History graduate students on archaeological dig

Thursday June 5 2014


sanduskySix Lynchburg College students are spending part of their summer digging in the dirt, searching for the foundation of a kitchen that dates to 1808 at Historic Sandusky.

“It’s really like a treasure hunt,” said Lyn Kraje, one of five graduate students in the Master of History Program at LC participating in the dig. “We get so excited, we don’t want to stop.”

In partnership with LC, Historic Sandusky is holding a six-week archaeology field school for the second summer in a row to excavate, analyze, and interpret the remains of the kitchen at Sandusky plantation. The kitchen remains will provide insight into the food practices and daily lives of both enslaved African Americans and the families who owned Sandusky.

“We’re looking for what we hope will be the corner of the kitchen,” said Kelly Childress ’13, who worked at Sandusky last year as a history graduate student. She said they hope to figure out which direction the kitchen extends if they have found the corner.

Thanks to 1813 and 1817 insurance maps, the group knows roughly where the kitchen, smokehouse, ice house, and well were located. Census date shows that about 20 slaves, mostly women and children.

The students said they liked getting out in the real world to do the work.

"It combines the scientific method and abstract thinking," graduate student Amanda Cortez said. "the combination is really helpful."

The project is being led by archaeologist Lori Lee who is the Ainsworth Visiting Assistant Professor at Randolph College. She has worked on numerous archaeology projects including Poplar Forest and the Hermitage. On a recent work day, she was busy taking elevations with graduate student Daniel Porter. Another LC grad student, Victoria Lunsford '86 MEd, is interning as Lee's field assistant.

Lee said she is thrilled to have enthusiastic students. “It has been great to have this group of graduate students and one older undergraduate,” Lee said. “They do the readings, are highly motivated, and hard-working.”

sanduskyIn one pit, Josh Ritzman ’15 and Josh Walker (at left) were meticulously mapping the location of each brick to prepare to remove them. Ritzman asked if one object was a brick or a rock. Lee tapped it with a trowel and said, “It’s a brick.” She then tapped a rock and said, “Hear the difference in the sound?”

Sandusky was a plantation established by Charles Johnston in 1808. In the antebellum period, the Hutter family owned both Poplar Forest and Sandusky. The Sandusky excavators are finding ceramic types that are similar to those discovered at Poplar Forest, although the style of decoration is different. This means they were made in the same time period and likely purchased by people of similar economic class.

Sandusky is best known as a Civil War site because it briefly was commandeered by General David Hunter as headquarters for Union troops in 1864. Sandusky remained a home for Hutter descendants until 1952. It is now a historic house museum administered by the Historic Sandusky Foundation and Lynchburg College.

The archaeological excavation is open to the public, most days from 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. through June 27. The public is invited to visit Sandusky and talk with archaeologists about the progress of the project. The group will complete a report and make a public presentation on their findings.

The excavation will be part of the festivities for the 150th Commemoration of the Battle of Lynchburg June 14-16.