By Rachel Mahoney

Novice archaeologists were busy scraping and sifting Saturday afternoon in order to get a little better acquainted with Historic Sandusky.

Students at the University of Lynchburg were specifically in search of the smokehouse for the 1808 home, with the guidance of some more seasoned archaeologists and an insurance policy map to go by. They worked enthusiastically but cautiously over 2-by-2-foot holes called test units in search of artifacts and evidence of where a wall or walkway once was.

“Don’t worry about hurting the artifacts or anything like that, for the most part,” Keith Adams told a group of students pushing dirt through a sifting screen. “Most of the things we’re going to be finding are pretty durable; they’ve been in the soil around here for say, a hundred or more years.”

Adams, director of the archaeological lab at Sandusky for engineering firm Hurt & Proffitt, told the students whether the objects they picked off the screen were artifacts or simply rocks.

“That’s actually … glass, and it’s melted,” he told one student about a marble-sized piece. “It might be — when you burn coal sometimes the silica in the coal fuses and forms little blobs like that.”

Between 2013 and 2015, more intensive six-week sessions called field schools uncovered where the kitchen once stood: a stone’s throw east of the historic house. An 1817 insurance policy map shows the smokehouse was in line with the kitchen toward the back of the house, which was where the four test units were Saturday.

At one test unit, students picked out a few pieces of porcelain to analyze and clean later. One fragment bore tiny strokes of green paint along the edge.

Evidence of the smokehouse foundation was the ultimate goal Saturday to give an idea of its precise location, but Historic Sandusky Director Greg Starbuck said any artifacts are valuable in helping to tell the property’s story: What was the quality of china the owners used? What can the location of different artifacts tell about the owners’ relationship with enslaved people?

Eventually, Starbuck said he’d like to rebuild the structures, but figuring out where they were and conducting more intensive field studies to turn up more artifacts would come first. In the future, he said University of Lynchburg students could create a report on the site and curate their own exhibit — the university owns and operates Historic Sandusky.

Adams said there’s a chance the entire foundation has been torn up and destroyed. But even if that’s the case, Starbuck said, “if nothing else, we are giving these students a taste of archaeology.”

Offering that taste was another goal of Saturday’s session. Sophomore Rena Conklin, part of the student advisory board for archaeology, said there hasn’t been enough student interest for certain archaeology courses.

“This was a really good opportunity to get people to come out and learn about archaeology and see if they’re interested in enough in it to want to join the minor,” she said. “… There’s just like, so much potential at Sandusky.”

Besides those in the advisory board, Conklin said there were students with other majors interested in exploring archaeology at the dig.

“A lot of people came out, which is really nice,” she said.

Starbuck said he’d like to revisit the site in spring to glean more details about what life was like at the property, but it’s an effort that depends on volunteer work.

“The entire yard has potential, because people traveled across that yard for over 200 years and they’re dropping things and losing things,” he said. “… We have plenty we want to do in the years and decades to come.”

Reach Rachel Mahoney at (434) 385-5554.

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Rachel Mahoney covers courts for The News & Advance. Reach her at (434) 385-5554.

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