Summer 2013 Blog Posts

We are back to English!  Thanks for your patience!

Talk tomorrow night!

Posted on August 19, 2013 by andrewagha

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 pertinent 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!

Posted on June 29, 2013 by andrewagha

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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The Moat at Lord Ashley: A Unique Feature at a Unique Site

Posted on June 27, 2013 by jonmarcoux

Jon here. When I left the field today, Andrew, Nicole, Martha, Ron, and the College of Charleston students were still toiling away in the excavation trench cutting though part of the moat. While I am dying to stick around to see how it all turns out, I have to get home to my wife and my two and a half year old and eight week old sons (and yes after leaving my wife to tend to real life problems for four weeks away, I have a lot of making up to do when I get home!). While I am sure Andrew will have a great wrap-up post, I thought I would lay out the history of our excavations in the moat.

If you have ever watched the TV show The A-Team, you have doubtless heard Colonel John “Hannibal” Smith’s (George Pappard) classic line “I love it when a plan comes together.” In every episode, Hannibal muttered this tongue-in-cheek phrase (a post-hoc gloat really) after his plan had succeeded – a plan that invariably deviated from the original plan and that usually ended with spectacular 1980s TV explosions. About a week ago, as our excavations in search of the moat at the Lord Ashley site proceeded and the evidence came into clearer resolution, my mind was immediately drawn to the cigar chomping Hannibal saying his catch phrase. Here, the reader can feel free to picture exploding oil drums and flipping cars.

Enough setup- on to the basic questions: Why do we think a moat was present at the site? How do we look for evidence of the moat? What does the moat look like in the archaeological record? I will answer these three questions in turn.

Why do we think a moat was present at the site?

Early in his research on the site, Andrew Agha found a number of late seventeenth century historic accounts referring to fortifications at St. Giles Kussoe (the Lord Ashley site). These include the testimony of two English runaway indentured servants seeking asylum in Spanish Florida. Both of these men report that Ashley’s plantation featured a moat, palisade, and four artillery pieces. Andrew also pointed to records that show a likely sizable portion of the Charles Towne public store of gunpowder was kept at Lord Ashley. One could easily imagine that such a valuable and dangerous commodity would only be kept in a secure location. Together, these pieces of historic evidence allowed us to form a hypothesis that we could test with archaeological evidence – a moat is essentially a large ditch, so we reasoned that it should leave a rather obvious archaeological signature. Luckily, we could also consult Stanley South’s work on a similar defensive ditch or moat at the 1670s site of Charles Towne Landing for clues on how to look for this feature.

How do we look for evidence of the moat?

The answer to this question involves scientific testing and luck. The luck part of the answer happened when the land owner demolished an old cattle pen and uncovered a sizable collection of artifacts and brick fragments (some of which are now on display at theCharleston Museum). In 2011, the College of Charleston field school excavated a single unit in this area and encountered very deep deposits, but the unit was too small to get a sense of the size or shape of the feature.

Unit Locations

Map showing magnetometer survey results and locations of excavation units for 2013 field school.

In January 2012, Andrew, Nicole, and I conducted a magnetometer survey of the site (See my post from a couple of weeks ago) and identified the linear feature that we thought must be the moat. In fact, the location of the moat passed right into the excavation unit mentioned above! In fact, it looked like the unit may have been place near or at the western corner of the moat.

This serendipitous discovery and the magnetometer results were used to guide the placement of units this season (see map). We placed a unit at the suspected western corner of the moat adjacent to the 2011 unit. We placed a trench of narrow units in order to cut across the southern run of the moat. The goal here was to expose the entire profile of the moat (a cross-section). Finally we placed three units in the northwest portion of the site in the hope of encountering the northern run of the moat.

This process of excavating units in order to see whether our magnetometer map was correct is called “ground truthing.” This is absolutely essential in order to confirm the patterns identified in any remote sensing survey (GPR, resistivity, aerial and satellite reconnaissance, etc.). The proof is in the pudding- or the dirt in this case.

What does the moat look like “in the ground”?

