Saturday, February 9, 2008

PTAP in Review

The Port Tobacco Archaeological Project began in August 2007. A small but merry band of professional archaeologists were quickly augmented by an equally merry band of volunteers as we set out to discover the archaeological deposits of an entire town, Port Tobacco. The town's origins stretch back to the early 1600s but it was not until the early 1700s that it became the port town for which it is known. Before the arrival of European settlers, Native American inhabited the area and local legend says that a village was once located within the current town limits.

Back to our merry band of professionals and volunteers (by the way, many of our volunteers have more archaeology experience than your average professional and several are graduates of the Certified Archaeological Technician Program), we began our work in the south end of "downtown" Port Tobacco. Shovel test pits were excavated at 25-ft intervals with the goal of identifying the locations of remnant building foundations, roads, trash deposits, and anything else no longer visible on the surface. The heat and drought made the digging difficult but we were rewarded with artifacts in every one of our test pits.

Using the late 1800s maps of the town, we could correlate some of the deposits to known buildings and property owners. But, our finds were not limited to the 1800s. We recovered material from the 1700s and possible the 1600s, and even Native American artifacts that are hundreds to thousands of years old. Our excavations continued into early December and in that time we recovered over 25,000 artifacts.

The archaeology of Port Tobacco is unusually rich. The reason for this is the same reason for the town's demise. Soil erosion brought sediment into the Port Tobacco River at such a rate as to choke off the port of Port Tobacco. The town's economy could not recover from the loss of the port and the move of the County courthouse to a railroad town. People left Port Tobacco. The sediment that filled the river also blanketed the town, preserving it for archaeologists of the future. In addition, a lack of new development kept these deposits from being disturbed. What we have at Port Tobacco we have because of the demise of the town.

Our main goal is to recover the history of Port Tobacco, from Native American occupation right up to the present time. We are working with the Society for the Restoration of Port Tobacco which has already reconstructed the 1800s courthouse and restored one of the three remaining 1700s houses. More reconstructions are planned, as are interpretive displays and trails.

To the passerby, Port Tobacco is gone. To the archaeologists and historians working there, Port Tobacco is being resurrected. If you would like to join us, just say so. We accept volunteers of all levels for everything from archival research using your home computer to field or laboratory work at the site.

The Port Tobacco Archaeological Project is a grant-funded public archaeology project, which means that we want the public to be involved and we want the public to benefit. That is the main goal of this blog, to let you know what we are doing and to allow you to participate.

Please note that the properties that comprise the town of Port Tobacco are all privately held. Please do not trespass on private property. We have landowner permission for those properties included in our archaeological study. The Port Tobacco Courthouse is the only property currently open for public tours.

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