Slave wharf remnants found at planned African-American site

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In a serendipitous bit of good fortune, archaeologists probing the site of a planned $75 million International African American Museum in Charleston believe they have found evidence of the old wharf where tens of thousands of enslaved blacks first set foot in North America.

Researchers working with Brockington Cultural Resources Consulting have found timbers and bricks thought to have been part of a waterfront wharf and warehouse, uncovered during a preliminary study of the site.

The artifacts are thought to have been part of a wharf built in the 1760s by Revolutionary War patriot Christopher Gadsden using slave labor.

The wharf, the largest in North America, was built to service the rice trade, once a staple of South Carolina’s economy, according to research by Robert Macdonald, a consultant for the International African American Museum.

In time, however, the wharf “morphed into an entry point for more than 100,000 slaves during its lifetime,” according to the Charleston Post and Courier. “It could hold six ships at a time, and included an 840-foot quay and warehouses. Enslaved people were held there in crowded conditions as they awaited the auction block or transport to the newly purchased Louisiana Territory.”

Charleston was the nation’s capital of the slave trade, the place where many of those who were enslaved first landed in the New World.

During the trans-Atlantic slave trade, about 40 percent of enslaved Africans brought into the country passed through Charleston Harbor. While many of these were sold around the South, a significant number remained in South Carolina.

By 1860, there were 4 million slaves in the United States, and 400,000 of them – 10 percent – lived in South Carolina. Blacks, both enslaved and free, made up nearly 60 percent of the state’s population.

It’s estimated that as many as 40 percent of African slaves brought to the United States during the late 18th and early 19th centuries walked across Gadsden’s wharf.

A draft of the results of the initial study at the museum site, released last week, described how archaeologists dug three trenches at the site. They found bricks from the wall of a warehouse and fragments of timbers thought to come from the framing of the historic wharf.

“We believe these are actual elements of Gadsden’s Wharf. It’s huge for a preliminary first dig,” said Felicia Easterlin, the museum’s program manager.

Remnants of the wharf or the warehouse were found in all three trenches, she added.

Charleston Mayor Joe Riley has said he hopes the money will be in place by early 2016 so construction of the museum can begin. If that schedule holds, the museum should open in 2018.

(Top: View of Antebellum Charleston looking toward Gadsden Wharf. Source: The International African American Museum.)

German submarine, Allied freighter found off NC coast

u-576

Researchers working off the coast of North Carolina recently discovered predator and prey lying within a few hundred yards of each other on the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean.

The freighter Bluefields and the German submarine U-576, which sank the former on July 15, 1942, and was then sunk by other Allied vessels, were found in 690 feet of water in August following a five-year search led by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The vessels were lost during the Battle of the Atlantic, which included the German submarine fleet battling Allied conveys and naval ships.

The loss of the Bluefields and U-576 came during a period of intense warfare between convoys and U-boats in the area off Cape Hatteras during the six-month period following the United States’ entrance into the conflict.

Although German submarines had wreaked havoc on Allied ships along the East Coast prior to US entry into the war in late 1941, the action was particularly heavy during the first half of 1942.

An estimated 90 vessels – including four U-boats – were sunk off North Carolina between January and July 1942. It was “almost a ship every other day going down,” NOAA maritime archaeologist Joe Hoyt, the chief investigator on the project, told the Washington Post.

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Officials say shipwreck off Haiti is not Columbus’ Santa Maria

Santa Maria stamp

It appears that the shipwreck discovered earlier this year off the coast of northern Haiti is not that of Christopher Columbus’ flagship, the Santa Maria, according to the UN cultural agency.

UNESCO released a report earlier this month that concluded that a shipwreck in the Caribbean was likely from a 17th or 18th century vessel.

US explorer Barry Clifford had announced in May that he believed he had found the Santa Maria near the city of Cap-Haitien.

