Artifact of the Week: Grapeshot

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Unprocessed photograph of grapeshot sample from the 2015 Steeple Building excavations.

 

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Grapeshot in canvas.

Grapeshot is a grizzly kind of cannon fodder possibly used as early as the 15th century and extensively as projectiles for naval and land artillery through the 18th and 19th centuries. Grapeshot consists of iron balls clustered together like grapes and wrapped in a canvas bag or stacked between metal discs secured together with a bolt. The balls scatter when fired, like a shotgun blast, inflicting severe damage to massed infantry, ships’ sails and rigging, and whatever else might be on the dangerous end of the barrel.

Grapeshot is not uncommonly found during metal detector surveys of Civil War, Revolutionary War, and War of 1812 battlefields in National Parks throughout the Southeast. But, like so many archeological finds, the secrets of today’s Artifact of the Week are to be found in the context of their discovery rather than their form and perceived function.

CHRI Steeple Building

Church of Our Lord Zaboeth, CHRI.

These specimens were recovered by SEAC archeologists, Meredith Hardy, Rusty Simmons, Michael Seibert, and Eric Bezemek during recent excavations at the Church of Our Lord Zaboeth, also known as the Steeple Building, at Christiansted National Historic Site (CHRI), St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, consecrated on May 27, 1753.

SEAC’s 2015 excavation supported Section 106 compliance for the removal of a 60-70 year old mahogany tree from the area of historic cisterns and a platform built ca. 1916-1925 for the hospital.

The SEAC team was assisted by CHRI staff, Student Conservation Association intern Akeem McIntosh and volunteers from the public.

 

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SEAC archeologists Meredith Hardy and Eric Bezemek with SCA Intern Akeem McIntosh and volunteer excavating at CHRI.

During excavation, it was not clear how the grapeshot found its way into the archeological record. Was is deposited during or prior to the original 1750s construction or somehow during a substantial remodeling of the Church in 1842? Alternatively, was it displaced during the demolition and renovation in 1933 and 1957?

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Interior photography of the Church of Our Lord Zaboeth during the 1957 remodeling.

As part of the 1957 excavation and restoration, the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) produced as-built drawings that noted the use of grapeshot in the fabric of the building itself!

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Detail showing the “grape shot set in lime mortar” from the 1957 HABS drawings.

In as much as the context of the grapeshot’s discovery and the details of the HABS drawings have shed light on the function of the artifacts as part of the structural fabric of the Steeple Building, more questions than answers emerge:

Where did this grapeshot come from? Was it made intentionally for use in construction? Did it come from a Danish military armory? Was it collected from a battlefield, shipwreck, or some other site? What purpose did it serve and was it successful? Is this practice seen with any regularity anywhere else? 

The importance and potential of the objects alone need not necessarily be disregarded.There are a suite of tools available to archeologists for studying objects themselves. Simple measurements of an object’s dimensions can provide clues about its origins and use. For example, the caliber of a bullet might indicate the kind of gun that fired it. Metallography of the grapeshot might allow archaeologists to study the microstructure of the artifacts and determine how they were made. But that would require the partial destruction of one or more specimens.

 

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pXRF sample analysis in progress.

Portable X-Ray Fluorescence (pXRF) is a relatively new, non-destructive technology employed by archeologists for quickly evaluating the elemental composition of an object. SEAC archeologist Michael Seibert successfully used pXRF to distinguish between Mexican and American ordnance found with metal detection at Palo Alto Battlefield National Historical Park (PAAL). This information was used to reevaluate contemporary maps of the battlefield, map troops movements and positions, and to identify locations of specific landmarks and actions recorded in contemporary accounts of the battle. A pXRF analysis of the grapeshot from the Steeple Building might likewise be useful for testing hypotheses about where and how the grapeshot was made.

Hopefully, this Artifact of the Week sheds some light on the importance of context and multiple lines of evidence in archeology. 

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Thanks for a Great Year!

NPS-SEACAs 2015 comes to a close and the centennial year of the National Park Service looms on the horizon, the Southeast Archeological Center would like thank everyone who has taken time to read our blog!

Our WordPress blog has spent most of the past three years in the backseat of a social media outreach program driven by our Facebook and Twitter accounts.

Since July, our staff has taken more of an interest in contributing to the blog and as a result, you have taken more of an interest in what we have to say about what we do!