The answer to this question is deceptively simple- by definition a moat is a linear ditch excavated around a settlement in order to present any world-be attackers with an obstacle. These are often paired with a wooden stockade or palisade erected on the inside of the moat. Excavations of mid 17th century forts in St. Mary’s City, Maryland show what a moat looks like in cross section.

Schematic showing cross-section of a moat (from Forts of St. Mary’s website).

St. Mary's moat-profile

Schematic showing archaeological cross-section of a moat (from Forts of St. Mary’s website).

So the basic shape of a moat is straightforward. The complicated part of the question lies in what lies in the moat. That is, a moat is a defensive structure, but as a low spot it is also a prime candidate for having soil and garbage deposited into it. This results in a very complex series of episodes of filling by people and nature. Heavy rains might wash in soil, people may throw out garbage accumulated after sweeping their house, people may drop the butchered remains of a cow into it. Additionally, when the the site was abandoned, people likely threw lots of things into the moat, and when the site was repurposed for agriculture, the land had to be l

North Moat South Profile

eveled and any vestiges of the moat obliterated- at least those noticeable on the surface. On top of that, we have identified about 80 linear feet of moat surrounding the western portion of the settlement. Garbage was not thrown out uniformly across the entire moat; therefore, it is likely that different areas of the moat have different
garbage deposits. This adds up to a really complex picture, one that will take years of research to figure out!

In the northern portion of the moat, we were able to define the middle and inner margin of the moat. The deposits here are over 2.5 ft deep!

West Unit Corner

West Unit West Profile

In the western unit, we were able to confirm that the moat corner is in this area. We caught the spot on the inside margin where the moat is beginning to turn to the north. Future field seasons will expand on this area. Given that our goals in this area were to confirm the presence of the corner, we did not excavate into the moat fill.

South Trench top of moat facing south

Southern trench facing south. The moat stain extends across the top (southern) portion of the trench.

South Trench southern moat edge facing west

Southern edge of the moat.

South Trench mostly excavated

Mostly excavated trench, facing south.

South Trench Stratigraphy west profile

Complex stratigraphy hints at a complex history of filling.

In the southern trench, we confirmed the presence of the moat. We were quite surprised at how wide the moat was when we first uncovered it (about 15 feet!). As we excavated down, the profile or cross-section of the moat came into view. Here, we saw that the slope of the outside edge of the moat is less severe than the inside edge- just like in the case of the St. Mary’s City forts! Also, we saw how complex the history of filling is through the stratigraphy or layering of soil in the profile. Each of these distinct soil lenses represents a different episode of filling. The goal of the laboratory analysis following this season will be to see if we can use artifacts and other data to reconstruct this history of infilling!

What a great field season! I got to work with and learned a ton from the best archaeologists in the region, I got to introduce my students to my life’s work, and I got to meet a bunch of great students from the College of Charleston. I am really looking forward to future work at the site. I really do love it when a plan comes together!

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What did they eat at the Lord Ashley site?

Posted on June 24, 2013 by nicoleisenbarger

Have you ever traveled far from home and missed foods that you normally eat? What do you think it would have been like for these early colonists who traveled far from home to a new and unfamiliar place? Were they able to eat any foods that were familiar to them, or was everything new? How much food was shipped in for them and how much did they have to grow for themselves? What if their crops failed – would they be able to get enough food to survive? Did they eat any wild foods? Did they get any foods from the Native Americans?

A common question that archaeologists try to answer is what kinds of foods did the people in the past eat? Answers to this question help us to learn what types of foods were available in the natural environment, as well as through trade and exchange. One of the major questions at Lord Ashley is what types of crops and foods did they plant and raise on the plantation. Once we have an understanding of this, then we can take it a step further and look at all of the food remain from the site and figure out what they planted and raised versus what they caught, hunted, and foraged for and the foods they traded for. This will help us better understand the purpose of the plantation, or what crops they grew. It also helps us learn what the natural environment was and what wild foods and fauna were available for them. And finally, we can see what foods were brought in as trade items to get a better grasp on trade and economic relations between the Lord Ashley site and the world.

Archaeologists have different ways to study the foods people ate in the past. We can learn a lot about what and how people ate and cooked in the past by studying the broken bits of pottery, glass, and other kitchen related items we find like forks, knives, and iron kettles. From the pottery we can see what forms of dishes they had – are they bowls, plates, crocks, cups. From this we can learn about how they prepared and ate their foods – for instance if there are a lot of bowls we can assume they were eating foods that are more liquid like soups and stews. If there are a lot of plates then they likely ate more solid foods like roasts, potatoes, and vegetables.

Archaeologists also study the faunal, or animal bone, remains to see what types of animals they ate, like fish, chickens, cows, and deer. We can also learn about the plants people ate by taking special samples to look for seeds, pollen, fossilized plant cells, and the remnants of fats from foods. Previous excavations at the Lord Ashley site found evidence of the types of foods that these early colonists were eating in the late 1600s. An analysis of the animal bones done by Dr. Elizabeth Reitz and her student Sarah Bergh at the University of Athens found evidence that they were eating a diet of both domesticated and wild animals. We recovered the remains of domesticated cows, chickens, and pigs; and wild animals include turtles, wild birds, deer, and bony fish. Interestingly we also found the remains of a domestic cat. Was this cat brought here to help the colonists by hunting rodents and vermin? Was it a pet? Dr. John Jones from Washington State University studied the pollen from the Lord Ashley site which gives us an even bigger picture of what they ate. The pollen suggests that  fruit trees used to grow nearby including cherry, plum, peach, apricot, and almond trees. It is also likely that wheat and corn were grown on the plantation.

As Andrew Agha has discussed in an earlier blog, another way to learn about the types of foods they ate is to look for evidence of the food remains that are charred onto or have seeped into unglazed ceramic vessels that were once used to hold and cook foods. In order to do this we have to collect the samples very specifically. First, we have to dig carefully in order to see the pieces of pottery while they are still in the dirt, making sure not to move them. Then, we have to clean our trowels so that they don’t have any oils from our hands or dirt on them (we don’t want the oils/fats from our hands, our lunch, or from other parts of the site to get on them).Finally we carefully remove the piece of pottery with our clean trowel, making sure not to touch it, and we place it with some of the dirt that was around it into an acid free envelope.

Washing Trowel

Washing trowel before taking lipid sample

The envelope is labeled, in pencil, with all the information we need to know exactly where it came from on the site. These samples will then be sent off to Dr. Eleanora Reber at the University of North Carolina Wilmington Pottery Residue Lab to look for evidence of lipids (or fats that are in plants, animals and fish) in both the pottery and the surrounding dirt. We look at the fats in the surrounding dirt because they may seep into the pottery overtime. By looking at what is in the dirt we can make sure that what is in the pottery is actually from the foods they ate and not just from the dirt it sat in once it was broken and thrown out.

Lipid Sample

Lipid samples in acid free envelopes

Lipid research is not commonly done in the Southeast, but is gaining attraction in the last few years. We have used it with great success and hope more researchers begin to do these studies also. The Lord Ashley site allows us the unique opportunity to look at the interactions with food between three cultural groups – Native Americans, Africans, and Europeans. We have already learned a lot about the foods that were eaten at the Lord Ashley site, but there are many more questions to answer. We’ve been collecting samples from this month’s excavations and we hope to learn more about the foods that were grown and eaten at the Lord Ashley site. Maybe if we recover the kinds of foods that the Native Americans, African, and Europeans ate here we can see how diets changed throughout the colonial era by comparing lipid studies from other sites as well.

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Reaching a better understanding through artifacts

Posted on June 20, 2013 by andrewagha

Hello everyone!  Things are getting quite busy, Mother Nature is still throwing us plenty of tough weather, which is slowing up our progress a little bit, but we continue to push on!  And, the students seem to become more gung ho and more intense the more intense the weather gets, which is great!

This site produces artifacts, but not tons of artifacts. In the first years of the new colony of Carolina, material goods were coming into Charles Towne slowly. Even the richest colonists were getting smaller amounts of goods than their 18th and 19th century counterparts did. Most people ate off of wooden trenchers or pewter–both of which don’t survive the archaeological record (we find pewter only occasionally, and rarely ever do we find plates or kitchen wares). So, at the Lord Ashley site, every piece of pottery, glass, tobacco pipe, and nail is like finding dozens of the same thing on later sites. Each small fragment tells us so much about consumerism, access to goods, the economic class of the people, and what the habits of people were in the 1670s.

