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Filling the Voids of History: The Drayton Hall Archaeological Collection

Archaeology, Collections, Preservation, Research

Mochaware from the Drayton Hall Collection

Chinese Imari Porcelain

Chinese Imari porecelain fragment, c. 1750 discovered at Drayton Hall. Bottom image: Actual Imari plate with matching detail owned by George Subkoff of George Subkoff Antiques.

Many of you may know that Drayton Hall is internationally acclaimed for its architecture and remarkable state of preservation. The main house, flanker buildings, garden house, privy and the 19th century caretakers cottage are invaluable resources that illustrate the trajectory of American history, design, economics and adaptation. Equally important, though less well-known, is Drayton Hall’s extensive archaeological collection of more than 1 million artifacts.

Recovered during archeological campaigns from the 1970’s to the present day, these artifacts help to fill the voids of history that persist due to gaps in historical documentation. While often only fragments, each artifact tells a story about past people and events. We are now able to more fully comprehend these artifactual voices thanks to financial support from the Institute of Museum and Library Sciences (IMLS).

In May of 2009, Drayton Hall was notified that its application to the IMLS Conservation Project Support program grant had been accepted. The proposed project, in keeping with the conservation related goals of the grant program, set out to gain physical and intellectual control of Drayton Hall’s archaeological collection by reorganizing the artifacts according to where they were excavated, packaging them in protective archival materials to facilitate analysis, and studying fragile metal artifacts in preparation for future conservation initiatives.

Also, the IMLS grant enabled the Preservation Department to temporarily hire a project team consisting of Drayton Hall’s archaeologist/preservation coordinator Sarah Stroud and three student interns from the College of Charleston. Throughout this process, the department has made startling discoveries in the lab that illustrate how some of the most important finds are made indoors rather than out in the field.

“The sheer volume and depth of artifact types is what impresses me about this collection,” explains Sarah. “Only a small percentage of the overall property has been examined archaeologically, yet we have a collection of artifacts whose size and scope is far beyond what is typically associated with one place or family.” The artifacts cover centuries of occupation and represent the lives of Native Americans, Africans, and Europeans who, at one time, made the Drayton Hall property their home. Discoveries about each of these cultural groups make this collection so exciting to me.”

Ashley Moore, a sophomore at the College of Charleston, has enjoyed her experience with the IMLS project so much that she decided to add archaeology as a Minor. Ashley’s interest is Native American history, and she enjoys working with artifacts associated with non-European cultures. “We have organized box after box of Colonolware, which I learned is a ceramic type that resulted from African and Native American traditions coming together during colonization. Because Drayton Hall’s landscape has been preserved for centuries, artifacts such as these survive from both the historic and pre-historic periods and enable us to learn about multiple generations of Lowcountry inhabitants and their legacy.”

In fulfilling Drayton Hall’s mission of preservation and interpretation, each artifact will be digitally photographed and the digital records will be organized and catalogued so that ultimately, the collection can be made accessible to the public. As work continues in the field and laboratory, we will be updating our members on new discoveries through this blog, our website, and members only events at Drayton Hall, where you’ll be the first to hear the stories that these centuries old artifacts are ready to reveal.

Want more information on our collection or our archaeological discoveries? Contact Sarah Stroud, our archaeologist/preservation coordinator, or Carter Hudgins, our Director of Preservation and Education at sarah_stroud@draytonhall.org or carter_hudgins@draytonhall.org