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8th US/ICOMOS International Symposium

Archaeology and Heritage Interpretation in Charleston, South Carolina: Case Studies

Martha Zierden, The Charleston Museum

Historic Preservation put Charleston back on the map. One of North America’s most
important Atlantic ports in the 18th and 19th centuries, the City’s fortunes declined as a result of
the economic, social, and political changes resulting from the Civil War. The economic and
physical stagnation left many historic buildings untouched for nearly a century. While decay and
neglect posed the greatest threat to Charleston’s architecture, it was the sale and removal of
interior woodwork in the 1920s that moved some of Charleston’s citizens to action. Visitors
flock to the city to enjoy the results of a preservation effort that is nearly 80 years old. Scholars
and laymen alike interested in historic preservation look to Charleston to examine both the
process and the results of preservation movement. One of the many challenges facing
preservationists and residents, as well as administrators and visitors, is the balance between
Charleston’s past and Charleston’s present, [in material terms]. Charleston is both a historic
place and a living city, and the buildings, landscape, and material culture reflect the needs and
values of current occupants, as well as those from the past. Charleston’s economic success poses
new threats to the resources - cultural and natural - that give the city its appeal. This includes the
below-ground resources - the archaeological record. The layers of soil and the artifacts and
foundations they contain can provide information on the city’s past not found in other sources.
Archaeology is one of many disciplines used to explore the city’s past landscape, and to refine
interpretation of the lives of all people in residence there.

Nearly three dozen archaeological studies are relevant to interpretation of Charleston’s

landscape. Archaeology has contributed new information on all of the sites studied, and on
urban life in general. The archaeological information has been incorporated into interpretation
through a variety of means. But interpreting - and comprehending - what cannot be seen remains
challenging. Today I will summarize a variety of approaches to archeological interpretation used
in Charleston, focusing on three types of sites. I will point out what I believe to be the strengths,
and weaknesses, of the various approaches. If you are hoping for solutions, you may be
disappointed. For I continue to struggle with this issue myself, and I look forward to dialogue
and answers from some of you.

Though Charleston’s historic preservation movement began in the late 1920s, the city’s
archaeological efforts did not begin until the late 1960s. Realization that the soils of cities held
valuable resources, coupled with federal funding and requirements to protect these resources
during urban revitalization projects, arrived in the late 1970s. A series of small projects
sponsored by City of Charleston culminated in the multi-phased project spanning a central city
block at Charleston Place in 1980. The Charleston Museum’s creation of an archaeological
research program coincided with these efforts, and the adjunct program became part of the
Museum’s mission in 1985. At the same time, an archaeological research plan was completed,
and studies of residential sites (many non-threatened) began. The mid-1990s marked another
phase of archaeological research, when Historic Charleston Foundation embraced archaeology as
part of multi-disciplinary research at its historic house museums. Since 1994, The Charleston
Museum has worked with Historic Charleston Foundation on many Charleston properties, both
public and private, to conduct in-depth historic structures analyzes, using nationally-renowned
architects, historians, material culture specialists, and museum curators to better understand
evolution of urban properties and to advise on preservation of these fragile remains.
Archaeology has always been an inter-disciplinary effort; these recent projects have afforded a
new level of intellectual exchange that has resulted in significant changes in the interpretation of
individual historic properties, and of the city in general. While archaeology has made significant
contributions to these new interpretations, the final story is an intertwined product of all
disciplines involved. This opportunity for dialogue, for give and take, has been key to the
success of recent projects.

While it is tempting to move on to ‘the rest of the story’ and describe the new
interpretations derived from these interdisciplinary projects, I will instead return to archaeology
as a unique field of study, and discuss the evolution of archaeology as it relates to preservation
and interpretation. American archaeology was, for many years, (and still, to a certain extent)
characterized by a dichotomy between archaeological research and public interpretation.
Archaeological excavation projects were traditionally housed in universities, and the work
resulted in site reports and books. The rise of federally-mandated mitigation projects, known in
the U.S. as Cultural Resource Management, created more projects and generated more
collections, but the level of sharing with the public lagged. Final products were technical site
reports, lengthy, obtuse, and often unavailable, and collections housed in state curatorial
facilities. While many exceptions, and many fine programs (Colonial Williamsburg being
perhaps the best known and most respected), can be cited, the general trend is well-documented.
Several events have led to changes in this, with most American archaeologists now ethically
bound to make the results of their work more accessible. These changes were often in response
to demands by communities for a share in their own past, ranging from descendant communities
to reclaiming their past to taxpayers wanting something in return for their monies. The rise in
public archaeology was paralled by the rise in new social history that stresses “history from the
bottom up”. While this term principally referred to study of the long-neglected masses of
ordinary, and disenfrancised, people, it also refers to a heightened interest in the minute details of
daily life, such as diet, hygiene, gender roles, housing patterns, work habits, and ecological
adaptation. The gap between archeological research and interpretation has been bridged in
Charleston by:

