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Fire & Fury


Too much heat has melted and exploded two stacker jugs – now fused together.

The process of making pottery, from watery mud to something that endures for centuries, belies the fire and fury that is invested in the final piece. This is especially so for fine china, but even when it comes to the utilitarian stonewares of South Carolina’s Old Edgefield District, it is hard to imagine the violent process that produces the jugs, bowls, pitchers and other forms that are now so avidly collected across America.

As archaeologists, we delve into waster piles – the mountains of broken and damaged vessels that the buying public never sees. Once in a while we come across so something so spectacular that even we are in awe of the fury and energy that is the firing process. Photographed above is such a piece. It is a fragment of what looks like an Albany slip glazed half-gallon stacker jug. Welded to it is a fragment of a one or two gallon jug. We can see that this firing got way out of control. Temperatures and the green ware began to fuse, as it should, but then went on to actually melt. The result was a collapse of wares inside the kiln, perhaps even an explosion. After the kiln had cooled the potters removed all the damaged wares and tossed them on the waster heap.


The finished product – but even this handsome three gallon ovoid was thrown away!

The field portion of our work on 38ED221, where Joseph Baynham last worked, is long over. It generated a vast amount of material. Work began on the site in 1996 after an earlier archaeologist had written the area off as a product of Northern Ohio Valley potters. This despite general local knowledge that it dated to the 1860s. Thus informed, the owners had bulldozed some of the most important parts of the pottery. When we returned to re-assess the site, a written agreement was made with the owners that we would receive 50% of every intact vessel found, along with 100% of all the diagnostics we could recover. These would form part of the research collection for display and publication. Diagnostics are spouts, neck, handles, rims, anything part of the broken vessels that would tell us what form it originally had. Pot hunters had been picking over abandoned Edgefield potteries for half a century, so we did not, in fact, expect to find any intact pots. These are damaged vessels that pot hunters can repair with bondo and sell to unsuspecting collectors. The owners, Dr. Michael and Kim Fulford, asked that we try to find at least two intact pots, one for each of their two children.

To this day we are puzzled by exactly how much work the earlier archaeologist did. Our first preliminary survey and testing work uncovered a rain washed gully that Baynham filled with over 1,000 intact and broken pots!

Documenting the gully finds (left) Field archaeologist Nick Nichols excavates a profile. (Upper right) Aerial view of one of the excavation units. Aerials were shot of the entire gully. (Lower right) author draws a profile.

They ranged in size from magnificent five gallon alkaline glazed ovoids to small half gallon Albany slip glazed stacker jugs.


A selection of vessels recovered from the ‘gully’.

We spent an entire summer carefully excavating the deposit and cleaning, photographing and cataloging the entire assembly. The find amounted to possibly the single most important discovery in the history of Edgefield pottery, perhaps even in the history of American ceramics.


Property owner Mrs. Kim Fulford was a constant presence during the dig and helped document and catalog the finds.

We knew then that taking half of the collection was not an ethical option. A collection of such size and importance had to stay together. Dr. Fulford agreed, undertaking to store and eventually display or donate the vessels and promising never to sell any to the collector market. Instead of breaking up the collection, we opted to take a representative sample of each vessel type from the five gallon ovoid to the small stacker jug (we never received a five gallon ovoid). Also, we sampled bowls, cream risers and chamber pots. Some of these were published in later articles including Ceramics in America.

Armed with our new knowledge of exactly what was being made at the site from the early 1860s to 1906, we also started buying vessels in junk and antique stores from Virginia to Florida. Joseph Baynham, and especially his son Mark, were exceptionally effective in marketing their pots in an age when only rail and horse and cart were available for transportation.

The artifacts recovered from the Trenton site ranged from pottery to Henry cartridges, small copper tags and a large number of South Carolina Dispensary and wine bottles. Evidently alcohol consumption was a necessary part of pot production! There were also many patent medicine bottles, including “female regulators’, indicating that women were part of the workforce.

While this assemblage is the stuff of eventual technical publications, it also gave us a ‘feel’ for the lives of the pottery workers. One of them was an African, Ward Lee, whose original name was Cilucangy. Lee was brought to Georgia in 1858 aboard the slave ship Wanderer, the last to bring enslaved Africans into the southeastern states. As part of our Edgefield research we spoke on numerous occasions to his descendants. They still own property in the Trenton area and, like many Wanderer descendants in the US, they retain and celebrate the details of their ancestry.


Ward Lee.

Much of this information was sent to novelist Jack Rees, a friend living in California. It is, of course, impossible to know exactly what life was like for workers in the Edgefield pottery industry, but, using the information we provided, we asked Rees to write a creative piece we could include in our upcoming media work on the potteries. This is what he sent us:

Burning Kiln…

Jack Rees 1998.

The sun had not long sunk below the pines, the crimson sky was fading to violet blue and the final burn began. The younger men worked furiously as the kiln master ordered them to load the firebox with smaller splits of pine. Even in the cold November air they were sweating, it had been a hard three days and nights and now the kiln was nearing its final searing crescendo of heat.

The old man lowered himself carefully in the battered chair set off to one side of the kiln. He watched and listened as the wood in the firebox exploded. Sheets of flame, first dull crimson, then bright red and finally yellow began to roar from the short chimney stack at the end of the groundhog kiln.

He remembered the very first time he had seen potters burning kiln. It was a few short years after he had walked down Plank Road from Hamburg to Trenton in the midst of South Carolina’s piedmont pottery industry. His name was Cilucangy in those days. He was one a several hundred fellow Africans who had survived the barracoons of the Congo delta, the horrors of the forced passage across the ocean and the secretive arrival off Jekyll Island, Ga. Two months before he had been a carefree child working a field with his mother. He first became a captive and then, once delivered to Georgia in 1858, he became a slave.

