Thursday, September 11, 2008

Archaeology with a Green Thumb

Just when things start to get into a lull with this project, something interesting happens. This week, I went out into the field only to find a different kind of artifact. Growing out of one my back dirt piles (dirt sifted from the units), were TWO Canna lily plants. To top it all off, they were two different varieties as well. I have been collecting samples for the environmental survey of the property, but I wasn't expecting to get data back so quickly. Once Eric Becker, Historic Columbia Foundations Horticulturalist, examined them a wave of excitement began to take hold of us. Those plants have not bloomed on the Hampton-Preston property since before the commercialization in the 1940s. We even have pictures of the Cannas from the early 20th century when the college was there. This was an exciting find and to top it off, since they were actually growing (very well...must be all the rain), that meant they were viable. Amazingly seed can remain viable for up to 700 years!!! So it really isn't that surprising that the seeds remained viable, but my thoughts turn to all the activity on the property not disturbing the suitable environment for hibernation in these seeds. Eric carefully removed the plants from the back dirt pile, to cultivate them. Cool huh?

Once Eric described to me what the seeds looked like, see picture above, it occurred to me that I had seen something like that recently. In fact drying on the screen, from that very unit, were two seeds still in hibernation. It is truly amazing how this all came about. So with our hopes high we decided to re-screen the back dirt pile to look for more seeds. You see my shaker-screens are 1/4 in mesh, which is just about the size of the seeds. It is possible there were more, they just happened to fall through the screen. So we decided to use one of the drying racks to re-screen the dirt. The drying racks, the screens the artifacts are placed on to dry after washing, are made with 1/8 in screen (window screen). Unfortunately we didn't find any more seeds. However, we will be taking lateral soil samples from each level, so it will be exciting to see the results from that as well.

This is great news for everybody, not just for the archaeology! When Historic Columbia Foundation begins to restore the gardens at the Hampton-Preston, they will be able to have the Cannas that once bloomed in the beautiful gardens...bloom again.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

We're movin' on the front of the house!

So I have been slack and not posted in over a month, things have been very busy! We have some new faces on the project and some old have left us. Andrea Palmiotto, who just graduated from USC with her BA in Anthropology, has started working on the project. Ben Johnson has moved on to a job at SCIAA (South Carolina Institute of Anthropology and Archaeology). Ben was a great help to the project over the summer, we were very lucky to have him for as long as we did. Thanks Ben!

Well we have moved...up to the front. We had been waiting on the geophysical survey, but "technical difficulties" has put that on hold for now. In the meantime, I have four units open right up in the front of the house. According to the 1969 plat of the property, the two outside units that are open were under structures at one time. However, the two inside units seem to be in areas that were never under any structures. This has turned out to be quite clear in the digging of the units. The two on the outside have some very nasty red clay layers, with a lot of architectural debris.

We have also been working on closing up the units in the northwest corner of the property outside the wall. On the west side of the wall, we opened three units, including one of the very corner of the property (corner of Pickens and Laurel Streets). The unit on the corner is just about finished and will be the last in the back corner. In that unit we found the corner foundation for the car dealership, but no wall foundation. However, in the other two units we found the car dealership foundation on top of the original wall foundation. We have been getting some really good data from those units, including a lot of terra cotta (flower pots). It's exciting stuff.

Well, I will be posting another update in a few days. Getting behind makes more to tell...until next time :)!

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

All in All it's Just More Bricks in the Wall

Yes, we found it...the foundation for the original wall. Funny thing is when we started opening up units in the NW corner on the Pickens Street side we expected to find a foundation. However, the foundation I was almost certain we would find was the foundation for Pulliam Motors showroom. I expected that this foundation would have destroyed the foundation for the original wall. Little did I know about architectural supports because what we found was the Pulliam Motors foundation...on top of the original wall foundation. Crazy, right? Yeah, they simply used the original brick and mortar foundation to support the concrete structure foundation, see the picture above. Square 10 revealed the progressive nature of the site through its glimpse in how old remains are just waiting to be discovered below modern remains. One of the reasons we were sure this is the foundation for the wall is due to its shape. The foundation is the same width as the concrete foundation at the top, but then as it goes down it begins to pier out, a technique used for support.