1. placement of an archaeology program at a museum, one that specializes in social and

natural history. Here, both gallery space and historic houses provide ready
opportunities for display of archaeological materials and incorporation of
archaeological findings.

2. Expansion of the mission of Historic Charleston Foundation, and broadening of the

sensitivities of the City of Charleston, from simple building preservation to the active
inclusion of archaeology, material culture, and social history at historic house
museums and public sites.

3. Advocacy by Historic Charleston Foundation, the Preservation Society, the

Charleston Museum, and several private architectural and restoration firms, for
archaeological mitigation, research, and interpretation at private and public sites.
Archaeology, by its very definition, involves active excavation, the uncovering of
artifacts, soil stains, soil layers, at a given site, retrieval of key bits of material, and then the re-
burying of that same evidence. With exception of brief periods of active excavation and public
tours, the interpretation takes place after the ‘archaeological’ part of a site is no longer visible.
How then to best interpret this visually fleeting bit of data.
Archaeological interpretation can be direct, in the form of on-site tours of digs,
archaeological site displays, or recreations based on archaeology. Archaeological interpretation
can also be indirect, in the form of general interpretive tours, period furnishings, and living
history displays. Archaeological interpretation may center on four aspects of a work:

1. The process of discovery: This is the focus on the methods of archaeology. What do
archaeologists do and how do they do it? How do archaeologists learn about a site? This is most
easily achieved through tours of ongoing digs and participation by the public in these digs. Such
opportunities serve to illustrate that archaeological remains of past cultures are universal, and
part of one’s own heritage. In other words, archaeology is in your own yard, not in far-off exotic
places. Such programs build enthusiasm for discovery. But they often fall short of explaining
how we learn from such sites, and how we can save such sites. Interpretive programs such as
these can, and should, extend to the laboratory analysis, and the data manipulation that results in
interpretation. Because these opportunities have temporal limits, they are often fleeting, and do
not last.

2. the objects: the artifacts retrieved during a dig. These include the common items,
those found in quantifiable regularity. The unusual or rare, that lead one back to documents for
something overlooked. Those that readily dispute the accepted norm. Those that support the
accepted norm. Those that are fragmentary pieces of objects found in living systems. Artifacts
are often the center of museum exhibits, either on the site of retrieval or in remote galleries.
They have been a principal source of data on the material aspects of daily life. At The
Charleston Museum, we find little overlap between the archaeological collections and the
decorative arts collections - those items deliberately preserved by past groups and then acquired
by a museum.

3. the place: This interpretation can take the form of what was here? Where exactly was
it. This is often the approach to open excavations, and recreation of buried site features. A focus
on place can also be much broader, encompassing the physical and social aspects of the site.
This has operated in Charleston as a study of the urban landscape, including the physical, social,
and environmental aspects of place.

4. a processual combination of all three, called here the synthetic interpretation. This is
embodied in “the final report”. Here, the soil layers, the artifacts, the special studies, and the
consultations with other scholars are combined to develop a narrative of site development. This
narrative may be site-specific, or it may expand in scale to a city or regional level. The synthetic
interpretation begins as written texts. It can then be summarized in site tours, site exhibits, and
off-site displays. The narrative can be amended as new data are added. The synthetic
interpretation also calls for ongoing dialogue between archaeologists and site managers. Such an
opportunity exists within the museum community of Charleston, and has afforded an exchange
of ideas that has been highly productive and intellectually stimulating, though there have been
some growing pains. I will use the rest of my time to summarize case studies that illustrate these
points. The case studies described have been in progress long enough to have experienced some
of the ‘growing pains’ alluded to above, and to have implemented the changes suggested by
archaeology. [Basically, we now know less than we thought we knew, but knowing that means
we actually know more. Explanations that were, in hindsight, oversimplified are now more
complex, if less clear.]