The memory faded momentarily as light shone brighter through the cracks of the brickwork of the arched roof of the kiln. The bands of wire cable stretched over the roof and turn buckled tight were now beginning to strain as the entire kiln began to expand like some fearsome creature straining against its bonds. The men worked to feed the fire as it consumed the pine and fat lighter. The pottery was in darkness now but the fierce light of the firebox bounced off the sweating faces of the men, both white and black as they fought to keep the fire alive and hot. As a young boy, Cilucangy was convinced this was a scene from the white man’s Hell.

Cilucangy. Now his name was Ward Lee, a white name to be sure, but one of his own making. The kilnmaster looked across the kiln at him. Ward scanned the flames from the chimney and the color of the light from the kiln cracks. He shook his head from side to side. More heat. The kiln master signaled to the men at the firebox. They knew to start plying the fire with smaller, faster burning wood.

As a boy he watched this process with a wide-eyed mixture of fear and fascination. He had seen the ngangas of the village in the Congo make iron with their magic and tiny smelting kilns, but this…it was an entirely different kind of magic. As the temperature increased the air began to roar from the firebox to the chimney. It passed over the mouths of the stoneware jugs inside the kiln and they began to hum. The faster and hotter the air, the higher the pitch. The kiln was buckling, straining and now moaning like a thing alive.

“Sing to me,” thought Ward Lee, “tell me when you are ready to be saved from the fire!”

The old man heard the singing of the women folk long before they rounded the corner of the dirt road leading through the pines to the kiln. They were coming to the men to celebrate the end of the four day burn with barbecued chicken and pork, collards, beans and some pine needle tea. Later there would be more singing by lantern light and perhaps a little moonshine as well.

The children gathered around the old man. They had run well ahead of the womenfolk as soon as they had seen the light of the kiln fire. Ward smiled and patted heads here and there and soon the children sat on the ground to watch the last minutes of the firing.

The kiln master looked once more at Ward. The old man groaned and hauled himself out of the chair. He looked into the firebox, then he walked along the low side of the groundhog kiln. One of the younger men bent to pull a small brick out of the wall. A bright yellow shaft of light spotlighted Ward’s coal black skin and white beard. He squinted and peered into the kiln. There, in the midst of the searing light, he could see massive ten gallon storage jars and stacks of quart whiskey jars and clabber bowls, their surfaces glistening as if wet. Ward nodded and the brick was replaced. He stepped down to the end of the kiln and another brick was removed. He groaned as he bent his knees and peered inside. Yes, now the back of the kiln was as hot as the front and the pots glistened alike. They were ready.

Ward held up five fingers. The kiln master nodded to the men at the firebox. They were watching and fed the fire for five minutes more. Then each man grabbed a firebrick in each hand from a stack by the firebox door and began to brick up the entrance. In a minute or two the kiln fell silent, the roaring of the fire ceased, the hum of the pottery necks died to a whisper and the light faded from the chimney stack above them.

The women lit kerosene lanterns and began to serve the food and tea. The men collapsed on the ground, most of them too tired to eat.

Ward eased back into his chair as his granddaughter Ocea sat at his feet, “Tell us about slavery time Granpa Lee. Tell us about the Wanderer!”

“Hush chile, you know better, we doan talk about them days…” Ocea’s mother snapped her long apron in disapproval. Ocea, chastened dropped her face to the ground. Then Ocea looked up and smiled, “Granpa Lee, tell us about Africa! Tell us about home!”

Ward Lee smiled broadly, planted his cane between his knees and leaned forward with his hands crossed over the finely carved handle.

“Children, did I ever tell you the story about how the soles of our feet and the palms of our hands got to be lighter than the rest of our bodies?”

The children clapped their hands and laughed, a new story!

“Well,” said Lee, “There is an old legend about Okolun who heard the prayers of the villagers in the very first village ever there was in the Congo land… ”


Our research into Ward Lee led into many interviews and archival searches into the origins of the enslaved Africans aboard the Wanderer. We learned that some 200 of them came to the Edgefield potteries. We accumulated hundreds of newspaper accounts, letters and other documents. We also invited many descendants to meet with us at the Schomberg Institute in Harlem, New York City, where we video-taped their personal stories. In some cases invitees had no idea who their descendants were. We were able to track them down by name and then, at the Schomberg, tell them their history, even down to the villages in the Congo where their ancestor came from. It was a very emotional afternoon.

As we started creating Internet media through which we could publish our findings, we sought ways in which we could bring these ancestors ‘alive’. A New York recording studio was used to make recordings of some of the letters we had found, all made by recent African immigrants, the accents of the voices were electrifying! Listen on our upcoming YouTube Channel “Archaeonaut” as an actor reads a letter Ward Lee sent to a local Edgefield newspaper. He desperately wanted to return home…





Lives In Clay: Lewis Miles

The enslaved potter Dave learned to write and read at Landrum’s newspaper, The Hive.

In our last post we related how the Dr. Abner Landrum established the first pottery business in the Old Edgefield District at Pottersville or Landrumsville. The business was obviously successful for his brother Amos and John both established their own potteries soon after Pottersville. Lewis Miles married into the Rev. John Landrum family and for a while worked with his brother in law, Benjamin Landrum. When John Landrum died in December of 1846 a major part of his estate went to Lewis Miles. 

John Landrum’s will bequeathed Dave to B. F. Landrum – a harsh slave owner.

Lewis Miles owes much of his fame to the ownership of the enslaved potter Dave. Dave doubtless learned to read and write when he worked on the Abner Landrum’s newspaper, The Hive, in Edgefield. He later worked at the Abner’s Pottersville factory and appears to have written his name and date on his first pot in 1834. According to Landrum’s will, Dave became the possession of Benjamin Landrum. Yet it is clear that at some point this ownership was transferred to Lewis Miles. Dave wrote on one pot “Dave belongs to Mr. Miles…” And of course, there is a vast inventory of Miles ware on which Dave wrote dates and couplets.

