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New London Day dig provides look back

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By John Barnhart

    Friends of New London, a historical group, found itself the perfect headquarters.

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    It’s a house on Alum Spring Road, the central part of which, consists of Mead’s Tavern, built by William Mead in 1763. At that time, Alum Spring Road was part of what would later be the original Lynchburg-Salem Turnpike. New London was the original Bedford County seat before the county was cut in half  with the creation of Campbell County.
    “We bought it last July,” said Randy Lichtenberger, a member of the Friends of New London. Lichtenberger is also a professional archaeologist who works for the Virginia Department of Transportation.
    “It took a lot of deed research to confirm it,” Lichtenberger added. He said the organization needed a headquarters. What could be a better place?
    The lot that the house is on was one of the original town lots for New London. They know it was Lot 6. What they don’t know is where anything, other than the tavern, was on the lot. They just know that there were a number of auxiliary structures.
    Lichtenburger spent part of the day on Saturday digging some test pits on the lot and people attending Friends of New London’s New London Day were able to watch this.
    The test pits were small squares. The sod was cut away in one piece and saved, so it could be replaced. Then, Lichtenberger got down on his hands and knees and started scraping away soil with a small trowel, a fraction of an inch at a time. As he scraped, he placed artifacts that he found in small paper sacks, labeled according to which pit they came from, and what layer of the pit they were found in. All the loose soil from each layer was then sifted for additional artifacts.
    The pits were plotted on a grid that Lichtenberger made from the plat of the property.
    He found a thin “destruction layer” in one pit. He was finding fragments of daub, some coated with whitewash, in this layer — material that was left behind after a log chimney or log structure was demolished. Daub is dried clay that was used to chink between logs in a log structure.
    How deep did his pits go?
    Lichtenberger said that he keeps digging until he gets past the last cultural layer — the last layer in which he finds artifacts. The pits he dug on Saturday were between 10 inches and one foot deep.
    He found more than fragments of daub. He also found hand-wrought nails, a 19th century key and a lot of pottery fragments.
    Lichtenberger really likes the pottery fragments because he can date them. He can identify the glaze and look up the patterns in books. Most of the fragments he found on Saturday date from the middle of the 18th century to the beginning of the 19th, indicating that they came from pottery that was used for serving at the tavern.
    The importance of documenting which pit, and which level, artifacts came from is important in order to preserve their context. Without the context, they just become nothing more than pottery fragments and rusty nails. In context, they can tell a story.
    The test pits were dug in order to see if there is something that warrants a more extensive excavation.