The ship, Columbus’ flagship from his first voyage to the Western Hemisphere, struck a reef and was abandoned in December 1492. Columbus returned to Spain with his two remaining ships, the Niña and the Pinta, beginning in January 1493.

“UNESCO said a team of experts who explored the site at the request of the Haitian government determined the wreckage was from a more recent vessel for reasons that included the discovery of copper nails and pins, used to fasten ship components, at the site,” according to an Associated Press report. “The Santa Maria would have used components of iron or wood, the agency said.”

The experts also believe that contemporary accounts, including Columbus’ own journal, indicate that the wreck is too far from the shore to be that of the Santa Maria, according to CNN.

The report added that it is possible the actual wreckage of the Santa Maria may be buried under what is now land because of heavy sedimentation from nearby rivers. It also recommended further archaeological investigation of the area.

The Santa Maria wasn’t a very big ship by modern standards, being about 60 feet long and weighing about 100 tons.

Clifford still stands by claim, calling the UNESCO report flawed because the agency’s experts did not consult him or the photos and charts he and his associates made of the wreckage site, according to the wire service.

He also said the copper components could have been used on the Santa Maria or the material came from another shipwreck that cross-contaminated the site in an area where a number of ships are known to have sunk.

“The explorer had reached his conclusion based on the location of the wreckage, the presence of the type of stones used for ballast in that era as well as a type of cannon that was there when he first took photos of the site in 2003 but had apparently been looted when he returned this year,” according to the Associated Press.

In its report, UNESCO faulted Clifford for announcing his findings in the media before officially informing the Haitian government of his intention to continue his research in the bay of Cap-Haitien.

(Top: 1892 US postage stamp featuring the Santa Maria.)

Researchers unlock mystery behind Terracotta Army

 

terracotta army

China’s Terracotta Army has fascinated millions since its discovery 40 years ago, near present-day Xi’an. Built by Qin Shihuang, China’s first emperor, the Terracotta Army was massed below ground, to protect a spectacular underground palace complex that was based on Qin’s imperial capital.

To create his Terracotta Army, Qin “issued instructions that his imperial guard be replicated, down to the finest details, in red-brown terracotta clay, poised to do battle,” according to Science China Press.

When the army was uncovered in 1974, thousands of these imperial guards were initially discovered, with some containing patches of pigment that had survived 22 centuries buried underground, along with minute remnants of binding media that had aided in the creation of this polychrome Terracotta Army, the publication added.

Since then, efforts to conserve these figures from China’s First Empire have been hindered by scientists’ inability to discover the binding material used in applying pigments to Qin Shihuang’s underground army.

However, recent research has revealed “the surfaces of the terracotta warriors were initially covered with one or two layers of an East Asian lacquer … obtained from lacquer trees,” according to Hongtao Yan and Jingjing An, scientists at the College of Chemistry and Materials Science, Northwest University, in Xi’an.

“This lacquer was used as a base-coat for the polychrome layers, with one layer of polychrome being placed on top of the lacquer in the majority of cases,” according to an article co-authored by Tie Zhou, Yin Xia and Bo Rong, scholars at the Key Scientific Research Base of Ancient Polychrome Pottery Conservation, the State Administration for Cultural Heritage, which is connected with the Museum of Emperor Qin Shihuang‘s Terracotta Army.

Qin (260-210 BC) united China in 221 BC and ruled as the First Emperor of the Qin dynasty from 220 to 210 BC. The approximately 8,000 terracotta warriors found in Qin’s underground palace were to protect the emperor in the afterlife.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization described the site in glowing terms more than a quarter century ago: “Qin … is buried, surrounded by the famous terracotta warriors, at the center of a complex designed to mirror the urban plan of the capital, Xianyang. The small figures are all different; with their horses, chariots and weapons, they are masterpieces of realism and also of great historical interest.”

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Wine cup belonging to Greek statesman Pericles found

pericles cup

A wine cup believed to have belonged to one of the greats of ancient Greece has been found near Athens, according to published reports.