It will be interesting to see if this phenomenon continues as we move down the grid line. We will be placing a row of units down each side of the property between the sidewalk and existing wall. On the Henderson Street side there was a portion of the wall that existed right up until 1969 when they renovated the property. It will be nice to compare the findings once I reach that side.

Ceramics, Nails, Glass...O My!

Since we have opened up units between the wall and the sidewalk we have come across a great many things. Square 8 turned out to be a jackpot of artifacts! This unit is on the Laurel Street side of the wall about 70 ft in from the corner. From looking at old maps and photographs this unit could have been right outside the old greenhouse and together with the artifacts recovered it might be one of our first clues to uncovering remnants of the old structure. Tons of terracotta including small fragments of seedling pots came out of the unit. The presence of this type of artifact does not surprise me if it is from the greenhouse, because what would you expect to find in a greenhouse?...well flower pots of course! Also, more metal and glass came out of this unit than all of the other units combined...another clue to a possible structure. In addition to the terracotta there were also some interesting fragments of ceramics. Two fragments of a transfer printed ceramic with over glazed hand painted motif were recovered from this unit, pictured to the left. The interesting thing about this piece is that it is both transfer printed and hand painted. Though these were common processes for decorating ceramics, I have never seen in on one piece together. It will be interesting to investigate these pieces and what that might mean.

Just to fill you in an what I mean as to transfer-printed ceramic versus hand-painted, here is a little insight. Transfer-print is a technique used where an applique with a design is transferred to the ceramic, then a clear glaze is applied over the print. Hand-painted decorations are just that, hand-painted then glazed over. The piece above was transfer-printed, glazed, hand-painted, and then glazed again, fascinating!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Please Remain Behind the Caution Tape

Hello everyone!

Sorry for taking so long between posts, things have been really busy these last few weeks. I have a six month old that is keeping on my toes from the time I get home to about bedtime. I usually have just enough energy to check my e-mail for the day before my eyelids start going south :)!

Well, we have moved outside the wall in the NW corner of the property. We elected to moves there to remain relatively close to the area we just finished, to continue investigating that corner. We moved outside the wall because the original wall ran right up to the sidewalk. We are still waiting for the geophysical equipment to arrive from England so we were unable to do the geophysical portion of the survey outside the wall. The area between the wall and the sidewalk is 14ft, so I figured that was a small enough area to sacrifice. Once units are begun, we are unable to use the geophysical equipment due to the disturbance we are creating by digging.

We simply extended the area inside the wall to make sure the entire corner was covered. We lied in 6 units, which had to be offset by about 6ft from the actual 40ft interval. This is because if we had done 40ft, we would have been trying to dig up sidewalk. So far we have half of these units completed and have a lot to talk about. However, I will save that for another stay tuned!

On a side note we were featured on the local news last Friday. News 19 came out to our Field Friday and caught the kids getting dirty. To view the video visit Historic Columbia Foundation's website at

Unitl next time!
Helena Ferguson

Monday, June 23, 2008

Rain, Rain Don't Go Away!!

Hello everyone!

I apologize for taking so long to get this weeks posting up, I have been very busy with everything. We had a great week out in the field and were very fortunate to get some rain this past weekend.

This past Saturday we were happy to host family day for Historic Columbia Foundation. Several kids and adults came out to learn about real archaeology in action and get dirty. The event was featured on the front of the metro section in Sunday's edition of The State Newspaper. You can view the article at

The rain was GREAT for loosening up some of the soils in the units. I was able to trowel down through the red layer, which was very thick, in square 4. I got the same amount of dirt moved in two hours that I had in three days before the rain. It was wonderful!! What I came down on was similar to what we found in square 2, a line down the middle seperating two differently disturbed layers. I will have pictures on the next posting after I have a chance to clean it up for pictures.

