S.C. history is hiding in Fort Jackson's shadier areas
October 18, 2012
FORT JACKSON, S.C. -- Bits of broken glass and ceramics lay among the leaves and underbrush. This is a part of Fort Jackson few ever see, thickly wooded and secluded from the many training areas scattered about the post.
But the timber here has value, and is occasionally sold by Fort Jackson during regular "thinning" efforts. During the last week, researchers with the University of South Carolina were trying to figure out if the bits of trash and debris sometimes found in the secluded regions of Fort Jackson also had value.
"They're testing late discoveries, archaeological sites that were missed in the original surveys in the late 1980s," said Chan Funk, an archaeologist with the Fort Jackson Environmental Division.
Four sites are being surveyed within a timber thinning tract in order to establish boundaries for areas that might be eligible for protection on the national historic register.
"Once they get the boundaries on them, they'll go back and test the site's eligibility and significance for the national register of historic places," Funk said. "If it contributes something not already known about these types of sites, they'll make a recommendation that it's eligible for the register."
Founded in 1917, Fort Jackson was originally a collection of privately owned tracts of land. The property 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. Much of the land had no roads or trails and was so heavily overgrown in places that routine travel was impossible.
Still, it was a place many people have called home at one time or another, not just during the previous century, but in times classified as "prehistory."
"Pretty much every time period is represented here on Fort Jackson," said Tamara Wilson, an archeological technician with the South Carolina Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology with the University of South Carolina.
Wilson said there are remnants of settlements dating back to Paleo-Indian people on Fort Jackson. The relics found during surveys the last week were not that old, though. She estimated the site was home to one or more families in the mid to late 1800s, and was the location of one of more buildings.
Researchers have found the remains of a chimney on one of the four sites, as well as evidence of trash pits, some of which contained broken ceramics and bottles. A large, sandy crater at the site might be the remains of a well, Wilson said.
Besides the chimney, Wilson said the survey has not found anything that would qualify as "unusual."
"We don't find a lot of standing chimney structures because, when the property was bought, buildings were usually razed," she said. "This is a little uncommon for Fort Jackson. But otherwise, there's nothing too unusual here."
"There are certain criteria for the national register," Funk said.
In order to qualify, these sites would have to contain something that contributes to "our knowledge of history or prehistory," he said. "Here, it would be some kind of architectural feature we don't have, some kind of artifacts we don't have, something that might indicate a particular type of trade was going on," he said.
It's not yet known who lived inside the house when it was still standing, but it's possible records exist that detail the names of the property owners and residents.
"The property owners are documented and, in some cases, the property records will indicate people other than the land owner who lived on the property, like employees, other family members, and people who married in," Wilson said.
The archaeologists have not had the chance to research the former residents of this land, though.
"Background research is always done," Wilson said. "We look to see if any historical documentation or previous archeological research has already been done by another archeological group for the area."