Archaeology at Colonial Brunswick

By Harper, Brett M. | Southeastern Archaeology, Summer 2013 | Go to article overview

Archaeology at Colonial Brunswick


Harper, Brett M., Southeastern Archaeology


Archaeology at Colonial Brunswick. STANLEY A. SOUTH. North Carolina Office of Archives and History, Raleigh, 2010. xxv, 308 pp., illus., maps, index. $20.00 (paper), ISBN: 978-0-86526-343-7.

When research professor and archaeologist Stan South retired from the South Carolina Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology at Columbia in December 2011, he left as a pioneering giant in American historic archaeology. Shortly before that event, South, termed "The Franchise" by one fellow member of SCIAAC, witnessed the publication of a manuscript that can be described in several ways: a long-awaited and comprehensive site report, a visitor's guide to North Carolina's Brunswick Town/Fort Anderson State Historic Site, a "You are there" account showing how far-reaching analytical techniques were invented on the spot, and a sentimental journey taken by the author 41 years later, with the benefit of subsequent developments in the field to deepen some of his insights.

Archaeology at Colonial Brunszvick chronicles South's 1958-68 excavations at Brunswick Town, a settlement on the lower Cape Fear River (below present-day Wilmington, North Carolina) that he judges to be the most important port in the British colonies during its existence from 1725 to 1776. Fortunately for the development of historic archaeology, South left his archaeologist position at Town Creek Indian Mound to accept his first historic archaeology job at the behest of Sam Tarleton, Director of the Division of Historic Sites for North Carolina. Citadel history professor E. Lawrence Lee, Jr., who had located the corners of the ruins, had asked him for a long-range development plan at Brunswick Town. Ignoring the advice of his mentor at University of North Carolina, Jeffrie Coe, South took the plunge. He elected to jeopardize his career by pursuing historic rather that prehistoric archaeology, "interpreting the way of life of the citizens of Brunswick two hundred years before" (p. xxii).

Aware that the dominant paradigm of historic site excavation "strategy" was history/architecture/antiquarianism, South saw the opportunity to take a more scientific, anthropological approach to understanding past cultural processes. Most excavators of the time were more interested in relics for museums and determining floor plans as a step in reconstructing buildings on historic sites. South describes how he correlated deeds with a 1769 surveyor's map of the town and his own transit-generated site map before excavating and why he chose the size of his excavation units. Ground-truthing allows him to take the reader on a fascinating detective story that confirms some aspects of the historical record while negating others, and in some cases raises new possibilities about which he offers cautious but informed counsel.

South deftly weaves the known facts about individual lot owners around major occurrences at Brunswick Town, including hurricanes, disease, the Spanish invasion, a succession of royal colonial governors, the prevalence of pre-Revolutionary patriotic sentiment, and, finally, the torching by the British that resulted in virtual abandonment. Despite South's penchant for straying off to recount a juicy duel or the like (being a "poet archaeologist"), he demonstrates that he took full, creative control over an excavation that he rightfully considered a perfect laboratory for devising corroborating tests. A pristine site (except for minor looting) that was capped at a known date proved to offer the ideal circumstances for inventing his mean ceramic date formula, which today South and other archaeologists agree is still a sound statistical technique for ceramic assemblages from the eighteenth century into the early decades of the nineteenth century. He divided the overall artifact assemblage into subcategories or classes whose distribution patterns would, in his opinion, indicate discrete kinds of human activity or behavior. He developed the Carolina Artifact Pattern for dividing the Brunswick artifacts into eight groups: Kitchen, Architecture, Furniture, Arms, Clothing, Personal, Tobacco Pipes, and Activities. …

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