Check out some of this year’s feature series:

The Artifact of the Week 

15 Questions with an Archeologist

Try the Tags on the right side panel !  ——->

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SEAC Archeologist Eric Bezemek excavating at trench at Fort Saint Andrews on Cumberland Island National Seashore.

The following are some links to our most viewed posts from the past year!

BLRI Saved By Grace

Saved by Grace, Mapped by Archeologists relates how archeologists from SEAC’s RASP section mapped historic cemeteries on Blue Ridge Parkway (BLRI). The results are currently being entered into ASMIS and digitized to create an interactive online GIS map for the public and professionals, alike.

BLRI Blacks in Grey

While mapping cemeteries at BLRI, archeologists recorded the grave of an African-American Confederate soldier. Were men like Humphrey Claytor few and far between? Blacks and Grey may raise more questions than answers.

SEAC Geology Intern GIS

Sarah Prentice describes her experience and the nature of some of her work in Geology student turned GIS intern.

SEAC internships are an excellent way to gain experience in the diverse aspects of archeology.

COWP Battlefield Survey

#SEAC2740 is the accession number for a SEAC AIC section metal detector survey at Cowpens National Battlefield. The project was an excellent opportunity to collaborate with the public and produced some interesting finds that have shed new light on the history of this Revolutionary War battle.

Watch a couple of SEAC videos:

Fort Saint Andrews mini-doc

Fort McPherson Meets Forks of the Road

Historic footage of Natchez Trace excavations

Check out SEAC’s YouTube channel!

The 100th anniversary year of the National Park jrbadgeService is the 50th anniversary year of the Southeast Archeological Center. SEAC would love to help you get in on the Every In A Park initiative that provides free entry to National Parks for 4th graders and their families. Consider earning a Junior Ranger Badge in Archeology.

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We would love to hear about

WHAT TOPICS IN SOUTHEASTERN ARCHEOLOGY INTEREST YOU?

Please LEAVE A REPLY below or on our

Facebook page or Twitter!

Artifact of the Week: A Concreted Mystery

Mystery lump

Concretion recovered from the HMS Fowey shipwreck site at Biscayne National Park.

Iron artifacts recovered from shipwrecks are often encased in a stone-like mineral conglomerate called concretion. This exterior shell forms through chemical reactions brought about by the corrosion of metal. The formation of a concretion can protect the object within from further corrosion or preserve a mold of the original object.

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Underwater archeological work at the HMS Fowey shipwreck site.

This concreted object was recovered from the amidships area of the HMS Fowey at Biscayne National Park (BISC) during the 2013 stablization of the site completed with members of SEAC’s Dive Team, BISC staff, and divers from the NPS Submerged Resources Center. The object is currently in conservation but examining x-ray images have helped archeologists identify what is contained within the concretion. Can you figure it out?

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X-ray view of the above concretion. Do you recognize what’s inside?

Did you guess correctly?

Let us know what you came up with

on Twitter @NPSSEAC

or Facebook

—-

See some Underwater Archeology work in action

at the HMS Fowey wreck site at BISC here!

Religious Beliefs and Cosmology As Reflected in the Archeological Record of the Southeast

On Saturday, December 12, 2015, SEAC Archeologist Dr. Guy Prentice gave a presentation at the the Mission San Luis Winter Solstice Celebration entitled “Religious Beliefs and Cosmology As Reflected in the Archeological Record of the Southeast” during which he provided a brief overview of widespread Native American religious beliefs shared by the late Pre-Columbian agrarian societies of the eastern U.S.

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The Birger Figurine found near Cahokia. Photo: Michael Brohme.

Prominently featured in the talk was Dr. Prentice’s interpretation of the religious concepts expressed in the Birger Figurine, a stone statuette depicting a fertility goddess that was recovered in Illinois at a mortuary site located near Cahokia Mounds.

Persons interested in the topic can read his published analysis of the Birger Figurine in American Antiquity Vol. 51, No. 2, pp. 239-266.

 

Hollows and Hills: SEAC’s recent trip to BLRI

While hiking to prehistoric lithics scatters and lonely historic cemeteries in the hollows and hills of the Blue Ridge Mountains I couldn’t help but with profound respect consider the Cherokee, Monacan, and other Native Americans who called these mountains home and were forced to travel the Trail of Tears west; Abraham Wood and the early American explorers; the Scots-Irish and German settlers that funneled down the Great Wagon Road and up the western slopes; the Overmountain Men of the Revolutionary War; and the Appalachian families of more recent history that lived and worked in the Blue Ridge before the establishment of the Blue Ridge Parkway (BLRI). It’s exhausting!

