Search Results for 'redan'

There was a lot of energy in the air at the dig site today due to several factors. We’ve had a lot of interested visitors who generally seem to share our enthusiasm for the project, and this fact seems to inspire everyone to work a little harder. Also, we’re getting down to the last few days of the dig, and many of us are working through a mental checklist of features we’d like to see, measure, and explore. Finally, the College of Charleston  student archaeologists are finding some really great artifacts in the earth, and everyone is very excited and looking forward to each new shovel full of dirt. Let me give a couple of examples.

I mentioned yesterday that the students had uncovered two wooden piles in the deep pluff mud, at a distance of five feet from the south side of the redan. Further digging in that wet, messy unit revealed three more piles (so far!), altogether forming a straight line parallel to the redan. The photo below left shows the piles (bottom right) in relation to the redan (top left). The photo in the center below shows the piles in a bit more detail (note the clouds reflected in the water), and the photo below right is a close up of one of the piles. From surviving legislative records we know that piles were placed on the outside of the waterfront fortifications more than 300 years ago to protect the brickwork from the storm tides and shipping accidents, but archaeologist Eric Poplin of Brockington and Associates, visiting the site today, suggested that boards placed against these piles may have also been used to create a coffer dam to facilitate the construction of the brickwork in the late 1690s and early 1700s. Stay tuned—we’ll certainly learn more about these piles in the next two days of deep digging!


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While I was discussing these possibilities with Dr. Poplin, a student announced that he had found a medium-sized mass of corroded iron in the pluff mud just a few inches from the point of the redan. It was encased in a thick layer dark pluff mud, so we walked out to the tent where other students were rinsing buckets of mud through the screens (see below left). The mass of iron got a good rinsing (see below center) and Eric held it for me to photograph (below right).


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possible_pistol_barrel_3Hmm . . . it’s iron, it’s long and skinny, and it has a few odd bumps and articulations (besides the encrusted organic material). To top it off, the artifact is definitely a partially-flattened tube. Perhaps it’s the barrel of an old pistol. If so, it may have been discarded into the mud in front of the redan 300 years ago. Only after the piece has undergone some conservation treatment and further study at the Charleston Museum will we know for sure, but in the meantime I’ll leave you with one final shot (pardon the pun) of the business end of the potential pistol barrel.

The greater part of this hot Monday was spent cleaning profiles, measuring angles, and photographing units. A bit of digging turned up at least one exciting new development. Digging deeper into a square unit just a few feet south of the redan’s apex, the student archaeologists began exploring the muddy soil at the water table. Here in the South Carolina lowcountry we call this watery stuff “pluff mud,” and its distinctive organic odor quickly filled the dig site. This layer soon proved to be rich in cultural artifacts, most probably dating back to the very early 1700s. One large, cylindrical item proved to be tenaciously stuck in the mud, however, and a little extra weight on the shovel caused the fiberglass handle to shatter (see below left)! Upon closer inspection, we realized that it was not a brick or ballast stone or bottle but the top of a wooden pile, and then noticed a second once a few inches to the northeast (see below center). A quick check with the tape measure confirmed my suspicion that these piles were located approximately five feet from the the face of the redan, and that they form a line parallel to the south face of the redan. These characteristics match our records of a legislative discussion in 1702 that mentions a row (or double row) of wooden piles to be placed in front of the sea wall at a distance of five feet, back-filled with oyster shells and mud, to protect the brickwork from storms. The mud surrounding the piles seems to be very interesting, but the students will have a devil of a time screening it. As you can see in the photo below right, this pluff mud is so wet and sticky that it’s nearly impossible to work through the wire mesh of the screens.


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Meanwhile, back at the redan, I spent some time today measuring surfaces and angles in order to create a three-dimensional model of the redan. I must say that there are many physical features here that don’t quite match the documentary evidence we have in the surviving colonial legislative records. We have much puzzling to sort out before we can theorize the “original” dimensions of the redan. I use that term “original” loosely because the documentary evidence tells us that the redan and the brick “curtain line” running on the east side of East Bay Street were repaired, augmented, and substantially rebuilt on several occasions in the eighteenth century. Take for example the large mass of bricks laying in the mud just a few inches from the south face of the redan (see below left and center). Is this a fragment of the upper part of the redan wall, or is it a fragment of the lower part of what was once a pair of thin brick walls forming the back and front of the redan, filled with mud in between? The surviving colonial legislative records mention both of these options, so we may be looking at remnants of the redan from before the destructive hurricane of 1752 and remnants from after that storm.


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To make this matter more confusing, we can now make out two distinctive semicircular mortar patterns on the top of the redan (one of which is pictured above right, looking southwest). What is the significance of this pattern? At this level the fractured surface of the redan is 60 to 62 inches wide, and the diameter of this semicircle, located more or less in the center of the wall, is approximately 30 inches. Hmm . . . more head scratching is required.

