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  • North Carolina Office of Archives and History

    SEARCHING FOR CLUES TO HISTORY THROUGH HISTORIC SITE ARCHAEOLOGYAuthor(s): Stanley A. SouthSource: The North Carolina Historical Review, Vol. 43, No. 2 (April, 1966), pp. 166-173Published by: North Carolina Office of Archives and HistoryStable URL: .Accessed: 12/06/2014 14:12

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    By Stanley A. South*

    The historic site archaeologist searches the archives for historical information in the form of maps and written descriptions of places and

    people, and the events that formed the pattern of their Uves, and he

    takes this information with him to the site where these people lived, and where the events occurred, and uses it to recover details of history not found in the archives. In his search for clues to history the archae

    ologist turns through the pages that lie buried in the folds of the earth beneath his feet, and in so doing he is able to reveal details not recorded by the people who once occupied the historic site on which he stands. His goal is not to provide generalities of history, but to

    discover specific information such as the exact foundation upon which

    a building stood; the specific type of china used by the occupants of a house or town and whether it was imported or made by local potters; the kinds of tools used, and the clues they provide as to the industries

    and interests of the people who used them; the types of buttons,

    buckles, pins, wig curlers, combs, and other artifacts relating to the

    clothing worn by the people who once called the site their home.

    It is through the discovery and interpretation of these specific bits of

    information that the historic site archaeologist is able to add dimension

    to an understanding of history. The written documents reveal that the ringing of the town bell to

    announce the time for meals and prayer was heard by the Indians and

    frightened them so that they did not carry out a planned attack of the

    eighteenth-century settlement of Bethabara. When the archaeologist is able to locate the two postholes that once held the posts for the bell house, a new dimension is added to the historical note. History through day-by-day diaries, letters, official records, and maps reveals that the potter Gottfried Aust operated a pottery at the Moravian settlement of

    Bethabara from 1755 to 1771. It was through archaeology, however, that the specific information was found that revealed what a master

    * Mr. South is an archaeologist with the State Department of Archives and History.

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  • Historic Site Archaeology 167



    Pottery recovered from ruin of the Gott fried Aust pottery shop in Bethabara. All photographs used with this article furnished by the author.

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    Burned floor of home of Nathaniel Moore in Brunswick Town, 1728; build ing burned, 1775.

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    Clay pipes and kiln equipment from Gottfried Aust pottery shop in Betha bara.

    Ruin of six-room public house-tailor

    shop, Brunswick Town.

    potter Gottfried Aust was and exactly what type pottery he was

    making. This was revealed when the pottery shop ruin was exposed after being buried almost two hundred years beneath the feet of the

    the farmers who plowed over the site. This discovery not only revealed

    details about the type of workman Aust the potter was but provided what is perhaps the most complete range of pottery forms yet known

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  • 168 The North Carolina Historical Review

    from the Colonial period. The historical knowledge of Aust the potter was of interest to students of Moravian history before excavation was

    carried out, but the specific knowledge gained from excavation of the ruins of the pottery shop will be of value to archaeologists and stu dents of Colonial American ceramics and will make the potter Aust

    known far beyond his previous local interest. It is such clues as these

    that the archaeologist is seeking when he examines the ruins of a Colonial house or town.

    Historic site archaeology has been an aid to the interpretation of

    history on a number of historic sites in North Carolina. The eighteenth century English Colonial town of Brunswick is being revealed through archaeology, and the ruins are being left exposed for viewing, similar to the interpretation that has been carried out at Jamestown in Vir

    ginia. At Brunswick Town the 1769 map made by C. J. Sauthier has been of great value in locating the ruins. Over 120 buildings are shown on this map. Fifty of these are dwellings and the others are kitchens, smokehouses, warehouses, and public buildings. The deed records in the courthouse in Wilmington provide excellent historical data for use in correlating the ruins of the town with the

    map. Through this correlation of the historical records with the archae

    ological ruins of the town, the story of Brunswick Town is being un

    folded as the general historical knowledge is tied together with the specific archaeological information.

    In searching for clues to history in the ruins of the past, the archae

    ologist is often concerned with determining the date the site was

    occupied. One method, of course, is to use the historical references but sometimes one must resort to archaeological methods. One of these methods of dating is the examination of the ceramics that are recovered in the process of excavation. The period of manufacture of various European ceramic wares is known and can provide a range within which a ruin can be dated.

    Another dating method used by the historic site archaeologist is to examine the holes in the stems of the kaolin pipes often found in great numbers on historic sites. By using these measurements in a formula the date of the accumulation of the pipe stem sample can be deter mined.

    Clues to the function of a building can sometimes be found which add greatly to the interpretation of a site. For instance, at Brunswick Town in the ruin of the six-room public house a quantity of scissors, thimbles, buttons, and thousands of brass pins were found, indicating

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  • Historic Site Archaeology 169

    that this structure had once been used as a tailor shop. The discovery of the pottery ruin at Bethabara revealed clearly to the archaeologist what the function of this building had been. Even if no historical records and maps had been available the identification of this building would have been obvious. Such is not always the case, however. In

    many instances where the function of a building is known the archae

    ologist can find no clue that will verify the known historical use of the

    structure. For example, the gunsmith shop ruin at Bethabara was excavated without the recovery of a single item that could relate to the business of a gunsmith.