It was a relief to hear that my more experienced co-worker at the Southeast Archeological Center, Robert Hellmann – a man who falls somewhere between Jean Luc Picard and Daniel Boone – was “running out of steam” at the end of our 4th day hiking up and down the precipitous slopes. Sore as we were, we still had sites and cemeteries to to evaluate which meant more trailblazing and creek crossing.

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A warning to be heeded at the top of the Bluff Ridge Primitive Trail.

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The Caudill Cabin at the north end of Basic Creek Trail was once part of a larger community destroyed by a massive flood in 1916.

But truth be told, the isolated chimneys and solitary headstones hidden among the oaks, pines, and rhododendron were once not so secluded.
These homesteads and cemeteries were part of cultural landscapes and built environments, communities with so many of the trappings of village life. Forest roads and paths connected communities of cabins with their churches, schools, cemeteries, farms, and the highways to towns.

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Grassy Gap Road winds it way down around the ridges through Doughton Park

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The construction of Mabry Mill at mile post 176.1 began in 1903.

For much of the Parkway’s history, development and interpretation focused on preserving and making accessible the breathtaking natural beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains, and the rugged and romantic mountain lifestyle manifest in remote log cabins and rustic mountain industries like water-powered mills. While not entirely a fantasy, the pastoral narrative of Appalachia was promoted at the expense of some historical particulars.

 

Audrey Horning has written more than most to correct the stereotypical image of Appalachia perpetuated, with few exceptions, for more than a century not only by entertainment media but through academic discourse and government-funded research programs. Horning’s archeological

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Nicholson-Ward-Corbin farm and slave quarter (SHEN Archives).

investigations in three different hollows in what is now Shenandoah National Park (SHEN) have highlighted economic diversity within late-eighteenth and early-twentieth century mountain communities and access to patent medicines, factory made toys and clothing, and other manufactured goods that demonstrate Appalachian mountain communities’ interaction with more populated areas and mainstream American culture.

 

Read Audrey Horning’s 2002 Article Myth, Migration, and Material Culture: Archaeology and the Ulster Influence on Appalachia Here

 

Along with isolation and poverty, and beards and banjos, homemade distilled spirits are another iconic, if stereotypical and misinterpreted aspect of Appalachia. Recent cable television shows have capitalized on moonshine as symbol of outlaw romance and American individualism. Less well known is that alcohol was big business in Appalachia. According to the Internal Revenue Service, between 1868 and 1913, 90% of the Federal government’s revenue was derived from taxes on liquor, beer, wine, and tobacco.
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Still worm from Weakly Hollow in SHEN (Horning 2002).

Methods for distilling spirits were brought to the region by the early European settlers in the mid-18th century and were carried on by their descendants. Millions of gallons of mountain-made whiskey and brandy were sold by small-scale producers to ordinary houses, hotels, and resorts in the Blue Ridge Mountains and well-beyond the region. The amount of exported liquor is staggering. “As early as 1819, New Orleans was already receiving more than two million gallons of Appalachian whiskey…by 1860, more than four million gallons were exported annually, as American adults annually consumed three gallons of mountain whiskey apiece,” (Horning 2002:142).

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Distilling operation in Patrick County, NC circa 1912.

Distilling as a cottage industry suffered to greater or lesser degrees from variably enforced taxation and licensing laws as early as 1791. The violent encounters of the 1870s between the military and Bureau of Internal Revenue agents, and mountain distillers resistant to the liquor tax have been called “The Moonshine Wars.” These Reconstruction-era conflicts served to further entrench the caricature of mountain residents as unskilled and dangerous. These stereotypes, in concert with increasingly popular secular Victorian values that included sobriety, and the efforts of the American Missionary Association, local option laws prohibiting the sale and consumption of alcohol were passed in many western North Carolina communities during the 1880s and 1890s. Despite suffering even more serious blows with the ratification of the 18th amendment in 1919 and the regulatory laws and fees on the production and sale of alcohol that accompanied the 21st amendment that repealed Prohibition in 1933, moonshine is making a comeback with the growing market for craft spirits.

