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 :)!