Historic Charleston Foundation has long been an advocate for archaeology in Charleston. The Foundation has sponsored archaeological investigations at its museum houses, the Nathaniel Russell House Museum, 51 Meeting Street, and the Aiken-Rhett House Museum, 48 Elizabeth Street, as well as properties that we have owned or leased, such as McLeod Plantation on James Island and the Old Powder Magazine on Cumberland Street. In addition, the Foundation has worked closely with The Charleston Museum, the City of Charleston, Charleston County and others on a number of archaeological digs across the historic peninsula.
The Foundation has also been a leading force on the Mayor’s Walled City Task Force, created in 2005 to learn more about the Walled City of Charles Town, the only English walled city in North America, through research and archaeological excavations. The excavations in 2008 and 2009 successfully located and provided valuable information on Charleston’s early fortifications and colonial life.
In the summer of 2011, the Foundation, through a generous gift from Mead Westvaco (MWV), collaborated with the College of Charleston and The Charleston Museum on a two week long excavation of the Lord Ashley site. This important early colonial frontier settlement is now within Dorchester County along the upper banks of the Ashley River. This was the site of a plantation and Native American trading outpost owned by Lord Anthony Ashley Cooper, the first Earl of Shaftesbury. It was occupied 1675-1685 and has one of the earliest known brick foundations attributed to the English in South Carolina.
All of these archaeological digs help to answer questions about Charleston’s history that the documentary record alone cannot provide. Unlike history, which relies primarily upon written records and documents to interpret the lives of the elite and literate, archaeology makes it possible to explore the lives of everyday people through analysis of the things they made and left behind.
Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of organizations like Historic Charleston Foundation and The Charleston Museum, archaeological sites in Charleston are routinely destroyed. Although it has been a goal of preservation organizations and city planners for many years, there is as yet no archaeological ordinance to protect the city’s buried resources. Every day the city’s citizens and tourists walk over hundreds of years of Charleston’s historical record. Without a municipal ordinance in place to protect archaeological artifacts from future destruction, that record is in danger of being lost forever.