Posts Tagged ‘excavation’

Photo: National Park Service.
Archeological excavation at an integrated community founded by a former slave in Illinois.

One thing that’s interesting about today’s story is that political differences have been set aside in the restoration of an abandoned town founded by a former slave.

Mark Guarino reports at the Washington Post, “As a child, Gerald McWorter often listened to his father tell stories about growing up on a farm in New Philadelphia, Ill. But it wasn’t until a family reunion in 2005 that he fully understood the significance of his lineage: Everyone he met that day was in some way affected by the story of his great-great-grandfather, a formerly enslaved man from Kentucky who in 1836 became the first Black person in the United States to plat and register a town.

“During Frank McWorter’s time, New Philadelphia thrived as a community where Black and White families worked together as equals long before the Civil War was fought to preserve — or destroy — that possibility.

“The revelations have emerged through three decades of archaeological digs, advocacy by local community members, oral histories and family artifacts, letters and research. The momentum was enough to convince Gerald McWorter, 78, that he and other relatives ‘had an obligation’ to ‘become stewards of a story that is bigger than us.’

“Also convinced was Rep. Darin LaHood (R-Ill.), who introduced a bill that would designate the site of New Philadelphia a part of the National Park Service. …

“Frank McWorter was born into slavery in 1777 and grew up on a Kentucky plantation. His White enslaver, George McWhorter, was also his father. Frank was an entrepreneur of sorts whose father allowed him to earn wages outside his hours of slavery in a cave where he foraged and sold materials used for gunpowder.

By 1817, Frank had saved enough money to buy freedom for his wife, Lucy, who was pregnant with their fifth child. Two years later, he was able to buy his own freedom.

“Emancipating 15 other family members would follow, a process that lasted through 1857 — three years after the death of Frank, who came to be known as Free Frank. …

“ ‘It’s often hard for people to get out of their heads that it would take 40 years to buy your family back from slavery. It’s a really heroic story that captured the imagination,’ said Gerald McWorter, a professor emeritus at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he taught African American studies.

“The first person in the McWorter family to actively document Frank’s life was Gerald’s aunt, Thelma McWorter Kirkpatrick Wheaton, who collected family documents, letters and photos as well as interviewed older descendants. Her daughter used that material to write her doctoral dissertation about Frank McWorter, and the University of Kentucky Press published it as a book in 1983.

“Frank McWorter’s dream included buying his own land, and he eventually purchased 80 acres, sight unseen, in Pike County, Ill., along the Missouri border. It was thick prairie then, and the McWorters arrived in 1831 to clear it for growing crops and constructing a town. Descendants of McWorter remained in the area until the late 1990s.

“New Philadelphia existed for half a century. Named after the eastern metropolis that symbolized brotherly love for all races, it was a prosperous frontier town that had a post office, a school, a store, a blacksmith shop and two shoemakers, presumably to supply footwear for runaway enslaved people who passed through on their way to Canada. The town was home to as many as 29 households, and neighboring farmsteads used its services.

“But what distinguished the community was where it was located: just 20 miles from Hannibal, Mo., a bustling river town that served as a major site for auctions of enslaved people. Just over the Mississippi River, African Americans were human chattel and subject to horrific violence, but in New Philadelphia, they freely owned guns, earned good livings and worked the land with their White neighbors. …

“The renewed interest in New Philadelphia began in 1996 after a community group formed to enshrine McWorter’s story on a sign at a rest stop along a state highway next to the cemetery where he is buried. Group founder Phil Bradshaw, a farmer and longtime Republican who is White, said that early on, he would receive ‘nasty notes and nasty comments’ from townspeople about the advocacy. Eventually, those subsided. …

“The community group, the New Philadelphia Association, bought more than 30 acres that Frank McWorter had owned and allowed archaeologists from the University of Illinois and the University of Maryland to dig over several summers to unearth remnants of the town. Although no original buildings remain, the area has walking trails with smartphone-enabled kiosks that tell McWorter’s story. …

“For Gerald McWorter, the integrated town his great-great-grandfather built gives him hope.

“ ‘If New Philadelphia was possible, maybe [racial harmony in] America is possible,’ he said.”

More at the Post, here.

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Photo: Adrian Dennis/AFP/Getty.
As construction for a tunnel under Stonehenge begins, archaeological surprises are turning up.

Do you ever wonder about the layers of civilization buried deep beneath your feet? John Hanson Mitchell wondered about my region’s layers back in a 1980s book, here. He got himself into a kind of trancelike state in which he believed he could sense the presence of indigenous tribes living their lives beside what is now Interstate 495.

More recently, as Steven Morris reports at the Guardian, “Bronze age graves, neolithic pottery and the vestiges of a mysterious C-shaped enclosure that might have been a prehistoric industrial area are [being] unearthed by archaeologists who have carried out preliminary work on the site of the proposed new road tunnel at Stonehenge.

“One of the most intriguing discoveries is a unique shale object that could have been part of a staff or club found in a 4,000-year-old grave. Nearby is the resting spot of a baby buried with a small, plain beaker. Ditches that flank the C-shaped enclosure contain burnt flint, suggesting a process such as metal or leatherworking was carried out there thousands of years ago.

“Just south of the site of the Stonehenge visitor centre, archaeologists came upon neolithic grooved ware pottery possibly left there by the people who built the stone circle or visited it.

“ ‘We’ve found a lot – evidence about the people who lived in this landscape over millennia, traces of people’s everyday lives and deaths, intimate things,’ said Matt Leivers, A303 Stonehenge consultant archaeologist at Wessex Archaeology. …

“The plan to drop the A303, which passes close to the stones, into a two-mile tunnel is hugely controversial, with many experts having said that carrying out such intrusive construction work would cause disastrous harm to one of the world’s most precious ancient landscapes and lead to the loss of hundreds of thousands of artefacts. A legal challenge was launched against the £1.7bn plan late last year.

