Archaeological survey reveals the past one layer at a time

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History above ground and history below — it’s all there for the careful eye and careful hand of archaeological investigators like Tim Mulvihill, research station archaeologist at the University of Arkansas – Fort Smith.  Mulvihill and a team of others have come together with knowledge, tools and endless curiosity in a quest to uncover the stories of the past at the Drennen-Scott Historic Site in Van Buren. 

Tim Mulvihill, who is research station archaeologist for the Arkansas Archaeological Survery research station located at UA Fort Smith, at the Drennen-Scott Historic Site [Credit: UA Fort Smith]

UA Fort Smith obtained what was called the Drennen-Scott Home six years ago from descendents of John Drennen, who was a founder of Van Buren, politician, Indian agent, landowner and businessman. Charles Scott, Drennen’s business partner, married Drennen’s oldest daughter. 

Archaeological investigations at the Drennen-Scott property were initiated in early 2006 in conjunction with the rehabilitation of the house as a museum and training facility for UA Fort Smith students in the Historical Interpretation program. 

The archeological work was directed by Mulvihill of the UA Fort Smith Research Station of the Arkansas Archaeology Survey, with the assistance of members of the Ark-Homa Chapter, a joint chapter of the Arkansas Archaeological Society and Oklahoma Anthropological Society and, at times, by other employees of the Arkansas Archaeological Survey. 

“The intent of the archaeological investigations during the rehabilitation project was to do only what was necessary to complete the construction project, while saving further archeological work for when the Drennen-Scott House would be open as a museum,” Mulvihill explained. “This would allow the public to view future archaeological excavations in progress.” 

Mulvihill said that during the rehabilitation project, any areas of construction that involved ground disturbance were either investigated beforehand or were monitored while ground disturbance took place. A total of 39 test units of varying sizes were excavated during the project. 

As part of the archaeological investigations at the site, a geophysical survey (or remote sensing) was conducted to measure the physical properties of the soil, which sometimes indicates where activities took place in the past. Geophysical technologies included magnetometry, electrical resistance, electromagnetic conductivity and ground penetrating radar. 

Among the artefacts found at the site are a crockery inkwell, coins and trade silver [UA Fort Smith]

Mulvihill said many artifacts were recovered in the test excavations during the archaeological work completed thus far. 

“Artifacts recovered have included a U.S. military greatcoat button dating to the 1830s and an early to mid 19th century wrought iron hinge, 19th and 20th century Euro-American ceramics, a pipe stem and French gun flint,” Mulvihill reports. “Also found among the artifacts were a fragment of green shell-edged plate, a possible piece of trade silver, a crockery ink well and an 1828 quarter.” 

In the past year, Mulvihill has also conducted excavations at the site with students enrolled in archaeology classes at UA Fort Smith. 

On Thursday, May 12, UA Fort Smith is giving residents of the region, as well as guests to the state, their first opportunity to look back in time to the mid 1800s through what has been discovered and how the old homestead has played a role in various segments of history over the years. The planned opening hours of operation will be Thursday and Friday afternoons from 1 to 5, Saturdays from 10 to 5 and Sunday afternoons from 1 to 5. 

Author: Candise Montemayor | Source: University of Arkansas – Fort Smith [May 10, 2011]

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