Digging deep into Columbia’s past

mlucas@thestate.comDecember 2, 2012 

  • Want to volunteer or learn more? The dig site, located at 2025 Marion St. in downtown Columbia, will be open to the public to watch or take part, 6:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday. The dig is expected to continue through the end of the year. For more information, visit www.historiccolumbia.org.

COLUMBIA, SC Ten-year-old Abigail Zeise was having a big time Saturday digging in the dirt behind the Modjeska Monteith Simkins home in downtown Columbia.

It was Day 2 of Public Archaeology Days and so far Abigail and her mom, Joann Zeise, had uncovered the top of a broken glass bottle, a tile and some bits of red glass.

“The glass was really pretty,” Abigail said.

Held at the historic home on Marion Street, the event was open to adults and children wanting to try their hand at looking for artifacts while learning more about Columbia’s past.

An aspiring scientist, Abigail said she liked archaeology and events like the dig because “you get to go places and see what’s there.

“And I like being surprised,” she added.

Surprise and discovery was the name of the game Saturday as more than 100 people signed up to participate in the dig hosted by the Historic Columbia Foundation and city of Columbia.

Participants removed topsoil, screened for artifacts, and cleaned and examined recovered items. They also heard short lectures from archaeologists and local experts and learned more about the site’s history.

Built between 1890 and 1895, the one-story cottage was home to civil rights activist Modjeska Monteith Simkins, from 1932 until her death in 1992.

But experts with Historic Columbia are interested in the history of the property not only during Simkins’ time but before Simkins as well.

As Historic Columbia’s Director of Archaeology Jakob Crockett explained to those gathered Saturday, few clues offer any explanation as to who might have once lived in the area even though old fire insurance maps show an entire “micro-community of little houses” figured prominently in the area.

“Who were they, how did these lots become divided like this in really such a unique way?” Crockett asked. “And was this a community based on kinship or something else?”

Like the Mann-Simons Site nearby, the Simkins project is focused on the African American experience, a history that has been largely overlooked, Crockett said.

“It’s often treated separately,” he said. “But it’s part of American history.”

The goal of the project, he said, was to find out who the people who once dwelled in the humble community were, and more importantly, why were they passed over in public records.

“It’s a chance to understand the stories of those that didn’t make it into the history books,” he said.

Reach Lucas at (803) 771-8657.

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