Saturday, June 15, 2019

'Out of the blue': A stirrup likely belonging to Confederate horse is a surprise find during excavations at Camp Lawton site in Georgia

The recovered stirrup (Camp Lawton Archaeology Project, Georgia Southern University)

It’s been a fruitful summer field school for Georgia Southern University archaeology students conducting excavations on the site of Camp Lawton, a Civil War prisoner of war site that operated for a brief time in 1864.

They have found evidence of Confederate guard tent structures and other items that speak to the lives of those reservist soldiers, who had to make due with limited supplies and furnishings.

But it was an out-of-the-blue discovery Thursday that yielded perhaps the most compelling artifact of the season.

Project director Dr. Ryan McNutt was checking ground depressions – made more evident by recent heavy rains -- to verify areas that may have been marked by previous archaeological explorations.

“I was just basically pulling away pine needles, rotted vegetation and checking the area with a metal detector, looking for those spikes. When the metal detector hit (one) area, it overloaded the detector.” He thought he likely had come across a piece of garbage.

McNutt found, just under the topsoil, a stirrup that he believes was thrown into a trash pit during the operation of the prison. “I think it is pretty impressive. (Mine) was probably the first hand that has touched it since it was discarded there.”

He believes the stirrup and related horse tack found in the pit are almost certainly Confederate. “It is pretty much concrete evidence of Civil War activity,” McNutt said. “It matches those found at Confederate sites elsewhere.”

It’s quite possible the artifact was made before the war and belonged to an officer at the camp, perhaps a member of a Georgia reservist regiment or a Florida light artillery company.

McNutt said a pretty good chunk of metal remains in the rusted stirrup, which he estimates weighs about a half pound. He did not find any evidence of surviving leather and does not know why it may have been discarded.

The Georgia Southern team will check the maker’s mark and manufacturing style of the recovered artifact. They also will give it electrolysis treatment to protect the iron.

Views of summer work. (Camp Lawton Archaeology Project, Georgia Southern University)

Lance Greene, McNutt’s predecessor as Lawton project manager, said material students have been finding support the interpretation that the stirrup belonged to a Rebel soldier.

I think that Dr. McNutt is beginning to get a sense of the location of some of the areas used by Confederates, which is especially difficult because a lot of that area has been intensively used since just after the Civil War,” said Greene, an associate professor at Wright State University in Ohio.  

Greene said another stirrup was recovered at the park long ago. “As I recall, it was a surface find, or at least did not have a good provenience.”

Archaeologists are accustomed to finding items from multiple time periods when working a site, and that’s occurred at the Lawton site, which was located on what is now Magnolia Springs State Park and an adjoining federal fish hatchery. But McNutt told the Picket on Friday that most of the items found this year come from the mid-19th century.

The Confederate camp broke into the news in 2010 when federal, state and campus officials announced that its location had been confirmed and the site already was yielding a trove of artifacts. Lawton was only open for about six weeks in autumn 1864. It held about 10,000 POWs moved from Andersonville and other sites as Union troops moved into central and south Georgia after taking Atlanta.

COMING SOON: Photos of more recent discoveries at Camp Lawton

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