Thursday, June 16, 2011

Drury Archaeologist Discovers Civil War Era Munitions on Campus

Two months ago, Dr. Monty Dobson, a visiting assistant professor of history at Drury University, and a group of about 40 students began excavating a site on campus where they believed a defensive trench dating back to the Civil War might be hiding just below the surface. And now a new find has confirmed the date of that trench. KSMU’s Samuel Crowe reports.

Dobson has been digging in front of Burnham Hall for a couple of months now. Along the way he has found artifacts like a 1954 penny, iron stone pottery and glass dating back to pre-World War one. But a recent discovery of a piece of munitions called a grape shot, part of a buck and ball cartridge used during the Civil War, has allowed him to confirm the date of the trench. Dobson said since archaeologists know very little about Civil War trenches like this one in Springfield, this dig is unique.

“One of the challenges and one of the benefits of doing urban archaeology is that it’s very rare to get an open green space in the middle of an urban setting like Springfield. So the fact that this happens to be in a green space on Drury’s campus is something that makes it a very special and unique space,” he said.

The grape shot was found a week and a half ago, about two and a half feet below from where they started digging. Dobson said the munitions weren’t commonly used during the Civil War, making it the most special artifact found so far in the dig.

“And you can see it’s a small, round piece of lead with a divot at the top where it had been poured into the mold. It would have been on a string of about seven or eight of these. And the little divot, if it was going to go into a rifle or a gun, would have been peeled off with a knife and made smooth. But since it was going into a large cartridge like the buck and ball, I don’t think there was any need for doing that,” he said.

Dobson acknowledged the importance of the dig and the discovery of the grape shot munitions, but said the experience that his students gained from working on the archaeological site is what he likes most. He said his students are applying what they learned in class to a real life situation, something worth more that a few paragraphs from a textbook.

“The really great thing about this is that the students can come out here, and it’s not just in the classroom, this isn’t in the textbook, this is in their hands. They get to put their hands on history, and the things that they are doing and touching are things that no one else has seen or touched for 150 years,” he said.

Dobson said he believes the end is near for the dig at Drury. He said the next step is to take the final drawings, photos, and measurements, catalogue all his findings, and write up a final report. The whole process may take twice as long as the dig itself, but will add a significant piece to the history of Springfield. For KSMU News, I’m Samuel Crowe.

For more interesting topics related to archaeology, visit archaeology excavations.

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