Anthropology Students Search for Old Rice Plantation

Monday, June 06, 2016

UNCW students participating in a summer archaeological field school hope to discover a bit of history while gaining valuable experience.

Students from UNCW and NC State are conducting an excavation at the Brunswick Riverwalk Park in Belville, NC, in search of remnants of a rice planation that dates back to the late 1700s. Nora Reber, chair of UNCW’s anthropology department, is leading the effort. It is the first excavation of a rice planation in the lower Cape Fear region.

“I really hope we find something,” said Reber. “Given the historical complexities of this spot, it’s possible, although I hope unlikely, that we will go the whole session without finding a building foundation.” 

archaeological dig

Brunswick Riverwalk Park in Belville is believed to be the location of Alfred Moore’s Buchoi Plantation. Moore was a Revolutionary War officer and an associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Artifacts could tell Reber and her students how Moore’s rice plantation operated. Typically, a rice planation was a large industrial complex that included the main house, a separate kitchen building, a cistern, a barn, slave quarters and other outbuildings.

“When I found out Dr. Reber was excavating a rice plantation, I immediately jumped on board,” said Wes Nimmo, a senior majoring in history and anthropology. “It’s exciting because there is so much history here, especially down the Cape Fear River.”

With the use of ground-penetrating radar and old survey maps, Reber and her students were able to identify a general location of the plantation’s buildings. They began their search at the entrance of the park. Three teams dug 2x2-meter squares in 10-centimeter increments, while another team meticulously shifted through the dirt using a quarter-inch mesh.

archaeological dig

The first day of the excavation, the group found a bullet believed to be pre-Civil War, portions of a porcelain doll’s head as well as brick and plaster fragments. Any unearthed historical artifacts will be returned to the town of Belville.

The excavation of the site is important to Belville’s history, said senior Amanda Payne, and “an important part of keeping history alive.”

--Venita Jenkins