“Dave belongs to Mr. Miles…”

In the early stages of archaeological investigation into the Edgefield potteries the location of the Miles pottery was considered the grand prize. In 1859 Dave inscribed a large pot with the words “Made at Stoney Bluff for making lard enuff.” New Orleans archaeologist George Castille and his assistant Carl Steen began a survey of potteries following preparatory grant work by State Archaeologist Stanley South and myself. Finding the location of Stoney Bluff would have been a major discovery in view of the great interest in Dave. 

Castille and the rest of the archaeological community were unaware that one avid collector had already found the location and was keeping it a tightly guarded secret. Lewis Miles had, in fact, created potteries in a number of areas east of Edgefield. The reason for this is believed to the availability of stoneware clays and the large quantities of wood needed to fire kilns.

Miles, we know, worked on Horse Creek and Schoolhouse Creek, and of course, on Stoney Bluff. in 1862 Miles announced that he had relocated and consolidated his business interests on “the Beaver Dam” four miles from Pine House – the spot where today’s Highways 19 and 25 cross. Many collectors and researchers have assumed this location was at a place called Sunnybrook  (or sometimes Miles Mill)- a point where an old railroad line crosses the Aiken county and Edgefield county line. Lewis Miles stopped a train at this location that carried freight for his Beaver Dam pottery – and this is the source of the Miles Mill name attached to the Sunnybrook location. We know now that the pottery at “Beaver Dam “was in fact located some distance away from Sunnybrook.

The Beaver Dam location today.

As the mid-1980s survey of Edgefield potteries was being conducted, archaeologists and researchers were busily engaged in the search for documents relating to the potters. One source provided insights into Lewis Miles the man, and his slave, Dave. A German potter by the name of George Flesher (actually Fliescher, he changed his name just prior to World War I due to the unpopularity in America of the Kaiser and Germans) gave a pottery making demonstration at the Charleston Museum in 1930. Museum staff recorded Flesher’s recollections of his early days working in the Edgefield potteries. He described working at one pottery where Dave had worked (we believed this to be the Beaver Dam location) and was told that Dave had only one leg. The famous slave had died a few decades before this. Flesher described Miles as a “Fine looking man who dressed like General Jackson.”

General Jackson – Miles shared the high forehead.

He said he always gave generously to the poor. Miles, according the Flesher, was aware that the Civil War might not go well or the south. He asked Dave to make some narrow jars with small necks and in these he stored gold and silver coins. Several of the jars were found by descendants after Miles’ death – so clearly he did not recover all of them after the Civil War. It is believed that not all of the jars were found – Miles’ grave at the Baptist Springfield Church Road was violated in later years by looters in search of more jars.

During Castille’s initial survey of Edgefield pottery sites in the mid 1980s, his assistant went to a pottery site known to have been used by Joseph Gregory Baynham. The site was near Trenton and Eureka, South Carolina. The assistant walked over the area once occupied by Baynham – and then told the landowners that the pottery was typical of late 19th Ohio valley pottery and was of no historical value (Personal Communication, Dr. Michael and Mrs. Kim Fulford, June, 1996). With this assurance, the landowner had a contractor bulldoze most of the site to create fill for a pond dam that was increased in height by some four meters.

The dam raised by 12 feet with fill from the Lewis Miles site upstream from the Beaver Dam.

In fact, it was well known at the time that Baynham had been making pottery on the site since about 1870. Baynham’s grandchildren and great grandchildren were residents of the area and the family history was well known at the time. Even colleagues of the Castille team were aware of this history.

In 1996 I returned to the Baynham site with the Georgia Archaeological Institute  to do a proper assessment of its historical value. On top of the new dam I found pottery sherds that were completely unlike anything Baynham was known to have produced. It was then that it was learned that most of the site had been destroyed and used as fill for the dam based on the comments of Castille’s assistant.

We then conducted test excavations on what remained of the site. We found that beneath the Baynham pottery there was another earlier one. It dated to to the 1860s. We reviewed archival research, most specifically Lewis Miles statements about the location of his last pottery – and realized to our dismay that this area, not SunnyBrook was the location of Mile’s last pottery at the Beaver Dam. The Beaver Dam was in fact a short distance from the Miles pottery. We found that it had been built with several chutes designed to take power from the head of water in the pond behind the dam. We also found nearby a large pit filled with cow bones. It was clear to us that this was the area where Miles operated his tannery and saw mill. The pottery, a fire hazard for a saw mill, was located at the opposite end of the same pond.

As we excavated further we began to find intimations of Dave’s presence, sherds with sgraffito drawings and capacity marks and handles with his massive thumbprints. Our search for vessels in collections turned up a jug with an entire letter written on its base! We were also told by local informants that two Scottish potters worked at the site, and that Mile’s son, John Lewis Miles, operated the site for a short period after his father’s death.

Dave sgraffito.

Dave Thumbprint.

Another Dave “l” mark.

Capacity sgraffito attributed to Dave.

Very flat, wide-lipped necks were a distinctive feature of the pottery from this site. The vessels were skillfully made, the glazes were some of the most beautiful green and brown glazes I have ever seen. Interestingly there is only one other place I have seen this flat neck – on Speyside whiskey jugs that I photographed in Scotland. We have yet to find archival confirmation of these Sottish potters tho.

Speyside whiskey jug with flat top neck.

Typical flat top neck at Miles Beaver Dam site.

During this period I also worked closely with Joe and Fred Holcombe of Clinton, S.C. Fred was the collector who had discovered Stoney Bluff. With Joe and his wife, Fred had spent years combing the Edgefield area, building up a massive inventory of diagnostic sherds and purchasing whole vessels made at each of the pottery sites. The contractor who bulldozed the dam on the last Miles pottery sold Fred a number of Miles pots from the site, some seventeen intact pots had been found during the construction. The Holcombes also suggested that this site was also the source of many of the face jugs that had been seen in collections as early as the 1900s. The reason for this was the flat lip necks that the Holcombe had seen on intact jugs recovered from the site by the contractor who bulldozed material for the new dam on Mathis Pond. These necks, the glazes and the body clays were the same as those seen on the face jugs that had been documented in northern collections as early as the 1900s.