Historic House Museums: The Nathaniel Russell House

Built in 1808, Nathaniel Russell’s stylish mansion loudly proclaimed his social and
economic status to guests and passersby, right down to the wrought iron balcony embellished
with his initials. The last in a series of owners, Historic Charleston Foundation acquired the
house 1955 as an historic house museum. In 1994, the Foundation embarked on an ambitious
program of restoration, renovation, and reinterpretation of the property. The archaeological team
was charged with exposing and recovering evidence of architectural changes to the house, the
19th century formal garden, and the work yard. Based on previous work and revelations, we
hoped to retrieve artifacts relating to the daily lives of the Russell family and of their servants.
We were not disappointed.

The domain of the bondsmen, the work yard, was the scene of the activities of daily life.
It is here that archaeology has made the most significant contribution to the interpretation of
Charleston history; it has, in fact, rescued the work yard from interpretive obscurity.
Archaeology is the study of people’s refuse, and it was concentrated in the work yard. While
Charleston is filled with surviving townhouses, in many cases, outbuildings are gone, or in
remodeling, have become mere shells. Likewise, yard areas no longer necessary for the affairs
of daily life have been given over to gardens. The work yard, surrounding the outbuildings, was
the scene of intensive activities of daily living, including food preparation, livestock
maintenance, cleaning, and laundering. The archaeological record consistently reflects the
butchering of cattle and cleaning of fish in these areas. Evidence of informal hearths, possibly
for cooking and cleaning, and possibly for socializing, have been encountered. Concentrations
of fish bones and other small debris have been recovered from the silt in brick-lined drains.
Sheet midden deposits contain quantities of discarded animal bone fragments; recovered skeletal
elements suggest on-site butchering of cattle, particularly on elite sites such as the Nathaniel
Russell house. This portion of the site was home to, and the domain of, the enslaved African
servants. The refuse recovered here, however, is a mixture of that from master and slave. Our
current inability to separate the material remains of these socially disparate groups has been the
biggest disappointment of urban archaeology.

Nathaniel Russell’s imposing brick single house sits on a double lot, and the southern
half is filled with formal garden that frames the remnants of service buildings. The planned
landscape continues to the rear wall. But a significant portion of this must have served as the
work yard. The area suspected to be the work yard is filled with a good bit of the debris of daily
living. But the biggest surprise came beneath the neat brick kitchen building itself. Here, three
feet of soil and coal dust contained fragments of elaborate Chinese porcelain from Mrs. Russell’s
dining room and the bones of butchered cows, deposited layer after layer from about 1820 to
1850. The three sets of Chinese porcelain, as well as the gentleman’s buckles and buttons and
the pieces of elaborate furniture hardware were somewhat unexpected, but the butchering
remains were not.

A large part of maintaining a healthy and sanitary site was managing the animals who
lived on that site. This is perhaps the most dramatic juxtaposition of memory and current
interpretation for Charleston houses. Based on two decades of faunal analysis, my colleague
Elizabeth Reitz has summarized the animals who would have lived alongside the human
residents of a townhouse property such as the Russell house. The archaeological record and to a
lesser extent the documentary record suggests that the work yard was filled with domestic
animals such as cows, pigs, and assorted fowl, maintained for milk and eggs and ultimately
destined for the dinner table. Also present were work animals and pets. The maintenance of
these animals, their feed, other food stocks, and the resulting refuse, attracted other unwanted
animals. These practices were common in the 18th and early 19th centuries. The character of this
animal maintenance changed through time, however. Urban sanitation and public health became
an increasing concern, and an increasing problem, as the 19th century proceeded. But
archaeology, and to a lesser extent documents, suggest that they persisted in some form into the
20th century (Reitz 2000). Horses remained until displaced by the automobile. Cows were not
outlawed until 1912. Reitz further suggests a large part of garden maintenance, as well as overall
site maintenance, was “keeping chickens and pigs out of the garden, cats out of the well, and rats
out of the larder” (Reitz 2000). The animals, swept yards, and laundry have largely disapeared
from the Charleston landscape and from memory, though both were in place less than a century
ago. The dig also uncovered artifacts from those who likely did the butchering. The resident
slaves most likely owned the annular ware bowls and glass beads recovered across the site, as
well as the colono ware bowls. Colono ware is a pottery unique to colonial South Carolina, and
principally the product, and the possession, of African American residents. Most tantalizing was
a cleanly cut strip of a slave tag, a local license for slaves hired out to others. While late 19th
century family memoirs recall many of the ‘servants’ with fondness, the implication of Mrs.
Russell’s slave Tom Russell in the 1822 Denmark Vesey insurrection suggests that master and
slave lived in the same compound but worlds apart.

