Goroskop Maia 2012
History in the Soil: Archeology on Davids Island

Archeology provides an avenue for understanding and appreciating the history of Fort Slocum and Davids Island that complements the study of historical documents, buildings and structures, and oral histories.

Besides the architectural remnants of Fort Slocum, the soil of Davids Island also contains artifacts and deposits that are evidence of the island’s history. This evidence can be recovered and interpreted through archeology.


A First World War machine gun company collar button found during the 2005-2006 archeological survey of Davids Island.Archeological field crew at the end of a workday, posing by Fort Slocum's Rodman Gun Monument, October 2005.Normanskill-type projectile point (spear-, dart-, or arrowhead) from Davids Island, dating from the Late Archaic period (ca. 2000 B.C.)Archeologists excavating a shovel test in the vicinity of one of the officers' quarters, Building 7, October 2006.


The archeological record at Davids Island begins long before the first soldier stepped ashore in the early months of the Civil War. Archeological investigations show that the human history of the island stretches back at least 4,000 years, to a time when northeastern North America was occupied solely by Native American hunter-gatherers. From this time onward, visitors and residents occasionally lost, forgot, abandoned or discarded durable objects that were mixed in the soil and today are tangible reminders of the island’s history.

Native Americans left faint traces of their life on the island long ago. These traces consist primarily of scatters of stone chips, occasional stone tools and a few sherds of earthenware pottery.

In contrast, the archeological record of the island’s most recent long-term occupants, the personnel of the U.S. Army, is vast. Nearly everywhere the soil of Davids Island contains bits of coal and cinders, fragments of window glass and nails, pottery sherds, and many other small objects and fragments dating from the mid-19th to mid-20th centuries. Even the soil itself reveals the activities of these occupants, as careful examination of its layers shows many places where buildings once stood, utilities and other underground structures were installed or the shape of the terrain was altered.


The sound of the bulldozer is loud in the land…. The carpet of the past is being rolled up behind us as we advance into the future, and before long when we look over our shoulders we shall see nothing but the mirror of ourselves.”

—Ivor Noël Hume, "Historical Archaeology" (1969)

(Copyright © 1969 by Ivor Noël Hume

Originally published by Alfred A. Knopf.

Reprinted by permission of Curtis Brown, Ltd.)