“Highways England and Wessex Archaeology, which is leading the exploration of the tunnel corridor, said they were working on the project systematically and sensitively. …

“Close to the western end, two burials of Beaker people, who arrived in Britain in about 2,500BC, were found. One was an adult, buried in a crouched position with a pot or beaker. Also in the grave was a copper awl or fragment of a pin or needle and a small shale cylindrical object, of a type that is not believed to have been found before.

“ ‘It is an oddity,’ said Leivers. More detailed work will be carried out to find out what it is, but one theory is that it could be the tip of a ceremonial wooden staff or mace. Also found in the same area was a pit dating to the age of the Beaker people containing the tiny ear bones of a child and a very simple pot – a sign that this too was a grave. Usually Beaker pots are ornate but this one is plain, probably to reflect the age of the person who died.

“A little farther south, the C-shaped enclosure was found. ‘It is a strange pattern of ditches,’ said Leivers. ‘It’s difficult to say what it was, but we know how old it is because we found a near-complete bronze age pot in one of the ditches.’ …

“Another find was a group of objects dating to the late neolithic period – when the stone circle was built – including grooved ware pottery, a flint and red deer antlers. …

“Highways England said the amount of survey work that had been carried out was unprecedented because of the significance of the site. David Bullock, A303 project manager for Highways England, said: ‘There has been a huge amount of investigations so that this route can be threaded through so as to disturb as little as possible.’ ”

What mysteries will your everyday items pose for archaeologists of the future? What will more advanced people with no need for mouth guards or braces, say, make of gizmos like that?

More at the Guardian, here.

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Photo: Kevin McGill
A view of the Terracotta Army in the mausoleum of Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of China. In normal times, several million people visit the Xi’an, Shaanxi province, site each year.

I save links about interesting happenings to share later on the blog, but when coronavirus hit, some of the happenings in my pipeline seemed out of date. Archaeological finds are different. Anytime’s a good time to read about the excavation of terracotta warriors in China.

As you may know, the Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor in China is a designated Unesco World Heritage site. The online Unesco description says (with prescience), “No doubt thousands of statues still remain to be unearthed at this archaeological site, which was not discovered until 1974. Qin (d. 210 B.C.), the first unifier of China, is buried, surrounded by the famous terracotta warriors, at the centre of a complex designed to mirror the urban plan of the capital, Xianyan. The small figures are all different; with their horses, chariots and weapons, they are masterpieces of realism and also of great historical interest.”

In January this year, Taylor Dafoe reported at Artnet that more statues had indeed been discovered. “The Terracotta Army,” he writes, “just got a little more formidable.

“More than 200 additional funerary sculptures have been uncovered near the tomb of China’s first emperor, Qin Shi Huang, in Xi’an, the capital of China’s Shaanxi Province. The relics join the 8,000 already unearthed soldiers that constitute the Terracotta Army, created 2,200 years ago to protect the emperor in the afterlife.

“The discovery, first announced by the country’s state-run news agency, came during a decade-long excavation of the first of four pits at the mausoleum. … Archaeologists uncovered roughly 200 new warriors, 12 clay horses, and two chariots, as well as a number of bronze weapons, over the past 10 years.

“According to Shen Maosheng, the archeologist who led the dig, the new findings provide researchers with a clearer picture of how the ancient Chinese military operated. For instance, Maosheng notes that most of the newly uncovered figures are depicted either holding poles or bows — a clue that reveals the soldiers’ battlefield roles and responsibilities.

One of the world’s most treasured historical artifacts, the army was first discovered by a group of local farmers trying to dig a well roughly a mile east of Emperor Qin’s tomb in 1974. They stumbled upon a vault that held thousands of human-sized military figures, each unique in appearance, all lined up in battle formation. …

“Researchers believe it took 700,000 laborers as much as 30 to 40 years to complete the army and its tombs, and that there are still likely more vaults and warriors to be discovered.” More.

Have any readers visited the mausoleum? I was in China once, when my husband was working there, but for the 10-day visit, I stayed in Shanghai and environs. Xi’an would have been too far, and besides it was Spring Festival (or Lunar New Year) at the time, and the whole country was on the road. If you have seen the terracotta warriors, I would love to know your personal reactions.

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What could be more likely to generate Deep Thoughts than finding 800,000-year-old footprints on the beach? The footprint Robinson Crusoe found may have had more immediate application to his daily life, but this could also stir the imagination.

In case you missed the story, here is  Sudeshna Chowdhury’s version at the Christian Science Monitor.

“The earliest known humans in northern Europe have left evidence of their existence on an English beach, in the form of footprints.

“A team of scientists from the British Museum, Britain’s Natural History Museum, and Queen Mary University of London have discovered a series of 800,000-year-old footprints left by early humans in the ancient estuary muds at the Happisburgh site, an excavation site known for preservation of sediments containing ancient flora and fauna, in Britain’s Norfolk Coast.

“Scientists spotted at least 12 clear footprints, Nick Ashton, a curator at the British Museum, told the Monitor.

” ‘At first we weren’t sure what we were seeing,’ says Dr. Ashton, ‘but as we removed any remaining beach sand and sponged off the seawater, it was clear that the hollows resembled prints, perhaps human footprints, and that we needed to record the surface as quickly as possible before the sea eroded it away.’ ” More here.

I think these footprints call for a poem. Send me one? Even a haiku would be lovely.

Update 2/12/14
We who still know fear
Thousands of years on, would keep
Your print from the tide.

Photo:  Martin Bates
Area A at Happisburgh with detail of footprint surface. Scientists discovered a series of 800,000-year-old footprints left by early humans in Norfolk Coast, UK


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