text by Noah Safari
I spent the summer of 2021 interning with SCDNR’s Heritage Trust Archeology team. It was great to finally resume in-person activity after a tough year. The group of people selected for the internship included people from around the nation ranging from high school and college students like myself to emerging professionals. About half of us worked in-person at Parker Annex on the Bull Street development in downtown Columbia; the rest brought their work home and participated virtually through Microsoft Teams. Thanks to this increasingly useful communication platform, we were able to work collaboratively from great distances. The array of different perspectives and skillsets each person offered provided a breath of fresh air when considering the wide gamut of interests that archaeology covers as a field. Tasked with attending a variety of workshops covering such topics as artifact identification, climate change, paleontology, media relations and far more, we bonded while working on group artifact processing. The group worked on material excavated from sites such as Fort Fredrick Heritage Preserve and the Pockoy Island Shell Ring Complex.
As part of the internship, we were all given individual projects to focus on in our time at Parker Annex. The goal of the project I participated in was to inventory, catalog and initiate the development of traveling exhibits, focusing on a collection of stoneware vessels. These pieces, made by John G. Baynham and Company, are examples of Edgefield Pottery and serve as a point of connection between the state of South Carolina and the people who brought this revered industry to life in the nineteenth century. While not associated with the collection we worked on, the most notable artist in this industry was the enslaved potter Dave Drake, who was literate in defiance of the norms of the time and inscribed his name and passages on his massive receptacles.
During the internship, we worked to measure, describe and then store the three hundred-plus vessels currently within the collection. Then, we conducted research about the stoneware industry in anticipation of these cultural resources being exhibited in the future. Each piece in the collection is unique. Some are broken into several parts, but all are beautiful. There are various sizes and shapes of stacker jugs, some cream risers, and even a chicken water jug! Some are covered with a mute brown Albany slip, others with an almost iridescent alkaline green glaze. One of the most interesting things about this collection is that the fingerprints of some of the individual artisans are impressed into the glaze on the handles. Were they left by conscious intent or through the haste of preparing pottery on an industrial scale? Some work has been done to track the individual potters who left their marks. It would be amazing to utilize modern technology to track the handiwork of those people who built a special form of South Carolina pottery. The hope is to share these works of art with institutions around the state, spreading the word about the Heritage Trust Program and the beauty of the state’s pottery tradition.
The opportunity to work in a live, collaborative setting with some of the most enthusiastic archaeologists one could have the pleasure of working with has been one that has solidified my desire to work in the field. Together we explored the wide range of talents needed to form a successful team and worked to develop ourselves personally and professionally to prepare ourselves to be the next contributors to the field of archaeology — with the help of the SCDNR Heritage Trust team.
Please enjoy this time-lapse video, created by Lelia Rice and Ella Goulding, which sets into motion the work of the SCDNR archaeology team as they store pottery vessels at the Parker Annex Archaeology Center. Click the link below to view the video:
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed on South Carolina Wild are solely those of the authors, and do not reflect official policies, positions, or endorsements of activity or products by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources.