Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Seven amazing finds from America’s past

William Kelso, the director of archaeology for the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities shown here, holds a halberd, a type of 17th century ceremonial staff often carried by military sergeants. The decorative staff was excavated from a 17th century well in Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in North America, and is among the earliest known artifacts from the New World outside of those from Native Americans. Other items found in the colony's wells include a breastplate, wine jugs, farm tools, and tobacco seeds, suggesting that some of the early colonists were skilled laborers, not just soft-handed gentleman with no clue how to work the land, Kelso told journalists.

George Washington's childhood home found

There's no cherry tree stump or the hatchet used to chop it down, but this image shows what archaeologists are certain is the foundation of George Washington's childhood home. The residence on the 113-acre Ferry Farm, long known as the Washington family's former digs, took seven years of exploratory excavations to locate. Hints of the country's first president include a well-used pipe bowl with a Masonic crest. Washington joined the Fredericksburg Lodge of Masons in 1753, according to historical accounts. This image was provided by the National Geographic Society, which helped fund the excavations, and the George Washington Foundation.

Slave passage found under first presidential home

Archaeologists excavating the remains of the Philadelphia presidential home occupied by George Washington and John Adams in the 1790s discovered a hidden passageway likely used by Washington's nine slaves as they moved between the kitchen and main house. The find highlights an under-reported aspect of Washington's presidency: As he was giving birth to a free nation, he was served by slaves. In addition to the passageway, archaeologists also found a bow shaped window thought to be a precursor to the design of the Oval Office in the modern White House.

The War of 1812's last battle site

The final battle in the War of 1812 was a historically obscure thumping by British troops at a fort on the southernmost reaches of the Georgia coast. The Brits burned the fort at Point Peter, sacked the nearby town of St. Mary's, and looted neighboring plantations. The battle occurred two days after Gen. Andrew Jackson's better known Jan. 8, 1815, victory in the Battle of New Orleans and several weeks after U.S. and British leaders signed the Treaty of Ghent, which officially ended the conflict. Archaeologists highlighted this obscure battle with the discovery of more than 67,000 artifacts in a well and latrine at Point Peter including rifles, musket balls, uniform buttons, pocket knives, letters, and gambling dice. The finds resulted from an archaeological survey required for a subdivision development. Many of the artifacts are now on display at the Cumberland Island National Seashore museum.

Bones of lost Irish immigrants discovered?

Researchers may have discovered a mass grave for 57 Irish immigrants hired in the 19th century to help build the Philadelphia and Columbia railroad. Historians knew the immigrants died in August 1832 shortly after they arrived for the railroad work, though their remains had never been found. Many of the immigrants were likely stricken with the intestinal disease cholera; others may have been murdered out of colonial fears the immigrants would spread the disease. A team led by Pennsylvania's Immaculta University history professor William Watson found part of a human skull, shown here, and other bones thought to be those of the missing immigrants in region of the railroad called Duffy's Cut, which is named after the man who hired the workers, Philip Duffy.

Pre-Civil War mummified boy ID'd

A pre-Civil War iron-clad coffin discovered in 2005 opened a window to the past and burdened researchers with a sense of responsibility to identify the well-preserved, mummified remains. Their forensic sleuthing included an autopsy, DNA sampling, and search of historical records. Two years later, the team identified the remains as William Taylor White, a 15-year old from Accomack County, Va., with a family lineage that goes back Anthony West, one of the Jamestown settlers. White died Jan. 24, 1842, of congenital heart disease and was buried in the Columbian College cemetery, where he was a student in the preparatory school. When the college, a precursor to The George Washington University, relocated to Foggy Bottom in 1912, White's coffin was inadvertently abandoned. The research was led by Doug Owsley, left in this image, at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History.

Did Hurricane Ike uncover a Civil War ship?

In the wake of Hurricane Ike in September 2008, the wrecked wooden ship shown here was exposed in Fort Morgan, Ala. Archaeologists say the wreckage may be the Monticello, a Civil War battleship that crashed as it tried to get past the U.S. Navy and into Mobile Bay in 1862. However, other records indicate the wreckage, which was partially uncovered by Hurricane Camille in 1969, is the schooner Rachel, which ran aground near Fort Morgan in 1933. A full identification will require an excavation, according to archaeologists studying the wreck


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