We finally reached sub-soil in units 1 and 5, this is a sterile red clay. When I say sub-soil I mean a layer where there has been no human activity. These units are in the process of being cleaned up, photographed, and thier profiles mapped. I plan on backfilling them at the beginning of next week.

We are anxiously awaiting the gradiometer, that has been ordered from England, to continue the geophysical survey in another area of the yard. Hopefully that will come in before we finish up the rest of the units, so we won't have to proceed without doing the geophysical part of the survey. However, if it looks as if this will occur, we will move to a part of the yard we expect to see heavy disturbance from building deconstruction. If the geophysical equiptment does come in we will move to the front of the house next to spice things up a bit.

Someone requested more pictures of the GPR in progress, so I have uplaoded them above. See ya next week!
Helena Ferguson
Primary Investigator

Friday, June 13, 2008

Red Clay Fiasco

Square 1

Square 2

Lauran Riser working on the red clay in square 4

Greetings archaeology enthusiasts, our week out in the field was very interesting! This week started off hot and cooled down a bit as it progressed. We started each day at 6:30am to beat the heat of midday. I know that sounds early, but when you get out there knowing it is going to be blazing later that day, it motivates you. So here is a run down on what happened this past week.

I made an executive decision to alter the plan a little in regards to the size and frequency of the test pits. After opening up the two 1x1 ft test pits last week, we were having a little trouble getting into them because of some extremely compacted red clay. After taking the weekend to think it over I thought it best to open the test pits up into 2x2 ft units. This meant more dirt, but it made it a lot easier, somewhat, to hack at the red clay layer. The red clay layer I speak of is pictured in one of the open units above. Since these units are bigger, I also decided that the 40ft interval between the units would become the highest frequency of the survey.

Opening up the units helped in two important ways. First, it allows us to examine each hole to a higher degree, giving us a better understanding about an area. For example, STP #2 was one of the two test pits initially opened. When we got ourselves through the red layer, there was another disturbed layer underneath. However, when we opened the test pit up into the 2x2ft unit, we discovered a line dividing the east and west portion of the unit (see picture). Not exactly sure what the significance of it is yet, but it is located in one of the proposed pathways, so it could (maybe) be remnants of a previous pathway. Without opening up the units we would have written this area off as being disturbed. Second, we are now able to handle any features that may turn up in the units. Before, there were simply too many test pits that needed to be dug that digging the features would have been overwhelming. Going back to STP #2, now square 2, we are not sure if the line is dividing a portion of a feature or simply the next level. However, if we had continued with the original plan we would stop when we got to what we thought was a feature.

We moved a little slow this week, due to some vicious red clay. Let me tell you folks this soil is so compacted that when we hit it with our trowels, it is like striking concrete. This type of compacted soil is IMPOSSIBLE to trowel, so we have to break out the big tools for literally hacking our way thorough it. We have two very large 10lbs pickaxes, two mini ground breakers, and two floor tile chisels that we use interchangeably. These tools were very beneficial in getting through the red clay layer in squares 1, 2, & 3. Each unit is unique as to its depth of this compacted red clay, but they all have it.

We also opened up two more units in the northwest corner of the block, so we now have a total of 5 units open, all at different levels. It is really interesting to see all of them open at the same time, being that they are all at different levels of progression. I invite anyone interested in seeing them to come on out and take a peek. Next week, we hope to get down to subsoil in a couple of the units. Square 1, pictured above, has finally reached what I think may be the first undisturbed level in the units and is almost 2 ft deep. I hope to update on this more next week.

I was fortunate to have several volunteers come out this week. Thanks so much to Jakob Crockett, Lauran Riser, and Mick Wigal. You guys are awesome! We also have one other full time archaeologist working on the project. Ben Johnson, a fellow archaeology grad student, will be working with me all summer and his help will be invaluable, thanks Ben! (Ben just got married two weeks ago, so congrats to him!)

See you next week!

Helena Ferguson
Primary Investigator