The formal garden that now covers the entire yard was installed in 1980. Though
beautiful and inviting, it does not convey the realities of 19th century life. Anecdotal references
to the garden were plentiful, but the plan was unknown. The garden shown in an 1890s photo
was dated to the mid-19th century by garden historians when the Historic Structures analysis
began in 1994. A few test excavations in the in side garden in 1995 revealed beds and paths
interpreted as rectangular and likely from the antebellum pleasure garden, while a layer of
imported red clay remains from a mid-19th century rose garden. A single unit in the front corner
of the house appeared to be inconclusive. A decade later, block excavations in the front yard,
and a reinforced knowledge of garden archaeology from elsewhere in the city, revealed three
superimposed garden events, compressed into less than a foot of stratigraphy. The deepest, and
thus the earliest, dates to the first quarter of the 19th century and appears to match the footprint
seen in the 1890s photo. The Foundation is currently struggling with the best method to restore
the front portion of this garden, balanced against the need to maintain the current garden. Many
questions and issues remain.
The layers of earth at the Nathaniel Russell House produced material culture that reflects
the purchasing power of Charleston’s elite, which was the greatest of all late colonial and
antebellum cities. It simultaneously presented the muffled voices of the city’s middling and
poor, free and enslaved residents who understood this language of artifacts, even if they did not
share its rewards. But our inability to separate the refuse of the two groups has been
disappointing. We simply cannot isolate with certainty the material remains of servant from that
of their owners.

Private Homes
The lessons learned from archaeology at historic house museums have been reinforced at
digs on private properties. The level of research and documentation conducted at the Russell
House and other house museums has been applied to a number of private restoration projects,
involving many of the same scholars and restoration specialists. Here, property owners have
funded research that aids in restoration of their homes, but also provides data and materials for
museum exhibition and publication. The Charleston Museum has conducted a number of these
projects, working closely with architects, restoration specialists, and area scholars. The most
recent, and most extensive, was conducted at a c.1800 townhouse on Legare Street. Here, the
owner was particularly interested in restoration of a formal garden, but also funded
archaeological mitigation in the work yard and other areas impacted by construction. The work
revealed a c. 1820 formal garden remarkable for its intricate and bold design, as well as less
formal grass plats, fruit garden, and kitchen garden. The excavations also revealed aspects of
everyday life found in the work yard and in filled 18th century foundations.

Our work began with an 8-unit testing and concluded with the excavation of 154 5-foot
units, including a 40' by 90' block in the front of the garden area. The initial testing revealed a
site of remarkable clarity and integrity. Each unit across the site exhibited a basic stratigraphy of
zones 1-3, datable to the late 20th century, late 19th century, and early 19th century, respectively.
Further, the zones and their associated features exhibited a remarkable degree of horizontal
variability across the various site areas, making it possible to accurately interpret a range of site
activity and use areas, based on artifact and ecofact content, density, and stratigraphic
complexity. A series of features in zone 3, particularly areas of crushed shell, appeared to be
evidence of an antebellum garden, but no pattern was evident.

The exception proved to be an area of shell in a definable curve, with regular bottom and
sides. A five-unit block excavated here suggested these might be intact garden elements, but in
an unexpected style. Based on this, a block of thirty units was removed to the top of zone 3. It
was at this point that the pattern of the garden was exposed and the elements defined. A final
phase of block excavation, surrounding this one, revealed the complete pattern of the formal

Evidence for content of the garden was much more ephemeral. Pollen and phytolith
analysis provided a partial list of possible plants, including samples of Liliaceae, (lilly family),
Rosacea (rose family) and Cornus florida (or the flowering dogwood). The most reliable data
came from two lead plant tags recovered from the zone 3 deposits. Each of these tiny tags
features a hand-inscribed common name on the front of the tag and a latin name on back. The
more common is Dianthus chinensis, or India Pink. The other, more obscure plant, read
“Common Eternal Flower” or Xeranthemum annum.

