Return to the Kiln:
Fall, 1997, Excavations at Santa Elena
In the Fall of 1997, we were allowed to continue our excavations adjacent to the MWR golf course clubhouse on Parris Island. It was there that we discovered the Spanish pottery kiln in 1993 while looking for the remains of the first Fort San Marcos (constructed in 1577). Although we did not find any evidence of the missing fort, one of the shovel tests excavated during that search penetrated the stoke pit of the kiln, and we spent the remaining portion of the spring 1993 field season working on that kiln [see PastWatch 2(2) for a description of our discovery of the kiln].
Upon excavation, the kiln proved to be a small, semi-subterranean structure constructed late in the 1580s. It consisted of a pot chamber approximately four feet square with an attached firebox in which wood was been burned as a heat source for the firing process. The lower part of the kiln structure was built in an excavated square pit that was lined with large, hand-made bricks. We originally thought that these bricks were locally made, but we now believe they may have been obtained from ships ovens, ballast material, or from some other imported source due to the variety of sizes and shapes represented. Two arches supported the floor of the pot chamber on which the pots would have been loaded. The upper part of the kiln was composed of clay, large sherds, and possibly brick fragments; this part of the kiln would have been rebuilt for each firing, because the only access to the fired pots was through removal of this temporary construction.
The kiln contained the remains of approximately 50 redware vessels of various forms. We originally thought that the kiln had collapsed during firing, but analysis of its contents indicates that it was filled with refuse at some time after the pots fired in the final firing were removed.
We returned to continue our excavations in the area surrounding the kiln in the spring and fall of 1994. Excavations during those two seasons revealed a number of kiln-related features in the area around the northeast corner of the golf course clubhouse. Discoveries made through these excavations included two small waster deposits, the pivot stone for the potter's wheel, and the postholes from a small work shed.
In Spring, 1996, we returned to the kiln area to excavate 133 shovel tests at ten-foot intervals in an effort to determine the distribution of kiln-made redware vessel fragments. We found that the redware was scattered over an area measuring approximately 400 feet by 150 feet. The most concentrated deposit covered an area 140 by 50 feet that stretches from the south edge of a picnic shelter located east of the club house and then west to the edge of the practice putting green in front of the club house. Once we completed this shovel testing project, we terminated our investigation of the kiln and surrounding activity area, and focused our research elsewhere in the town and in Charlesfort/Fort San Felipe.
In late summer, 1997, the Marine Corps expressed interest in having us continue our excavations around the kiln. We returned to the site on October 20, 1997, and initiated excavations that extended to December 18th. Our original research design for the 1997 project involved opening large block units on two sides of the kiln. The first block was located to the northwest of the kiln and extended to the edge of the practice putting green. The second block was to be located to the southeast of the kiln around and beneath the concrete picnic shelter platform. Plans to remove the concrete platform were modified once we got on site, so we never got to excavate the area around it.
The block unit adjacent to the pottery kiln is identified as 38BU51F. Our excavations in this block included 17.5 ten foot squares, making a total of 1750 sq ft. Within this area we recorded a total of 152 features including Spanish daub processing pits and refuse pits, plantation period pits and agricultural ditches dating to a significant late eighteenth to early nineteenth century occupation, and Marine Corps postholes, ditches, and pits dating to both the World War I and more recent uses of the site. Of the 152 features we found in this area, 55 were investigated. The remaining features were mainly agricultural ditches, tree holes, 1980s and 1990s fence post holes, plow scars, or other features not relevant to our research interests.
Within this large block unit, we found a moderate concentration of kiln-produced redware and imported olive jar, as well as lesser amounts of majolica, imported earthenware, and Chinese porcelain. Many of the excavated features were medium to large Spanish pits of unknown function. They were not daub processing pits, and they contained very few, if any, Spanish artifacts in their fill. They may have been pits dug to obtain sand for use in potting, building construction, or to spread on a structure floor.
We found no evidence of additional Spanish buildings within the area included in this block. We were disappointed that we did not get to excavate around and under the concrete picnic platform, because we supposed that the potter's house (and perhaps a well) might be located there. Perhaps we will get to excavate that part of the site in the not too distant future.
While working around the club house, we had the opportunity to investigate the area at the rear of the club house where we had not previously excavated any test holes. Contractors were brought in by the Marines to remove two old fuel storage tanks. We monitored removal of the tanks, and examined the exposed profiles once the tanks had been lifted from the ground. One of these tank removal holes was more than 6 feet deep and hit the water table at 6.15 ft below the surface. The upper 4.2 feet of the exposed profile indicated that this portion of the stratigraphic column related to the construction of the clubhouse in 1947. The second tank removal hole extended to 4.8 ft below the surface with the upper 3.2 ft dating to the twentieth century. Neither of these holes contained any Spanish artifacts nor any evidence of the Spanish occupation having extended in this direction.
When it became evident that the concrete slab near the club house was not going to be removed, we shifted part of our crew to the part of the town of Santa Elena located near the marsh edge. There we worked to complete excavation of a block unit previously opened in 1996. That 1996 block, 38BU162R, was excavated in order to expose a kitchen in the back yard of a large, high status Spanish dwelling that we excavated in 1991 and 1992. During our search for the kitchen in 1996, we found a lot of food-related refuse in trash pits, a number of postholes, and a new well, but we did not find the postholes of the kitchen structure itself. We resumed our excavations in the kitchen area with the expectation that we would be able to find the remains of the kitchen building.
As so often happens in archaeology, we did find one large posthole that we believe belongs to this kitchen, but it was not until the very last day of the project. At the present time, we have not been able to match that posthole with others in the surrounding area to form a recognizable structure. It may be that we will have to return to that part of the site to work on delineating this elusive structure. In our most recent excavations in the 38BU162R block, we recorded and excavated 20 new features, and we excavated an additional 31 previously recorded features. Many of these features were filled with refuse of all kinds including large sherds of ceramics, iron barrel band fragments, and a basket hilt for a sword. We continue to learn more and more about the high status lot of which the 162R block is a part.
The full-time crew for the Fall, 1997, field season included James Legg, Field Director, Michael Stoner, Field Assistant, and Marilyn Pennington, Dennis Rusnak, Ramona Grunden, Kristopher Asher, Carol McCanless (volunteer), and Kathleen Mazur (volunteer). John Kirby also volunteered for the last four weeks of the project, and Linda "Polly" Worthy joined us for a week. Laboratory processing of the collections are currently underway. The laboratory crew consists of James Legg, Michael Stoner, Heathley Johnson, Kristopher Asher, Christopher Cooper, and Nathan Pitts.