Digging up history

When it comes to archeology, people typically conjure images of ancient Egypt or Julius Caesar’s Rome. But archeology hits much closer to home than many people imagine, and an ongoing excavation on the grounds of The Castle in Marietta is proving just that.

“As The Castle was being restored and as they were putting in flower beds over the years, they found quite a few pieces of pottery,” explained Wes Clarke, an archaeologist who joined The Castle staff in January.

It was a well-known fact that prior to The Castle being built in the 1850s, Marietta potter Nathaniel Clark had lived and worked on the property, said Clarke.

However little more was known about Clark or his work, and Clarke was eager to see what could be gleaned about the potter by a more involved search of the property.

So Clarke, along with Castle Director Scott Britton and Castle Education Director and fellow archaeologist Misti Spillman, organized two summer archaeological field camps-one for adults and one for middle school children.

The groups spent two weeks in late July and early August excavating four one-meter squares.

While Clarke expected they would find some examples of early 19th century pottery, both he and field camp participants were surprised by the sheer quantity of items they uncovered.

“I was expecting to learn the process. I had always been interested in learning how that type of research was done,” said Marietta resident Judy Piersall, who participated in the adult field research group.

The groups ended up finding literally hundreds of pieces, including a few surprising prehistoric artifacts, buried no more than six inches beneath the surface of the yard, said Spillman.

“We found a piece of flint with the tip broken off. That’s pretty interesting because it indicates that whoever had it broke it while using it and then discarded it,” said Spillman.

The flint is likely a remnant of the Hopewell culture, responsible for building some of Marietta’s mounds, said Britton.

The excavation has led to the discovery of possible remnants of a kiln, used to fire the pottery.

It has also helped them learn more about what types of pottery Clark was making. Many of the artifacts suggest Clark produced functional redware and stoneware such as jugs, pans, bowls or storage crocks.

The project is still ongoing, said Clarke. Currently he is finishing excavating a particularly robust dig unit that was not completed during the summer camps.

Next summer, he hopes to hold similar archaeological camps.

“This is just the start of a long-term project. We expect to have another dig and expand our excavation area next summer,” he said.

Clarke is hoping they can more precisely pinpoint the position of the original kiln through further excavation.

The project has been a fun way for The Castle to reach a wider audience, said Britton.

“Archeology is more than people think,” added Spillman. “It’s right here in your own backyard.”

Building on that idea, The Castle will be holding its free Archeology Roadshow Oct 14 from 5 to 7 p.m.

It will be much like the popular PBS television show “Antiques Roadshow,” said Britton. However, rather than assigning a monetary value to objects, Clarke and a local geologist will help people identify and date their archaeological and geological items.

Piersall got an early preview during camp when she brought in an arrowhead she had found in her backyard.

“It was so exciting to find the age of this arrowhead. (Clarke) said it was 6,000 years old, from the archaic period,” she said.