Archaeologists uncovering thousands of years of history
February 24, 2014
FORT JACKSON, S.C. -- It might not look like much, but "trash" found in the wooded areas of Fort Jackson is telling stories of thousands of years of local history.
Archaeologists are excavating a site in the northeast corner of the post that was once the location of a home, probably a farmhouse. The most obvious signifiers at the site are stone foundations and the remains of a chimney and fireplace. But sift through the soil and you will find the site was once very active, said Karen Smith, director of the Applied Research Division at the South Carolina Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology at the University of South Carolina.
"We've found broken ceramics, broken glass and other indicators like broken nails and iron hardware," she said, explaining that those are all signs that a home once stood on the site. "We are mapping the remains of a structure, of what we think was a house that dates to the first half of the 20th century. This would have been a residence where a family lived before the federal government bought the property."
Founded in 1917, Fort Jackson was originally a collection of privately owned tracts of land with few roads or trails and so heavily overgrown in places that routine travel was difficult.
The property that would become Fort Jackson was pieced together through cooperative efforts involving the Columbia Chamber of Commerce, the federal government and local residents, many of whom sold their property through eminent domain.
Of the 750 historical sites on post, only about 50 are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, said Chan Funk, an archaeologist with the Fort Jackson Environmental Division.
"It's a real small percentage," Funk said. "They've been doing surveys here since the late '80s."
Most of the post's recognized locations are prehistoric.
"The pre-contact record goes back about 8,000 years on the installation," Funk said. "We know that from diagnostic tools (the inhabitants) were using at the time. They've been carbon dated at other sites in the region, but have not been carbon dated here because we haven't had that level of investigation."
Many of these ancient sites are the remains of short-term hunting camps.
"We're near the end of field work this year," Smith said. "We'll wash and re-bag the artifacts we've recovered from these sites. We'll look at how those artifacts are distributed across the landscape, which may tell us something, not just about this location, but the activity in the immediate area."
Shovel tests, which are small holes dug in a systematic pattern, are unearthing artifacts in an unusual pattern at the site now being excavated, Smith said. Rather than finding artifacts clustered in small groups, smaller artifacts, such as broken glass and nails, are being found in small numbers over a large area.
A small ceramic pipe buried vertically in the ground was also discovered, and was possibly an access point for well water. Glass was found in the remains of the fire place. The fragments had been distorted by contact with extreme temperatures.
"My sense from the dating of the artifacts is that this was a site that could have been occupied right up until the government bought it," she said. "There are records. What we need to do in the coming months is compare this location to what we have in terms of documents."
A 1916 Richland County soil map shows that there was a structure at the location, but does not contain specific information about the site.
The site will take about a year to evaluate.
"There's a lot to do," Smith said. "We like to say in archaeology, for every day you spend outside digging, you need to spend about three days inside processing artifacts, labeling and analysis."
"Once we make these late discoveries, we want to find out if they're eligible for the National Register of Historic Places so we can allow training to proceed," Funk said. "It's important for the training mission. If a site is not eligible, it's not going to be an issue. And, if it is eligible, we can protect the site, which the Army does by signing the site as restricted."
This designation does not prohibit training from accessing these locations, though.
"The Army does allow troops to be mobile through there," he said. Foot traffic and vehicle traffic is allowed, as long as there is no ground disturbance within 50 meters of posted signs.
Artifacts found on post are curated at the South Carolina Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology.
"Some of them end up on display at Fort Jackson," Funk said. "We've got a brand new display at the Basic Combat Training Museum that shows a wide range of artifacts found at Fort Jackson over the years."