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BRITARCH  July 2003

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Subject:

Re: Archaeology and Ruins

From:

James Brothers <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

British archaeology discussion list <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Tue, 15 Jul 2003 12:23:32 -0400

Content-Type:

text/plain

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Unfortunately there are lots of examples in the US.  some are readily admitted
to, some are not.

I visited The George Washington Birthplace Natl. Monument last Saturday.  The
NPS Rangers will readily admit, or at least ours did, that the building
constructed on the site (by a private foundation) is not only not on the
correct site, but is also entirely wrong.  The private foundation that first
acquired the site felt that anyone as important as George Washington must have
been born in a large brick plantation home, so that is what they built.  After
the NPS took over the site they did some archaeology and found the foundation
of the original house (burned in 1799?).  The Ranger leading our group said
that the actual house would looked pretty much like a slightly larger version
of the reconstructed kitchen (wood).  The large brick building was constructed
on the site of an earthfast structure, probably the stable.

Saugus Ironworks Natl. Historic Site (Saugus, MA, USA) is the finest
reproduction late 18th century French iron works on 17th century British
colonial foundations in the world.  The reconstruction was done by the US
Steel Industry and the site donated to the NPS, but the NPS really doesn't
like to talk about the "problems".  The elevations, and much of the interiors,
were taken directly from Diderot's Encyclopedia.  Where there were differences
between Diderot and the architects' plan and the archaeology, they ignored the
archaeology.  For instance archaeology revealed that the Forge had two
hammers, but the architects (not suprizingly the same ones responsible for
Colonial Williamsburg), decided to only build one.  'Two would have not have
been aesthetically pleasing".  The furnace stack was reconstructed with a two
foot high lip around the top.  while it makes a dandy bench and looks very
nice, it would have made it practically impossible to load (charge) the
furnace.  The bottom line is the archaeologist quit and never published the
excavation report.  But, if you want to see what a late 18th century French
iron works would have looked like, Saugus is about the only place I know of to
go.  And to be honest, there probably wasn't much difference between a British
and French iron works in the 1770s.  What they looked like in 1640 is another
question.

Colonial Williamsburg (Virginia) has some excellent examples of what you are
looking for.  While it is one of the premier living history sites in the
world, that does not mean they have not and do not make mistakes.  There were
and are some major errors in the reconstruction.  For instance most of the
early buildings have New England style chimney stacks rather than Virginia
style (the architects were from NY).  The emphasis, from its inception in the
1930s, was on the "big" house.  As a result the work buildings on many of the
properties were either not reconstructed, or were not part of the exhibit.
Also until very recently the entire historic area was repainted almost
yearly.  As a result it looked much better than it would have looked in the
1700s.   My favorite story is about the recent reconstruction of Shield's
Tavern.  According to what I have been told, although the garden plan was
recovered archaeologically, it was reconstructed differently.  The CWF Master
Gardener directed that the reconstruction be 90 degrees out.  When asked why
he replied "I don't care what you found, this is the way it should have
been".  CW also frequently portrays the Carter's Grove "Slave Qtrs." as
"authentic" or "reconstruct ions" ,  when in reality the only evidence for the
structures was a series of storage pits.  One of the buildings is copied from
another plantation.  In its defense, while Colonial Williamsburg may not be
exactly historically accurate it provides a relatively painless way for many
people to learn about American History.  That I ended up an archaeologist is
at least partially due to a family trip to CW when I was four.  Today the
archaeology done by CW is world class, what the Foundation (which is now often
more interested in hotels and golf courses) does with the information is
another matter.

James H. Brothers IV, RPA

Susan Piddock wrote:

> Hi Everybody
>           Recently Greg Jackman published an article here in Australia
> about Port Arthur, which was a convict penal colony, remote from
> civilization. After a bushfire swept through the settlement at the
> beginning of the twentieth century, the settlement became a set of ruins.
> Over the last century parts of the buildings have been restored and reflect
> different ideas about the heritage management of the site. In effect Greg
> argues that the ruins have become romanticized and their nature as
> buildings for the use and management of convicts has been down played. He
> argues that a recently excavated school/reformatory site should be left as
> an archaeological site that gives a real understanding of the purpose of
> Port Arthur. I was wondering about other sites around the world where there
> might be a conflict between a romanticized past and the reality revealed by
> archaeology, an references would be helpful as l wish to discuss this issue
> in a lecture.
>                                                cheers
>                                                   Susan
> Dr Susan Piddock

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