In 2013, Penn State professor Kirk French began exploring the potential
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Iron drum possibly part of a still.

of Moonshine Archaeology in the Pisgah National Forest. In comparing their findings with some of the images in French’s blog, SEAC archeologists may have also identified evidence of a whiskey still while recording historic homesteads and cemeteries in the Doughton Park Recreation Area of the Blue Ridge Parkway.

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Possible stone foundation for a still furnace.

A bullet-riddled drum half-buried in an erosional gully, and what may have been the foundation for a stone furnace will be investigated further at a later date.

Whether for making moonshine or not, the drum is still part of a historic site that is part of a cultural landscape that at once expresses the relative isolation of historic Appalachian families and the integration of the hollows and the valleys.
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Cabin chimney below a ridge topped with a small cemetery.

A cabin chimney with two fireboxes was built at the toe of a steep finger ridge. Near the top of the ridge, overlooking the ruins of the cabin was a small cemetery reportedly called the Richardson Cemetery. At the head and foot of each of the five graves was an unmarked flagstone set on end – monuments to a family’s lives and deaths.

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Documenting the Richardson Cemetery.

There were two other kinds stoneworks: two stone walls that may have functioned in a system of water catchment or redirection, and downstream from this core area of the homestead, and slightly up-slope on the east side of the creek stood stacks of stockpiled flat stone.
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Example of stockpiled stone.

The confluence of creeks in this part of the valley brought plenty of cool, sweet water down the mountain for drinking, cooking, bathing, laundry, distilling, and irrigation. The flat terraces between the creeks at the ridge look amenable to planting crops – Robert pondered the idea of a soil survey for chemical and phytolith analyses to test that hypothesis; corn, beans, sorghum, and cotton in this valley wouldn’t have arrived by accident.

Though we had made our way to the site by skirting a steep ridge along a fast flowing creek, we found ourselves at points on narrow paths that could have been trampled into existence by people just as likely as generations of deer. As we began the hike back to the Grassy Gap Trail by a different route than the one we blazed in, it seemed as though we were following a veritable road mountain, albeit a bit overgrown and obscured by leaf duff. There was a road somewhere if this wasn’t it; among the elements we noted at the site were two fenders from an early-mid twentieth automobile.
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A partial view of the flat terrace below the ridge and above the creek.

The preservation of so many elements of a built environment in the historic cultural landscape associated with the so-called Richardson Cemetery shows that it avoided destruction not only by the ravages of nature and time but the often more dramatic impacts of human industry.
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Modern, small-scale logging along Longbottom Road near Doughton Park.

Prior to the Weeks Act of 1911 that expanded the role of the U.S. Forest Service,  logging in particular drastically altered the landscape of the mountains by clear cutting trees millions of acres. The more dramatic consequences of such unchecked exploitation included massive erosion, landslides, forest fires, and flooding. Logging camps, logging roads, and logging railroads were also

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Logging railroad near Yankee Horse Ridge Parking Area BLRI (photo: Steve Markos/www.npplan.com)

constructed, adding and erasing elements of the landscape. Naturally, all of these processes have destroyed some archeological sites and roads and paths that once integrated prehistoric and historic communities and resources…said roads and paths that may have made our site condition assessments a bit less exhausting!

 

The artifacts and infrastructure of early-twentieth century logging the Appalachians are now part of the historic archeological record – one of the most recent chapters in the millennia-long history of resource extraction, movement and transportation, and settlement in the mountains. Perhaps we’ll explore this subject in a later post…

 
Learn a bit about our trip to the North Carolina State Archives, part of our preparation for this field work here.
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Archeology Ain’t All About Artifacts

The responsibilities of a professional archaeologist (and really anyone who finds and investigates an archeological site!) extend well beyond finding cool things that haven’t been seen or handled in hundreds or thousands in years.

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Can you spot SEAC Archeologist Robert Hellmann writing notes about this historic house site in Doughton Park Recreation Area?

Documentation is key. In fact, a variety of documents are usually produced before a survey or excavation takes place, for example, research proposals, management plans, and of course, budgets. Documentation of archeological surveys and excavations results in a variety of hard copy and digital documents including a plethora of forms, maps, and photographs, to name a few.  Government agencies, universities, cultural resource management firms and other organizations that conduct archeological field investigations often maintain copies of all of these documents in house.

