Friday, June 14, 2013

Sociology student explores archaeology at Civil War site in Lynchburg

Paula Addai ’14 combed her fingers through a large pile of dirt. She pushed smaller pieces of sand and gravel through a mesh screen that was laid across the top of a wheelbarrow and carefully scanned the material for anything that might be interesting. The day before, she found a button and a piece of ceramic.

Another student worker on the archaeological dig shouted, “I found another one!” Everyone gathered to see him pull a minie ball—a Civil War bullet—from the grounds where a historic battle took placesite.

Paula Addai ’14 scrapes through dirt in search of 
These types of discoveries make the tedious excavation, scraping, and sifting worthwhile, Addai said. “I love digging and finding stuff. That satisfaction is really rewarding.”

Addai is participating in an archaeology field school led by Lori Lee, Randolph’s Ainsworth Visiting Professor of American Culture. They are digging to discover artifacts and buried walls at Sandusky, a plantation that Union forces took control of and used as their headquarters while attacking Lynchburg in 1864. Although the Union army had ravaged much of Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, they were repulsed by Confederate forces in Lynchburg.

Lee, an anthropologist who specializes in antebellum Virginia plantations, is leading the excavation at Sandusky to help find the footprint of the Civil War-era kitchen that once stood on the property so an accurate reconstruction can take place. Also, the crew is searching for historical artifacts that would otherwise be lost or damaged if the kitchen is rebuilt. They have found minie balls, a pocket watch fob from the early 1900s, harmonica plates, and other items.

Lee is especially interested in finding connections between Sandusky and Poplar Forest, a home built by Thomas Jefferson, because the two plantations were owned by relatives during the Civil War period.

Lori Lee takes a picture of a minie ball uncovered at Sandusky, a house
that served as Union headquarters during the Battle of Lynchburg.
In the first few days of work, the group found a buried brick walkway and also discovered where they think the walls of the kitchen were. They are currently trying to find the foundation. “It was really nice to be able to start to make sense of what has happened out here,” Lee said.

Most of the students on the project are history students from Lynchburg College, which has a partnership with the Historic Sandusky Foundation. Addai, a sociology major at Randolph, also got involved because she wanted to work on an archaeological project and learn about research methods.

Lee said that this internship is a perfect educational opportunity for Addai. “By doing this project, we do historical research, archaeological research, anthropological interpretation, and we use theoretical frameworks,” she said. “Those are research skills that she can carry on through sociology, and you learn them really well when you apply them in a research setting.”

Addai hopes the experience continues to yield artifacts that will allow her to piece together more information and stories about the culture of the people who lived and worked at Sandusky. “Sociology is all about learning about people’s way of life and society,” she said. “I want to find out what society was like here many years ago, especially about the slaves and how they related to the plantation owners.”