This week, archaeologists continued their excavation from an unlikely place: the driveway of University of North Carolina System President, Tom Ross.
Earlier this month, construction crews were preparing the driveway with the intent of resurfacing it — a common enough requirement for a blacktop asphalt driveway every few years. Instead of fixing up small cracks in the surface, though, the crew ended up stumbling upon multiple archaeological artifacts dating back to the 1800s.
UNC System, in Chapel Hill, was first chartered in 1789, making it the only public university to graduate students in the U.S. in the 18th century. Some of the artifacts dated back to the original, first school presidents, Joseph Caldwell and David Swain, who lived there. Findings included bits of china porcelain, nails and old bottles, among other artifacts.
The original house caught on fire in 1886, and burned to the ground. Sections of the foundation, though, are still buried underground, as well as interesting tidbits from the lives of presidents who have come and gone. Although archaeologists had known that the remains of the “second President’s house,” as it was known, were somewhere in the area, it wasn’t until the excavation that they knew without a doubt that it was located on Ross’s property.
“Finding unique and special items when doing deeper excavations is not incredibly rare,” says Jake Elvebo, President of Extreme Enterprises. “Once in Chicago we ourselves started digging deeper down and came across many artifacts such a old bottles and other antique artifacts.”
Because of the dig’s timeline, researchers have been working more quickly than usual, even using a shop vac in order to clean out the area and get to the home’s original cellar. They are hoping to find a unique arrangement of artifacts there — the home originally collapsed on Christmas Eve, and many gifts were likely stored below.
“It’s pretty exciting to uncover some of the early history of the campus, and this was a pivotal place in the history of the campus so many of the events we know about in the early history happened here,” said Brett Riggs, who works in the Laboratories of Archaeology at UNC and is a part of the current dig.
The archaeologists and students are planning to continue looking for artifacts for the next week, at the end of which they will then allow work to continue on the driveway.