Watch Studio Statesboro segment on the dig:
Following the announcement Wednesday that an archaeological team from Georgia Southern University had discovered the site of the Camp Lawton Civil War prison site, five glass cases holding a few of the artifacts were unveiled.
Each case held about 25 items and represented a particular kind of artifact – buttons, personal items, military objects, utensils and hardware. As people walked past the cases, each would stop and look closely at the amazing pieces of history in front of them.
Few, however, probably thought about what it took to unearth the items they were studying so closely.
Dr. Brooks Keel, president of Georgia Southern, does know.
“Archeology is a tough area to be in that requires long hours and tremendous dedication,” he said. “The work we see on display here is a great example of the dedication of our faculty and students.”
Before he found the 1834 U.S. Large Cent that let him know the Camp Lawton site was something special, Georgia Southern graduate student Kevin Chapman and his team of archeology students spent months of research and sifting through thousands of bucketfuls of dirt.
Chapman found the Large Cent in February and since then his team has been to the site inside Magnolia Springs State Park on an almost daily basis. During the summer, dozens of volunteers from the public joined the dig.
GSU archeology students Mary Craft and Matt Newberry explained the slow, meticulous way they search for artifacts at a site.
“We mark out very specific areas,” Craft said. “We’ll set up zones and start with shovel testing, taking soil from only a centimeter or two of the surface. That will be Zone A, Level 1. Then we’ll move to Zone B, Level 1. We take elevations at every level.”
The dirt is put in buckets a small shovel full at a time and after the bucket is about half full, the dirt is carefully sifted.
Nothing is thrown away, even items that clearly are not from the Lawton site, Newberry said.
At the dig on Wednesday, a pop top from an aluminum can and a piece of plastic were found and were set aside.
“Everything is documented,” Craft said.
Newberry said many of the artifacts have been found so far through shovel testing.
He said he was with a group in the spring that found a silver-plated spoon.
“This was something that clearly was not prison issue,” Newberry said. “Perhaps it was a Union captain or officer who brought it from home and had to leave it behind when the camp was evacuated. It gave me goose bumps to see this small slice of history right in front of me.”
Officials with Georgia Southern and the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service expect the dig at Camp Lawton to be active for many years.
“We have barely scratched the surface,” Chapman said. “There is so much more here to find.”
And no one minds the hard work it will take to fully search the Lawton site.
“It’s worth every minute,” Newberry said.