Dig reveals more aspects of past at McClellanville plantation

Volunteer Josh Chaplin sifts soil at a dig at Hampton Plantation State Historic Site near McClellanville, S.C., on Friday, March 8, 2013. The dig at the plantation that was once home to 340 slaves started three years ago, with the initial money coming from federal stimulus funds. It's continued since with the help of volunteers. (AP Photo/Bruce Smith)

— An archaeological dig started with federal stimulus money at what was a colonial rice plantation is continuing three years later, now with the help of volunteers.

On Friday, they wrapped up another weeklong dig at the Hampton Plantation State Historic Site on the Santee River between Charleston and Georgetown.

Since they began in 2010, state archeologists and about 60 volunteers have dug into history over hundreds of square feet of what is thought to have been the slave row at the plantation off U.S. 17.

They have found evidence of the foundation of one, and most likely two, slave houses along with artifacts ranging from a tea pot thought to date to the 1700s as well as a coin from the same period. The coin has a hole in it and was likely used for a necklace or ankle bracelet.

The main attraction at the site is the large white plantation house owned by five generations of the Horry-Rutledge family from the 18th century until 1971 when the state acquired it.

It took another 40 years before archaeologists could start exploring where as many as 340 slaves once lived on the plantation.

Doing such work, especially in tight budget times “is never a priority and it’s very labor intensive and so it’s very expensive,” said David Jones, the South Carolina State Parks archaeologist. “Just the nature of the work means you have to be very careful.”

The initial stimulus grant was for about $60,000. South Carolina State Parks is matching a recent grant from the Humanities Council of South Carolina providing another $15,000 for the work.

Without the volunteers, Jones said, the cost of the work done so far would be at least three times more expensive, he said.

The new grant means archaeologist Stacey Young will be able to stay on working at the site through early summer and she’s always looking for volunteers.

“People can come here and see this and help out,” she said, as she carefully mapped a section of ground that had been excavated. “Part of this is telling the history of the plantation but the other thing is to show archaeology ad how it is done.”

Part of how it’s done is that every shovelful of soil removed from the ground with trowels is sifted.

As Josh Chaplin sifted what appeared to be simply chunks of dirt on Friday, he discovered several metal artifacts, perhaps nails, appearing no different than the soil after decades under the earth.

Chaplin, of Branchville, attends Orangeburg-Calhoun Tech and later wants to study archaeology at the University of South Carolina.

“I’ve always loved history. And to tell you the truth, I don’t think I could spend my life struck in a museum studying history books. I want to get out and actually experience it,” he said.