Rhenish Lord Ashley

In the last few days, we have found exceptional examples of 17th century artifacts. Because we recovered these from intact contexts, we are informing all of South Carolina about what the 1670s were like. Context to archaeologists means an artifact found in a particular soil, in association with other artifacts, can bring about an understanding of the date of the soil and what kind of activity produced the soil/deposits and the artifacts that are in that soil. A ceramic sherd that came from a vessel produced between 1700-1780, for instance, found on the surface could have been put there yesterday, or in 1850. But if that artifact was found in a pit feature filled with other trash, and we can’t date the other trash, then we can say that the pit was created between 1700-1780.

Context at the Lord Ashley site is extremely important, because we have had the chance to study so few 17th century sites in South Carolina. One amazing piece of pottery was found as we began to excavate fill from the moat. It is a sherd of Rhenish salt glazed stoneware, produced in Germany starting in the 16th century and we find it in the Charleston area until about the time of the American Revolution. This ceramic sherd shows the more fancier, hand craftsmanship of the earlier forms of this pottery type. It is also known as Westerwald, but more so in the 18th century. In the 18th century, the decorations were becoming more standardized and less artistic in nature.

This sherd shows the more artistic side of this pottery type. It would have been a small jug-like vessel that held liquid. We are excited about it because it came from the moat fill, which was deposited possibly near the end of the settlement’s existence sometime in the mid-1680s.

This other artifact is an intact pipe bowl that we found in a different part of the site, but again from the moat. This pipe bowl was not cleaned out so that we can send it and its contents to our paleoethnobotanist (an archaeologist who identifies past plant remains) so that she can hopefully find tobacco seeds! This will be important because if different kinds of tobacco were grown between the British and Native Americans, we might learn where the tobacco came from. Tobacco seeds are some of the smallest seeds that can be found by a paleothnobotanist. We’re all excited about this find! This pipe bowl also has fine rouletting around the lip of the bowl and is representative of 17th century pipes.

Intact Pipebowl

These few artifacts tell us a lot about the people who once lived and worked at the Lord Ashley site. They are pristine examples of artifacts from the last quarter of the 17th century. We hope to keep finding these kinds of artifacts next week!

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Another Day in the Trenches

Posted on June 18, 2013 by Katherine Pemberton

Steady progress is being made by the archaeologists at The Lord Ashley Site. The field school students continue to be great!

Today, students uncovered another corner of the brick foundation. This makes three corners identified and the overall dimensions are becoming clear. This small structure had the earliest known brick building foundation built by the British in South Carolina.

lord ash 2

Several students are making progress tracking the moat and palisade line and others have started to investigate the feature we think might be a cellar. Stay tuned on these…

lord ash pic

The artifact “find of the day” was a piece of leaded glass that was once a piece of stemware. According to Hume, the English firm of Measley and Greene were importers of Venetian glass who later manufactured their own designs in London. One of those designs, seen here in drawing (IV), was manufactured between 1665-1675. Our glass fragment looks to be a dead ringer for this stemware and the date is spot-on!

lord ash glass


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Making Pots and Mixing Traditions…

Posted on June 17, 2013 by nicoleisenbarger

Hello, I am Nicole Isenbarger and I am the Lab Director and ceramicist for the project. I’m currently in the field helping assist the field school and I’m having a great time working with the students and the team!

The early and short occupation span at the Lord Ashley Site gives us a rare opportunity to look at cultural interactions during the formative years of the colony. The settlement was a plantation, trading post and fort, resulting in interactions between British agents, Irish indentured servants, enslaved Africans of unknown origins, as well as free and possibly enslaved people from different Native American groups. One of the artifacts that allow us to gain a better understanding of these interactions is the locally produced earthenwares. These ceramics, commonly known as Colono Ware, refers to all non-European low fired, hand built earthenwares produced by both free and enslaved Native Americans and Africans that are found in colonial sites of the eastern United States. Culture plays a major role in pottery production as it influences and dictates how each culture adapts and changes their technology through time. An understanding of not just pottery production, but also of each individual culture that interacted at the Lord Ashley Site will allow us to see changes in the pottery at the site.

