep up with every minute of every day, some field seasons can be so busy with so many people that by the time you’re out of the field you wonder how you got out there to start the season!


Dr. Marcoux setting up the Total Station

To start the first of three weeks this year, Jon brought GPR (ground penetrating radar) and electric resistivity for geophysical survey of the field. The instruments cooperated and the students were fast to catch on to techniques. After these surveys were complete, Jon was able to link them in the computer to the magnetometry he conducted previously and the results are great! A strong linear anomaly appeared south of the potential cellar feature  we explored last year, and a unit was planned for that area. Jon also brought a Total Station (laser-driven surveyor mapping tool) to map in the whole site and units from 2011, 2013 and 2014. But first, to the woods!

There are two main parts of the site: the field and the woods. We looked into the woods in 2011 with only three excavation units, but a high yield of data that provides information of the enslaved Africans we know were working and/or living on the site during the late 1670s up until the site’s demise in 1685.  Working in this wooded area again was a major step for me towards learning more about the enslaved African presence at the site. Along with this, we had the opportunity to also investigate the Native American interactions that we have evidence of as well, thanks to Jon’s expertise and recent research into late 17th century Indian Trade and effects of it to native populations around the southeast and Carolina Lowcountry.  Since we had found potential post holes and a wonderful trash pit in this locale in 2011, we figured it would be best to continue to explore this area once again to learn more about the disenfranchised inhabitants of St. Giles Plantation.


Our first two units

To begin fieldwork, we reestablished the grid from 2011 in the wooded area based on nails we left in the ground that were untouched and still “on grid.” From these, we pulled tapes and set in shovel tests at every 15′ feet, working south from the 2011 units down to the area adjacent to the corner of the moat (see previous posts for information on the moat). These shovel tests provided much needed information and actually helped us target the best locations for where past buildings may have once stood.

In all, we excavated four new 5×5′ foot units and a 2.5×5′ foot unit in the woods.  Two units were placed very close to the two from
2011 that revealed the posts and trash pit, and two were placed a little further away at shovel tests that produced good artifacts (European ceramics, nails, Colono Ware, pipe fragments, etc.).  While the features in the two units nearest the 2011 units may have been related to a building or structure, the other two units proved much more exciting for such evidence.


Excavating the 2.5×5′ foot extension (and, throwing dirt like a pro!)

The first of these two units revealed a feature that looked like a possible wall trench. A wall trench was dug by colonists to help aid their placement of posts that set the foundation for a wall.  To see if it really was a wall trench, we expanded the unit south and created a 5×10′ foot block of units. The trench did continue south and was well defined for a feature that was created in the 1670s :) In fact, most of the nails we recovered came directly from the soil stain of this trench; furthering support for a wall.  Since the trench ran along the profile of the second unit, we dug a 2.5×5′ foot unit to expand the block to see the other side of the trench. After this, we spent most of the last week digging this trench carefully to look for post hole stains. Posts did appear!  Further excavations will search out a hopeful turn for this wall, which will help us determine what kind of structure it was. Based on the artifacts recovered to date, it has the potential to be housing for the enslaved Africans, but more excavation is needed to verify this theory.


Pit feature found thanks to geophysical survey!

During the third and last week of field work this year, Jon and a few students had a chance to dig a unit to test that linear anomaly I spoke of earlier.  The unit wound up falling just to the side of the signal, but the students discovered an interesting and shallow pit feature that had large artifacts in it, notably a few Colono Ware sherds and a large cow bone.  This part of the site is mostly unknown to us and the unit this year was the first major attempt to see what is going on in this part of the site. Apparently, there was something going on there based on the feature!

Jon took the artifacts back north to Rhode Island for his students to process as part of a new class he’s teaching. Once they are done, I will get the artifacts for further study, and Nicole is eager to study the Colono Wares further, too.  Even though it was a small crowd and few units were excavated, the amount of information is very high. As the fall rolls on, we’ll keep you posted about any new discoveries and findings!  Thanks again for reading!!

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Technology and Preservation

Site archaeologist Andrew Agha is presenting a paper at this year’s Historic Preservation Conference on how he has used technology at the Lord Ashley Site to help with preservation. The use of technology not only helps us further our research, but it can also help us focus our excavations to areas where we can better find data to answer our research questions. Archaeology is a destructive science and we only have one chance to collect our data properly. The use of geophysical technology, like magnetometer surveys, helped us determine areas where we would have a chance to study the moat feature. Focusing our efforts on areas where we have a better chance of answering our research questions helps ensure that we aren’t disturbing the site anymore than necessary, and we are able to maximize our efforts and research.

