Multiple Organizations Collaborate To Uncover Layers Of History Beneath New London
Eleven miles southwest of Lynchburg, the former town of New London hides many relics of American history underground. With the help of archaeologists from Hurt & Proffitt, an engineering and surveying firm, as well as several history majors, Liberty University is working to uncover these artifacts.
Digging deep into the ground, the archaeologists at New London search for artifacts that date back to the 1700s, and, in doing so, are able to learn about the lives lived in this area. According to Director of Public History Initiatives Donna Donald, in the 18th century, New London sat as an important migration crossroads on the edge of the American frontier. During the Revolutionary War, New London was also home to an arsenal that supplied the continental army under General Nathanael Greene.
While most of the items found are cataloged and stored, some items are preserved and put in temporary exhibits, such as the one currently on the first floor of DeMoss. They hope to eventually put them in permanent exhibits.
With CSER and volunteer opportunities, students can join the archaeologists at New London and uncover history themselves. Donald said that the New London site allows students to get a feel of what archaeology is like.
“Everything we do at New London is about student research, giving students experience for career readiness, and giving them hands-on opportunities, and everything we’ve done is centered on that,” Donald said. “Even the New London Wikipedia page was written by students.”
Brian Quinn, a former Liberty student, said that he learned a lot about archaeology during his time working at New London excavations. Quinn initially volunteered at Mead’s Tavern for CSER credit, but as time went on, he started to volunteer past the CSER requirement simply because he enjoyed the work.
“I would definitely recommend this volunteer opportunity to other students, even if you are not a history student, because of the unique experience you gain from it as well as the awesome work that you get to be a part of,” Quinn said.
Liberty has been working at New London since 2015 and has conducted three excavations at Mead’s Tavern and the most recent one at the Bedford Alum Springs Hotel. For an archaeological survey, they dig a two foot by two foot test pit every 20 feet and dig down until they are at sterile soil, where there are no more artifacts. They process and record what they find to get an idea of what the area looked like in the past. At Mead’s Tavern alone, the department has found 30,000 artifacts.
Randy Lichtenberger, the director of cultural resources at Hurt & Proffitt, said that a typical day for him and his team means arriving at the site in the morning and marking out areas to dig. Once the hole locations are determined, the Hurt & Proffitt employees then start excavating the ground through stratigraphic layering.
“We’re looking for changes in the soil color and texture, and each of those layers are labeled with a letter (A, B, C, etc.), and the soil from those are screened through 0.25-inch mesh and (then) the artifacts are collected,” Lichtenberger said.
Some of the most interesting artifacts that have been found at the hotel survey include a musket ball mold and a projectile point from a Native American weapon. The projectile was found last year and, based off similar artifacts, was determined to be at least several thousand years old. The department has found even more artifacts at the Mead’s Tavern surveys, which include coins from the 18th century and a button from Wayne’s Legion, the first U.S. army. The button’s discovery indicates that military activity took place at New London.
This summer the history department will be offering an archaeology intensive at the site from May 17-21, and Mead’s Tavern will go before the National Register Nomination Committee in June to get the site registered as a historic site. This fall, the history department will partner with Friends of New London to host New London Day on October 2, a chance for the public to learn about the town’s history and for students to give tours of the buildings and share the history of the sites at New London.
More information about Friends of New London and their work can be found at newlondonmuseum.org.
Asher Notheis is a News Reporter. Follow him on Twitter at @ashernotheis.