Since May, the students have found artifacts ranging from a brass folding comb to a 32-pound cannonball. They’ve also found numerous bits of lead shot, including one ball that an apparently bored serviceman carved into a bishop for a chess set.
The course is a combined undergraduate- and graduate-level field school, anthropology 3175 and 5175, field methods/advanced field methods in archaeology. From morning until late afternoon, students skim sand with shovels, empty them into 5-gallon buckets, empty the buckets into sifters, then slide the sifters back and forth to screen for artifacts.
“It opens your eyes about whether you want to do it or you don’t want to do it,” said Mary Katherine Pope, a senior from Nashville, Tenn., as she took a break from sifting sand. “I like it. I like getting my hands dirty.”
The house was a two-story frame structure with a cellar and two full porches overlooking the ocean, about a quarter-mile away. The house was believed to have had a wooden basement floor, but the students discovered a brick floor, possibly installed after the planks deteriorated.
Graduate student Kyle McCandless found the cannonball in the basement. He’s worked at sites in Old Salem and Greece and hopes to teach at a community college. He likes connecting with the past, but wouldn’t necessarily want to live in it – at least not at Fort Macon in the 1800s.
“If I were a wealthy person living in the house, sure,” he said between shovel scoops. “If I were part of the military, maybe not as much.”
Graduate student Valerie Robbins of Cary will base her master’s thesis on the Fort Macon dig. She said the residence was likely a nice home, but digging out its remains isn’t so nice. “It’s hard labor. It’s work,” she said. “It’s not like the movies. It’s shoveling.”
Robbins, who’s also done field work in England, will present her research at the Society for Historic Archeology annual meeting in Baltimore in January.