Path Home Shows 2014 Show Archive September 2014 Show 1439 Rose Hill - Digging Up History

Rose Hill - Digging Up History

Value Added: Oklahoma has a rich history, and some of it is still being uncovered at the Rose Hill Plantation in Hugo.
Rose Hill - Digging Up History

Rose Hill - Digging Up History

For more information visit these links:

Facebook – Oklahoma Archaeology Month

Choctaw County Oklahoma Genealogy

Oklahoma Anthropological Society

Show Details

Show 1439: Rose Hill - Digging Up History
Air Date: September 28, 2014



Rob McClendon: Well, just southeast of Hugo, Okla., is the location of the former home of the largest slave owner, and probably the wealthiest Choctaw Indian of his day, Col. Robert M. Jones. His antebellum mansion named Rose Hill was built before the Civil War and was one of six cotton plantations Jones owned along the Red River. Jones died in 1873 and Rose Hill burnt to the ground in 1915, and the story of one of the most successful early Oklahomans was largely lost to the ages until a group of dedicated archaeologists and volunteers began excavating the site in 2010. Joining me now is our Alisa Hines.

Alisa Hines: Well, Rob, researching and preserving Oklahoma’s cultural heritage is the focus of the Oklahoma Archeological Survey. Each year they conduct archaeological digs to help better understand our Oklahoma history. And I joined them as they uncovered a piece of Oklahoma history.

From scraping to picking to screening, Oklahoma’s past is being uncovered.

Amanda Regnier: A lot of nails, a lot of glass. We also have ceramics from the period, glass bottles, a lot of bricks, you know, just sort of the garbage of everyday life. And that’s what archaeologists are really interested in is what kind of trash we’re disposing on a regular basis.

Alisa: Amanda Regnier is with the Oklahoma Archeological Survey and says with over 10,000 archaeological sites in the state, there’s plenty to discover.


And while it’s artifacts they’re digging up, it’s really knowledge they’re after.

Amanda: We don’t start doing archaeology on a site unless you have a research question. No archaeologists dig just for the sake of digging. In this case, our research question is, what is life like for someone who’s on a Choctaw plantation in Oklahoma? How does it compare to life on a plantation in the rest of, in the Southeast in the United States? So that was sort of, one of our overarching research goals. We start out with a really kind of rough guideline of, you know, this is what we want to find out, this is where we want to dig and then, and then our plans change as we go depending on what we find.

Alisa: But to find things requires a lot of help.

Amanda: Without the volunteers we would not have been able to do any of this so we’re very grateful to have them.

Alisa: Volunteers like Ed Mayfield, who’s been digging for over 15 years and says he really enjoys it.

Ed Mayfield: Oh, I love it! I absolutely love it to the point to where my wife sometimes just says I don’t know how anybody can be that crazy about something like that. But I do. I just love it! And I love the people, the camaraderie; that’s a big part of it for me. The one thing about it is that being at a dig can be very arduous, can be very long hours, hot, dirty work. And there are times that we will ask ourselves, “What are we doing here?” [Laughs.] But at the same time somebody will find something, and all of the sudden everybody will just start whooping and hollering and all gather around the pit and look at it. So that’s a stimulus for us and we just love it. We just love it!

Alisa: And it’s that thrill of discovery that keeps Ed coming back year after year.

Ed: But archaeology is changing in the time that even I’ve been into it. But the soil archaeology there will always be, I’m quite sure, the need for what we call ourselves, shovel bums, to go out to sites and to extract it from the earth. Technology is changing archaeology considerably. If nothing else, one thing about technology is being able to find sites and not disrupt the sites. It’s so important to the archaeologist, if he finds the site he’s to preserve the site until he can get to it. And he can use, there’s always new technologies that’s going to allow him, even with sites that they’ve covered up and go back to, with new technology to be able to understand more about the site, and that’s a real blessing with new technology that’s coming along. But you still have to go out and do the grunt work, and that’s where we’re at. But it’s -- I think one of the most exciting things for me is to pull something from the earth that has not seen the light of day in some cases for 1,000, 2,000 years. It’s just an exhilarating feeling.

