As part of Historic Charleston Foundation’s initiative to expand the Ashley River National Register District, a team of local archaeologists and Historic Charleston Foundation staff conducted archaeological testing and limited excavation in 2009 on a privately owned property along the upper reaches of the Ashley River in Dorchester County. There, archaeologists uncovered the foundation of one of the oldest, and perhaps the oldest, brick structures in the Carolinas. The brickwork is a part of the 17th century settlement of Lord Anthony Ashley Cooper, one of the original eight Lords Proprietors of the Carolina colony. It was a fortified plantation and Native American trading outpost, actively used for just a decade, 1675-1685. This outlying settlement is currently being studied on its own and in relation to the contemporaneous first English settlement site in Carolina, today known as Charles Towne Landing.
The blog, Digging Early South Carolina: Archaeology at the Lord Ashley Site, will provide a regular account of the latest dig, which will take place from June 10 -28, 2013! Afterward, the blog will function as a forum to share new discoveries and information about the site as experts study the information gathered and analysize the artifacts.
Because of the pristine nature of the site and its importance to South Carolina and American history, a second phase of archaeological investigation took place at the Lord Ashley site in the summer of 2011 when the College of Charleston, assisted by The Charleston Museum, used the site for a portion of their bi-annual field school in historical archaeology (ANTH 493). Historic Charleston Foundation sought funding for the project from MeadWestvaco (MWV). Funding by MWV made it possible for archaeology students from the College of Charleston to spend the last two weeks of the field school at the Lord Ashley site, following several weeks of excavation at Charles Towne Landing. The field school was successful in advancing information about the major research themes of 17th century cultural contact, defense, architecture, and trade and commerce. Since that time, experts have analyzed the more than 5,000 recovered artifacts, completed the 2011 report, and have conducted magnetometry on the site to aid in future archaeological investigations. There is much more to be learned and discovered.
The third phase of archaeological investigation will take place during the summer of 2013 with another College of Charleston archaeological field school. Staff envisions that students will once again work on the 17th century sites of Charles Towne Landing and the Lord Ashley site. Further archaeological research at these important sites will increase understanding about our state’s origins and some of Charleston’s earliest inhabitants, and it will allow comparisons of similar archeological features and artifacts. The interactions between the different cultural groups at the Lord Ashley settlement will provide African Americans, Europeans, and Native Americans today a chance to reflect on how these dynamic groups interacted at this early Colonial settlement.
In 2013, we also hope to positively identify the moat and palisade that surrounded the settlement, and to explore the cellar of at least one structure that was identified in the 2011 season. Participants will also continue ground-breaking research on artifacts such as early cow bones, colonoware and Barbadian ceramics. Additionally, they will undertake pollen and other ethnobotanical analysis to better understand the origins of Carolina agriculture and colonial diet.
The Lord Ashley site provides archaeologists and historians with rare opportunities to uncover important pieces of Charleston’s history as it offers a basis and comparative foundation for all seventeenth century archaeological investigations in South Carolina.