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The Reality of the City: Urban Archaeology at the Telfair Site, Savannah, Georgia

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During the summer of 1982 a six-week testing and data recovery project was conducted by the Jeffrey L. Brown Institute of Archaeology, University of Tennessee-Chattanooga, at the Telfair Site in downtown Savannah. The site is scheduled for development as part of a General Services Administration program to expand the adjacent Federal Building. The property to be affected, consisting of 10 tything lots (60 by 90 feet each), and two trust lots (90 by 180 feet each) is part of the Heathcote Ward which was laid out in 1733. This ward is now part of the Savannah National Historic Landmark District. The project was administered by the Archeological Services Branch, National Park Service; funding was provided by the General Services Administration. Project Co-PIs were Nicholas Honerkamp and Charles H. Fairbanks. Through the combined use of documentary and archaeological data the Telfair project addressed several regional and site-specific research questions, including the definition of land use patterns and site formation processes as they relate to demographic, economic, and social changes in Savannah; testing and refining a model of resource utilization and butchering practices for the Southeastern coastal plain; and the definition of patterns of material culture use in the city during the 18th and 19th centuries. A total of 185 m2 of the site area was excavated, resulting in the recovery of nearly 220,000 artifacts and the definition of 225 archaeological features dating to the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries. Contrasts in land use patterns between trust and tything lots were defined and traced over 200 years. Trust lots generally were locations for centralizing functions attributed to religious, commercial, and governmental concerns, while the tything parcels were the sites of domestic occupations. Combined residences and businesses were common on the tythings after 1850, resulting in accelerated lot fragmentation as occupation density increased. Associated with this trend was a constant reduction of open space and concomitant clustering of features (wells, privies, etc.) in each lot. An emphasis on formal on-site refuse disposal is evident until the advent of basic municipal services after 1850. Despite a large commercial component at the site, empirical artifact profiles overwhelmingly reflect domestic activities, and the implications of this finding are explored. Zooarchaeological analysis revealed a heavy reliance on cow and an unusually large number of freshwater fish and domestic fowl. Butchering patterns identified from the faunal remains show adherence to a cut-and-chop method, with little evidence of sawing. In general, the faunal assemblage conforms to the Coastal Subsistence Model derived from other sites on the southeastern coastal plain. Recommendations concerning future research at Savannah and other urban sites are presented. It is suggested that CRM projects could substantially benefit from a theoretical-methodological shift in the approaches taken by urban archaeologists.