Bath examining its history underground

Published 8:47 pm Friday, February 5, 2010

Lifestyles & Features Editor

BATH — A visit to the town of Bath provides travelers a close up look at history, from the stately Palmer-Marsh House to the quaint sanctuary of St. Thomas Episcopal Church.
But what lies underground is presently in the spotlight with a new exhibit at Historic Bath State Historic Site.
“What Lies Beneath: How Archaeology Bridges the Past with the Present” opened recently and will run through the end of 2010, said the exhibit’s curator, Bea Latham.
“Being North Carolina’s oldest town, Bath has the potential for holding treasures beneath the surface that can shed light on the lifestyle, culture and people that have made the small town their home,” said Latham, assistant site manager and interpreter at Historic Bath.
According to Latham, Charles Ewen with East Carolina University has been instrumental in overseeing archeological digs in the town. Using Bath as a teaching town, Ewen has brought high-school and college students to the site in a makeshift, hands-on classroom setting.
Townspeople and visitors strolling by have been fascinated by the process involved in retrieving artifacts, Latham said.
Ewen and his students are planning a return visit to Bath this summer, having scheduled another dig from June 23 to July 9.
Most of the artifacts on display now were retrieved by Ewen and his students during past excavations in Bath. Local residents David Sayer and Bryce Minor also have contributed a few pieces.
“I think people, whether they are interested in archeology or not, get pulled into the excitement when something is uncovered underground,” Latham said. “It’s interesting that it doesn’t have to be that you’re finding a whole plate. Just finding bits and pieces is the thrill of the hunt, and I think that sparks something in most people.”
The exhibit includes shards of fine china and other household objects that span a period of time from the pre-1700s to today, Latham said. Also included are lead shot, pottery, pipe stem and bowl, glass beads and metal fragments.
Two of the more interesting finds are an intact glass bottle seal and what Latham called a tinkling cone.
“The bottle seal is marked ‘I Elliot’ and is dated 1741. It was found behind the Bonner House,” Latham said. “These kinds of seals were used in the 18th century to seal liquids, and this one is made of a greenish glass that was often produced in England, but it could have been made in this country as well.”
The tinkling cone is representative of the Native American population that lived in and around Bath.
“The Native Americans would wear these in their hair and on their clothing, and they used them for trading,” Latham said. “They made a tinkling sound when they walked.”
Rounding out the collection of artifacts in the exhibit are tools used during the local archeological digs and photographs taken during the process.
Not all the items in the display case were used by Bath’s earliest residents, Latham said.
Among the mementos are a metal ring from a soft-drink can and a 1965 dime.
For more information about the exhibit, call Historic Bath State Historic Site at 252-923-3971. The Bath Visitors Center is located at 207 Carteret St.