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

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 the Charleston 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 leveled 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!
North Moat South Profile
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?

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 before taking lipid sample

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 samples in acid free envelopes.

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

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.

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 GermanyRhenish Lord Ashley 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 imporIntact Pipebowltant 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.

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

lord ash 2Steady progress is being made by the archaeologists at The Lord Ashley Site. The field school students continue to be great!lord ash pic

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.

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 glass

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!


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Making Pots and Mixing Traditions…

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.

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 Lord Ashley 2012 Report 10.31 LLwith 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.

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