An Archaeological Dig in the Backyard

A couple in South Carolina bought a house a few years back. Alone, the fact isn’t newsworthy. But the duo and some friends have a keen interest in archaeology.

They have put some work into renovating the 1,050-square-foot home, but they won’t be selling it until their crew of history buffs finishes cutting one-meter square holes in the yard and sifting the dirt searching for artifacts.

The site is in the city of Cayce.

They’re finding plenty of pottery and glassware, pieces of brick and nails, and at least one pipe stem, mostly from the Revolutionary War era to the middle 19th century. Most of the artifacts are only a couple of feet below the surface.

“One of the neighbors saw what we were doing and said, ‘Oh, I’ve been finding that in my garden. I’ve just been throwing it away.’”

History is that matter-of-fact in the area near where Congaree Creek runs into the Congaree River. The bluffs on the west side of the river have been public gathering places for thousands of years.

The remains of what experts believe is the dock of Friday’s Ferry, a Colonial-era river crossing, has been found in the riverbank . . . George Washington crossed the Congaree at Friday’s Ferry during his goodwill tour of the South in 1791.

“It’s the only place I know where you can do an archaeological dig and come inside and watch TV and get a drink of water,” one volunteer explained.

Most Saturdays the past few weeks, they’ve been digging carefully and then sifting the soil.

Though a couple of holes in the back yard yielded few items, almost every hole along the front-yard fence has yielded several plastic storage bags full of artifacts. None of the breakable items are intact. Even if all of the shards don’t fit together physically, they paint a vivid picture of the variety of uses of this land since the 1700s. (Few Native American artifacts have been found.)

Computer overlays of maps of the original European settlements in Lexington County, Granby (1760) and Saxe Gotha (1730), along with individual property plats were used to find previous owners. The property was owned by John Matthews during the Saxe Gotha era. An 18th century trading post operated by a man named Thomas Brown was nearby.

The plan is to donate many of the items to a museum, probably the historical museum in Cayce.

AJH

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