    Another type of information that sometimes proves difficult for the

    archaeologist to discover is the relation of a specific site to a specific event in history. An example of this situation is seen in the Stamp Act


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    Gunsmith shop and other stabilized ruins at Bethabara.

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    Ruin of lighthouse keeper's house at Fort Fisher; building constructed in 1837 and used by Colonel William Lamb as headquarters prior to the first bom bardment of Fort Fisher.

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  • 170 The Nokth Carolina Historical Review

    resistance at Brunswick Town two hundred years ago. A number of

    the objects recovered from the ruins at Brunswick Town can be gen

    erally associated with this period, but no specific artifact can be said to relate directly to this historic event in the history of the town.

    From this summary of the role of historic site archaeology in the search for clues to history, it will be seen that archaeology can

    provide specific information as to architectural features of a building or specific information as revealed through artifacts, and that this information can sometimes be correlated with known historical facts, but there are also questions that archaeology cannot easily answer.

    These unanswered questions are outweighed, however, by the wealth

    of information that is recovered through archaeological examination

    of a historic site. It is this fact, no doubt, which has resulted in the increased interest in, and the need for, historic site archaeology in

    North Carolina during the past few years. A number of local groups planning restoration projects have called

    for assistance that could be supplied only through archaeology, and this assistance has enabled them to have a greater understanding of

    the historic site in question. One such project was carried out at Bath

    at the request of the Beaufort County Historical Society. This project revealed the foundation of the house thought to be that of Michael

    Coutanche, one of the Bath commissioners in the eighteenth century. In the ruin a fragment of window glass was found with the name of

    Michael Coutanche scratched on the surface. The brick floor of the

    cellar of this building was found, on which a number of objects of the early eighteenth century were lying. Also discovered at this site

    were the original steps to the cellar of the Palmer-Marsh House. These

    steps have now been restored. Also restored was the well found during excavation of the yard. This well contained objects of the early eight eenth century in the bottom, nineteenth-century objects near the

    center, and twentieth-century objects near the surface, including a

    1955 automobile license plate. Another project where archaeology was used to help a local group

    was in Swansboro where the Swansboro Historical Society requested

    help with the Ringware House. Excavation in the cellar revealed the

    eighteenth-century floor of the kitchen, and work in the yard revealed a series of retaining walls used to level the area around the house

    following its construction around 1778.

    In Greensboro, at the request of the North Carolina Society for

    the Preservation of Antiquities, an archaeological look was taken at

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  • Historic Site Archaeology 171

    the site of the home of Dr. David Caldwell, the well-known minister

    and educator who founded the "Log College." Excavation revealed

    the site of a dwelling with stone foundation and a cellar. The objects

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    Cellar of building thought to he home of Michael Coutanche in yard of Palmer Marsh house, Bath.

    Bastion ditch of fort at Bethabara; ruin of Gottfried Aust pottery shop in back ground.

    Brick foundation wall in yard of Att more-Oliver house, New Bern.

    Brad Rauschenberg and Jewell South placing new posts in original ditch for fort at Bethabara; stabilized ruin of store in foreground.

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  • 172 The North Carolina Historical Review

    recovered from this ruin indicated that the date of the structure was

    no earlier than the turn of the nineteenth century, and no later than

    1825. This was not the eighteenth-century house ruin thought to be the home of Dr. Caldwell. Through further research in the light of the archaeological data, however, Dr. Lawrence Lee was able to find

    that Dr. Caldwell built a new house in 1799, which correlated with the archaeological findings and definitely established the ruin as the second home of Dr. Caldwell, not the "Log College" site.

    Excavation in the yard of the Attmore-Oliver House in New Bern

    was carried out at the request of the New Bern Historical Society Foundation. The brick ruin of a kitchen building was found in the

    yard, and a study of the Attmore-Oliver House revealed additions

    made in the early nineteenth century, providing a clearer picture of

    the evolution of this fine building. The major project undertaken during the past two years has been

    the excavation and stabilization of the eighteenth-century Moravian

    town of Bethabara, near Winston-Salem. This site, the first settlement

    of the Moravians in North Carolina, was later replaced as the center

    of Moravian life by the establishment of Salem in 1766. At the request of the Southern Province of the Moravian Church, an archaeological

    expedition was begun at Bethabara in 1964 and will continue into

    1966. The ruins of the shops and houses have been located by using the

    maps of the town made in 1754, 1760, and 1766 by Hoger and Gottleib

    Reuter. As the ruins are revealed through archaeology the stone

    walled cellars are stabilized so they will be able to withstand the

    exposure to the elements. The town was surrounded by a palisaded fort in 1756 to protect it from Indian attacks during the French and

    Indian War. This fort was torn down in 1763 when hostilities with the Indians came to an end. The ditch dug by the Moravian brothers in 1756 to hold the palisade posts has been located and excavated and new posts, sharpened on the end, have been replaced in the original ditch. The discovery of the pottery shop of Gottfried Aust and a

    separate shop ruin of Rudolph Christ has...


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