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Archaeology at Brookgreen Gardens: "Not just pretty items from the past"

June 11, 2018
Experiential learning class at Coastal Carolina University led by David Palmer takes archaeology students to the site of a former slave village at Brookgreen Gardens to excavate and study the site.Experiential learning class at Coastal Carolina University led by David Palmer takes archaeology students to the site of a former slave village at Brookgreen Gardens to excavate and study the site.Experiential learning class at Coastal Carolina University led by David Palmer takes archaeology students to the site of a former slave village at Brookgreen Gardens to excavate and study the site.

A Maymester course this year is building on work started by Coastal Carolina University's James L. Michie Endowed Professor in Historical Archaeology David Palmer in 2016 at Brookgreen Gardens, who is also the gardens' archaeologist-in-residence.

ANTH 396Q is an experiential learning Maymester class tasked with finding remnants of a slave village believed to be within the grounds of Brookgreen Gardens, which was a former rice plantation. Palmer says the plantations used to be home to more than 1,100 slaves, and the class' findings are indicative that the site was the location of living quarters, including brick, nails, ceramic, glass and a tobacco pipe stem.

"Artifacts we've been finding are from the right time period, when the rice plantation was at its largest in size," Palmer said. "It is satisfying for the students and for me that we are able to find some things in the short period of time we have here."

The class runs three to four weeks throughout the month of May with 10 to 12 students, and Palmer said the class has to strike the right balance between training in proper field methods with accomplishing research goals.

"It's a lot harder than I thought it would be, but it's very rewarding," said Victoria Peck, junior anthropology and geography major.

The current work began in 2016 based on historical map information and prior work that had been done at Brookgreen by former CCU professor and archaeologist James L. Michie. Michie's investigations at The Oaks at Brookgreen Gardens were recogznied by a lifetime achievement award from the Archaeological Society of South Carolina.

Palmer hopes to continue the work at Brookgreen and prepare and leave research and artifacts for the next archaeologist who studies the site. His ideal goal is to find something there that has some meaning and importance for present-day Gullah whose ancestors may have worked the plantation.

"It's easy to lose sight of the fact that you're the first person to see these things in more than 150 years," Palmer said. "But we are trying to uncover a little bit more of the puzzle."

Watch a video from the field school that took place in 2016 below.

Read more about David Palmer, the field school and James L. Michie here.