Surely enough, as we expanded our random test pits over the Baynham pottery, we encountered one spot where we found waster sherds from the same type of face jugs documented in the early collections. We were the first to discover the manufacturing source of the intriguing Africanized face jugs. There will be a complete article on these face jugs in a future post and Archaeonaut Channel program.

Face jug with same flat top neck, glaze and body clay as the Miles Beaver Dam site jugs.

Face Jug frag (one of several thousand frags) recovered at face jug production site near the Miles Pottery.

The video program on Lewis Miles can be found at Archaeonaut Channel,

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Introduction to Edgefield Stonewares

This is the transcript of the first program in our YouTube series on the stoneware potteries of the Old Edgefield District of South Carolina (Link)

Stoneware pots…might not sound interesting to many people…but then when you consider pots that are the most collectable in America, pots that are the most rare and valuable…pots that are considered an early American art form…pots that connect us directly to the magic and pathos of Western Africa in the 19th Century, and even spring from industrial secrets stolen from ancient China…then you have some stories you might want to hear.

My name is Mark Newell. I have searched, collected and excavated stoneware potteries for more than thirty years. Over the next few programs I will introduce you to the fascinating story of stonewares made in the potteries of the Old Edgefield District in South Carolina.

In each program I will introduce you to the major potteries and show you a range of the wares they produced. We will look at the features that distinguish one pottery from another, talk about the richly colored  glazes, the pottery marks, capacity marks and more. The programs will give you a basic overview of the Edgefield potteries, the men – and women – behind the pots – and the stories that make these unique vessels sing to us about the rich traditions of Edgefield’s chapter in the story of Southern Pottery.

Landrumsville – also known as Pottersville on the outskirts of Edgefield

The first stoneware pottery was built  in an area called Pottersville doubtless to meet the growing need for utilitarian storage vessels for everything from whiskey to turpentine, preserves and even bear meat. In those days this was the American frontier and finished goods from Europe were hard to come by.

Typical storage jar from Landrum’s pottery.

That first pottery I mentioned was started by Abner Landrum around 1800  just outside the town of Edgefield .  When the site was finally excavated recently it was discovered that Landrum had built a 100 foot long Chinese style  ‘dragon’ kiln.




Image showing the footprint of Landrum’s kiln at Pottersville (Christopher Fennell)

Chinese dragon kiln in Jingdezhen Province China (

Loading a Dragon Kiln (Pinterest)

Prior to this excavation there had been much debate about how Chinese style ash glazes came to be used in South Carolina in the 1800s.

Chinese ash Glaze (Pinterest)

Many collectors liked to believe it was American co-invention. In fact a Jesuit priest in China, Father d’Entrecolles sent highly detailed information about porcelain manufacturing back to Europe in 1722.

d’Entrecolles letter published in France 1722.

The English trade directory that reproduced a translation of d’Entrecolle’s letter in 1755.

That information was published in an English dictionary of trade of commerce – and this almost certainly was the source of Landrum’s knowledge.[Insert trade Dict picture]. Landrum was initially interested in producing porcelain – but does not appear to have ever been successful at it with his Dragon Kiln. He respond to the demand for utilitarian stoneware though – and so started the expansion of the pottery industry in South Carolina. Within a short while of the start of the Pottersville operation, Landum’s brothers Amos and John started their own operations on Edgefield’s Horse Creek – the remains of finely bricked waterways can still be found at these sites.

Landrum’s first pottery also saw the beginning of unique vessels created by an enslaved potter by the name of David Drake, known to most of us as simply ‘Dave.”

Inscribe pot thrown by Dave in 1858

Dave may have worked at Landrum’s  Edgefield newspaper “The Hive” and it is thought that it was here that he learned to read and write – supposedly an illegal activity for slaves at the time. We know his story because he often wrote dates, his owner names and even short poems on many of his pots. Some of them were very large – up to 40 gallons.

Large storage jar made by Dave and inscribed with a couplet.

They are among the most highly prized vessels by collectors and museums. We will devote an entire program to Dave later on in this series.  Landrum. it is clear, was very liberal in his views..something that made him unpopular in The Old Edgefield District which was firmly committed to the institution of slavery. As a result, Landrum moved to Columbia, South Carolina in 1830 and started a new pottery and brick operation – and a newspaper there. His most famous potter, Dave, remained in Edgefield, becoming the property of Landrum’s son-in-law, Lewis Miles – the next Edgefield Potter we will discuss.

There are many Landrum Potterville pots to be found. They are most often large ovoid posts with a rich, runny glaze and a double collared neck. Some pots, such as this storage Jarappeared to be crude, even made by inexperienced hands. This pot is attributed to Dave and may be one of his earliest pieces.

Next program, Lewis Miles – and the loss of two of his pottery sites to pots hunters and bad archaeological judgment.

Last of the Riverboat Gamblers

“…Jack of Diamonds, Jack of Diamonds,

You robbin’ my pocket, of silver and Gold..”

(19th Century Alabama work song)


Steven Davis grew up on the Savannah River.  He was born at a time when the river was still important – the turn of the century when it was a major highway for just about anything headed for the port of Savannah, Georgia or back up to Augusta and beyond.  The railroads and the superhighways were killing the traffic on the old waterway and over the span of his lifetime, Steven Davis was destined to be a witness to the passing of this era.  He also became a part of the legend of the river.  To most who knew him, Steven Davis was a simple hand on a riverboat called the “Kathryn S” that ran on the river from Augusta to Savannah. He would tend the engine, tidy the passenger cabins, haul cargo on and off at places like White Woman’s Landing and Kill Devil Bend.  To a select few, however, he is still remembered as something more – the last of the river boat gamblers.


