Five students complete month-long archeological field school
By Meredith Mason ’14
When students “study away,” most do so in a foreign country, thousands of miles from home. Although Charleston, S.C., may not be a faraway country, five Salve Regina students chose to “study away” there this summer by participating in a month-long summer archaeological field school led by Dr. Jon Marcoux, assistant professor of cultural and historic preservation.
Open to all majors, the program allowed students to earn credit for cultural and historical preservation, sociology and anthropology, or American studies curriculum requirements.
According to Marcoux, the field school had three primary goals: To train students in fundamental archaeological field methods and excavation techniques; to have students work closely with experts to tackle a real world research project; and to show students how the past is related to the modern cultural experience of the Lowcountry region through historic preservation.
“The last goal was accomplished by housing students on the campus of the College of Charleston in the heart of the city,” Marcoux said. “Students were encouraged to see, hear and taste the uniqueness of Charleston and the Lowcounty through excursions to important historical and cultural sites, attractions and restaurants.”
Melissa Andrade ’14, Alison Cutter ’14, Jillian Diffendaffer ’14, Sigourney Faul ’15 and Shannon Salome ’15 began their fieldwork May 28. On a typical day in the field, Marcoux and his students left for the site at 7:30 a.m. Working Monday through Friday, students were divided into two teams, each assigned to a small 5-by-5 foot excavation unit.
“There are several procedures that need to be followed to conduct an official archeological dig, including mapping, retrieving various samples of soil and taking notes of your specific excavation, just to name a few,” Faul explained. At 3:30 each afternoon, students returned to their housing and were free for the evening.
The first phase of the field school took place at a 30-acre grass field that was likely an Indian village occupied sometime around 1700. Though no previous work had been done at the site, Marcoux had heard an account from a local community member who recovered glass trade beads during a construction project.
As a part of a collaborative project with the College of Charleston, the Charleston Museum, the Historic Charleston Foundation and the Archaeological Research Collective, Inc., the second phase of the field school, where the students spent the majority of their time, was located at the site of the New World plantation St. Giles Kussoe.
Established by Lord Anthony Ashley Cooper in 1674, the plantation was one of the earliest trading posts in the Southeast, where Native Americans exchanged deerskins for European goods and guns until 1685. The site also housed a number of enslaved Africans, whose labor was exploited in constructing the site and tending to the cattle and crops raised there.
Salome, a cultural and historic preservation major, decided to participate in the field school after taking Introduction to Historical Archaeology with Marcoux. “I did not expect to fall in love with archaeology as I did during this program,” she said. “Working at the Lord Ashley plantation was amazing, and it opened my eyes to the incredible possibilities and opportunities that could be in store for me in the future.”
In addition to their fieldwork, students participated in multiple group outings to further explore the city. “All of these trips on the history of Charleston and the importance of archaeology in the city of Charleston were very educational,” Andrade said. Students toured the Old Exchange Building, the Powder Magazine and the Old Slave Mart Museum and also received a behind-the-scenes archaeology tour at the Drayton Hall Plantation.
“We spent a lot of time in the afternoons after field school walking around the city to look at the architecture, historic neighborhoods, the Battery (a waterfront park and beautiful neighborhood), and looking in the shops downtown,” Andrade said.
On weekends, the students conducted their own outings, visiting the Charleston Tea Plantation, Fort Sumter and the famous 400-year-old Angel Oak Tree. Morning beach time and group dinners were favorite Sunday pastimes.
Marcoux said there were three very important discoveries made this field season. “First, we found a lot of broken pieces of pottery made by Native Americans who were trading at the plantation or were perhaps enslaved laborers,” he said. “The style of the pottery is most commonly found in Georgia and East Tennessee. To me, this means that Native American groups from hundreds of miles away came to this plantation – by choice or by force.
“Second, we found the mostly intact remains of a brick building foundation along with the base of a chimney,” he continued. “Built around 1674, this may be the oldest evidence for a brick foundation in the Carolinas. Lastly, and perhaps most satisfying, we were able to confirm the existence of a defensive moat surrounding the core of the site. We know that Lord Ashley was concerned about attacks from the Spanish and Indians, and there is an account of the plantation having a moat. This year we excavated in locations where we suspected the moat would be. Sure enough, we uncovered the moat, which had been filled in with trash and soil since the site’s abandonment in 1685.”
After being immersed in cultural preservation and American history, the students returned home from their four weeks in Charleston July 1. “I had no idea what to expect entering this field school, and it has turned out to be one of the most important things I’ve done with my life thus far,” Salome said. “I grew a great deal as an individual, made a great group of new friends, experienced a different culture, and began to see my future more clearly.”