Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Mystery Well Reveals Secrets!

Well Discovery Update
It felt a bit like opening King Tut’s tomb for the first time, but removing the well’s bluestone cap didn’t reveal any treasure. What we did discover, thanks to Martha Zierden and her crew, was a well full of mud. We were not completely disappointed though. Based on the fact that we found an underground French-drain running from the house into the well’s side, we believe the well was used to capture water overflow from the house. The overflow may have been from either the gutters or the cisterns that were installed in the attic and under the art gallery. The dig also revealed a terra cotta pipe on the opposite side of the well, which appears to connect to yet another set of drainage piping. It appears that the well functioned as a holding tank of sorts and was part of the water management efforts in the back yard of the Aiken-Rhett.
This is no small discovery in that we now have one more puzzle piece in recreating the picture of how 19th century Charlestonians dealt with very real technical challenges in building large homes in an area with a relatively high water table. The newly discovered well combined with the still unexplained brick swales (i.e. that were recently re-covered with sand) in the courtyard point to one fact-the Aiken’s had a problem controlling the water on their property. This is an area of early 19th century construction that we know little about. With all of her archaeological experience on the Charleston Peninsula, Martha had not seen a well used in this manner.
The management plan is to recover the well with the brick pavers, document our preliminary excavation, and save a more extensive investigation for later.
While not a discovery of gold, the well is a treasure. Albeit a muddy one.

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