Artifacts turning up in Savannah as hurricane debris is removed


Bits of Savannah’s past just below our feet are forcing the city to take its time during the final stage of storm debris removal from Hurricane Matthew.

When the strong winds toppled centuries-old trees, especially in cemeteries, parks and historic battlefield artifacts were lifted to the surface.

FEMA has some pretty clear guidelines when it comes to removing what are referred to as “root-balls”, which are clumps of the trees root systems just below the surface, specifically for sites listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Because of that, Savannah isn’t looking for just any stump removal company. They’re looking for one that can also bring some archaeological experience to the table.

“A quick look by a local archaeologist dated some of the pieces from the 18th century,” said Library and Archives Director Luciana Spracher, as she pointed out broken pieces of pottery collected over the past few months.

All of the artifacts Spracher displayed were recovered from toppled trees around Savannah.

“From what I’ve seen there’s a mixture of pottery shards, metal fragments, metal pieces, brick and construction materials, oyster shells.”

There are an estimated 40 unearthed tree root systems that need to be thoroughly examined before they can be removed.

“When you think about Savannah and how old Savannah is and all the history we have above ground, I think it doesn’t surprise me at all that underground we have lots and lots of history that is there,” said Spracher.

The job requirements also mandate the contractor have experience with professional archaeological studies in cemetery settings, especially since a good amount of damage was done in historic cemeteries like Bonaventure, Greenwich and Laurel Grove North and South Cemeteries.

For anyone tempted to try their hand at some amateur archaeology, Spracher gave this warning, “things are better left in the ground. We don’t want to encourage artifact hunting and looting. And they certainly shouldn’t be doing that on public property.”

FEMA reimbursement for the special removal is given on a by-project basis. Artifacts found on public property are brought to the city’s library and archives department and then used for public outreach and education.

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