It's not all that common to see archaeological digs taking place at national historic sites, as the grounds are maintained to "preserve and protect" the memories of bygone days.



"The best way to do that is to leave it alone," said Alan Chilton, museum technician at the Fort Scott National Historic Site.

It's not all that common to see archaeological digs taking place at national historic sites, as the grounds are maintained to "preserve and protect" the memories of bygone days.

"The best way to do that is to leave it alone," said Alan Chilton, museum technician at the Fort Scott National Historic Site.

But now that a carriage house at the FSNHS needs a new floor — a need that will cause what's known as a "ground disturbance" — an archaeological dig is as unavoidable as it is interesting.

"For us to put a new floor in, they have to take off some of the surface ground underneath," said Betty Boyko, site superintendent.

Dispatched to supervise the work was Dr. Bill Hunt, archaeologist with the Midwest Archaeological Centers. Hunt, three aspiring archaeologists from the University of Nebraska and various other volunteers began digging into the surface of the carriage house last week. What they've found thus far tells more about the building than was once known.

"We've actually identified four previous floors in this building," Hunt said, "and each contains a story from different eras."

For example, buried beneath the "old rotten plank floor" that is being replaced was chicken and beef bones, an enamel pie plan and corn cobs from the 1920s. Further down, the crew found a piece of a pipe stem that dated back to the 1840s, as well as a hand-painted plate from the same era.

"The dinner plate they found was almost pristine," Chilton said. "It's really amazing the quality of the things they are finding."

Pieces of an old glass window were also discovered, as were pieces of red and green plastic, which Hunt believes came from the lights on historic carriages.

Everything Hunt and his crew discover during this testing portion of the project, which ends Thursday, is properly documented and will be sent to a lab for further examination. Hunt said further examinations of the artifacts and of the site itself may help tell the tale of what went on in the carriage house during its days of operation.

"We're trying to get an idea of where things were and, if there's more excavation done here, what people are going to find," he said.

Chilton said the recent findings, though not historic in nature, do provide some answers to questions anyone may have about the building uses.

"Now we can turn around and tell the public what's going on and what went on here," he said.

For the students working at the site, the project has been yet another personal look into times about which they often just read in textbooks.

"You get to see things that come out of the ground that have been down there for 100 years or more," said Courtney Cope, a double-major in history and anthropology, "things that haven't seen the light of day for a very long time."

Albert LeBeau, who is pursuing a master of arts in professional archaeology, said he has been participating in archaeological digs for nearly 15 years.

"What other job, other than construction, do you get paid to play in the dirt?" he said Monday.

Ashley Barnett, who is close to earning a Ph.D. in geography, has worked on digs as far away as Israel. She said archaeology quenches her thirst for all things history.

"I really like seeing what we can learn from people who were here before us," Barnett said. "I think it's interesting to see the similarities between the different times, as well as the differences."