Technology was also used to help better identify and study the artifacts we recovered. Lipid analyses were conducted on the locally produced unglazed earthenwares, known as Colono Wares, to find chemical traces of the fatty acids, or lipids, from the foods these ceramics were used to cook, store, and eat. A scanning electron microscope was used to both find pollen and study the chemical signatures in the redwares. The identification of pollen helps us learn what types of plants were grown at Lord Ashley’s plantation. The study of the clays used to make the various redwares we found identified where they were made, thus helping us identify trade networks and the early economics of South Carolina. X-ray fluorescence, or XRF, was used on the glass beads we found to help us get a tighter date range for when they were made.

The use of technology helps us further advance our studies of the past. We have had great success with all of the studies we’ve done at the Lord Ashley Site so far and we are looking forward to what the next round of studies from the last field season will reveal!

Preservation Conference Flyer_Page_1Preservation Conference Flyer_Page_2

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17th century findings in New York City

Last week, Andrew Agha and Nicole Isenbarger were in New York City to present at a conference at The Brooklyn Museum, and while visiting the museum they noticed some useful information for our research of the 17th century and Lord Ashley.

Last summer we recovered a fragment of 17th c. tableglass that looked very similar to ones Lord Ashley 17th c. Tableglassmade by the British firm of Measley and Greene between 1665 and 1675, which we included in our blog:


The Brooklyn Museum has additional 17th century examples of tableglass on display that also have a similar stem shape. These examples further show the popularity of this vessel form during the 17th century.

British Tableglass c.1685 from the collections of The Brooklyn Museum

British Tableglass c.1685 from the collections of The Brooklyn Museum

British drinking vessel, c.1685 from the collections of The Brooklyn Museum

British drinking vessel, c.1685 from the collections of The Brooklyn Museum

Covered Goblet c.1685 from the collections at The Brooklyn Museum

Covered Goblet c.1685 from the collections at The Brooklyn Museum

c. 1675 Kitchen at the Jan Martense Schenck House, Brooklyn, NY at The Brooklyn Museum

c. 1675 Kitchen at the Jan Martense Schenck House, Brooklyn, NY at The Brooklyn Museum

We also saw their exhibits on early architecture and culture where they take the actual materials from historic structures and re-create entire rooms for you to see including floorboards, walls, ceilings, furniture, and the material culture. The exterior of the exhibit mimics the exterior of the houses and you get to peer in through windows and doorways to see what a home of that time period looked like. One of the homes on display was from the Jan Martense Schenck Home, a c.1675 Dutch home in Brooklyn, NY. Displays like this help place the material culture we recover in their historical setting. During the 17th century the North Room was used as both the best room and the master bedchamber. Notice that the bed is placed along the back wall near the fireplace to provide added warmth (photo below).

Great room exhibit from the Jan Martense Schenck House c.1675 Brooklyn, NY at The Brooklyn Museum

Great room exhibit from the Jan Martense Schenck House c.1675 Brooklyn, NY at The Brooklyn Museum

We had a wonderful visit to New York City and unexpectedly learned more about the seventeenth century! Information like this helps us enrich our understanding of the lives of the people who lived and worked at the Lord Ashley Site.

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Lord Ashley Archaeology At Charles Town Landing this Saturday!





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Sorry for the Confusion!

Folks — So sorry for the confusion!  We were trying to add some Spanish translations to an additional page on the Lord Ashley blog – but unfortunately – we added the translations on top of the English language posts on the Home page.  The English posts are still there– just buried a bit.  We will be re-orienting everything in the next couple of days! 

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Talk tomorrow night!

Hello once again trusted Lord Ashley followers!  It’s been too busy of a summer and updates on what’s going on with the project have been taking a back burner for the time being.  We’re slowly beginning the lab work phase and now that school is back in session, students will be helping process everything we found in June.  We have begun to send soil samples to our analysts for special studies, where we hope to find evidence of preserved pollen grains and other plant remains. These remains will tell us of what the colonists ate at the settlement during the 10 years they lived there.  I’m also working on beginning another round or historical research, hoping to look at things that haven’t been paid attention to in many years, and also taking a new look at things we’ve found before with the thought that things more pertient will pop up and show themselves in light of the work at St. Giles Kussoe.

Tomorrow at Founder’s Hall in Charles Towne Landing, I’ll be giving a free talk at 6:30pm. I’ll be reviewing the work we’ve done to date and highlighting the new discoveries made this summer.  I’ll also be discussing the ways the Lord Ashley site and its artifacts, history and people related directly to Charles Towne, and also how they were different in setting, goals and end results. Both places faded away in the 1680s and became something else entirely; my work at both places touches on these changes.

I’m so excited to share what we’ve all worked so hard to accomplish these last four years!  And, the work is nowhere near close to being done, as so much more analysis and studies need to be completed this year and next.  Adding the archaeology and history of Charles Towne Landing into the mix as a primary comparative site adds new dimensions into the interpretations of these two, completely amazing historical resources.  I hope to see everyone tomorrow night!  A wine and cheese reception will follow the talk, so hang out and ask questions!  I’ll have some artifacts from Lord Ashley site and Charles Towne Landing to show off too. Thanks everyone!