Section 101 of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) led to the establishment of State Historic Preservation Offices (SHPO). SHPOs review plans for archeological fieldwork that falls under NHPA Section 106, and require that archeologists provide a report of their investigations as well as state-specific site forms for archeological sites they discover. These documents are often curated in State Archives in what is called the archeological site file.

There are even site forms specifically for amateur archeologists who discover sites.

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The North  Carolina State Archives Building in downtown Raleigh.

Not just anyone can enter and explore the site file. The locations of some sites and what’s been found are restricted to professionals and organizational affiliates with specific reasons for accessing the site file mainly because some unscrupulous people may take it upon themselves to loot or otherwise damage cultural resources.

Check out North Carolina’s State Archives available to the public!

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Getting ready to dive into the North Carolina archaeological site file.

Archeologists from SEAC’s Regionwide Archeological Survey Program (RASP) visited the North Carolina Office of State Archaeology earlier this week as part of investigations supporting the development of a comprehensive document called an Archeological Overview and Assessment for the Blue Ridge Parkway.

RASP Supervising Archeologist Guy Prentice was reviewing the National Park Service’s Archeological Sites Management and Information System (ASMIS), a database of all known sites in National Parks, when he noticed a number of BLRI site numbers with no associated site forms; nor had information from any reports for the projects that identified the sites been entered into the database or curated in SEAC’s library.

We knew that the sites had been recorded but we had no idea what had been found. So, Robert Hellmann and I traveled to Raleigh.

The North Carolina State Office of Archaeology and of course, the archeological site file is located in downtown Raleigh in the basement of the State Archives building – so we were underground though not in a unit we excavated. With the help of Staff Archaeologist and Site Registrar Susan G. Myers, we were able to track down paper or digital copies of all but a couple of site forms and project reports.

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The humble photocopier is sometimes mightier than the trowel.

The background researcher’s tools of the trade may not be as iconic as the trowel, the shovel, and the screen, but I found myself geeking out while making scans on the photo copier of Burt Purrington’s 1970s project reports of his Watauga County surveys after reading reference after reference to this groundbreaking work…pun intended.

 

My coworker and I weren’t alone. A DOT archaeologist came in to review maps with sites and survey areas and a young CRM archaeologist who looked like she had just come in from the field – dirty hands, cargo pants and a day glow t-shirt, and boots, to boot – checked her project area for known sites and surveys on the site file GIS database.

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A partial view of the North Carolina Government and Heritage Library.

 

From down in the earth to up in the clouds – or more aptly the fog – we climbed to the second story of the State Archives  building on our second research day  to explore county records, specifically Wilkes and Alleghany Counties, and then to the mezzanine to explore records in the Government and Heritage Library that are possibly related to the cemeteries in Doughton Park and the families who used them.

During the latter part of our research, it became apparent that a second look at the cemetery and genealogy records at the archives might be in order after we document the current state of the historic cemeteries in Doughton Park – we are anticipating having a more complete list of the names of individuals buried in the cemeteries. Perhaps on another trip.

Still, through our review we were able to track down records for the Shumate and Caudill families, members of which are buried in cemeteries in Doughton Park.

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Note the GPS on top of Alice Caudill’s headstone recording location information while Robert Hellmann writes down the inscription.

For now, it’s off to complete the fieldwork

…and all of the appropriate documentation!

Stay tuned for our results!

Artifact of the Week: Great Auk Bones

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Great Auk (Pinguinis impennis) bones from Cape Lookout National Seashore.

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Variation in Great Auk eggs and plumage by F.W. Frohawk, R. Dieck, H. Klönne, and Brune Geisler 1903.

The Great Auk is an extinct, flightless bird that stood about 2 1/2 feet tall. The prehistoric and historic inhabitants of the Outer Banks hunted these penguin-like creatures for their meat, oil, feathers and down, and bones, and harvested their eggs.

These particular faunal specimens were identified by SEAC zooarcheologists while analyzing materials excavated from prehistoric and historic midden deposits at Cape Lookout National Seashore (CALO).

Relatives of this species, including little auk or dovekie (Alle alle), razorbill (Alca torda), and guillemot (Uria sp.), were also found in the CALO middens.

An avian aside…

The mainland dwellers “down east” sometimes referred to the inhabitants of Harker’s Island and Shackleford Banks as “Loon Eaters”!

Loon (Gavia immer) specimens have been recovered from prehistoric contexts at CALO. Though edible, the loon is not regarded as the most palatable fowl. An article by the pisciculturalist Fred Mather published in Forest and Stream on July 31, 1898, had this to say about his experience On the Eating of Loons:

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The Great  Northern Loon

“…if a man wants real hard chewing, with a flavor of raw fish, let him tackle an adult loon. That bird could not be picked; it was skinned, and in its stomach there was a catfish recently swallowed, one partly digested, and the bones of another. The triggers of the pectoral fins of the catfish were set, but the stomach of the loon did not seem to be troubled by that fact.”

 

 

If you’re thinking that you might try loon instead of turkey this Thanksgiving, find a couple of choice historic recipes…

Here and Here

Learn more about the Great Auk’s extinction at 

the John James Audubon Center 

 

History Beyond His Earliest Recollection: Abraham Lincoln Boyhood Home

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SEAC archeologist Timothy Roberts monitoring developments at Abraham Lincoln Boyhood Home. Photo Credit: James Ludwig, NPS.

The Boyhood Home Unit at Knob Creek is a relatively recent addition to Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historical ParkAfter several years of planning and negotiations, the park is well into a major infrastructural rehabilitation at the Boyhood Home site.Through the process of complying with Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act, archaeological investigations have revealed that the park holds more memories than just those of the sixteenth President of the United States. 

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Thomas and Nancy Lincoln, and their children Sarah and Abraham spent six years at the Knob Creek Farm.

Located along U.S. Route 31E in LaRue County, Kentucky just south of Athertonville, the 30-acre tract includes the slopes and summits of steep cedar knobs, a fertile alluvial valley or hollow, and a section of Knob Creek, a waterway perhaps better known for its association with the Kentucky bourbon of the same name.

Abraham Lincoln’s father, Thomas Lincoln, leased this portion of the 228-acre Knob Creek Farm between 1811 and 1816, and lived here in a modest log cabin with his wife Nancy, daughter Sarah, and young Abe. The former president is often quoted as saying, “My earliest recollection is of the Knob Creek place.”

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The location of the original Lincoln cabin at Knob Creek has not been pinpointed.

While the modest log cabin at the site is an authentic depiction of an early nineteenth century frontier home, it was not the actual cabin in which the Lincolns lived. It is, however, constructed from logs that made up part of the home of the Lincolns’ neighbors, the Gollaher family, a son of which, Austin Gollaher, was young Abraham’s closest childhood friend.

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Abraham Lincoln’s close childhood friend Austin Gollaher in his later years.

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The park’s interpretive cabin was made from part of the Gollaher family home.

Gollaher figures prominently in a tale told by interpreters of the time young Abe fell into Knob Creek skipping across stones while the creek was swollen. It was the Gollaher boy who pulled him to safety.

Visit one of

Austin Gollaher’s Find-A-Grave memorial pages!

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Contractors constructing a leach field in a portion of the Lincoln’s corn and pumpkin field. Photo Credit: Tim Roberts. NPS.

Among the other “earliest recollections”, interpreters highlight the tale of a time when after planting the family’s fields with corn and pumpkin seed, Abe and Sarah watched as their hard work was washed away by the flooding of Knob Creek.

But there is more to the Knob Creek Unit’s story than these quaint anecdotes and Honest Abe’s childhood reminiscence.

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For Native Americans in prehistory, gravel bars in Knob Creek were a source of stone for making tools. Photo credit: Tim Roberts, NPS.

The gravels and cobbles that make up much of the bed of Knob Creek were an important raw material resource for prehistoric Native Americans. Archeological surveys of the hollow by SEAC archeologists in 2004 and 2006 identified thousands of stone artifacts including unmodified and retouched flakes, tested cobbles and cores, and a few formal tools, to boot. Limited shovel testing on the top of the knob south of the valley recovered tertiary flakes, interpreted as those associated with the final stages of stone tool production.

point fragment, 2008Wade projectile point, 2008

While monitoring backhoe trenching for the new septic system SEAC archeologists identified evidence of intact prehistoric cultural features buried under a meter of silt that seem to have narrowly avoided floods and shifts in the creek channel.

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Charcoal from this prehistoric fireplace dates to about A.D. 750. Photo credit: Tim Roberts, NPS.

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Charcoal from this feature dates to around 860 B.C. Photo credit: Tim Roberts, NPS.