A cup thought to have been used by Classical Greek statesman Pericles was recently found in a pauper’s grave in the northern Athens suburb of Kifissia, the Greek newspaper Ta Nea reported.

The ceramic wine cup, smashed in 12 pieces, was found during building construction. After it was pieced back together, archaeologists were astounded to find the name “Pericles” scratched under one of its handles, alongside the names of five other men, in apparent order of seniority.

Experts are “99 per cent” sure that the cup was used by the Athenian statesman, as one of the other names listed, Ariphron, is that of Pericles’ elder brother.

“The name Ariphron is extremely rare,” Angelos Matthaiou, secretary of the Greek Epigraphic Society, told Ta Nea.

“Having it listed above that of Pericles makes us 99 per cent sure that these are the two brothers,” he said.

The cup was likely used in a “wine symposium” when Pericles was in his twenties, and the six men who drank from it scrawled their names as a memento, Matthaiou said.

Apparently, the youthful Pericles and/or his companions imbibed rather heavily on that particular occasion.

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Mystery of ‘unknown’ Confederate unraveled

treadwell marker

Questions surrounding how officials solved a 150-year mystery and identified the only unknown Confederate soldier buried in the Beaufort National Cemetery have been answered.

Just a few days ago, the Beaufort County (SC) Historical Resources Consortium released information stating that the lone Confederate soldier interred in the Beaufort National Cemetery with a tombstone marked as “unknown” had been identified as Private Haywood Treadwell of Co. G, 61st NC Volunteers.

The Beaufort Gazette followed that announcement with a story Thursday that provided details on how Treadwell, who died in a Union hospital on Sept. 12, 1863, after being wounded at Battery Wagner, was identified.

Investigation into the history of the William Wigg Barnwell House, which served as a Union hospital during the war, led to the North Carolina soldier’s identification. It was learned Treadwell, who had been shot in the right thigh, had been brought to the house after his capture, according to the publication.

Beaufort resident Penelope Holme Parker began researching the William Wigg Barnwell House in 2008 by at the request of owners Conway and Diane Ivy. During the process, Parker discovered that Haywood Treadwell might have been buried anonymously because of a misspelled first name.

“Burial records found in a cardboard box in the basement of the cemetery building in 1991 listed a ‘Heyward Treadwell,’ who died of a gunshot wound to the right thigh on Sept. 12, 1863,” according to the Gazette. “Treadwell was buried in section 53, site 6359 – the site of the unknown soldier’s gravestone, according to the records.”

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California couple finds fortune in gold coins

saddle ridge hoard

A couple from California’s Sierra Nevada region last spring stumbled across what is believed to be the largest hoard of gold coins ever uncovered in the US, a treasure that will soon be going up for sale.

The pair was walking their dog on their property, located in the same region where the famed 1849 Gold Rush began, when they came across a decaying canister protruding from the ground.

Digging the can out with a stick, they took their find home, pried it open and, to their amazement, found hundreds of $20 gold pieces, all from the 19th century.

When the couple, who have remained anonymous to keep modern-day prospectors from tearing up their property, returned to the site, they located another similar-sized container and six smaller ones, all full of specie.

In all, the pair found 1,427 gold coins.

Nearly all were $20 Double Eagles, while 50 were $10 gold pieces and four were $5 Half Eagles. Most were minted in San Francisco, but one was a $5 gold piece from the mint at Dahlonega, Ga., which only operated from 1838 to 1861.

The coins dated to between 1847 and 1894 and were stacked in approximate chronological order. The oldest coins were in the first can and the “newer” ones were in subsequent cans.

“The arrangement of coins and the varying condition of the cans suggest they were buried by someone over the course of years rather than the result of a single caper like a bank robbery,” according to The History Blog.

The total face value of the coins is $27,980, but the numismatic value is estimated at more than $10 million.

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