By Joseph Paul Maggioni, Directorate of Public WorksMay 11, 2012
Fort Stewart, Ga. - May is Archaeology Month in the State of Georgia. This year's theme is commemorating the Bicentennial of the War of 1812.
To celebrate Archaeology Month, a wide variety of events and activities have been planned across the state. Georgia has a number of parks, museums and historic sites to visit year round to learn more about our country's rich history.
Close to home, there is Fort Pulaski, the Mighty Eighth Air Force Museum, the Central of Georgia Railroad Complex, and even the Fort Stewart Museum.
Much of what we have learned about history comes from artifacts unearthed through archaeological investigation. You may be surprised to know there are a number of archaeological sites on Fort Stewart and Hunter Army Airfield.
While Fort Stewart is only about seventy years old, humans have been living in the area for thousands of years. Underneath our soil lie archaeological sites that can reveal clues to our common heritage and tell us important information about how people lived long ago.
Archaeology at Fort Stewart-Hunter can be divided into two broad categories: prehistoric and historic. Prehistoric sites date from when the first Native Americans settled the area about 10,000 years ago, to the time when the first Europeans arrived in the New World in the 1500s.
Perhaps one of the most important Prehistoric sites on Fort Stewart is the Lewis Mound, a small, unassuming mound of earth nestled in a forest of oak and hickory trees, the final resting place of a respected leader or chief. He is believed to have been buried around 1200 AD, at about the same time King John of England signed the Magna Carta.
Most of the prehistoric pottery at Lewis Mound dates to 1200-1300 AD and mound construction also dates to this time period. Lewis Mound was the permanent resident of a chief and his Family, the mound site and the area surrounding it also served as a seasonal home for his people from the late spring to the fall.
In the spring, probably both the men and women would work on spring planting. The women tended the fields after cultivation, collected wild herbs for medicine, made pots, cooked, and repaired village houses, amongst many other activities. Men hunted turkey, deer, raccoon, and bear. In the winter most of the Lewis Mound people moved to the coast to take advantage of food sources there, such as fish and shellfish.
No pottery has been found at Lewis Mound that postdates 1425 AD, so the site was almost certainly abandoned at that point.
People also deserted a similar but larger mound village, the Irene Mound, and most of the Savannah River Valley, leaving a wilderness largely devoid of people. It is unknown what caused the population to abandon the area, although many archaeologists theorize it may have been caused by warfare.
What ultimately happened to the people who lived at the Lewis and Irene Mound sites remains something of a mystery.
One of the most significant historic sites on Fort Stewart is Fort Argyle, an English military outpost established by General Oglethorpe in 1733 as a defensive outpost for Savannah against Spanish incursions from Florida to the south, or Indian raids from the south and west.
Fort Argyle was the first European settlement in the Fort Stewart area. Shortly after the fort was constructed, it was largely abandoned and fell into disrepair. When Great Britain went to war with Spain in 1739, the fort was activated again, but was probably abandoned from 1747 to about 1760, when Great Britain was once again at war, this time with France. In 1767 the colonists abandoned the fort for the third and last time.
The historical record indicates only one fort had been constructed on the site and then refurbished, but when archaeologists investigated the site in the mid-1990s, they confirmed the remains of two forts built successively on the same site in the 1730s and 1740s, and found enough archeological evidence to suspect a third fort was also constructed at the site around 1760.
The artifacts uncovered at the site indicate that the Rangers stationed at Fort Argyle were armed with pistols and short-barreled carbines and that the flints for these weapons were small and worn.
Archaeology at Fort Argyle has told us much about the architecture of the fort, its evolution over time, and day-to-day life.
On a small bluff at Hunter, dotted by large oak and pine trees overlooking the marsh, lies the McNish Cemetery, an early nineteenth century cemetery marking the site of the Hermitage Plantation. The cemetery's burials date from the 1820s but based on archeological and historical evidence the settlement lasted from the 1750s to the 1870s.
The plantation originated during the British colonial period and ended shortly after the Civil War.
Historical research and archeological investigation of the site has helped shed some light on the social and economic changes that occurred during this eventful and momentous expanse of time. In particular, the plantation's demise shortly after the Civil War mirrored the South's declining economic fortunes shortly after that conflict.
Through proper management, the installation seeks to understand its rich and wonderful past and responsibly manage and protect Lewis Mound, Fort Argyle, McNish Cemetery, and other archaeological sites on its property while enabling continuous and necessary combat training for our Soldiers.
However, the people who live and work on Stewart and Hunter are the first line of defense in protecting our installation's 3600 archaeological sites. In that sense, Archaeology Month really is observed not just in May, but all year round at Stewart-Hunter.
For more information about events and archaeology in Georgia, visit the Web site thesga.org.
For more information regarding Fort Stewart's archeology please visit our Web site at www.stewart.army.mil/dpw/PC_CulturalOResources.asp.