Fort Hill Archeology

Seniors in Clemson’s Anthropology Club uncover the past at Fort Hill.
Image Credit: Clemson University

Chris Dunn and Brandy Wilson are senior anthropology students in Clemson’s sociology and anthropology department, and both recently took part in an excavation at Fort Hill. With the help of South Carolina State Archaeologist Dr. Jon Leader, they tested their archaeological skills as they uncovered what lies beneath the surface of John C. Calhoun’s home.

The goal of this demonstration dig was to highlight a piece of Clemson’s history, in conjunction with other efforts on campus. We got the opportunity to sit down with Chris and Brandy after the excavation to discuss their experience at Fort Hill as well as with the Anthropology Club.

Rachel Trainer: For the uninitiated, what do students do in the anthropology club?

Chris Dunn: Besides excavations, we do trips. Dr. Melissa Vogel has taken students to Peru. The American Anthropology Association (AAA) has a conference every year that the club goes to. We hope to get a conference here in the spring that will host people from around the South Carolina area.

Brandy Wilson: We have opportunities to be active in conferences such as the one coming up in Minneapolis, Minnesota. This one is for AAA, in which we will hear from professionals about their recent research or topic of choice. We also have other opportunities for field trips such as getting behind-the-scenes access to museums. Recently, we had a visitor from Standing Rock Sioux Tribe come to Clemson to speak about the pipeline on their sacred land.

RT: What made you want to join?

BW: I am a senior this year, and it’s my last chance to be a part of such an amazing group of people. I have heard about the club since becoming a student at Clemson, but I was unable to join until now. I was a little jealous because they were going and doing all this amazing stuff. I simply wanted the same opportunities.

RT: Do you have any kind of background in anthropology and do you have plans in the field after graduation?

CD: Not really. It’s the most cliché thing, but what got me interested was Indiana Jones. But the first thing we learned is that archaeology is not what Indiana Jones does. I just wanted to do stuff with people; I love history and didn’t want to sit behind a computer all day. I want to love my job. I want to go to grad school and study archaeology. I’d rather do classical, like Greek or Roman, but I’m also interested in underwater archaeology.

BW: Before coming to Clemson I did not have any real knowledge of what anthropology was, however, after coming here and learning the basic principles of the four sub-fields I felt that anthropology was where I belonged. I quickly changed my major to a Bachelor of Science in anthropology. My hope after some time is to become a forensic archaeologist. As of now I will be working in business management when I graduate.

RT: Tell me a little about your most recent dig at Fort Hill.

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Image Credit: Clemson University

BW: Dr. Leader, the state archaeologist, did voluntary work with us. He first did a ground-penetrating radar scan of the ground and found potential structures there. We measured out a 2 square meter area and began removing soil. Dr. Leader gave us plenty of instruction on archaeological procedures so he could document every item found. Dr. Leader said the plentiful amounts of coal we found could indicate there might have been a trash pit. We also found a piece of ceramic that dated to the mid-1800s, a Native American fishing hook and a slave game piece used for gambling. Once we started to clean the area a piece of non-modern brick was found protruding out of the ground. We had very little time so we did not get too deep but the depression in the test square was enough to show there was indeed a structure there.

RT: So you have an instructor that helps you dig?

BW: Dr. Vogel is the only archaeologist here at Clemson University, and she specializes in prehistoric archeology in Peru. It would be great to have another archaeologist here who specializes in the time frame of this particular dig site so we could learn valuable information from both types of archeologists. We were grateful that Dr. Leader was able to lend us his time and expertise for this project. Clemson has a rich history here just waiting to be discovered. If we only had the resources to do so, we could offer field schools here for students who may not be able to afford to study abroad or other field schools available through other universities.

RT: How do people react to your archeological digs?

CD: We recently dug at the Hopewell House where there is no foot traffic, but at Fort Hill you could see people stand around and look to see what was going on. Brandy, Dr. Leader and I got to present artifacts to those walking by, including little kids. They found it so interesting, and we were able to answer many of their questions.

RT: What do you do with your findings?

Fort Hill Dig

An artifact unearthed during the Anthropology Club’s recent dig at Fort Hill.
Image Credit: Clemson University

CD: Whenever we find an artifact, we put it in a bag that is marked by whatever quadrant we found it in. Dr. Leader took them back to clean and examine to decipher what is what. Now, I think they are here on campus.

RT: Is there anything you find challenging about your archeological digs?

CD: Heat! Also, you have to be patient. The most challenging thing is seeing an artifact you can’t just dig out. For example, if we found a brick and took it out, it wouldn’t be where we found it anymore. You want to be able to document it wherever you found it. You want to keep it uniform, basically shave off a little bit at a time. The excitement of seeing an artifact and not being able to pick it up and examine it is hard.

BW: You have to be willing to get dirty and to have many blisters. It gets hot and you get dirt in your mouth and everywhere else. The blisters and sore muscles have to be the hardest part but once you find something, it’s totally worth it.

RT: What do you like most about being a part of the club?

CD: I love the experiences that are available and making connections with people like professors and other students from all over. We have anthropology meetings every other Tuesday, and there’s usually pizza.

BW: There isn’t just one part; it is all of it. The club is not just for those going into the field of anthropology, but for anyone in any major. It’s fun and you’re surrounded by happy individuals. The opportunities that I have gotten so far this semester that wouldn’t have existed without the club have been amazing.