The Riverboat ‘Katie” – the Kathryn S would have looked much like this on the Savannah River
Stern wheel of the Kathryn S on the riverbank at Sandbar Ferry below Augusta Ga.

Davis was a tall black man – half African American, half Indian, with a palsied right arm and hand.  When the sun set on the Savannah and the “Kathryn S” pulled to the bank to moor for the night, the passengers and the crew would sit at a table in the big captain’s cabin on the second deck. By the light of kerosene lanterns they would drink whiskey and talk of cotton and politics.  When the conversation and the whiskey waned, out would come a deck of cards.

Davis was in his thirties when he began to crew on the “Kathryn S.”  By that time he already knew how to handle a pack of cards.  For most of his life he kept these skills a secret – a ploy that made him appear much less dangerous to the passengers who fancied themselves as skilled players.

The “Kathryn S” was a stern wheeled paddle boat built on the remains of an Augusta Canal barge in 1932 by “Gummy” Harrison and named for his wife.  Montgomery Harrison was the town’s only millionaire during the Depression.  The riverboat was an engine room, a galley and half a dozen tiny cabins.

The boat ran the river for more than twenty years under its Captain, Reggie Dales.  In the 1950’s Gummy sold her to “Big Roy” Simkins, another Augusta businessman. Big Roy ran the “Kathryn S” for thirteen more years, using it to haul general cargo and to pull snags from the river. By now the old riverboat was showing her years of hard use – her hull sagging at the bow and stern.

Big Roy took advantage of the flood of 1963 to drive the old riverboat onto the bank below Augusta.  When the flood was over, Simkins planned to overhaul her. Time passed and the work was never done.  The “Kathryn S” continued to sit on the riverbank under the watchful eye its only crew member – caretaker Steven Davis. Even though the old riverboat was hard aground, Davis continued to profit from the cards.

Throughout the sixties and the seventies, it was well known around Augusta that the game in town was the one that started every Friday night on board the “Kathryn S” down at SandBar Ferry.  Steven Davis ran a high stakes game that wasn’t open to just anyone.  You had to be a pretty well heeled businessman, or one of Augusta’s growing community of doctors from the Medical College or an Army officer from Fort Gordon’s Signal Corps to get an invite to the game.

By late Friday night, the air was thick with kerosene fumes, cigar smoke and the smell of the sweat of the early losers. Davis would coax his marks along with consummate skill.  The lightweight pockets were emptied by well into the night.  By Saturday, only the well-heeled players were still in the game. Over the next twelve hours Davis would coax them into staying with a pot here and there – but by dawn on Monday – most of them would wearily step off the side of the “Kathryn S” with barely enough cash to buy coffee and grits on Broad Street before starting their workday.

Davis always saw to it that once in a while a big winner walked off the boat.  These were the gamblers that spread the news of the game and convinced other would be players that it was honest.  Sometimes there was a sore loser.  If he couldn’t be convinced that Lady Luck had dealt him a bad game – Steven Davis would reach back into his pocket with lightening speed and brandish a small nickel plated .32 caliber pistol.  The only time his palsied hand held real steady – was when the little peacemaker was pointed at another gambler.  No one argued with Davis once that gun was in his hand.

Few people were ever close to Steven Davis. Once in a while, during those last years before he disappeared and when weekend long poker games were becoming a thing of the past, Davis would boast about his skill with the cards.  He would pull a fresh pack from the pocket of his denim overalls, break the seal, and shuffle. His hands would spin the cards out across the tabletop, usually five hands plus his own.  He would then describe each hand and how many cards each ‘player’ would draw to try and better it.  Then he would describe the hands again – all the time the cards were laying face down.  Players one and four have a short stake – they will only play a sure thing to conserve cash to ante up. Player two has two low pairs – he will raise to get a feel for the other hands being played.  Players three and five have a full house and a high two pairs between them. The dealer will match their raise to stay in the game – they will both think he’s bluffing. Player two will fold.  The game will go at least two more raises before three and five realize the dealer may have something.

Davis would then lay over his hand – a royal flush. Then he would turn over the other five hands – they would be exactly as he described them.

Davis did pretty well with his gambling from all accounts.  Each Friday morning he would send a messenger to a bank in Augusta to bring him $75.00, never more, never less.  On Monday that same messenger would carry back anywhere from $3000 to $6000 to be placed in four or five different accounts – Davis liked to spread his risk even when it came to banks.

Big Roy died some time ago and so did the money for the upkeep of the old riverboat.  As it fell into disrepair an aging Steve Davis was forced to move.  He disappeared from Augusta – and people figure he must be dead by now.  There are some who wonder if he was ever a cheat or a card sharp, doing as well as he did. Most people hope not – they would like to think that the last of the riverboat gamblers on the Savannah died standing pat.

Stern construction of the Kathryn S – exactly matches the drawings for Augusta Canal barges
Bow construction and cabin features for the Kathryn S from my field notes

Roman Coins and Mystery wrecks

Nummus showing The Goddess Helena. Obverse. view of one of the Seaton Down coins. Courtesy of the Trustees of the British Museum.

It is not often you get to hear from one of the world’s leading authorities on Roman Coins. In the new episode of the Archaeology Hour, Vincent Drost, Roman coin expert at England’s British Museum, speaks to us about 22,000 coins found at Seaton Down in the recent past. The coins gives us insight into the Roman monetary system and its empire-wide mints. We also discuss why so many such coin hoards were buried and never recovered.

One of the Seaton Down coins was the millionth object cataloged by the Portable Antiquities Scheme. Image: Courtesy of the Trustees of the British Museum

More images of the Seaton Down coins can be found at:

Next Christine Madigan (voted best Brit accent) gives us an overview of the current exhibit at the British Museum on The Celts. Working with the national Museum of Scotland and sources on the Continent, they have brought together some of the most remarkable finds over the years – magnificent pieces of jewelry and armor decorative in the distinctive Celtish style.

