High-tech tools aiding archaeology at House in the Horseshoe excavation

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RALEIGH —The 18th century will meet the 21st in an archaeological excavation at the House in the Horseshoe State Historic Site near Sanford, starting June 16. A team led by the UNC-Greensboro Geography Department in cooperation with the N.C. Office of State Archaeology (OSA) will employ ground penetrating radar and an unmanned aerial device, i.e., drone, to examine the area. It is the first use of a drone for research at a state historic site.


Images obtained from ground penetrating radar and a magnetic gradiometer already have indicated that several below ground structures may be present at the circa 1770 Philip Alston House. These subsurface features may represent bricks and field stones that formed the foundation of a colonial era kitchen and privies. The drone will enhance aerial views of the landscape and all of the nuances that are visible from above to aid in focusing additional exploration of the area.


UNC-Greensboro geography doctoral student Jacob Turner conducted a geophysical survey at the House in the Horseshoe that led to the additional research. Dr. Linda Stine, UNC-Greensboro professor of anthropology, and Assistant State Archaeologist John Mintz will supervise the collaborative six-week research project. It is part of Turner’s doctoral dissertation and among ongoing research projects conducted by state historic sites in North Carolina.


The public is invited to observe the work June 16 from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m. and can expect to see ground penetrating radar and a drone in use, as well as the slow excavation process of archaeology with professionals. Docents will explain the techniques in use during the free presentation. The rain date is June 17.


The research will allow officials to more accurately interpret the house through better understanding of the landscape and surroundings. Whether a privy or other outbuildings are discovered will only become clear after excavations are completed.


In 1781, a band of British loyalists led by David Fanning attacked the House in the Horseshoe, home to colonial leader Phillip Alston. Alston and the colonists seeking independence were forced to surrender, but the bullet holes from the fierce and fiery battle remain in the house today.


The House in the Horseshoe is within the Division of State Historic Sites and part of the N.C. Department of Cultural Resources. It is located at 288 Alston Road, Sanford. For information, please call the Office of State Archeology at (919) 807-6555.


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