Lord Ashley 2012 Report 10.31

The 2011 field school excavations uncovered a total of 1073 locally produced earthenwares. Historic period Native American types that we identified include McKee Island Cord Marked, Ashley, Historic Aboriginal, and Chattahoochee Roughened wares. Lesesne Lustered and Yaughan wares are most commonly found on plantation sites of the eighteenth century and are usually attributed to African American influence and use. These are some of the earliest examples of Lesesne Lustered and Yaughan wares in South Carolina and since we know that there were fifteen adult Africans on site in 1681 we are excited that these wares could be associated with them. But, more work needs to be done to fully understand these wares. So far, we have a general idea of the various peoples and pottery traditions that interacted with one another at the site. This year we hope to uncover a larger amount of Colono Ware that will allow us to further study the pottery traditions to possibly identify wares that show the sharing of traditions.

Lord Ashley 2012 Report 10.31 LL

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Week 1 wrap up, and what a week it was!

Posted on June 14, 2013 by andrewagha

Hi everyone, Andrew here!

Okay, I’m still recovering from the heat, and even though today was a break (although I didn’t check, it was over 90 for sure), I need the weekend to wrap my head around what we found this week; I’m completely amazed at the surprises the site has thrown me!   The students are doing so good, they are strong and very interested in all of the things they are finding.  I can’t wait for the other half of the field school (currently at Colonial Dorchester State Historic Site) to come for Week 2 on Monday.  And, Jon’s students are in for the long haul and they are having a blast!

Today we continued work in a unit near the northern edge of the site. This unit lies directly over the moat, and the students have just reached the top of the moat soil.  A few pieces of a gray bodied salt glazed stoneware came up from this rich dirt and we were a little puzzled over what kind of stoneware it was.  We hadn’t seen it before on site.  Ceramic guru Martha Zierden went for the trusty and not-to-be-left-at-home copy of Ivor Noel-Hume’sGuide to Colonial Arifacts in America for a look at the British stoneware industry. Sure enough, it’s an early Fulham stoneware, a type invented in 1673.  You couldn’t get more “on” for 1670s stonewares!!  Martha declared that she hadn’t seen anything like this before, and for Martha to say this, it took me by surprise, given her vast knowledge of The Charleston Museum’s amazing collections, and site experience.  Just goes to show that the Lord Ashley site is one of the best around!

We wrapped up or almost wrapped up a few other units too. Yesterday one unit near the fireplace exposed a large possible pit feature, with lots of charcoal and animal bone.  I’m really excited about this deposit because it’s deposits like these that we learn about the people’s diets from. We can recover burned seeds from vegetables and fruits, potential fruit pits, and even burned grain kernels.  We’ll also take some low fired earthenware ceramics and adjoining soil for lipid analysis. When Native American, or African made unglazed ceramics were used to cook in, the food as a liquid enters the wall of the pot.  The lipids (technically the fats in plants, animals and fish) enter with the liquid, and they stay in the ceramic forever.  Our analyst can isolate the lipid profile in the ceramic sherds to reveal if plants or animals were ever cooked in the vessel. If the lipid profiles are strong or unique enough, they may even be able to suggest the specific foods once cooked and eaten.  We have to collect these samples very carefully and we can’t even touch the sherd, or the lipids in the oils in our hands can rub off on the sherd, and if we just ate lunch…I guess that roast beef sandwich looks like plants and animals too!  Archaeology isn’t all grunting out the dirt, and it’s not always judging the weight of a golden idol and a bag of sand, it’s some pretty rigorous methodologies and serious science too!

And in last news, we opened up a unit on top of the L-shaped brick pier that is the northeast corner of the building with the chimney (which is at the northwest corner). It’s still there, just as I remember it from 2009, but now we’re seeing the builder’s construction trench, which means we can date the construction of the pier!  Some postholes nearby it might be evidence of scaffolding that was used to build the house that was here.  Now we have to find those other corners!