Amanda: The Oklahoma Anthropological Society is open to anybody who’s interested in anthropology, particularly archaeology in the state of Oklahoma. Everyone you see here is someone who’s interested in doing it. You don’t have to have any experience. You can come out and dig. We’ll train you on what to do. We’ll even provide you with equipment. And, uh, you know, we’ve got volunteers who’ve been coming out here for years and they’re very skilled at what they do, and then we have beginners who just love it. And everybody, you know, everybody loves to do archaeology, and there’s no pressure. It’s a nice, fun time for everyone.

Alisa: And it’s new technology like ground penetrating radar that helps the Oklahoma Archeological Survey’s Scott Hammerstedt find where to dig or in this case, where not to.

Scott Hammerstedt: It’s a nice, non-invasive technique to be able to see below the ground. In this case, I have it set up to see about 5 feet below ground. It can go as deep as 3 or 4 meters or about 15 to 20 feet depending on what situation we’re in. What we do is we systematically -- we have these ropes set up along the ground -- we systematically move it along these ropes. It takes a snapshot at a set interval and gives us a view of what’s down there, what depth it is and based on the signature the radar bounces back gives us an idea of what object or whatever graves or whatever might be down there. It lets us know where graves are without having to worry about digging; that’s very important. Also, archaeology is a very slow, very expensive process, and this gives us a lot of information without having to go through the tedium of the excavation.

Alisa: For almost 20 years, Cathy Compton has been volunteering at digs across the state, and her job is as important to the archeologists as the shovel bums. She keeps the records for each artifact found at the site.

Cathy Compton: It keeps track of where it’s found in the unit, which unit. It keeps track of who handled it. It’ll go from who found it to me to the lab and then from the lab to the museum. So it keeps track of its provenance, how, where it’s found, exactly where it’s found, and if you lose that, then you lose the information from the artifacts. You might as well just be a pot hunter if you don’t document what you find.

Alisa: And a pot hunter is a bad word in the archaeological world. Think of Indiana Jones.

[movie excerpt: There is nothing you can possess which I cannot take away].

Alisa: Pot hunters are those who rob from history rather than share it with museums to be studied. And while no one here will be taking any artifacts home, they will take away.

Cathy: Good memories, fun times, good companionship; you can make really good friends. And then you go away for, you know, six months, and then you all get back together again. So you make really, the companionship is what you take away. Good memories, and dirt, and dirt in your shoes, dirt in your ears [laugh], dirt in your shirt, dirt in your pants.

Alisa: And in your hair and on your clothes and in your car; it’s definitely dirty work, but I know from personal experience that I certainly enjoyed it.

Rob: So are you now what they consider a shovel bum?

Alisa: Yes, I am; I’ve been on two digs already and can’t wait to do it again. Like Ed said, when you hold that piece of history in your hands that nobody has touched in 1,000, 2,000 years, it’s just an amazing feeling.

Rob: And what have you found so far?

Alisa: Well, in my first dig I found a stone scraper that’s used to scrape buffalo hides. And then, I also found a stone arrowhead. Now, at Rose Hill dig, I found lots and lots of glass and some square headed nails that were from that period.

Rob: So how did you get involved in all of this?

Alisa: Well, I was actually taping another story, and a person there told me about the volunteer program. And when he said archaeology, my ears perked up because I just love it; and at the time, really, I had children, and so I kind of put it to the side. But then once my children left home, and I had time on my hands, I looked the program up online and discovered, you know, how I could join, and I’ve been doing it ever since and just love it.

Rob: And for our viewers, how do they get involved?

Alisa: OK, well, what you can do is you can go to the Oklahoma Anthropological Society site and look up what they -- find where they have a program close to you and go attend one and see what they’re all about. Even archaeologists can contact the society if they want to use us and put in a request.

Rob: Well, all right. Well, sounds like a lot of fun if you don’t mind getting your hands a bit dirty.

Alisa: That’s right, Rob. It’s a joy to be out there.

Rob: All right,. Thank you so much, Alisa.

Alisa: You’re welcome, Rob.