Shuler digs through 300 years of history
The most interesting items Ethan Shuler has found in his archaeological dig at Colonial Dorchester State Historic Site in Summerville are a musket ball and a red glass jewel bead. He’s also found mounds of broken bricks, but that hasn’t dimmed his enthusiasm.
“I wanted to get out and find history,” said Shuler. “It’s awesome to get to hold something no one has touched since the 1700s.”
Shuler is an intern with Mary Mikulla, a South Carolina archaeologist/interpretive ranger at Colonial Dorchester, and is receiving academic credit toward his Charleston Southern University history degree. He has also volunteered on digs at Charles Towne Landing and Hampton Plantation.
Shuler is learning archaeology on the job. Mikulla gave Shuler his own dig site as a learning lab. He is in the process of uncovering the foundation of a building. Shuler lays out a grid, marks it off and carefully catalogs what is found during the preliminary dig. Everything is documented on paper and photographed.
“I clean everything I find and catalog it,” said Shuler. “Items are either kept on site or sent to Columbia to the state parks headquarters. Items may end up in a museum.”
He is also working with Colonial Dorchester’s current archaeological dig which began in 2006. The staff believes it is a kitchen building, and shovel tests indicate the site may have belonged to one of the town’s richest citizens.
Several things contribute to the uniqueness of Colonial Dorchester’s site. “Colonial Dorchester is an archaeological time capsule of the 1700s,” said Mikulla. It is unusual that the site has not been touched since the 1700s. Also, the park has access to a map of the town’s outline. While it doesn’t show great detail, the park staff knows where building lots are located.
Mikulla said archaeologists are able to take their time with digs since Colonial Dorchester is a state historic site. She said the park exists to preserve history and relies on the efforts of interns and volunteers to help with the work. “We are working to gain a better understanding of colonial life in South Carolina.”
Shuler works on site several days a week. He is interested in medieval history with the dream of working on a castle in the United Kingdom.
The Charleston Southern history department supervises internships at Lowcountry historic sites to provide history majors the opportunity to enhance their knowledge of the discipline while engaging with historians, archaeologists and the general public within a hands-on learning context beyond the traditional classroom.
Dr. Mark Williams, associate professor of history, said, “Often, an internship serves as a career affirming experience, as working at Colonial Dorchester this semester has for Ethan. He has used the internship as a platform to apply for graduate study in archaeology in Europe.”
Shuler is a junior history major with a minor in Christian studies. He is from Moncks Corner.
Colonial Dorchester State Historic Site is located on what was once the town of Dorchester, established in 1697 as a major trade center on the Ashley River. Notable historical figures Francis Marion and Thomas Sumter were stationed at the tabby fort at Colonial Dorchester during the Revolutionary War before Charles Towne fell to the British, and the British took over the fort. The town was abandoned after the war.