ECU students dig down almost five feet and 250 years
(June 21, 2007)
Dr. Charles Ewen takes a small digging trowel and points to the somewhat differently shaded layers of soil. As he gets to the bottom of the 4-foot-6-inch excavation, he points to the brick remains of a 1740s era cellar.
This is what Ewen and his students have been working on five weeks this summer – excavating another site inBath, which has served as a historical classroom for Ewen for five years.
“Bath hasn’t changed since it was founded,” said Ewen, professor of anthropology and director of the ECU Archaeology Laboratories. “The 1717 map of Bath shows 71 lots. The question is which lots had actual houses here.”
To answer that question, for the past several years Ewen has taken his undergraduate and graduate students to Bath to perform “shovel tests” – every 20 feet, you dig a hole until you get down to sterile subsoil to see what you can find.
“We’ve done about two-thirds of Bath at this point,” Ewen said of the shovel tests and their mapping.
A European settlement near the Pamlico River in the 1690s laid the way for the founding of Bath in 1705, North Carolina’s first town. The first settlers were French Protestants from Virginia. By 1707, the town had a grist mill and the colony’s first shipyard; the next year, Bath consisted of 12 houses and about 50 people, according to the North Carolina Historic Sites website.
For five weeks this spring and early summer, Ewen’s group of 10 students worked on the site of a 1740s communal store house that is on an adjacent lot to the Bonner House. That house, built in 1830, still stands on the site of John Lawson’s house, built around 1705.
Ewen believes the storehouse was used until 1750 or 1760, and artifacts dating to the mid-18th century support his theory. “It was unusual to have a full brick cellar at that time; this is something special,” he said.
Lawson was one of the early residents of Bath. He was a naturalist, explorer and surveyor general for the Lords Proprietors and author of the first history of Carolina in 1709. He was killed in 1711 by Tuscarora Indians while exploring the Neuse River.
“In 2005, we started a town-wide survey,” he said. “A lot of development is on the way around Bath, but isn’t here yet in the town.”
Last year, Ewen received a seed grant from ECU’s Research and Graduate Schoolto support graduate students working on the project for a year.
Ewen said the hands-on experience of working at a site is a must for the students’ education.
“With these field schools, the students get experience. The graduate students get the experience of supervising a project. And it’s hard not to love archaeology when it’s cool and there are no mosquitoes biting,” Ewen said as the morning temperature climbed toward 90 degrees after weeks of cool, dry weather.
As their project time was ending, Ewen and his students made plans to line the dig site with thick black plastic and then re-fill the soil until they come back next summer to continue their work.
“A lot of times when they were done with cellars, they used them as trash dumps,” he said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if we didn’t find more ceramics here next time.”
Found at the site during this dig were pieces of broken Staffordshire slipware, which Ewen described as an early 18th century type of utilitarian ware. The remains of the dish were found in the bottom of the excavation site covered with cow ribs. Found about two feet away were broken remains of a lead-glazed rust-colored course earthenware utilitarian dish. Many of those pieces are the size of an adult’s hand or larger.
“We found about 100 bags of artifacts that will be wash