Archaeology

Fort Daniel Archaeology edit 4.26.15

Archaeological investigations at the Fort Daniel, initially carried out by members of the Gwinnett Archaeological Research Society (GARS), began in the summer and fall of 2007 with clearing of a 1-acre area on the top of highest point of Hog Mountain, traditionally understood to be the general location of Fort Daniel, and the logical location for a defensive fortification. The whole area had been farmed, probably since shortly after the fort was abandoned around 1816. Cultivation ceased around 1965, and vegetation, including mostly pine woods, covered the site with the exception of patch of lawn where the current owner had had a garden.

After clearing, a baseline was established and a 100’ x 80’ grid, with 20’ grid units was staked out over the approximately 1-acre area using a contractor’s transit, 100’ tapes and compass. Because the baseline followed the property line, the N/S axis was oriented 10⁰ west of North. A systematic metal detection survey was then carried out by GARS with the help of a local metal detection club whose expertise proved invaluable. The survey produced hundreds of metal objects, mostly wrought and machine cut nails, but also a great number of buttons and “buck ‘n ball” shot. Some pottery was also recovered along with these objects. All artifacts were consistent with an early 19th c. military site. Objects were carefully plotted according to the grid, with nothing excavated beyond the approximately 10” plow zone so as not to disturb any intact buried deposits. A density gradient map was produced to show the relative distribution of metal objects as a guide to further investigations. As it worked out, the fort footprint that later emerged based on excavations, fit nicely over this map (see image 1)

This survey was followed by a Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) Survey conducted by Sheldon Skaggs and students from Georgia Southern University. This, and two subsequent GPR surveys, as well as a Soils Resistivity survey proved of additional use in evidences of the fort’s features prior to excavation efforts. (See image 2)

 

Image 1. Metal Detection Survey Density Gradtient Map with fort footprint overlay. Red indicates excavated areas at time of drawing, while projections are green.

Image 2. First Ground Penetrating Radar Survey results with “Knox” fort plan (see image 5 below) overlay.

 

Guided by the results of these remote sensing surveys, selective mechanical scraping with a small bucket loader was undertaken until this method revealed the first buried historic features, a burned area in the SW corner and a trench feature in the NW area of the grid (see image 3). At that point, mechanical scraping was ended and shovel scraping was used to expand and articulate these features. All subsequent excavation has been by hand, using shovels and trowels.

During the 2008 spring Georgia Archaeology Month and the fall Frontier Faire weekends, with both GARS and community participation, excavations determined that the burned area was probably a hearth within the SW blockhouse that included burning debris from the fort’s take-down. Terminating at the area the blockhouse occupied, the south end of the west wall trench and the west end of the south wall trench were also identified (see image 4). The trench feature in the NE, found to be only 14’ long, was first thought to be a latrine ditch. However, excavation of the feature did not produce any of the expected latrine/privy types of artifacts. But with these features, the fort’s footprint began to emerge.

Image 3. Gwinnet County operator and archaeologist examine trench feature revealed by mechanical scraping.

Image 4. View looking north of hearth area and south end of west wall. West end of south wall is barely visible in bottom right of photo.

 

 

On August 14, 2010, the east end of the south wall trench and its corner with the east wall, as pictured below in image 5, was uncovered.  It was now clear that the “latrine” ditch excavated in 2007-2009 was actually the northern 14′ of the east wall situated between the NE blockhouse and a gate, which was why the trench segment was so short.  [Excavations during the 2013 Frontier Faire located the other side of that gate, which proved to be about 6’ wide.]  In 2010, the NW corner of the fort was also located. The heading of the north wall could then be projected and, in a unit placed to mirror the location of the west end of the south wall, the east end of this wall was found, thus confirming the presence and size of a NE blockhouse.

Image 4. View of uncovered SW corner of fort evidenced by intersection of south and east wall trenches. Red lines help to outline contrasting soils in former wall trench. Scale: 2 ft.

 

Known wall trench features, SW & NE blockhouses areas, and the NE & SE corners, now provide a precise footprint for Fort Daniel. The Fort, it ends up, unlike the study grid, was oriented on a N/S axis.

In 1794, General Knox, U.S. Secretary of War, sent the fort plan pictured below to the Governor of Georgia. At 100 feet square, the plan is about 18% larger than Fort Daniel, with its blockhouses in the NW and SE corners (see image 5). Several other known stockade forts from the time were smaller or larger. It also appears that Fort Daniel had only one gate whereas the Knox plan had two. Since all traces, apparently, of interior structures would have been obliterated by cultivation activities, we cannot know, from archaeology, how the interior structures might have been laid out or even what they were. Knox’s plan is for a fort for mounted militia, with stalls for about 20 horses.

 

Image 5. Tracing of sketch plan provided to Georgia in 1794 by Secretary of War, Henry Knox at the request of President George Washington (Georgia State Archives).

Beginning with the 2011 Frontier Faire, Georgia State University anthropology students under Dr. Jeffery Glover, have been investigating one of the “hot” spots on Skaggs’ GPR image as well as NE and SW blockhouse areas. The first feature, located within the fort and thought to perhaps be associated with an interior structure, turned out to be a “stump pull.” Because prehistoric stone tools, but no historic artifacts, were found in the stump “hole” backfill, the implication is that the stump was pulled as part of clearing for fort construction before any historic artifact would have been there, rather than by a farmer clearing for cultivate years after the fort was abandoned (see image 6).

Image 6. View of the feature identified in GPR survey showing bottom of the Level 1 (plow zone) and top of Level 2 where the feature in the center was identified, and before excavation of the feature itself. Scale: 2 ft.

Elementary level students excavating during the 2013 Frontier Faired where the South Wall trench meets the SW blockhouse, recovered a number of artifacts that were in the surface soils that had filled the trench when the Stockade logs were pulled when the fort was abandoned. Some of these are pictured in Image 7 and include a Tombac button, two 30 cal. musket balls, one of many earthware sherds from what appears to be a chamber pot, and several nails and tacks.

Image 7. Some arftifacts recovered from Palisade Wall trench near SW blockhouse. Scale: 10 cm
In 2012 Dr. Glover’s students began excavations in the NE Blockhouse where we identified a large “pit” feature from which, during the 2013 Frontier Faire, assisted by students from the Fort Daniel Elementary School, they recovered a number of artifacts including buttons, bullets, wrought and machine-made nails, a flint and a variety of prehistoric and historic ceramics (see images 7 -9).  A partially mended Prattware Teacup from elsewhere on the site is pictured below (see image 10). The “pit” turned out to be a large, post-farming, collapsed, rodent den filled with prehistoric and historic artifact-laden plow-zone soil. Compare with the stump-pull hole fill.

 

Image 7. Excavation of pit feature in NE blockhouse.

Image 8. Sample of artifacts recovered from NE blockhouse feature, including polychrome Prattware. Scale: 10 cm.

 

Image 9. Supervised by professional Georgia archaeologists, the Community Archaeology program gives students from Elementary to Graduate School levels the opportunity to participate in uncovering the past.

Image 10. Mended Prattward cup fragments from the other parts of the site.

During the 2014 Faire GSU students began work on bisecting the Hearth feature in the SW Blockhouse. Using the latest technology for photogrammetric processing of digital images to generate 3D spatial data and the GSU “Quad Copter” for aerial views, GSU produced the photo below (Image 10). Image can be turned and rotated for different views of the feature. Bisection of the feature is not yet completed.