“Getting down and dirty” in a recent Waller County archeological dig was “exhilarating and rewarding” for Lone Star College-CyFair anthropology major Kathryn Gates.
Gates and 12 other students including Kaleigh Hinklin, Nick Vera, Amanda White, Lauren Casteel, Chelsi Stuhr, Mary Reese, Minsun Lee, Randeep Maini, Taylor Vanek, Chris Consur, Dana Walker and Javier Gonzalez joined two LSC-CyFair adjunct faculty at a Waller County horse ranch the first weekend in March. They would be applying lessons learned in class to actual field work in an archaeological investigation of one of the most important historical sites in Texas - the Bernardo Plantation Archaeology Project, said Robert Marcom, anthropology instructor.
“Jared E. Groce, II, came to the area at the invitation of Stephen F. Austin in 1822, bringing his family and more than 100 enslaved African-Americans to the upper coastal prairie along the Brazos River,” Marcom explained. “Then a part of the Spanish Empire and known as the province of Coahuila y Tejas, the Bernardo Plantation would become the site of many important events before and during the Texas Revolution of 1836.”
Bernardo, the first cotton plantation to be established in the Austin Colonies, was Marcom’s and instructor Suzanne Patrick’s outdoor classroom to teach hands-on lessons using Global Positioning Satellite equipment, surveying tapes, shovels and trowels - all standard equipment in archaeological investigation. Specific lessons included the definition and importance of artifacts as material evidence of past cultures, the recording of exact placement, counts, distribution and apparent associations of artifacts, the use of stratigraphy and grids and careful recording of sites and data.
Gates said this excavation weekend was “a great joy and a once-in-a lifetime opportunity” she chose not to miss. It started with learning how to dig test holes, included finding artifacts and ended with her and several other students interested in volunteering to dig at the site in the future.
“We first had to make a ‘grass plug’ so we wouldn’t ruin the owner’s land, then we took soil from the plug and sifted it to see if we’d have anything in the first level of soil. Next, the second level and we’d sift; we repeated this process for four levels or until we reached clay,” Gates explained. We found small onions (which looked like teeth but sadly weren’t), pieces of glass and pieces of brick. I was hooked!”
She said the next day was even better than she could have imagined as she and the other students
learned to mark off and flag a dig square and actually dig. Working around fire ant beds near the square they began digging and sifting through buckets of soil.
“We found pieces of pottery, brick, mortar and glass. We went deeper in the ground and found many more artifacts. It was exhilarating. I loved digging out there and I hope I get to do it again,” Gates said. “It’s rewarding getting to partake in rediscovering history.”
Marcom said the students removed and recorded items that came from the historical plantation “main house” from which the growth, harvesting and sale of the cotton crops were orchestrated.
“Among the finds were both ‘cut’ and ‘forged’ square nails, early ceramics, including fragments of crockery, elegant dishes and cups, glass figurines and pieces of the sandstone base of a fireplace,” he said. “The collected artifacts will be processed in a laboratory in an effort to reconstruct life at the plantation in the early days of the 19th Century.”
This step back into time was an Introduction to Anthropology (ANTH 2346) to learn the process of archaeology - one of the four fields included under the discipline of anthropology.
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