ECU students dig up questions at Bath

Published 9:42 pm Thursday, July 12, 2012

Students with East Carolina University’s Summer Ventures program work on an archaeological dig at the Palmer-Marsh House, part of the Historic Bath State Historic Site. (Contributed Photo/Leigh Swain, HBSHS)

BATH — The scenery in Bath is rich with history, but what is lurking beneath the surface may be equally fascinating.
That’s what a group of gifted high-school students from across the state learned recently while taking part in a Summer Ventures archaeological dig. Overseeing the program was Charles Ewen, a professor in the department of anthropology and director of the Phelps Archaeology Laboratory at East Carolina University. The Bath dig gave the students hands-on experience in field research and methods in archaeology, according to Ewen.
“Working on a real dig, under the supervision of trained archaeologists, the students learned how to scientifically excavate and interpret archaeological data,” Ewen said.
Over the course of three weeks, Ewen and crew undertook two projects. During the first, they followed up on an early 1960s archaeological dig at Historic Bath’s Palmer-Marsh House. A half century ago, part of an early 18th-century house was exposed; this summer, students attempted to take the dig to the next level.
“What we found were more questions than answers, but we now have a direction to pursue with the ECU field school next summer,” Ewen said.
With the second project, the students investigated a cemetery located east of Bath.
“Using the technology available from ECU’s archaeology lab, we surveyed the cemetery, mapped the existing headstones and then tried to locate unmarked graves using ground-penetrating radar,” Ewen said. “Many anomalies were located and mapped using the GPR, and the data collected will be further analyzed using the computers at ECU.”
This summer’s record-high temperatures made for hot working conditions, but the experience proved to be rewarding.
“There were virtually no complaints from the students. … One requested that I not tell her parents that she was capable of this level of manual labor,” Ewen said.
The professor and his students have become summertime fixtures in Bath, having studied in town for several years, with the exception of 2011 when they undertook projects at Fort Macon near Atlantic Beach. Even the weather didn’t deter them, according to Leigh Swain, site director at Historic Bath State Historic Site.
“I really want to commend them. … They were a hardworking bunch who had some really hot days to deal with,” Swain said. “We always welcome Dr. Ewen and ECU in their quest to responsibly perform archaeology on this state site. It helps us, which helps our staff tell a more accurate Bath story.”
Items unearthed during past archaeological digs are usually stored at ECU, but such treasures also are periodically displayed as part of special exhibits in the Historic Bath visitor center.
Swain said she was impressed with the students who spent part of their summer vacation toiling in the heat and humidity in Bath.
“If they will always be good stewards and help protect the communities they live in, I would say Dr. Ewen had a very successful program,” she said.
To view photos from this summer’s archaeological dig, visit the Historic Bath Site’s page on Facebook. Look for the Palmer-Marsh House icon.