Next week we’ll be looking for the south line of the moat and maybe another building on the outside of the fort.  Stay tuned!!!

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Magnetometry at Lord Ashley

Posted on June 13, 2013 by jonmarcoux

I am Jon Marcoux, an archaeologist collaborating with the folks at the Lord Ashley site. I am guest blogging today to present the reader with a little background on magnetometry, and how it relates to our investigation at the site this summer. First, however, a quick addendum to yesterday’s post. Two exciting finds were made after Katherine left the field – a white glass bead with red stripes and Indian-made pottery sherds.

red striped beadMcKee Pottery

The bead is made in the typical fashion for late 17th c., by blowing an air bubble in a mass of molten white glass, affixing red glass rods to the mass, stretching the mass until the desired diameter was achieved, breaking the now very long glass rod into segments, and tumbling the segments until smoothed. The pottery is fascinating because the potter who made it was practicing a potting tradition that was definitely not local to the Charleston area. Read more about beads and this pottery (and my ideas about where the potter might have been from) on my blog Redd Duffells and Blew Beads.

Now on to discussing magnetometry. Magnetometry is a branch of archaeological geophysics (AG) – a field of study that utilizes precise measurements of certain physical properties of soil in order to identify and define buried archaeological features (e.g., storage pits, trash-filled pits, burials, house posts). The most obvious benefit of AG is that it provides the archaeologist with a “picture” of sorts of what lies beneath the surface of the ground. This image can be used as map to direct excavations to specific features within an archaeological site – greatly reducing the amount of time spent searching for these features using traditional field methods. Archaeological geophysics has been in existence since the 1940s; however, only within the last decade have major advances in computing power and increases in the sensitivity of measuring instruments made AG a practical and cost-effective research tool. While still at a nascent stage, AG is growing in popularity among archaeologists in the southeastern U.S.. Recently, AG techniques were used to define the size and structure of man-made “shell rings” along the coast of Georgia and to identify buried trash-filled pits and house structures at the Crystal River Mound site in western Florida. Despite this recent growth, however, AG remains largely limited to projects conducted by researchers at large universities.

As the name implies, magnetometry identifies buried archaeological features by measuring magnetic fields below the surface of an archaeological site. These measurements are taken using a piece of equipment called a magnetic gradiometer. In typical use a researcher wearing the gradiometer walks over an archaeological site in evenly-spaced transects – typically 50cm-1m apart. The gradiometer records changes in magnetic fields up to 1.5 meters deep. The goal is to identify localized anomalies that represent changes in the strength (called the gradient) of the earth’s magnetic field. These anomalies are usually caused by stark differences in the composition of the soil, which would occur in a trash-filled pit or a burial, or by thermal alteration, such as in a hearth or the remains of a burned house.

In January of 2012, field director Andrew Agha, Nicole Isenbarger, and I conducted our survey of a portion of the site. We established a grid of eight 20-x-20m blocks on the east side of the survey area, and a strip of four 10-x-10m blocks along the western periphery. The sampling density for all areas was established at 12.5 cm (eight readings per meter) on transects spaced 50 cm apart. This provides 1,600 data points for each 10-x-10m block and 6,400 data points for each 20-x-20m block. Ropes spaced one meter apart were used as transect guides. I covered each grid by pacing in a zig-zag pattern. The results of the magnetic gradiometer survey were processed by Dr. Marcoux using Archaeofusionsoftware generously provided by the University of Arkansas Center for Advanced Spatial Technologies.

mag operator

The results of the survey show a few interesting things. First, is the effect metal has on the instrument. The large mass of regularly spaced black and white “blobs” on the map represent reading of the nails used in the 2011 field school. These were kept in the ground to be able to re-establish the excavation grid this year. The entire western edge of the survey area was drowned out by the metal fence at the edge of the field. A couple of very large metal object were also recorded and appear as big black and white “blobs.” There are some other areas of interest, but to keep this post short I will discuss the obvious feature. This is the anomaly composed of two intersecting dark lines – one running southwest-northeast and one running southeast-northwest- that meet in the western portion of the study area. This anomaly suggests a linear feature containing organically rich soil (manifested as soil with increased magnetism) cutting though less magnetic subsoil – sounds like a moat to us!