The British Museum - great shot from
The British Museum – great shot from
Images from the Gundestup Cauldron showing Cernnunos: Images:
Images from the Gundestup Cauldron showing Cernnunos: Images:
Spectacular brooch, typical of Celt goldsmithing. Image:
Spectacular brooch, typical of Celt goldsmithing. Image:
The horned 'Wandsworth' helmet.
The horned ‘Waterloo’ helmet found in 1860. Image:
Celt shield found at Wandsworth in London. Image: British Museum
Celt shield found at Wandsworth in London. Image: British Museum.

Finally NOAA archaeologist Bruce Terrell discusses a mysterious wreck found in six thousand fathoms off the coast of North Carolina. Far out on the Blake Plateau the little craft may be a coasting schooner blown far off course – or perhaps a rare Bermuda Sloop. Coasting schooners are represented by the vessel found at Brown’s Ferry in the Black River near Georgetown SC.

Conserved remains of the Brown's Ferry Coasting Schooner. Photo:
Conserved remains of the Brown’s Ferry Coasting Schooner. Photo:

Excavated by Alan Albright and later worked on by the author, the wreck tells us much about how these craft were built and operated. Bermuda sloops, however, are poorly documented. The National Maritime Museum in UK has drawings made by the Admiralty (they were that impressed by the speed and handling of the sloops) but wreckage has never been found and verified.

Bermuda Sloop under sail from an old print. Image:
Bermuda Sloop under sail from an old print. Image:

There MAY be a wreck of one off Turks & Caicos and Nick Hutchings of Bermuda has been planning an expedition to it for some years now. The Bermuda Sloop Foundation has built a replica from modern materials based on a painting. The North Carolina ‘mystery’ wreck has yet to be examined by an archaeologist. Terrell tells us about the discovery and attempts to identify it.

You can hear the entire program at:




Working Apace & Waiting on the Greeks

According to the latest post from John Fardoulis, up to three excavation teams are working each day on the Antikythera wreck site for a total of four and a half hours (at 90 minutes per team). The photo below is the first underwater picture from the site and shows the water dredge being worked by an archaeologist. We see fish and gravel…no artifacts. Previous reports indicate that items have been found but any pictures of this material is to be released by the Greek authorities.

Nice photo of the water dredge in action at the Antikythera site. Note the dredge hose is pinned down with a No.10 nail so the archaeologist can gently fan sand into it. Slow going but a tribute to the care that is being taken on this important site. Photo Brett Seymour
Nice photo of the water dredge in action at the Antikythera site. Note the dredge hose is pinned down with a No.10 nail so the archaeologist can gently fan sand into it. Slow going but a tribute to the care that is being taken on this important site. Photo Brett Seymour

“The underwater excavation is currently in full swing, with multiple 2-3 diver teams making the most of their bottom time each day. A very detailed map has been created for the site by an underwater robot at the beginning of summer and last year, meaning that everything retrieved from the shipwreck can be plotted on this blueprint, which helps us better understand the shipwreck by studying the spatial relationship between objects.”

Additional pictures are being posted at the Antikythera Gallery at


“Artifacts Have been Found”

It’s not much, but some news is coming out of the Antikythera project ahead of official announcements from the Greeks. Lead technical diver Phil Short reports: “Work on site this year has located numerous artefacts and excavation and recovery continue. Publication of artefact images is restricted by the Ephorate of Antiquities until their press release but will follow.”

In the meantime, the residents of the island are very much involved in the project. According to Short: “The Mayor of Antikythera commissioned information boards of the ‘Return to Antikythera’ project to display throughout the town including this one with the spear recovered in 2014 taken by Brett Seymour of the U.S. NPS for project sponsor Hublot.”

Phil Short and Antikythera poster. Photo: WHOI
Phil Short and Antikythera poster. Photo: WHOI

Phil Short’s wife, Gemma Smith, is the only woman tech diver on the project. She recently did a “fly over” over the site by a remotely operated vehicle. It was used to map locations of the artifacts before their removal.

Gemma Short posted this Facebook pic of her Antikythera flyover Photo: WHOI
Gemma Short posted this Facebook pic of her Antikythera flyover Photo: WHOI

From this we can infer that artifacts are being located and then mapped “in situ” (mapped ‘in place’ before removal) – indicating the very conservative excavation approach being used by the lead investigators – entirely appropriate on a wreck of this importance.

In the meantime, preparations are underway for the Anitkythera exhibit at the Antiquities Museum in Basel, Switzerland. Andrea Bignasca, at the museum, reports the arrival of the “Odysseus” statue which will be a part of the exhibit. There will be a full disclosure of the current project finds on September 25th at the Museum when the exhibit opens.

Statue of Odysseus arrives in Basel. Photo Andrea Bagniacai, Antiquities Museum
Statue of Odysseus arrives in Basel. Photo Andrea Bognasca, Antiquities Museum

Let’s hope we hear from the Greeks well before then!

When No News is Not Good News

Brendan Foley surfaces after his first dive on the Antikythera wreck. Photo: WHOI
Brendan Foley surfaces after his first dive on the Antikythera wreck. Photo: WHOI

John Fardoulis reports from the Antikythera wreck site this morning: “This is a live update from over the Antikythera shipwreck. The archaeologists in our team dived the wreck for the first time today, a major milestone. Stay tuned for more information!”

Hopefully we will hear more during the day – but it may not be what we are hoping for. Project spokesman Yanis Bitsakis tells us that major details (which will surely include the hoped for spectacular discoveries) will be controlled by the Greek Ministry of Culture and will be revealed in a joint conference at Basel, Switzerland on September 25th.