Charcoal samples from the two different features were submitted for radiocarbon dating with Accelerator Mass Spectrometer at the University of Georgia in Athens and produced uncalibrated dates around A.D. 750 and 860 B.C., respectively.

Unfortunately, excavations elsewhere have found that much of the hollow’s prehistoric deposits have been disturbed or destroyed by floods and a century or more of plowing. Archeologists are currently analyzing the results of their somewhat limited findings that include circular features of heat-altered stone and the single post-hole feature identified to date. None of the cultural material recovered during SEAC’s surveys could be directly associated with the period that the Lincolns occupied the site.

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SEAC Archeologists Timothy Roberts and Jessica Fry map circular features of heat-altered stone found when the parking lot was demolished. Photo credit: Eric Bezemek, NPS.

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The faint stain of a post hole. Photo credit: Tim Roberts, NPS.

The one-room cabin and its compliment are an excellent interpretive tool for discussing the Lincolns’ frontier lifestyle but the tiny building stands in the shadow of the visual centerpiece of the site, the two-story Lincoln Tavern that is to become the park’s Visitor’s Center.

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The Lincoln Tavern was built in 1933 by Hattie and Chester Howard shortly after they constructed the cabin; the same year Prohibition was repealed. The site was intended as both a memorial and a business venture, capitalizing on the increased tourism in the area made possible by the growing abundance of automobiles and the paving of Highway 31E, the Old Cumberland Trail; gas pumps once stood out front to service tourists’ cars. In a way, Lincoln tourism was a family business – Hattie’s brother, James R. Howell owned and operated the Nancy Lincoln Inn, a restaurant and gift shop located at the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Park.

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Cabins of the Nancy Lincoln Inn at the park’s Birthplace unit around 1940. Photo credit: NPS.

The Lincoln Tavern’s second story was home to the site manager and the downstairs was opened as a dance hall for part of the year and served refreshments including liquor until the sale of intoxicating spirits was prohibited by LaRue County 1942. The building was redeveloped as a museum and gift shop by Hattie and Chester’s youngest son, Fred in the early 1950s. Fred bought the tavern and 200 acres in 1964 and his wife, Mary Brooks Howard took over the management after he died in 1980. Lincoln Boyhood Home, Inc., made up of a group of Howard family members bought the site at auction in 1986. The tavern and cabin were listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1988 as important to the history of LaRue County tourism and a significant monument to Abraham Lincoln. Ten years later, in 1998, the site was donated to the National Park Service.

To learn more about the Lincoln’s in Kentucky and Lincoln Tavern,

have a look at the Historic Structure Report

A phase in the rehabilitation of the Knob Creek unit includes an ethnographic study that will hopefully shed light on several finds and themes well-worthy of public interpretation.

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The remains of rifle found in the 1930s foundation of the old comfort station. Photo credit: NPS.

One of the first interesting discoveries at the site was made during the demolition of the old comfort station behind the tavern. Local legend held that around the time the tavern was built, a murder was committed as part of a family feud. The crime was never solved because no murder weapon could be found. Folks had always heard that they weapon was hidden among the stones of the comfort station’s foundation. Park staff and contractors, alike were still surprised to find the metal hardware of a .22 bolt action rifle nestled in the mortar of the building’s foundation when it was demolished in January!

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The unpaved Nolin-Bardstown Road also known as Old Cumberland Trail is now the paved Highway 31E.

Another local legend mentions a water well that was once
situated in front of the tavern
near the road. It is said to have been used by, among others,enslaved African Americans brought down the Old Cumberland Trail to be sold in markets. While monitoring the removal of the flag pole from what has become the new parking lot, SEAC archeologists identified what may have been part of a pump well.

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Parts of a possible pump well? Photo credit: Tim Roberts, NPS.

Though currently the main interpretive focus of the Abraham Lincoln Boyhood Home unit is a few short years of the 16th President’s childhood in the early 19th century, the park boundaries encompass cultural resources from more than a thousand years before to more than a century after the Great Emancipator nearly lost his life in Knob Creek. Such is the story of so many parks: they are specially protected time capsules of the human experience in America to be preserved for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations.

Abraham Lincoln is one the most beloved figures in American history and the internet abounds with facts (and fictions) about his cut-short life.

Learn some interesting tidbits about his life on other  WordPress blogs…but don’t believe everything you read on the internet!

Here!

and

Here!