7 Year Tea Party Winners: Susan Craft's winner of her trilogy novels - The Chamomile, Laurel, and Cassia is: Lucy Reynolds, The winner of a copy of The Backcountry Brides is: Tammy Cordery, the winner of a silver quill charm is: Kathy Maher, Choice of one of three books by Carrie Fancett Pagels in paperback: Joy Ellis, A Bouquet of Brides Collection by Pegg Thomas winner is: Becky Smith, Janet Grunst's Selah-Award winning novel, A Heart Set Free, is: Sherry Moe.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Archaeology at Colonial Dorchester, South Carolina

Hard at work, hoping for some cool finds
So, I wrote last time about Colonial Dorchester State Park, the site of a star fort built during the French & Indian War and of a trading town located upriver from Charleston, on the Ashley River. This time I'll share some highlights from a homeschoolers' field trip our family attended quite a few years ago.

Sifting the dirt pulled from the digging site
Musket ball and belt buckle
The town surrounding Fort Dorchester was abandoned soon after the British's fiery withdrawal to Charles Towne back in 1781, and the name Dorchester was later co-opted for a town further north. Oddly enough, unlike most of the Charleston area, the site was never built over. In recent years, ownership of the lands changed from industrial to state parks, and the relatively pristine nature of the site makes for prime archaeological finds.

The staff working the site were friendly and enthusiastic about the kids helping with the dig. The process is fairly simple but methodical:  the choice of a plot, careful digging with small tools so as not to damage artifacts, sifting the buckets of dirt lifted from the individual plots through fine screens, then laying their finds out on trays for inspection.
I see ... artifacts!

Digging with the bell tower in the background
Our dig site was the town's former market square. The finds might include fragments of brick, fragments of iron from tools or gear, musket or rifle balls, clay pipe fragments, and pieces from pottery or porcelain dishes. Previous finds included shoe and belt buckles, weapons, and larger dishes and drinking vessels, such as the mostly intact tankard I mentioned in my previous post. (It was creamware pottery with GR--Georgius Rex, denoting the reign of King George--imprinted in clay on the side, only missing its handle.)
Moss-covered brick, all that remains of the town

Click on the various photos here to see our actual finds more closely. The blue tray displays items found by my oldest daughter and second-oldest son, while the ball and buckle on the left were found by one of the other children on our field trip. That beautiful fragment of porcelain is my favorite! There's also a piece of iron (not sure what that was from, maybe the bit from a horse's bridle or a tool?), broken glass, a section of clay pipe stem, and the ubiquitous fragments of brick.

Late April in Charleston is already bright and hot, as you can see by the scrunching of the kids' faces. Still, they were very into it, which was a good thing, since I was doing this vicariously through them. :-) (I still had littles to watch while the older ones played, er, dug in the dirt.)

I'm not sure whether the park still does this or not, but they used to have Saturday digs open to the public, with participation welcomed by any and all who care to come check it out. We'd always intended to go back for the digs but never made it on those days. Still, it remained a favorite place for quick family outings.

My daughter managed a few shots on one such trip, back in 2012, of the exposed house foundations open for viewing at the site. I'm always astonished at how small the rooms were in colonial homes. Of course, even the wealthy of that time owned far less "stuff" than we moderns.

Outlines of the house foundation, pictured above

I'm also struck by the contrast this beautiful, tranquil place must be to the bustling town that once was. I've itched to go back and participate in a dig for myself, to experience the thrill of unearthing those fragments of tangible history.

Photo credits: Breanna McNear


  1. Sounds like fun for a home school field trip. Thanks for sharing
    Blessings, Tina

  2. Too fun, Shannon. I've visited there and participated in the dig too. A very fond memory. Can you remind me, what is the material the fort is made from called? It's crushed shells right? But it has a name...

    1. Ah kewl, Lori! When were you there? And what you're thinking of is tabby ... crushed and burned oyster shell mixed with mortar. :-)

    2. Tabby! Yes. Thank you. Oh... it's been years now. I'm thinking it was 2007.

    3. That's the year after we were there. :-)

  3. Great article, Shannon! I've always wanted to participate in an archaeological dig but never had the chance. And now my knees won't take it, alas. But I love reading about them and seeing what treasures are dug up.

    1. I know what you mean! Not sure mine would be happy with me either. And isn't it silly how excited we get over finding a few rusty bits of metal and broken dishes? :-D Such is the life of the history nerd ...


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