Science & Research

colonial era brick and tabby foundation
Ruins of Davison House

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What is Archeology?

What do you think of when you hear the word "archeology?" Does a swashbuckling Indiana Jones, searching for long-lost artifacts in remote and exotic corners of the world, come to mind? While this image is exciting, Dr. Jones falls far short of capturing the true nature of American archeology and archeologists.

So, then, what is American archeology really about? Most archeology in the United States is public, which means that projects are sponsored by federal, tribal, state or local governments and involve sites that are on land managed by public agencies. American archeologists are truly devoted to protecting our nation's precious archeological resources and place great emphasis on sharing their work with the public.
Archeology is the study of past peoples through their material remains. Archeological resources include sites, collections, and documentation associated with excavation and curation activities. Nearly every unit of the National Park Service contains archeological resources, be they evidence of the first people to set foot on the continent, ancient and modern Native Americans, diasporic or immigrant peoples from around the world, or even activities in the first half of the 20th century.

green grass lot with information sign in background
Hird Lot

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Archeological Research at Fort Frederica

Since the late 1940's, archeological research has been conducted at Fort Frederica National Monument. It provides valuable data on how the land was used, who used it, the material objects people used, and the construction of homes; amongst other things.

In the late 1940's and 1950's, Dr. Charles Fairbanks conducted early research on the Hawkins-Davison houses, the Fort and Barracks.

In the 1960's, Dr. Joel Shiner excavated along Broad Street, leaving behind an unknown legacy, a garbage dump of artifacts, now known as Shiner's Trench. This is the site of the archeology education area; which for many years has taught local students the scientific process of archeology.

Twice during the 1970's, Dr. Nicholas Honerkamp used a new approach to archeology called "Backyard Archeology". Instead of looking for walls and foundations, he studied garbage .One of the sites he excavated was the Hird lot. While no house foundation is visible on this lot today, Honerkamp found several features: a root cellar, an unused privy pit, two barrels sunk into the ground, and trash pits. Through research, he knew that the Hird family was rather poor when they arrived at Frederica in the 1730's. Mr. Hird was a very a hard worker; and by studying the family's trash Honerkamp deduced that the family eventually prospered. In the 1990's and 2000's, he researched an area thought to be General James Oglethorpe's home.

During the teen years of the 2000's, new archeological research, using geophysical equipment and data, revealed some anomalies in the north and south wards of the Frederica town. Teams from university archeological field school programs and National Park Service staff spent time during the early summer months investigating the areas where the anomalies were located. They also continued research on the Oglethorpe site. The location of an African American burial ground was found in the summer of 2019. It was dedicated on Feburary 29, 2020.

person pushing ground pentrating radar equipment across green grass
Ground Penetrating Radar Equipment

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Ground Penetrating Radar

GPR units are one of several geophysical instruments that archeologists have adopted for non-invasive mapping of archeological site deposits (Bevan 1998, Conyers and Goodman 1997). GPR units depend upon sensing subtle variations in the physical properties of the soil and buried archeological features. In order for a feature to be detected it must have “contrast.” That is, the archeological feature’s effect on or response to the instrument must differ from that of the adjacent soil. The ideal situation is one in which the archeological feature differs sharply from the surrounding soil and that soil is highly uniform. However, the soil or material surrounding archeological features is often varied enough to produce signal variation perceptible to the radar or other instrument. If the naturally occurring variation is as strong as, and has the same characteristics as, that produced by the archeological feature, then the archeological feature’s signal will be lost, indistinguishable from the variation stemming from the surrounding matrix. (Nickel 2001)

two men standing with archeology equipment
Archeologists using resistivity equipment

NPS Files


Resistivity was first used in conjunction with archeological investigations in the mid-1940’s, making it the oldest of the geophysical techniques currently in use. Electrical resistivity is predicated on the notion that an electrical current will travel through different objects at different rates of speed, as expressed in Ohms Law (Scollar 1990). The ease with which the current travels through the soil is dependent upon several factors including moisture content, pore spacing, density, and material type. In a resistivity survey an electrical current of known frequency is introduced into the ground; the ease with which the current travels through the ground.

man walking with archeology equipment
Using a magnetometer

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A magnetometer is an instrument that generates a strong electromagnetic field by passing a current through an enriched hydrocarbon compound. The FM 256 Fluxgate Gradiometer is a type of magnetometer that uses an enhanced process called the “Overhauser effect”. This refers to a slight change that is made to the proton rich liquid contained in the bottles in the sensor heads that detect magnetic fields. The Gradiometer produces a strong magnetic field in a bubble-shaped area surrounding both instrument and operator, then uses two sensor heads located one-half meter apart to measure any disruption that may be caused by intrusion into that magnetic field. Much like a high-powered metal detector, the magnetometer is highly sensitive to disruptions caused by metallic objects passing through the generated field. However, it has two distinct advantages over standard metal detectors. First, a magnetic gradiometer can accentuate objects that are at shallow depths while discriminating features that are deeper. In addition, the unit has the on-board capability to filter readings based upon the localized magnetic field of the earth in the survey area (Scollar 1990:466-469). While surveys conducted with magnetometers can be problematic, they are useful instruments to the modern archeologist. It must also be considered that small metal artifacts buried near the surface of the ground can register as significant anomalies with the magnetometer.


Please click on the links below to learn about the most recent archeological explorations at Fort Frederica.

Article Description: Archeologists from Southeast Archeological Center (SEAC) conducted a remote sensing survey as part of a project to identify and document subsurface cultural features at the park.

Article Description: A partnership between University of South Florida (USF Digital Heritage and Humanities Center) and Fort Frederica to document
using advanced technologies: artifacts,features, and landscape areas at the park. Access digital online collections and GIS interactive map here.

Last updated: May 22, 2020

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Mailing Address:

Fort Frederica National Monument
6515 Frederica Rd.

St. Simons Island, GA 31522


912 638-3639 x107

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