As most know, I am the president of the Chester Historical Society. A few will know that my son Shawn is an archaeologist. Shawn lives in Greensboro, North Carolina with his wife Paula, and his two daughters, Josie and Samantha.
Last winter Shawn told me he wanted to map the Brookside Cemetery when he visited Chester in June. This would be a major project for Shawn and the historical society. But before I address this I want to give some of Shawn’s background.
He graduated Springfield High School in 1991. After high school Shawn attended University of North Carolina in Greensboro. Attaining his Bachelor of Arts Degree here, he then went to Eastern New Mexico University where he received his Master of Arts Degree.
Upon earning his MA he was hired by the State of Georgia as an archaeologist. Living in Atlanta a few years his most interesting project was work he performed at Andersonville Prison. The Confederates kept records and a map of the prison but the ‘Dead line’ wasn’t recorded.
The Dead Line
Around the overcrowded prison were stockade walls with guard towers. Union prisoners suffered terrible under the extreme heat of the Georgia sun. They were poorly fed, denied medical treatment with very little shelter if any. About 15 feet inside the stockade was what was called the dead line. Any prisoner who stepped over the invisible dead line was shot by a guard in the guard tower. Prisoners who couldn’t take it any longer intentionally stepped over the dead line to end their suffering.
Shawn was tasked with trying to locate the original dead line, which he was able to do. When I asked how, he explained it this way: Using Ground Penetrating Radar, GPR provided the answer. Where the thousands of prisoners had been confined the earth became compacted. From the dead line to stockade walls, few people tread. As a result the compacted earth showed a different radar image than the less trodden dead line. The difference in soil density was clearly seen.
We found a grave marker for George Watkins when we mapped Brookside Cemetery. Watkins died at Andersonville Prison in 1864 and is buried in Georgia.
Eventually Shawn was hired by ‘New South Associates’ in Greensboro, N.C., a private archaeology company. Here he has remained and worked on many projects throughout the country and Caribbean Islands. One of his most interesting projects was for the Tennessee Valley Authority TVA.
The TVA project
One of my favorite Montgomery Clift movies is ‘Wild River.’ It’s about the dams built on the Tennessee River in the 1930s. Much of the area was flooded and families displaced. When the dams were built many American Indian sites were lost to rising water but a number escaped the high water mark. Shawn was tasked with mapping surviving Indian settlements.
In doing his work using GPR, carbon dating and a magnetometer, Shawn was able to date these sites from 1000 AD to 1600 AD. These remaining sites escaped flooding because they are located at the base of a dam where the discharged water flows at the rate of the Tennessee River. In some areas this low water mark extends many miles before entering the next reservoir downstream.
These areas are rich with Indian sites. Shawn and his team soon learned these Indian villages were well developed. Each site had stockades surrounding the village. In each settlement is a temple mound where the chief had his lodge. Nearby was a common area something like a town green. Around the common area were the individual dwellings. Settlements ranged in size from six to eight dwellings to as many as a couple dozen.
GPR is very useful but the magnetometer is amazing. If a dwelling burned and the fire was hot enough, the iron in the ground would realign with the North Pole. When you were a kid did you ever put a magnet in the dirt? When you removed the magnet it had tiny iron filings stuck to it. This would be the iron that realigned with the pole. With the magnetometer Shawn could clearly see the burned building’s shape; round, square or rectangular.
These Indian sites are important because they are the only sites remaining today. Another interesting item his team discovered was how some settlements grew over the years. Using his GPR, Shawn noticed several stockade walls around a single site. They concluded as the settlement grew larger, more land was needed so the stockade walls were moved further away from the common area. Using carbon dating, he determined this event occurred about every 20 or 30 years.
This is the experience Shawn brings to Chester to map the Brookside Cemetery. Each gravestone is being assigned a number. Grave information is written down with each number and a photo taken of each grave.
Next week in Part 2, I will give details how this is done and how you will be able to go online and view Brookside Cemetery as never before.
This week’s old saying. “There are two kinds of people in this world and you ain’t one of them.”