Post By Dan
Jun 11, 2012, 05:23 PM
Archeologist unearths remnants of 1777 battle (using an MD)
Not too far from my area
Archeologist unearths remnants of 1777 battle | Acorn-Online.com
Sunday, 10 June 2012 05:00
Hands dirty, using a metal detector and a garden shovel in the dark earth, Garrett Silliman searched a Main Street building site for artifacts left from the Battle of Ridgefield — where his great, great, great, great, great-grandfather had been one of the commanders of colonial forces fighting the British.
“Gold Selleck Silliman,” he said. “He went by Selleck.”
Mr. Silliman, of Georgia-based Terminus Archeological Research, conducted five days of systematic investigation at 593 Main Street, a one-acre property with an empty 1950s house on it — and a recent approval for 16 units under the state’s affordable housing law, 8-30g.
The site is roughly where colonial militia led by General Benedict Arnold — and General Gold Selleck Silliman — erected a barricade of carts, stones and logs on April 27, 1777. There they made a stand against British troops’ retreat from burning Danbury to ships anchored off what is now Westport.
“We did find artifacts dating from the 18th Century and we did find artifacts that are likely associated with the Battle of Ridgefield,” Mr. Silliman said Friday, May 25, his last day of work in town.
In a three-page “management summary” sent to property owner Patrick Downend, and filed with town June 1, Mr. Silliman described what he’d found.
Most significant was “a fired musket ball.” The ball was “completely denatured by high-velocity impact, but likely .75 caliber — British by weight,” he said.
“This artifact stands as a testament to the physical location of the battlefield even 235 years after it occurred,” he wrote. “Fired or dropped musket balls are generally the best indicator of a battle site due to their ubiquity and the general brevity of engagements.”
The musket ball helped Mr. Silliman, a battlefield archeologist, “to interpret other artifacts as having been deposited as a result of the Battle of Ridgefield,” he said.
“These artifacts include a gunflint fragment and two probable iron musket parts.”
More was found.
“Additional artifacts from both shovel testing and metal detection date to the general time of the battle, but are likely civilian/domestic in origin,” he wrote. “These artifacts were likely deposited not as a result of the battle but as domestic refuse initially, and re-distributed through subsequent plowing.”
The archeological investigation at the Main Street site was a condition of the Planning and Zoning Commission’s approval of the 16-unit development, and was paid for by Mr. Downend — who had agreed to the condition.
“What I performed this week was a phase one reconnaissance survey, which determines the absence or presence of archeological materials — and the condition, integrity of the site,” Mr. Silliman said in an interview.
“A portion of the site appears to have integrity,” he added.
The “integrity” — how much disturbance the site has had over the years — is critical to making archeological sense of what’s found.
“It’s not just about gathering artifacts, things. It’s about determining the nature of the site — context,” Mr. Silliman said. “What we do in archeology is attempt to reconstruct the past not only through the artifacts, but their context in relation to the landscape.”
In his management summary — a precursor to a longer report — Mr. Silliman singles out the eastern portion of the site, saying it “appears to retain both stratigraphic integrity (soil profile), as well as the ability to demonstrate its integrity.”
“Systematic sampling of this portion of the property yielded artifacts associated with both the Battle of Ridgefield as well as the eighteenth through early nineteenth century occupation of the area,” he wrote. “As a result, this newly identified site (which will receive a state number) would likely yield additional significant information concerning these events.”
Mr. Silliman “recommends that a boundary be placed around the site to prevent disturbance during construction and some type of agreement reached that allows for its continued preservation.”
If the area must be disturbed for the construction project “additional archeological testing should be conducted,” he recommends.
More westerly portions of the site appear to have been low wet areas that were filled, possibly for the 1950s house construction, and don’t demand protection, he said.
Town Planner Betty Brosius thought protecting just the eastern portion of the site might be practical, despite building plans that call for 16 units, and parking, on an acre.
“I believe that the area of continued interest is primarily in the section in front of the building where a grass ‘front lawn’ is planned. It may indeed be possible to preserve that section (or at least a substantial portion of it)” Ms. Brosius said in an email.
She noted that she hadn’t discussed the findings with either the property owner, Mr. Downend, or Connecticut State Archeologist Nicholas Bellantoni.
Mr. Bellantoni visited the site during Mr. Silliman’s work, and received a copy of the management summary.
“I will be sending my recommendations to the town upon review of the full report,” Mr. Bellantoni said in an email. “We will be working with the town and the developer to determine if the area east of the sewer line can be maintained as open space. If not, we may recommend additional survey. We were pleased with the way the survey was conducted and look forward to the full report.”
Mr. Silliman was assisted by Sarah Jones, an archeology student from Kennesaw State University in Georgia. They worked at the site for about 32 hours over five days, and did about eight hours of research in town, at places like the library and Ridgefield Historical Society.
He described his approach.
“We did do shovel testing across the entire property, 50 by 50 centimeters, about a foot and a half by a foot and a half,” he said. “We do these at regular intervals. I believe we did nine across the property.
“Due to the probability of artifacts from the Battle of Ridgefield, we also did metal detection. I had four sample fields. I record everything I recover within those 25-foot by 25-foot blocks.”
Mr. Silliman often uses metal detectors. “There are certain tonal signatures I’ll listen for,” he said. “That’ll give me an idea what’s in the ground. Every metal has its tonal signature. Based on that, I decide where to dig.”
He’s also guided by accounts of the site’s past.
“The barricade from 1777 was somewhere up around the ridge,” he said. “You’d expect to find the heaviest concentration of artifacts there.”
Once the field work is done, he uses a geographic information system — sophisticated mapping software — to help create a context for understanding the site. Information “gathered through systematic metal detection sampling and consistent interval shovel testing” at the site is entered into the “GIS” mapping program, which allows layers of different information to be added and compared.
It might be “plot information” from surveyors who mapped the property, information from aerial photographs, town planning documents, historic maps.
“Maps drawn by the British when they came through Connecticut,” he said. “There are maps that show a lot of the homes that are no longer here, the Clark Map and Beers Map.”
Mr. Silliman said his full report would likely be done in about a month. Local authorities and the property owner will work out how his findings affect plans for the site.
“That is not my decision,” he said. “I help broker it by gathering the information and doing the research but, ultimately, it’s a decision that lies between the town, the property owner and the state archeologist... It’s always kind of a balancing act,” he said.
Mr. Silliman’s parents lived in Ridgefield on Laurel Hill Road when he was young. They moved, but the local history was in his upbringing, as well as his blood.
“I was always going to museums and my dad telling me stories. I remember him telling me the story of the Battle of Ridgefield. I remember going to the Keeler house and the cannonball in the beam,” he said.
“This is kind of a once in a lifetime opportunity,” he said. “I have a professional interest, but to be a descendent of one of the commanders on the battlefield, it’s not exactly something that happens every day.”
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