Digging deeper into House in the Horseshoe’s past

Posted on October 01, 2014

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Photo caption: UNCG Ph.D. student Jacob Turner, center, along with students and faculty of the UNCG Department of Geography map artifacts and features at the base of the excavation during a dig at the House in the Horseshoe on Thursday.


Above ground at House in the Horseshoe historic site, remnants of a violent Revolutionary War skirmish are embedded in the very walls — allowing visitors to see and touch history. But for students and faculty of the UNC-Greensboro Department of Geography, what lies below the surface is equally — if not more — fascinating.

A group from the college has been toiling all week to unearth what they hope is a previously undiscovered kitchen feature at the House in the Horseshoe, located in Moore County.

Ph.D. student Jacob Turner has made numerous visits to the site, North Carolina’s only state-owned site of a Revolutionary War battle, since February as part of his dissertation. Using ground-penetrating radar, he has found what he believes to be the foundation of the house’s original kitchen.

“We haven’t dug down into where we really want to get yet,” Turner said Thursday while his team finished mapping the dig site, which measures 1 meter by 2 meters. “We’re in the process now of defining the top of what we think of as ‘the good stuff.’”

The dig already has turned up shards of pottery, glass, nails and other artifacts that make Turner confident the GPR is correct. Locating the kitchen structure would offer more insight into the lives of the house’s original inhabitants.

Dr. Roy Stine, a geography professor at UNCG who is helping Turner with the excavation, also is optimistic about what they will find.

“It’s starting to look promising that the ground penetrating radar was accurate,” Stine said. “We think it’s the old kitchen down there. Once we get deeper, we’re going to start finding lots and lots of stuff.”

The hole was 35 centimeters deep Thursday afternoon, and Turner, who has been a field archaeologist since 2000, hopes to get down to a meter by Saturday. Turner said House in the Horseshoe Site Manager Alex Cameron and his staff were extremely gracious and accommodating in helping them with the dig.

The site’s historical prominence dates to 1781, when a band of British loyalists under David Fanning attacked the House in the Horseshoe, which was home to colonial leader Phillip Alston. Alston and the colonists were forced to surrender, but the bullet holes from the fierce fighting remain in the house today.

“We kind of always assumed the original kitchen from the when the Alston family was living there was there,” Cameron said. “The kitchen then, much like today, is an area of a lot of activities. We’re hoping the ground penetrating radar is right and there are some other features down there.”

Cameron plans to use the dig as a chance to educate visitors to the house on archaeological processes and maybe even let them try their hand at it.

“On Saturday, we’ll try to have a few folks here to explain the dig,” Cameron said. “We might even be able to let a few people try it themselves. We want to turn this into a hands-on experience.”

Kelly Phillips, a senior at Clayton High School, displays a Guilford point arrowhead that was uncovered during the excavation on Thursday.

Cameron is working hard to spread awareness of and interest in the house in light of a budget scare that almost resulted in the site’s closure this summer. He said the site is safe until next June, but that the N.C. General Assembly requested that the N.C. Department of Cultural Resources propose an extra 2 percent budget cut Tuesday.

“Considering where we’ve been the past couple times,” Cameron said, “we’re not in a very comfortable place. … We’re looking into a number of ways to raise money. We’re already planning a day camp next summer that would focus on hands-on activities to give kids a taste of back-country militia life.”

Stine said projects like the excavation, which calls for collaboration between UNCG, state historic sites and the N.C. Office of State Archeology, prove beneficial for all parties involved.

“We’re funding this ourselves,” Stine said. “But we’re sort of teaming up with the historic sites and the [NCOSA]. It’s great for the site and the people of North Carolina because they don’t have to pay for it, and it’s great for us because it extends our research.”

Turner said the GPR equipment was crucial to efficient excavation because it allowed his team to pinpoint the location of the feature before ever breaking ground.

“It gets more done with less because it takes you right to it,” Turner said. “We used to have to tear a site up and dig holes every 10 meters to find stuff like this. Students really reap the benefit of having GPR.”

Cameron invites anyone wanting to learn more about archeology, excavation, history or the House in the Horseshoe to come out to the dig Friday and Saturday to see firsthand what the process of discovery looks like.

“The hopes are we’ll be able to get where we need to be, that we’ll start finding the stuff and get to a point where people can really see how this process is done,” Cameron said. “We want visitors to be a part of the discovery.”

Reposted from the Sanford Herald
Written by Zach Potter
Photo credit: Wesley Beeson, The Sanford Herald

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