Unit Locations

At the end of the day today we came down on what might be the top of the moat in the unit I am supervising…we will clean it up and photograph it tomorrow so stay tuned!

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Artifact Bonanza!

Posted on June 12, 2013 by Katherine Pemberton

Okay – any archaeologist who tells you that the artifacts aren’t important or that he or she doesn’t get a thrill when something unique or interesting comes out of the ground is fibbing!  It’s true that artifacts are only one component of an excavation- a tool for dating soil features and layers, and a means to collect information about daily life, etc.  But– here’s the thing– it’s still very exciting when you find great stuff!

Today was a really good artifact day at the Lord Ashley Site.  Even though the units were still boggy and some continuously filled with water from the overly drenched surrounding ground, occasionally there was a shout from one side of the dig or another, and everyone would scramble over to see the latest find and learn more about it.  Take a look below for some of the highlighted artifacts from this morning.  These include an amazing 17th century decorated trade bead (about 1 cm in length), a large sherd from a utilitarian vessel made of Barbadian Redware, a rare glass button, a projectile point, and several pieces of a deftware plate that were excavated using specialized equipment!

Wish us dry weather for tomorrow and the rest of the dig!  I am hoping that Dr. Jon Marcoux will author tomorrow’s post – explaining about the use of magnetometry at the site and how it is helping us locate the moat and palisade.

Some of our lower units keep filling with water...

Some of our lower units keep filling with water…

Some of our lower units keep filling with water…

A wire wrapped decorated trade bead

A wire wrapped decorated trade bead

Pieces of redware like this provide us with a direct link between Barbados and early Carolina

Pieces of redware like this provide us with a direct link between Barbados and early Carolina

This is a glass button that likely originated in Bavaria

This is a glass button that likely originated in Bavaria

This is a worked projectile point

This is a worked projectile point

These four pieces of deft ceramic can be mended

These four pieces of deft ceramic can be mended

Chopsticks can come in handy when you are trying to excavate delicate materials!

Chopsticks can come in handy when you are trying to excavate delicate materials!

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Day 2…and rain

Posted on June 11, 2013 by andrewagha

After opening four, 5×5′ foot units, and making great progress on day 1 (a day usually full of setting in new units, getting equipment and tools in order, doing work with a surveyor’s transit, etc.), the big thunderstorms last night gave us a little too much water!  Some units got too much water and we couldn’t continue them today. Even though we cover up each unit with plastic sheeting to help trap and keep water out, the water seeped in underneath.  There are a few other really interesting spots in the site that we didn’t dig units at in 2011, and these areas might have evidence of other outbuildings or servants’ quarters. These areas also provided drier ground to open up, and we may be finding things we haven’t found yet! The students are really into this site and are as excited as we are to be working on one of the earliest British colonial sites we’ve ever studied in South Carolina.

Some of our lower units keep filling with water...

Today we identified possible evidence of a wall of a building; further digging tomorrow should reveal what it once was.  Everyone wish us drier conditions so we can learn more!

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Opening Day!

Posted on June 10, 2013 by Katherine Pemberton

The Lord Ashley excavations for 2013 started this morning!  College of Charleston students laid out four units for exploration.  The locations for these squares were selected based what was found by archaeologists in 2009 and 2011 and based on the questions that remain.

LA dig 1

One new unit was located near the previously uncovered 17th century brick foundation.  We hope this unit will shed more light upon the overall dimensions of the brick foundation.  This could be really helpful in determining the buildings’ function.

The location of another unit was selected because previous excavations nearby turned up large quantities of deft ceramics and pipe stems.  Artifacts such as these can speak to us about site use and activity as well.

A third unit was located to help us confirm the location of the moat and palisade that once enclosed the settlement.  In 2012, archaeologists Dr. Jon Marcoux and Andrew Agha surveyed the Lord Ashley site using a magnetometer (more about this technology later) and found the possible outline of the early palisade.  The only way to positively identify this palisade is through excavation.