The pollen, phytolith, chemistry, and zooarchaological studies also informed on the
maintenance and attention paid to the garden in the form of fertilizing. The phytolith analysis
revealed a host of decayed plant and wood material, while Karl Reinhard’s parasite analysis
revealed a host of fungal spores, indicating a rich aerobic decomposer community. These data
suggest that composted plant material was one source of fertilizer. Another appears to have been
bone meal. The bone was relatively dense in the front garden, in contrast to the cultural
materials. In addition, the front garden assemblage was dominated by fragmentary mammal
bone. It is possible that the animal remains were composted with the plant remains, or the two
were added to the garden separately.

After garden historian C. Allan Brown had digested the archaeological data, conducted
additional documentary research, and prepared a plan that combined site-specific evidence with
period practices, garden restoration began in earnest. Modern plantings and features, including
the 1950 garden wall, were removed. In our excavated areas, the footprint of the garden was
marked with sections of rebar. The garden was then filled, to raise the grade to original level.
Beds were filled with topsoil. The edging of carefully-matched red tile was installed by the late
Jack Ackerman. The paths were then filled with crushed oyster shell, and the remainder of the
yard mulched or sodded. The middle garden contains orange trees, and espaliered fig along the
walls. The most dramatic change to the visual arrangement of the site was the reconstruction of
the garden wall, complete with the tuscan columns and relatively transparent picket. As you can
see from this series of slides, the perspective of the landscape changed dramatically throughout
the project. Completion of the summer house again divided the front garden visually from the
middle garden, completing the bold and elaborate design first installed by George Edwards in
1818. The lessons learned here were two-fold. First, extensive, and expensive, excavations are
necessary to understand the details of garden and landscape layout. Test units will not answer
the questions. Secondly, garden design in antebellum Charleston was much bolder, and less
rectangular, than previously thought. It was the discovery of the ‘rosary’ garden at Legare Street
that prompted a reexamination of the photograph of the Nathaniel Russell garden, and the return
to the front yard for additional archaeology. Quite frankly, we had underestimated the data
contained in the single unit excavated in the front yard in 1994. Fortunately, we took good notes
and photos, anyhow. As the larger excavations proceeded in 2004, the features encountered a
decade earlier made sense.

The Early 18th Century City

If above-ground evidence for the early 19th century is incomplete, then the surviving
buildings and landscape features of the early 18th century city are almost non-existent. This 1739
view is our best guide to buildings and features that disappeared in the second half of the 18th
century, beginning with 1740 fire. We have recently learned two lessons from archaeological
investigations of early 18th century features. The first, as described above, is that it is very
challenging to ‘envision’, that is, interpret this era in the modern city for the modern visitor. The
second lesson is that archaeological evidence for this period is remarkably well-preserved, in the
most unlikely places. The early colonial period is not only beneath your feet - it’s beneath your
Katherine Saunders has spent the past years studying the wall that surrounded the early
city. In a recent essay, Saunders notes that “Charleston began as a city completely encircled by
walls, similar in appearance to the medieval walled towns of Europe, skillfully adapted to fit into
the peculiar landscape of the New World.” She further notes that “Charleston remained fortified
until the latter years of the 18th century, changing from a ‘walled city’ to a fortified town”.
While these features were later viewed as unnecessary, they were key elements in the city’s
growth and development.

Katherine will tell you that studying these walls, and finding them, has been extremely
challenging. We know that the east wall, or the seawall, was a substantial brick structure, but
information on the other three sides is much more tenuous. Current scholarship suggests they
were earth, and Katherine’s research has indicated that they were abandoned gradually.
Excavations by both archaeologists and construction workers, have uncovered portions of these,
beginning with the Granville bastion in the 1920s. Local historians recorded the results of this
exposure in admirable detail, and their work has stood the test of time. A portion of this bastion
is visible in the basement of the HCF headquarters. So, too, is the half-moon battery, exposed
during archaeological excavations in the 1960s, and still visible in the basement of the imposing
Exchange building. In 1993, archaeologists and construction crews uncovered a portion of the
city gate, the moat and the ravelin at the northwest corner of Meeting and Broad streets. Deep
excavations, below the water table, revealed the profile of the moat and well-preserved cedar
pilings used in construction of Johnson’s ravelin. But unstable soils meant that this earthen
structure remained exposed only for a few hours, long enough to record and to retrieve two of the
cedar pilings. One is now on exhibit at the site of excavation, and the other at The Charleston
Museum, in our permanent display on early Charleston. Those wishing to ‘view’ the walled city
can tour the basement of the Exchange, crawl under the Foundation headquarters, or make note
of several street-side placards. Recent exposure of another small portion of the wall in East Bay
street brought Katherine from her office. Her invitation then brought a small gathering of
interested scholars to view the brick, trace its path, and dodge pedestrians and automobiles. We
were all reminded of the challenge of properly interpreting a feature in the face of the modern
landscape. Where it dominated the 1740s landscape, it is now dwarfed by the 21st century