Theotokis Theodoulou right after decompression. Both leaders of the dive project made the first dives on the site.
Theotokis Theodoulou right after decompression. Both leaders of the dive project made the first dives on the site.Photo: WHOI
Tex diver Alex Tortas accompanied the archaeologists down to the site. Photo: WHOI
Tex diver Alex Tortas accompanied the archaeologists down to the site. Photo: WHOI

As this is written, materials are being shipped to the Antiquities Museum in Basel where there will be a major exhibit on the Antikythera wreck. At 11am on the 25th there will be an announcement on the current project finds.

We are still hoping that any spectacular finds will at least be immediately announced, even if details are withheld. We have also asked for a map of the site so that we could report on daily excavation progress – but again Bitsakis tells us the map is regarded as too sensitive to release. We haver also asked for photographs of artifacts as they are found – but again this will be controlled by the Ministry of Culture which currently plans to make disclosures only at the September 25th conference.

It is not hyperbole to say that the entire world is hanging on what may emerge from the sands of Antikythera. Let’s hope there will be a change of heart and more substantial information will be released on a daily basis.

What can be inferred from what we know so far? The fact that the lead archaeologists, Foley and Theodoulou have made the first dives may indicate that they have inspected the prep work on the site. This has included the laying down of the excavated grid, establishment of datum lines and points, and positioning of the excavation dredge and artifact recovery documentation and recovery system. We do know that metal doctors have found hot spots on the wreck mound so it is possible excavation may begin in these areas.

We’ll keep in touch with the project and report whatever emerges!

Antikythera: The Dig Begins

Alexander Sotiriou, lead diver, fieldwork organiser & technical diving instructor checks mixed gas breathing systems. Photo: WHOI
Alexander Sotiriou, lead diver, fieldwork organiser & technical diving instructor checks mixed gas breathing systems. Photo: WHOI

Divers are now over the site at Antikythera. They are making the last preparations before digging into the sands over the wreck – overburden that may at last reveal more of the contents of a wreck that has astonished the world with magnificent marbles and bronzes from ancient Greece.

Monday and today will see setup of excavation controls over the wreck site. On land, archaeological excavation is relatively simple. The site is squared off on a grid, usually one meter squares aligned with a north-south axis, soil is then removed with shovels, then trowels and artifacts carefully noted as to location and depth.  The soil is then carted off in a wheel barrow to be screened for smaller artifacts and organic remains such as seeds, pollen etc. It’s a simple process that can be learned in a few weeks.

But add 40-60 meters of water over the heads of the workers and everything changes. A lot. The past ten days or so have seen the Antikythera teams of Greeks and other nationals haul tons of equipment to the little island and then assembly it for one of the most technologically demanding dives ever mounted in Greek waters. Most of the gear and the preparation concerns the safety of the crew and archaeologists.

Archaeologist in mixed gas rig. Not the easiest way to wield a trowel. Photo: WHOI
Archaeologist in mixed gas rig. Not the easiest way to wield a trowel. Photo: WHOI

The underwater environment means life support – in this case mixed gas rigs that have to be assembled and checked. The original dive in 1900 killed one diver and injured two more. They were diving on air and had minutes on the bottom. This time a team of technical divers will hand-hold the archaeologists. They will have 90 minutes of bottom time but will need to decompress for another hour or more to avoid the ‘bends’ – gas bubbles in the blood. We have chosen one technical diver to follow, Gemma Smith – but it takes an entire team of such experts to keep the archaeologists safe.

Smith, with others, has now completed test dives on the site. She reports on her Face book page, “Absolutely buzzing after my first ever dive on the site of the Antikythera shipwreck. An hour’s bottom time at 60m rigging the site, ready for the archeology to begin tomorrow, and I’m so excited to see what we find!”

Technical Diver Gemma Smith over the Antikythera site. Photo: WHOI
Technical Diver Gemma Smith over the Antikythera site. Photo: WHOI

‘Rigging the site’ means setting up the control grid and bringing down the dredging equipment from the surface. On Sunday diver, photographer John Fardoulis reported, “Lead divers will set up moorings and lower dredging equipment near the wreck, which is expected to take place tomorrow and Tuesday, subject to weather. Everything’s going to plan, and a lot of preparation is required before excavating can begin.”

John Fardoulis. Photo: ARGO, Evita Simoni
John Fardoulis. Photo: ARGO, Evita Simoni

Wednesday will see the first handfuls of sand sucked into the water dredge – probably worked by archaeologist Brendan Foley of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, one of the leaders of the project alongside Dr. Theotokis Theodoulou of the Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities of the Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sports. The dredge will be held above the surface of the sand. The archaeologists will fan sand up from the bottom and into the current of water being sucked into the dredge. It will obviously be a slow and meticulous process!

Theotokis Theodoulou. Photo: ARGO Evita Simoni
Theotokis Theodoulou. Photo: ARGO Evita Simoni

Excavation will take the form of trenches within the grid squares. If material is encountered, the trenches will most likely be expanded until the entire square is excavated. This is clearly not work that will be completed in one or two seasons. The Archaeology Hour will report on updates as they are received. In the meantime you can hear an interview with Foley prior to leaving for the the project at

Foley, standing left, watches as technicians assemble hoses for the dredge. Photo: WHOI
Foley, standing left, watches as technicians assemble hoses for the dredge. Photo: WHOI

Brendan Foley (bending at left) inspects progress as teaches prepare cables for the water dredge. Note essential high tech component by the cable in the foreground – Duct Tape (work in the vacuum of space and underwater!)

You can connect with the project’s own blog at

This Week: The Return to Antikythera

This weekend scientists, divers and support staff will begin to converge off the Greek Island of Antikythera to mount a technologically advanced excavation of an ancient wreck that in 1901 yielded an astonishing array of marble and bronze artworks along with coins and a navigational computer that continues to astound experts.