The fourth unit was located to further explore a feature that was encountered near the end of our field school in 2011.  Soil stains and some preliminary excavation revealed what appears to be a deep deposit of some kind.   Was this a cellar for another structure?

Stay tuned–

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Getting ready for another amazing field season!

Posted on June 6, 2013 by andrewagha

Hello everyone!  My name is Andrew Agha and I’m the Principal Investigator and field director of the Lord Ashley Site. I’ve been very lucky to get a chance to work on this beyond important site. This year we’ll be intensifying our research into early diet among the inhabitants of this fortified settlement. We plan to collect several different soil samples to reveal what was being grown, what was being eaten, and even what was being cooked and served in some of the pottery we’ll find!  This field season will be very exciting!  I’ll be posting on here to keep everyone up to date with the way the field work is going, what we’ve been finding, and what the top discoveries are.

Dr. Marcoux pushing the GPR; Andrew setting markers on the baseline

Over the weekend we performed Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) to see what’s below ground before we dig. While the GPR doesn’t show artifacts, it does show the pits, postholes, trenches, and other features that people in the past created. If someone dug a hole to set in a post for a house, that hole in the ground will still show up, even after 300 years, when we dig our excavation units. It will be a dark square or circle, and if it has datable artifacts in it when we excavate it, we can date the feature. This can help us date the buildings we find. We’re thankful for our colleague and long time friend Dr. Jon Marcoux for assisting in the GPR work!!

Contemplating the data collection

Stay tuned for more updates!  We’ll be prepping the site in the next few days to get everything ready for the students to start breaking ground first thing Monday morning.

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Welcome to the Lord Ashley Site!

Posted on May 30, 2013 by Katherine Pemberton

Our next archaeological field season is just around the corner (and this blog is a way for YOU to be a part of it as it is happening!  Join this blog by clicking on “Follow blog via e-mail” (to the right, below) and entering your email address.  Each time there is a new entry, you will receive an email message that will link you to the blog to find out new information and see any photos.  The Lord Ashley site presents us with an incredible opportunity to learn about the early colonial history of our state – we hope you will explore it with us….

As background…..

As part of Historic Charleston Foundation’s initiative to expand the Ashley River National Register District, a team of local archaeologists and HCF staff conducted archaeological testing and limited excavation in 2009 on a privately owned property along the upper reaches of the Ashley River in Dorchester County.  There, archaeologists uncovered the foundation of one of the oldest – if not the oldest—brick structures in the Carolinas.  The brickwork is a part of the 17th century settlement of Lord Anthony Ashley Cooper, one of the original eight Lords Proprietors of the Carolina colony.  It was a fortified plantation and Native American trading outpost, actively used for just a decade, 1675-1685. This outlying settlement may be studied on its own and in relation to the contemporaneous first English settlement site in Carolina, today known as Charles Towne Landing.

Because of the pristine nature of the site and its importance to South Carolina and American history, a second phase of archaeological investigation took place at the Lord Ashley site in the summer of 2011 when the College of Charleston assisted by The Charleston Museum used the site for a portion of their bi-annual field school in historical archaeology  Funding by MWV made it possible for anthropology students from the College of Charleston to spend the last two weeks of the field school at the Lord Ashley site, following several weeks of excavation at Charles Towne Landing.

The third phase of archaeological investigation is taking place this summer with another College of Charleston archaeological field school. We are once again extremely grateful to MWV for their generous funding support.  Further archaeological research at the site will increase understanding about our states origins and some of Charleston’s earliest inhabitants and will allow comparisons with similar archaeological features and artifacts.  The interactions between the different cultural groups at the Lord Ashley Settlement will provide African Americans, Europeans, and Native Americans today a chance to reflect on how these dynamic groups interacted on this early Colonial settlement.

This summer, we also hope to positively identify the moat and palisade that surrounded the settlement, and to explore the cellar of at least one structure that was identified in the 2011 season.  Later- the focus will move to analysis and study of artifacts such as early cow bones, colonoware and Barbadian ceramics.  Additionally, we will undertake pollen and other ethnobotanical analysis to better understand the origins of Carolina agriculture and colonial diet.


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