When we read or watch a program about a new archaeological discovery or the conservation of archaeological materials, it most often features a site and artifacts from a distant and foreign country. The sites and artifacts are captivating and eye-catching because they provide a glimpse into ancient cultures and highlight works created by skilled and accomplished artisans. International archaeology and archaeological conservation efforts certainly deserve the attention they receive but there are equally compelling projects and artifacts within the United States that merit the spotlight too.
To draw attention to the rich and diverse archaeological heritage present within the USA, this post features a handful of archaeological projects and their work to conserve the finds. The artifacts may not be as old as antiquity but they still convey important messages. For example, they can represent technical innovation, provide insight into life aboard navy and pirate vessels, or shed light on the diverse people colonizing and settling in the country.
To see and learn about some of the technical innovations that occurred during the 19th century, check out the websites for the H.L. Hunley submarine and the USS Monitor ship. The H.L. Hunley, built in 1863, is known as “the world’s first successful combat submarine.” http://www.clemson.edu/restoration/wlcc/project/hunley.html. The USS Monitor was a steam-powered iron clad warship launched in 1861 to counter the rival iron clad ship, the CSS Virginia. http://www.marinersmuseum.org/uss-monitor-center/. You can follow their ongoing research and conservation efforts through their website, by watching the lab cam, or visiting the museum in person.
The Queen Anne’s Revenge ship wreck is another interesting maritime site. Located in North Carolina, the Queen Anne’s Revenge was the pirate Blackbeard’s flagship. The investigation, recovery, research, and conservation of the ship and its contents reveals life aboard a pirate ship in the 18th century. http://www.qaronline.org/Conservation/QARLab.aspx. This is another project that can be followed through their website and where you can visit the lab through scheduled tours and open days.
And, finally, take a look at a couple of videos on YouTube created by the City of Deadwood, in South Dakota. From 2001 to 2004, the city carried out excavations along the main street, investigating the Chinatown section of Deadwood. The artifacts uncovered during this series of excavations provides a valuable narrative of Deadwood’s 19th and early 20th century Chinese population. The city partnered with a conservation lab in Maryland to conserve artifacts unearthed from the excavations, including several historic firearms and numerous Chinese coins. To see some of this work, watch this video about the excavation and discovery of the guns: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oMtr5ECYOo0. The second video, part two, covers the conservation of the guns and subsequent research: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6l7eLuyRBTc.
This is only a small sample of the work going on in the country. Have you worked on or are currently working on archaeological objects from a site in the United States? Please consider sharing and posting your project on AIC’s blog or Facebook page, so that it too can receive a bit of the limelight. Even if you think your project does not warrant attention, please reconsider. James Deetz wrote eloquently, In Small Things Forgotten, that “for in the seemingly little and insignificant things that accumulate to create a lifetime, the essence of our existence is captured.”
This post was developed by the AIC’s Archaeological Discussion Group (ADG). For more information about ADG, please visit the ADG’s Facebook page.