Anthropology Club uncovers Clemson’s past at local historic property
Clemson University Historic Properties recently enlisted the help of the university’s Anthropology Club to literally dig into the history of Clemson’s Hopewell House. Historic Properties is currently replacing the house’s rotting front porch, and Will Hiott, director of Historic Properties, saw this as the perfect opportunity to get more information on the history of the house before work on the porch was complete.
According to Melissa Vogel, associate professor in Clemson’s sociology and anthropology department, she and students in the anthropology club jumped at the opportunity to put their archaeological skills to work in Clemson’s own back yard. Vogel said she hopes this will be the first in a series of archaeological digs that focus on Clemson history, especially when so much is being added or changed on campus.
“Every time we stick a shovel in the ground to build something new, we might be disturbing the past,” Vogel said. “It’s important to take the time and acquire the resources to make sure we’re not destroying history in the process.”
Vogel is currently the only archaeologist on campus, and her expertise lies in prehistoric archaeology, specifically in Latin American countries. Because Hopewell House is anything but prehistoric or Latin American, Vogel relied on the expertise of Kyle Campbell, a historic preservation consultant from Preservation South, to act as consultant at the dig. Vogel, Campbell and students found a bike chain encased in mud, window glass and an assortment of both handmade and machine-made nails.
To the uninitiated, these objects might seem slight. However, Vogel said most of these artifacts acted as “diagnostics,” objects that date the house to a certain time period. According to Campbell, the mix of hand forged and machine-cut nails used in conjunction with the log structure of the home point to development around 1810. The student discoveries reinforced other recent discoveries regarding the construction of the house. Vogel said the findings proved that while some methods differ between prehistoric and historic archaeology, the principles remain the same.
“I look for the same thing with the changing shape of adobe bricks in Peru,” Vogel said. “The experience really illustrated to students the vast differences and similarities in these two types of archaeology.”
Vogel hopes to one day see a second archaeologist on campus that focuses on historic properties. She said there would be enough sites in the upstate and Clemson alone to keep students busy year round on projects that would help to uncover hidden facets of Clemson’s history. Vogel also said local excavations would be more appealing and affordable for students that won’t or can’t spring for study abroad archaeological excursions.
“There’s a great deal of interest in Clemson’s history right now, so we’d love to conduct this kind of archaeological work more often,” Vogel said. “Right now these digs are all volunteer-based; with more resources we could have regular classes based around these experiences.”
Vogel said the experience was “wonderfully educational” for her, and she is already planning another excavation Oct. 13, 14 and 15 at Fort Hill along with the anthropology club and Historic Properties. The dig will focus on an outbuilding suspected to be the Calhoun plantation’s kitchen.
Although the sociology and anthropology department has only had an anthropology major since 2013, the club was started three years earlier by motivated anthropology minors. Club members attend and present papers at local and national conferences, volunteer in various locations and arrange for guest speakers on campus.
Hopewell House is among Clemson’s historical treasures. The property is the site of the pioneer home of Gen. Andrew Pickens, and Hopewell House was his plantation home for about 20 years.