Demetrios Kondos disovers the Greek statues on the sea bed off Antikythera Credit:
Demetrios Kondos disovers the Greek statues on the sea bed off Antikythera Credit:

Sponge divers discovered the Antikythera wreck in 1900. In the following year they raised bronze and marble sculptures and parts of sculptures that amazed the art world and scientists then, and ever since.

Last year Greek and American archaeologists returned to the site to inspect and map it. They had the advantage of the latest available technology from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute and other sources. What they found astonished them. In an exclusive interview with the Archaeology Hour, the project’s American leader, archaeologist Brendan Foley, spoke about what lay deep beneath them. “We were able to fully map the site and produced a three dimensional image of the sea bottom. We were shocked to discover the wreck was much larger than earlier work had indicated – 30 to 50 meters (90-100 ft) long! The hull timbers were 11 cm (approx. 41/2”) thick. This would make the wreck bigger than the pleasure barges Caligula built for his artificial lake and they were the largest Roman era ships known.”

Brendan Foley of Woods Hole is the American co-leader of the project
Brendan Foley of Woods Hole is the American co-leader of the project

“This raises the question of what else may be on the ship. At this point of course we simply do not know – but the speculation has been exciting indeed!”

In 1900 the Greek sponge divers were working in hardhat rigs that allowed them only minutes of bottom time in which to rig marble horses and bronze statues for recovery. One died of the bends (nitrogen gas bubbles in the blood) and two were paralyzed.


The assembled crew in 1900 including the greek singer divers. Credit WHOI
The assembled crew in 1900 including the greek singer divers. Credit WHOI

The next few weeks over the wreck safety for the archaeologists will be a major factor. The dive teams will consist of a ‘technical diver’ well versed in the new diving technologies to be used, and an archaeologist. Both will be diving on closed circuit mixed gas systems that will allow them to spend as long as 90 minutes on the bottom.

“There will still be a need for an hour or so of decompression to prevent bends, “said Foley, “so each dive will take almost three hours. With this amount of time we expect to complete a great deal of excavation.”

In 1953 explorer Jacques Cousteau located the wreck with the help of MIT technology

A diver uses an air lift during the 1970 Cousteau dive on the Antikythera reck. Credit:
A diver uses an air lift during the 1970 Cousteau dive on the Antikythera reck. Credit:

Wizard’ Doc Edgerton. Cousteau returned in 1976 to excavate with an airlift and recovered some small bronzes.

“The depth would make an air lift difficult to handle – and we want to handle the excavation and possible finds as delicately as possible,” said Foley. “So, instead, we will used a water dredge – similar to an air lift except that we will hold it above the excavation layer and fan sand into it with our hands. This will allow for delicate retrieval of finds and help a great deal with visibility.”

Delicacy and caution will be essential considering the nature of what the sands of Antikythera may reveal. One object from the 1900 dive that has garnered more attention than any other is the ‘Antikythera mechanism,” a fused clump of finely crafted gears that is thought to be a highly sophisticated navigational computer.

The fabled Antikythera mechanism found during the 1900 dives. Credit: WHOI
The fabled Antikythera mechanism found during the 1900 dives. Credit: WHOI

According to Foley, “In its original state the metal components of the mechanism were thin sections of copper alloy. After thousands of years on the sea bottom they would now have the consistency of Fimo craft clay – very fragile indeed.”

It is not surprising that the wreck would have such a sophisticated device aboard. The massive craft appears to have been loaded with amazing art treasures from Greece. Coins found on the ship by Cousteau date it to 70-67 B.C. They were produced by the Roman mint at Pergamum.

Coins from the Antikythera wreck. Credit:
Coins from the Antikythera wreck. Credit:

This was in the same general timeframe that Roman General Lucius Cornelius Sulla Felix mounted an expedition into Greece and Asia Minor in 87 BC. This was close to a decade before the sinking of the Antikythera wreck, according to the coin dating. It was long thought that the ship might have been bringing treasures back to Rome for Sulla.

Roman General Sulla looted Greece and Asia Minor - but the wreck post dates his campaign by some ten years Credit: Wikipedia.
Roman General Sulla looted Greece and Asia Minor – but the wreck post dates his campaign by some ten years Credit: Wikipedia.

Foley’s working hypothesis is that the ship may have been a large grain carrier. “The marble and bronze artworks would have been difficult to stabilize inside the hull and would have made it difficult to trim the vessel. It makes sense that a grain carrier might have been used and that grain sacks could have been used to pack around the statuary.”

"The Philosopher" one of the bronze heads recovered in 1900. Image courtesy of the National Archaeological Museum, Athens (K. Xenikakis). Copyright Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sports/Archaeological Receipts Fund.
“The Philosopher” one of the bronze heads recovered in 1900. Image courtesy of the National Archaeological Museum, Athens (K. Xenikakis). Copyright Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sports/Archaeological Receipts Fund.

Last year divers found a seven foot long bronze spear not associated with any of the recovered bronzes. This leads Foley to believe that other major bronzes may still be found. Earlier recoveries also included separated heads, arms and feet that may also be from buried bronzes.

Diver with the tip of the bronze spear recovered last year. Part of the new statue? Credit: WHOI
Diver with the tip of the bronze spear recovered last year. Part of the new statue? Credit: WHOI

Certainly the ship was important, but there is still doubt as to who ordered it to be packed with such fabulous treasures. “We know some of Sulla’s ship’s sank north of Antikythera – but we do not think this is one of his ships at this time, “ said Foley.

Foley will be very much hands on during the project. He will be one of the divers. His dive buddy is Gemma Smith, one of the technical divers. For Smith the dive will be especially satisfying, she is in the midst of a long career as a technical or scientific diver – despite being told early in her career that she would never qualify in this demanding field.

Technical Diver Gemma Smith will be Foley's dive buddy. Credit: Gemma Smith
Technical Diver Gemma Smith will be Foley’s dive buddy. Credit: Gemma Smith


Hear the Brendan Foley interview on the next edition of The Archaeology Hour at :