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What a field season!!! Thanks for all of the support!

Hello everyone following and reading!  We wrapped up pretty easy yesterday thanks to all of the students’ hard work on Thursday.  We have been battling rain as most of you know (and if you live in the area, you’re battling it pretty much everywhere) and when faced with the potential for really bad rain, it makes planning in the field extra important at the close of a project. Since we were down so far in the moat trench, we feared a collapse in the walls from heavy rain and soggy soils.

We were weighing in on what the last two days would bring, and what tasks were still needed to accomplish to wrap up all documentation of the site.  There was really one major important task left: cleaning the walls of the moat trench so we can see all the bands of clay, silt, loam and sand, getting photos and mapping it all in.  Without a map and photos, no one would be able to study the moat and how it filled in through time. Knowing this is extremely important to our understanding of how the people at St. Giles managed the moat, used it to throw trash into, cleaned it out from time to time to keep it deep and defensive, and how it was used during the site abandonment phase.

Did they push the palisade into it and other parts of buildings when they got the property cleaned up for sale?  Did a lot of trash and refuse wind up in the trench? Seeing the kinds of artifacts in relation to the bands of soil helps us find answers to these questions.

The students worked hard and got the walls of the 30’foot long trench cleaned up perfectly, the photos turned out great and we got out of the field pretty late.  I remember volunteering years ago to recover important artifacts and document features for the sake of the science, and wrapping up by pulling the car up to work by headlights as it got dark. We didn’t have to do that this time!

Yesterday the students drew excellent maps of the walls, capturing all of the soil deposition within the moat.  All units were backfilled.  All gear cleaned up and transported back to The Charleston Museum and the College of Charleston.  Thanks to both entities for allowing us to use their equipment!!!

This last week we had a few important discoveries. Besides finding the fourth and final corner of the building (I still don’t want to call it a “house” yet until I’ve had a chance to digest the artifacts found in and around it) defined by brick piers and the chimney found in 2009, we found evidence of the north, west and south walls of the building defined by a possible cellar found in 2011. Last field school we found a wall trench on the north side of the cellar feature, but we didn’t have time to find other parts of it or a corner. This year, Nicole Isenbarger worked diligently on a unit next to that wall trench, hoping to find more of it and to see if it turned south.  Sure enough, she identified not only the same feature from 2011 but another wall trench with postholes in it that creates a northwest corner of the building!!! We have successfully identified two buildings now!  Not only did we find this corner, but Jon Marcoux’s students found a clearly defined south side to the cellar feature, and with another unit south of it, we found a wall trench that defines the south wall of the building. The sample from the cellar feature shows potential evidence of a fire event from heavy charcoal remains, maybe the burning of the building above the cellar? I’ll be working to figure this out over the next year, so stay tuned!

The College of Charleston students also found the inside edge of the moat we tested in the northern part of the site. This area of the moat is more shallow than what we saw in the big trench on the south side of the site, and had a very different depositional history too. It is similar but will provide more answers to our understanding of this site as a fortified settlement. This kind of site is one of a kind, we don’t ever get the chance to dig a site knowing we’re “inside” or “outside” of a fortified wall supported by cannons. I look forward to telling the story of this amazing place and hopefully can interpret the ways the inhabitants of St. Giles Kussoe dealt with living in a fort.

We also found something else that might be the most important thing discovered at the site so far. It might even be more important than the moat.  I have not had the time to understand this new discovery, and have not had the chance to place it into context with everything we have found so far.  It will take some time to figure out, and I really won’t know what it truly means until the artifacts have been processed and compared with the rest of the settlement.  While we’re trying to put as much as we can on this blog page, we can’t divulge EVERYTHING!!!

I will be giving a public lecture at Charles Towne Landing on August 20 and my topic will be on the Lord Ashley site. I’ll review the last two seasons to lead into what we found this year.  If I can figure it out in time, I’ll reveal this new and exciting discovery then!  When on my first field school in 1997, Martha Zierden told us all that “the coolest thing all season happens on the last day.”  Almost all of the time, it is true. I don’t know if its a cosmic alignment kind of thing, or the fact that we get down the deepest in our units and features at the end of a project, or that’s just how archaeology is. All I know is that it happened this time, and it’s more than just one artifact or simple discovery. It’s something that involves soil, stratigraphy, artifacts, and site history. It involves activity during the site occupation and possibly helps define the site abandonment, it even might help us understand how the moat functioned and how it was managed.

My talk will be at Founder’s Hall across the parking lot from the Visitors Center at Charles Towne Landing August 20, at 6:30 pm.  Please come and learn first hand about what we’ve found out this year, see more pictures and hang out and ask questions!  I’ll post some more pics of this year’s dig as the weekend goes on.

Thanks again for following! I hope everyone has learned something and enjoyed.


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