Touching History

 Patrick Severts Cynthia Sun and Kaitlen Hitt troup county site
 

KSU students help unearth Troup County mill town

KENNESAW, Ga. (Jul 22, 2016) — In a swathe of cleared-out woods nestled inside the deep thicket of a largely undeveloped 73-acre tract in Troup County sit small mounds of dark earth. In two of the dug-out holes are stacked stones, likely the foundations of a cabin and a blacksmith shop that were part of a once-thriving factory town. 

Kennesaw State anthropology majors Kaitlen Hitt and Cynthia Sun have spent the past five weeks interning with archaeologist Patrick Severts to learn as much as they can about the Troup Factory, the county’s first textile mill, and the people who lived and worked nearby. 

Using metal detectors and painstaking mapping, digging, shovel testing and sifting, they have unearthed the remnants of the two structures and dozens of metal artifacts that date back nearly 200 years. Their finds include pieces of crude machinery, pot lids, wagon wheels and a mix of nails that help them date the site.

They have concluded, for example, that hand-wrought nails were made there around 1827 in a blacksmith shop. Square nails they found were used until about 1865 to 1870, and mass-produced round wire nails suggest later structures were erected there.  

Though neither of the students set out to be archaeologists, they each have altered their course to make sure they stay connected with the joy of digging history from the ground.

“It’s an amazing feeling to be able to touch a piece of history,” said Sun, a senior from Kennesaw. “If you think of the Troup Factory, it was once part of a thriving town that attracted an influx of people, and now it’s overgrown shrubs and trees. What happened in this town? And who were the people who lived on the property? We owe the community the truth of their history. It’s a great responsibility.”

Sun, who hopes to work in cultural resource management, said she was bitten by the archaeology bug after taking a field techniques class with Terry Powis, associate professor of anthropology. 

An encounter with Powis’ Principles of Archaeology class also swayed Hitt, a senior who graduates this summer and plans to continue her studies in historical archeology.

“My original plan was to be a museum curator, and my major was history,” Hitt said. “I took his archaeology class for anthropology because it was the only one available that I could use. I ended up loving it. I learned about historical archaeology and decided I wanted to be the one digging for the artifacts instead of curating them, so I changed my major to anthropology.”

The practical experiences the students are gaining at the Troup Factory site are the result of a 14-year collaboration between Powis, Kennesaw State’s anthropology department and Severts. The two archaeologists have worked together on numerous prehistoric and historic archaeological sites in Georgia and abroad. At a field school Powis ran at the historic Pickett’s Mill Civil War site, they used metal detectors for the first time and found students enjoyed the experience.

About 10 years ago, Severts, who has done extensive research on the Troup Factory, invited Powis to run a field school on property his family owns, which encompasses the old mill town. Because of the distance from Kennesaw State, Powis said he thought it best to bring students to the Troup County site on occasional weekends to conduct mapping of the site. Following that initial collaboration, Severts and Powis published an article in the Georgia Journal of Science with Kennesaw State undergraduate students as co-authors.                                                                                            

Digging and mapping the Troup site now extends the experience for students who enroll in the local archaeology field school course, which Powis teaches every fall semester in Cartersville.

“Many of the students who take my field school want more experience, and I consider it one of my responsibilities as a professor to give them as many digging opportunities as possible, said Powis, who has nearly adozen projects going at any one time.

Both Sun and Hitt jumped at the chance to participate initially in archaeology weekends hosted by Severts and his wife, Nancy Williams, at their new two-story lodge on the expansive property. They joined about a dozen students in fall 2015 and another half-dozen again in April 2016 for the weekends, which included intensive digging, camping out and nightly archaeology talks around a campfire.

“It was a great way to get introduced to what you might be doing for the rest of your life,” said Hitt, who recalled that she first learned about the proposal to have summer interns work at the Troup Factory site during one of those campfire discussions.

Severts, who comes to the digging site equipped with a roll of maps and drawings, including land sale maps from the 1800s, said he has worked to make the internships as realistic and engrossing as possible.

“For every day they spend in the field, they spend two in the lab prepping and washing the artifacts,” he said. “To give them experience in finding archival records, they’ve spent time poring through police records for the County Historical Society. It’s a total experience, and we hope to continue and expand it.”

Sun said she is thankful for the entire experience. “I’m grateful to Patrick for the internship opportunity and for being a wonderful supervisor and mentor; to Dr. Powis for his inspiration and passion for archaeology; to Nancy and Patrick for their hospitality; and to KSU for preparing me for a successful future.”



A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers more than 150 undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its more than 35,000 students. With 13 colleges on two metro Atlanta campuses, Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia and the third-largest university in the state. The university's vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the region and from 92 countries across the globe. A Carnegie-designated doctoral institution, it is one of the 50 largest public institutions in the country. For more information, visit kennesaw.edu.

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