Two more recent projects at the corner of Meeting and Broad streets have revealed
completely new evidence of the early city - the buildings, the lot layout, the environment. In
1997, New South Associates under the direction of Dr. Joe Joseph undertook excavations at the
site of a new Judicial Center, adjoining the State House on the northwest corner of the
intersection. This block was just outside the city gate, and was intensively occupied by the
second quarter of the 18th century. It was covered with large buildings, and there was concern
that activities of the 19th and 20th centuries would have destroyed much of the earlier occupation.
When test excavations revealed a significant 18th century presence, Charleston scholars,
advisors, and the developers, Charleston County capital projects, took the risky approach of
focusing a data recovery project on the 18th century remains. The results were overwhelming.
Extensive evidence of 18th century life was sealed beneath the later debris, including an earth-
walled dwelling and assorted features. The archaeological evidence was so extensive that Dr.
Joseph has proposed a new interpretation of the changing urban landscape. A key feature is that
the earliest occupations clustered near the streets in modest dwellings, with work areas
immediately behind. This left the interior of the block open to agricultural functions, and other
activities that leave relatively little archaeological evidence. The shift to single houses in the
mid-18th century re-oriented these yards, with eventual construction of service structures along
one edge of the rear yard and a reduction in work yard size.

The corollary of this is that the remains of early 18th century buildings lie beneath
the fronts of later, still existent structures. This makes them somewhat inaccessible, unless a
large area is uncovered, such as the Judicial Center project.

Or does it? The Charleston Museum has recently conducted two excavations inside
buildings. The Museum’s Heyward-Washington house, built in 1772, is located in the old
walled city and is the third house on the lot. Excavations by Elaine Herold in the 1970s revealed
an initial occupation in the 1730s, with a configuration much like the one described by Joseph.
John Milner’s modest wooden house fronted the street, and a work area for his gunsmithing
business was located directly behind. When this property burned in the 1740 fire, Milner’s son
continued the business and built a single house and linear service buildings that extended well
beyond the center line of the long, narrow lot. Thomas Heyward demolished the single house to
build a double-house in 1772, but retained the 1750s service buildings. Excavation on the
interior of the stable building, prior to adaptive renovation, revealed pristine soil layers and
artifacts from the 1730s, the 1740 fire, the 140s, and construction of the stable in 1750.

We encountered even more dramatic evidence of the colonial city last year. Excavations
were conducted at the site of Charleston’s colonial market, prior to extensive renovations to City
Hall, built in 1800 on the site of the market.

The c. 1800 building that became City Hall in 1818 was built on the site of market
square; the northeast corner of Broad and Meeting streets was set out as an informal market
square in 1692, across Meeting from the city gates. A market building was constructed in 1739,
and replaced in 1760 by a “neat building, supported by brick arches and surmounted by a belfry.”
This second building corresponds with a change in name, if not function, from a generalized
market to the Beef Market and the construction of additional markets on the waterfront.

The market was destroyed in a calamitous fire in 1796. By this time, the area
surrounding the Broad and Meeting intersection had changed character, and plans to construct a
new market several blocks to the north were underway. This new market followed the newer
locations of craftsmen and merchants. Broad Street assumed a more professional role, that
continues to the present. The raucous and malodorous Beef Market was no longer suitable, and a
new market was built in 1804 on the filled creek of Market Street. The Beef Market property
was conveyed in 1800 (CCRMCO B-7:319) to the Bank of the United States, and the
organization built an “an elegant edifice”. In 1818 the City Council of Charleston resumed
control of the lot and bank building, and the property became known as City Hall square.
Ownership and maintenance by the City continues to the present.

