Archaeological dig uncovering the past in Brunswick County

Published: May. 31, 2011 at 2:16 PM EDT|Updated: Jun. 2, 2011 at 10:27 PM EDT
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BRUNSWICK COUNTY, NC (WECT) - Students from all over the country are gathering on the grounds of the Brunswick Town/Fort Anderson historic site in Winnabow for an archaeological dig.

Peace College Archaeological Field School is conducting a project aimed at mapping Civil War barracks and learning more about life for the troops who battled their way through Southeastern North Carolina in the 1860s.

Brunswick Town was a pre-colonial port community that was razed by British troops in 1776.  Fort Anderson was built on top of the site during the Civil War.

In 2009, the field school first visited the site and discovered a series of chimney falls from the Civil War era that students uncovered and studied. Two years later, the program has returned to the site for more excavation and research.

"We actually turned this into an opportunity, an educational laboratory where we actually can teach aspiring archaeologists the right way to do archaeology," said Tom Beaman, an anthropology instructor for Wake Tech who is helping lead Peace College's field school.

Beaman explained that the Brunswick Town/Fort Anderson site is complex. Students only need to dig a few feet into the ground to find artifacts from three very different time periods: The Civil War era, the Colonial era, and prehistoric times. Because the whole area was bombed heavily during the Civil War, artifacts are mixed up, with prehistoric items often being uncovered side by side with Civil War bullets and shell fragments.

Beaman said the project is about the community as a whole. As part of the collaboration between students and local residents, instructors enlisted help from members of the Eastern North Carolina Metal Detecting Association.

Metal detecting is usually illegal on state property, but the Association has a special permit to assist with the archaeological project.

"To us this is history, because most people never get a chance to metal detect on state property, and it's just a wonderful thing to preserve for the future," said Ken Blevins, one of the men volunteering his time and his metal detector.

The students, teachers, and volunteers involved in the project said working in the woods comes with some interesting encounters and stories to tell.

Ann-Sheree Brown is one of several students who came from California to participate in the field school. She's had several run-ins with wildlife.

"Usually it just looks like a little pile of leaves moving and you're like, why is that moving? There's no wind. Usually it's a snake."

Beaman said ten copperheads have been trapped and relocated since the field school kicked off on May 16.

"We also deal with ticks on a daily basis as well as all the bugs," said Beaman.

In the end, all involved seem to agree nature's challenges are part of the job of uncovering history one piece at a time.

Several Brunswick County residents are helping out with the project by volunteering their time digging or sifting at the site.  If you're interested in volunteering, call Brunswick Town/Fort Anderson at 910-371-6613 or send an email to:

The field school will run through June 11.

Copyright 2011 by WECT. All rights reserved.