UNCW HomeUNCW Archaeological Field School in the Wilmington Area

Summer Session I 2013

UNC Wilmington





UNC Wilmington will offer a field school in the Wilmington area from May 20-June 20, 2013.  Our goal is to investigate two separate parks in the Wilmington area:  Brunswick River Park in Belville, and Halyburton Park, in Wilmington.  Over the course of the session, students will learn surface surveying, excavation techniques, record-keeping, mapping, and basic lab techniques, including flotation. We will also go on field trips to some local archaeological sites of interest.  The class will be 6 credit hours, and will be intensive--it will basically take place M-R 9-5, and F 9-12. 


Brunswick River Park--Test Excavation and Mapping

View of the river's edge at Brunswick River Park, Bellville, NC


The Brunswick River Park is a Brunswick County-operated park located in Belville, NC along the Brunswick River.  It contains a boat ramp, small fishing pier, and a variety of playground and picnic facilities.  Several years ago, two members of the public notified the Anthropology department at UNCW that pieces of pottery sherds were washing out of the river bank at the Brunswick County River Park.  Ever since then, Mr. John Navarra (an instructor at UNCW) and I have been walking the river edge at low tide to look for evidence of an intact archaeological site--you may have visited there yourself, as part of the Archaeology Lab class at UNCW!  During this time, we have regularly found varying numbers of artifacts along the riverfront.  Although we've never been able to detect intact archaeological soil or features, given the number of artifacts and the length of time they've been washing out, it's appropriate to do some test excavations. 


The area is archaeologically complicated--it is known to contain four registered terrestrial archaeological sites (and one underwater one) prior to dredging of the Brunswick River.  When the river was dredged, the river shoreline was pulled back at least 20 or 30 feet, probably disturbing at least some of the known archaeological sites.  The artifacts being found at the river's edge probably have one of three possible sources:  1)  intact archaeological soil that was originally cut into by the dredging, and is now being nibbled away by the river.  2)  One of the original terrestrial sites which is now underwater, with the artifacts washing in to shore on the tide.  3)  Artifacts from highly disturbed soil and no intact archaeological soil.  One of the primary goals of our field school will be to find out which of these possibilities is most likely.


In order to do this, the Brunswick County department of Parks and Recreation has generously given us permission to do 4-8 1 x 1 m test units in two or three parts of the park.  We will spend three weeks in this park, performing these test excavations and also some mapping, in order to match up the pre-dredging archaeological survey map with the modern landscape. 


 Halyburton Park--Archaeological Survey


Halyburton Park, looking from the nature center into the Flatwoods Forest.  Photo credit Jorge Vigueras.


We will also spend two weeks of the session performing archaeological survey in some parts of Halyburton Park, in Wilmington.  Halyburton Park is a city park and nature preserve situated on two previously permanent freshwater ponds and a network of small, seasonal water holes.  It contains three primary biomes—the wetlands surrounding the ponds, Carolina Sandhills, and Carolina Flatwoods.  The area should have contained plenty of resources that would make it an attractive place to live, and therefore an area of possible archaeological potential. Despite this potential the park area was never systematically surveyed, according to the Office of the State Archaeologist.  The ‘jeep trails’ (probably including Federal Point road and the site of present-day 17th Street) were probably walked over during the New Hanover Comprehensive Survey of 1977, but no record has been found of this activity or its results.  In addition, the park is of some historical interest; a civil war embankment stretches through the eastern part of the park.  Oral history suggests that a field hospital from the Battle of Wilmington was located on park property, but its precise location has not been determined. 


Thanks to the generous permission of the City of Wilmington and Andrew Fairbanks, Park Director, we will perform surface survey (walkover) when appropriate, which it is in the Sandhills portion of the environment.  In areas with insufficient visibility for surface survey, which will probably include all the Flatwoods, we will perform shovel test pits (STPs) at 50 cm in diameter at 20 m intervals.  Both these techniques are standard archaeological survey techniques, and very useful for people interested in continuing with archaeology after college.



Park Conservation and Public Education


Both Brunswick River Park and Halyburton Park are public locations that are owned and maintained for the benefit of the public.  When working in both parks, we will need to remember two key principles:  minimal disturbance of the park and its use, and public education.


At Brunswick River Park, our primary goal in terms of minimal disturbance will be to carefully mark all excavation units so that they don't cause a public hazard.  We will also make sure not to disturb high-traffic park areas--all of our excavations will be in the lower-traffic areas of the park. 


At Halyburton Park, the location is also a nature preserve, and contains several threatened species.  We will disturb the natural habitat as little as possible, so as not to mess with the animals and vegetation.


At both parks, we will be in a public place, doing something strange and mysterious with shovels and screens.  One of the most important parts of this project will be our interacting with the public.  One view of an archaeological site is of an outdoor museum in which we're the main exhibit!  We will have educational handouts, we will have educational signs, we will give lectures, talks, and site tours when requested, and we will always be happy to talk with members of the public about what we're doing.



Laboratory and Project Components


Depending on how much material we find, we will put aside at least one half-day a week for laboratory artifact processing, and perhaps more.  This will familiarize everyone with standard archaeological lab techniques--washing, inventorying, pottery analysis, etc.


Each student will also have either a group or individual project that will include an oral and written report, to ensure that everyone is keeping their mind on the larger issues of archaeology, as well as the dirt.  More information will be available soon.




Both sites are within close driving distance of UNCW and Wilmington; Halyburton Park is about 10-15 minutes by car from UNCW, and Brunswick River Park is about 20 minutes by car from the university.  Local students can live in their usual residences, and we will meet at the site (or a designated Wilmington meeting oint, such as UNCW) every morning.  We can arrange lodging for out-of-town students, if necessary. 




The Cape Fear region is archaeologically important in both the prehistoric and historic periods, and has not been excavated or published with the thoroughness it deserves.  By performing a survey at Halyburton Park, we'll be providing a useful service to archaeology in the area, even if we never find anything.  And if a threatened site is found at Brunswick River Park, then we will have saved, or be in a position to save, a potentially useful archaeological resource. 



How Much?


The present estimate for costs is difficult, as UNCW has not yet posted summer tuition costs.  The field school will not charge fees for lodging or food, but we will charge a small fee of about $75 per person to keep us in digging supplies.  A good estimate would be one 6-credit summer class, plus $75.



How Do I Sign Up?


 If you're interested in taking the field school, or even thinking about it, please drop by my office in SBS 205, or send me an e-mail at rebere@uncw.edu, and I will give you more details. 


There is no formal application form--if you'd like to apply for the field school, please notify me of your name and insurance # by March 15.  You will hear from me about your acceptance into the field school by March 22--this should give you plenty of time to plan your summer schedule prior to the opening of Summer preregistration on April 8.  Following acceptance into the field school, a packet of information and other forms will be sent to you. 


We may have to have some preliminary field school meetings to talk about archaeological information, and to fix our screens, which are in need of some TLC.

Enrollment is limited to 12.



What Else?

For more information, contact  rebere@uncw.edu, or (910)962-7734.