Fridays usual afford the archaeologists an opportunity to finish the tasks at hand and review the progress made so far. Today was no exception, and I’m happy to have some great views of the redan to share.

The work of removing the remnants of the 1786 floor of the Lower Market the top of the redan was completed today, allowing us to get a good look at the scars left by the demolition of the upper parts of the wall ca. 1784–1785 (see below left). This work also revealed the inside edge of the redan’s south wall (see below center), which unfortunately abuts the extreme northern limit of our dig site. Just as we found in 2008 while excavating the north wall of this redan, the breadth of the wall at this point is five feet at the top. The original breadth of the upper parts of the wall, which were demolished after the American Revolution, is still somewhat of a mystery, but we have definitely located a large fragment of that upper wall. The photo below right shows Martha Zierden pointing to a large chunk of brickwork that tumbled down from the upper part of the redan when it was demolished. We’ll definitely learn more about this large fragment next week.


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As a result of the students’ hard work, our view of the redan in general is much improved. For those of you not able to visit the site in person, I offer you the following images. The first, below left, is a shot looking down the south flank of the redan from very near the point. The second, below right, is a flawed panoramic view (imperfectly stitching three photos together) showing the top of the exposed redan wall, from the apex at the left toward East Bay Street to the right.


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Another day, another round of new artifacts. The earth is yielding some late-seventeenth- and early-eighteenth-century objects this week, such as this fragment of bowl-form mottled manganese ware (below left). Many pieces of early Delft ware have been found, such as this fragment of a flat, footed plate (below center). The final photo (below right), taken on one of the sifting screens, shows a cache of the sort of early combed and trailed slipware that has been very plentiful at this site. Fabulous stuff!


Today the archaeology students working at the east end of Tradd Street spent a lot of time sketching and recording the profiles at the western end of the exposed redan. After that careful work was completed, they began digging out more soil and removing the paving bricks from the floor of the Lower Market. Those thin paving bricks (see the photo below left, were laid in mortar in 1786 over the remnants of the redan, but after more than two hundred years the low-fired clay of the bricks is now softer than the mortar. Within a few hours of this messy, tedious work, however, they had removed nearly all of the market floor from the redan, providing a much better view of the colonial fortifications (see images below).


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cow_horn_coreFragments of eighteenth century ceramics, glass, and clay pipes continue to appear in the soil excavated from the redan area, but today Martha showed me something different—a couple of interesting bone fragments. The first is the core of a horn of a short-horned cow. At just over three inches in length, this small item (see photo at left) is an important reminder that the flesh of calves and cattle were routinely brought to the Lower Market at this site during the second half of the eighteenth century. knife_handle

A related cultural artifact was also found today: a small mid-eighteenth-century knife handle carved from a piece of cow bone. As you can see in the photo at right, the bone handle itself has darkened considerably with age and exposure to the elements, and the remnants of the steel blade have corroded and rusted away. These are wonderful reminders of cultural activity on the waterfront of early Charleston.

The dig at the east end of Tradd Street had a slightly larger audience today thanks to Robert Behre’s latest article, “Charleston Dig Reveals Tip of History,” in today’s edition of the Post and Courier. Later in the day the local ABC affiliate, WCIV News 4, arrived and interviewed your truly.

Meanwhile, back in the trenches, students continued to excavate the soil adjacent to the south face of the redan. That work is now moving at a slower pace, however, because we’re just above the water table and the soil is becoming increasingly damp. Simultaneously, a few feet to the west, students continued to remove the earth situated above the redan and opened a connection with a separate unit to the west  (see below left). The profiles in that area have now been studied and photographed, so tomorrow they’ll begin removing the remnants of the Lower Market floor and the soil blocking our view of the redan’s south face (see below center). By the end of this week we’ll be able to see a continuous redan wall measuring nearly twenty feet.


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The earth removed from the area adjacent to the redan continues to yield interesting artifacts. One of the most common sights in this soil is broken brick fragments (brick bats) that rained into the mud when the upper parts of the redan were demolished in the mid-1780s. The photograph below left shows a typical collection of this material after it has been removed from the excavation unit.


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Fragments of old ceramics continue to turn up everywhere. At center above is a portion of a brown salt-glazed stoneware vessel found today. Sherds of this distinctive ceramic type have been plentiful this month. Above right is the highlight of the day, and perhaps the oldest artifact yet found during the current excavation. The archaeologists tell me that this fragment, representing part of the base of a large vessel, is an example of North Devon gravel-tempered ware. On close inspection of the cross-section of the sherd, you can see tiny pieces of gravel in the composition of the clay. Manufacture of this type of ceramic began in North Devon, England, in the early seventeenth-century, so it’s possible that this vessel may have been brought to Charleston shortly after the town was settled in the late 1600s.