Zooarchaeologist Elizabeth Reitz worked with The Charleston Museum in 1984 to

excavate a single test unit in Washington Square Park. This revealed a well-stratified site and an
archaeological signature unique to the market site - namely a density of animal bone ten times
that of residential sites. Clearly the market was marked by discard of butchering remains.
Twenty years later, the City of Charleston and architect Joe Schmidt of Evans & Schmidt
arranged for the Museum to conduct excavations prior to demolition and construction. The only
‘hitch’ was that almost all of the site disturbance would be in the basement of City Hall, and so
our excavations should be located there, as well. The footprint of this massive building
suggested that the site might be highly disturbed. Test pits revealed the foundation was nearly 5'
deep, furthering our fears. Nonetheless, we proposed a controlled dig, and the concrete flooring
was removed from the basement with great care. The excavations revealed that, aside from
narrow builders trenches along the City Hall walls, the site was pristine. Superimposed layers
date from the 1690s through the 1760s. These have provided a significant sample of the animals
sold at the colonial market, as well as the material remains of those who plied their wares and
those who shopped. The excavations revealed much of the foundation of the 1760 market and a
hard-packed living surface from the 1739 market. Most impressive, though, was the deepest
layer, which dates to the era of ‘market square’ prior to construction of a permanent building.
This dark, organic, mucky layer appears to be a ‘pasturage’ area, perhaps also for slaughter.
Unlike the later zones, which were characterized by highly fragmented bone, the deep layer
contained large fragments of cattle bone. The project is still in analysis, and so interpretation
here is tentative. Plans call for exhibition of artifacts and interpretations in the basement of City
Hall when the building reopens. Some of the data and material are currently included in the
Museum’s special exhibition on lowcountry foodways, “The Bountiful Coast”. While the exhibit
covers the spectrum of food acquision in the lowcountry, the Beef Market project, and Dr. Reitz’
two decades of zooarchaeological study were the impetus for the exhibit.

Visitors to Charleston travel the historic neighborhoods in horse-drawn carriages and air-
conditioned buses. House after house is perfectly restored or sympathetically reused, surrounded
by attractive fences and walls, and embellished with scrupulously maintained gardens. They
range from multistory mansions to demure tenements to former kitchens and slave quarters, their
interiors converted to apartments or condominiums. Large or small, colonial or Victorian, all are
expensive. Only on the northern edges of the historic district, just off the carriage routes, can
one find properties still seemingly the home of working-class people, many owned by black
families whose ancestors were once residents in the back buildings of Charleston’s big houses.

But do visitors see the ‘real’ 18th century city or a modern version? The renovations and
redevelopment bring with them amenities that never before graced the property. Even historic
house museums feature closed windows and the hum of heating and cooling systems, a bow to
the preservation of the material culture displayed in the buildings. Air conditioning, in general,
keeps people inside, keeps windows closed, and creates a hum of white noise that masks a
number of sounds that used to travel down streets and over walls. The sensual experience of the
city has been dramatically altered by this invention. A similar sensual leap occurred with the
passing of the horse and carriage and the advent of the automobile.

At the same time, these house museums are abuzz with scholars from a variety of fields,
each uncovering new aspects of the daily lives of colonial and antebellum residents. I regularly
work with architects, paint analysts, furniture conservators, paper and print specialists, and
garden historians, as well as archaeology’s own retinue of specialists - zooarchaeologists, pollen
specialists, phytolith experts, and ethnobotanists. Restoration architects and carpenters, museum
curators, and interprters are adding their data to msueums. Just as Chalreston blazed a trail in the
founding of the historic preservation movement in the 1920s, local institutions now lead research
efforts to broaden, and complicate, our understanding of past peoples and events. Archaeology
is part of this team effort.

Still, it is difficult to “see’ the archaeological resources of a historic property. The

underground complexities of the urban landscape - the drains, privies, wells, and cisterns integral
to daily life - are invisible. Visitors may hear about a weed-choked or refuse-strewn yard, but
maintaining them creates the very public health hazards that 19th century residents worked to
offset. There are as yet no live, or recently slaughtered, cows at the Nathaniel Russell house - or
chickens, turkeys, ducks, or doves either, for that matter. The information retrieved from the
ground must be shared through illustrations, text, artifacts in cases, and guided tours. At least for
now. We welcome any suggestions.