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“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”

Savannah in Chatham County, Georgia — The American South (South Atlantic)
 

Vaulting Through Time

Archaeology at the Cluskey Vaults

 
 
Vaulting Through Time Marker image. Click for full size.
By Shane Oliver, December 29, 2020
1. Vaulting Through Time Marker
Inscription.  
Like much of the soil in Savannah, the loam beneath the Cluskey Vaults tells a great deal about the past when it is studied scientifically through archaeology. Interest by the community led the City to have such a study of the vaults. Like all professional archaeology projects, this one consisted of historical research, careful excavation, mapping, and documentation of the stains and other clues in the soil. The results and documentation of this study, including all artifacts, are preserved by the City of Savannah Research Library and Municipal Archives for future study. This project also used technology: LiDAR to make a spectacular 3-D map of the vaults; Ground Penetrating Radar to locate pit features before excavating; and a fiber optic video camera to see behind the sealed fifth vault. The public participated in the project from the very beginning to the very end, and many people visited the site during fieldwork.

The Impetus
Young men in the Earl T. Shinhoster Leadership approached the City of Savannah with concerns about the history and current use of the vaults. The group requested that research and archaeology
Vaulting Through Time Marker image. Click for full size.
By Shane Oliver, December 29, 2020
2. Vaulting Through Time Marker
be conducted to determine whether the vaults had been used to hold African American slaves.

The City was responsive, and thus began an important partnership. City archivists and other staff, archaeologists and students at Georgia Southern University, local high school and college students, girl and boy scouts, and others in the community worked together to uncover the history of the vaults.

Discoveries!! Discoveries!! Discoveries!!
Vault 1 (farthest from City Hall) contained a hearth likely made by Civil War Union soldiers who took Savannah in December 1864. Artifacts around the campfire included an 1864 Infantry button, a medical thermometer, and a latch possibly from a doctor's satchel. Elsewhere in the vault lay a U.S. Navy button from the same period. Vault 4 also contained a pit with cast iron pots, hoes, and an ax rusted together [Below], on top of a stash of 19th century, corked wine bottles. The pit lay deeper than the hearth layer, therefore pre-dating the hearth. Since these easily-ruined items were placed in a pit, it appears that they were intentionally buried.

Vault 2 may have been used as a stable and for coal storage. A pit here contained a variety of artifacts, suggesting that it was either a trash pit or a privy used to discard trash.

Vault 3 contained a pit with 1880s Savannah "Lawrence and Weichselbaum Druggists"
Interior of second vault, behind the Vaulting Through Time marker image. Click for full size.
By Shane Oliver, December 29, 2020
3. Interior of second vault, behind the Vaulting Through Time marker
bottles. Unfortunately, the presence of plastic and cement indicated modern disturbance of this area.

Vault 4 (nearest City Hall) revealed evidence of the vault's 1904 collapse and its immediate reconstruction, which destroyed portions of the clues underground.

Kids, Look Down! What's Beneath Your Feet?
* Can you think of ways artifacts become buried?
* A site is like a crime scene, with clues about what happened in the past. What happens if someone note trained in archaeology digs through the clues?
* Can you save a site like the Shinhoster group did?

(captions)
[Top Left] Shinhoster members sift soil with the Georgia Southern University anthropology graduate student directing the project. [Middle Left] Excavating a trash pit feature containing Savannah druggist bottles. [Bottom Left] Mapping the location and dimensions of soil layers and features.
 
Topics. This historical marker is listed in these topic lists: Anthropology & ArchaeologyArchitecture.
 
Location. 32° 4.861′ N, 81° 5.442′ W. Marker is in Savannah, Georgia, in Chatham County. Marker is on East Upper Factors Walk north of East Bay Street, on the left when traveling west. Marker is located behind the Savannnah City Hall, at the second of a series of four
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arched vaults. Touch for map. Marker is at or near this postal address: 42 E Upper Factors Walk, Savannah GA 31401, United States of America. Touch for directions.
 
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. Charles Blaney Cluskey (a few steps from this marker); One Building - Many Stories (a few steps from this marker); Savannah City Hall (a few steps from this marker); A Storeroom By Any Other Name (a few steps from this marker); Chatham Artillery's (a few steps from this marker); a different marker also named Chatham Artillery's (within shouting distance of this marker); Central Railroad & Bank Bldg. (within shouting distance of this marker); The "John Randolph" (within shouting distance of this marker). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Savannah.
 
More about this marker. The center of the marker contains the subtitle: "More Than Simply Artifacts" along with an image of a Lawrence & Weichselbaum drug bottle.
 
 
Credits. This page was last revised on January 3, 2021. It was originally submitted on January 1, 2021, by Shane Oliver of Richmond, Virginia. This page has been viewed 33 times since then. Photos:   1, 2, 3. submitted on January 1, 2021, by Shane Oliver of Richmond, Virginia. • Bernard Fisher was the editor who published this page.
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Mar. 1, 2021