Graduate Spotlight: Jessica Cook Hale
Expected Graduation: Fall 2011
Degree Objective: Ph.D. in Geoarchaeology
Other Degrees: M.S. in Geology
Most spectacular and famous of all is Wormsloe’s entrance. The mile-long, oak-lined drive summons the bewitching beauty of the low country and ancient tidewater plantations. Live oaks, dripping with Spanish moss, lead to the still-occupied ancestral plantation house, which has subsequently passed down through q many generations. It is owned by Craig Barrow III, a direct descendant of Noble Jones.
Jones, one of the original Colonial founders of Georgia, was a multitasking nobleman: surveyor, builder and draftsman. Most likely, Jones had his choice of home sites convenient to Savannah in the 1730s. Yet Jones chose a protected, lush site on the Isle of Hope. Here he staked out and leased 500 acres of the most beautiful lands to be had in the tidewater area and soon built a fortified guardhouse.
In the shade of oaks old enough to have been seedlings during the American Revolution, Jessica Cook Hale moves in wide sweeps with ground-penetrating radar, assessing and plotting a patch of earth not far from a family cemetery at Wormsloe. The work is tedious, unobtrusive and painstaking, but it may yield up an artifact or treasure for the graduate student.
Each time she works at Wormsloe, Cook Hale has breath-taking moments of discovery. Pieces of pottery shard, or ceramic fragments called “sherd,” are among her most exciting recent finds.
“I have found Wilmington Phase sherds on the Old Avenue; these date to circa 500 A.D. or thereabouts,” she said. Cook Hale is half of a multi-disciplinary research team, as one of Wormsloe’s first Fellows, who will help decipher the many mysteries of the location.
In November 2007, Cook Hale traveled to Wormsloe with two UGA professors, Tommy Jordan and Marguerite Madden. They took pictures of the site and they walked – a lot. “Archaeologists walk with their heads down,” Cook Hale said.
Upon first inspection, Cook Hale found herself staggered by the site. “You can be walking around and find a piece of pottery from the 1700s,” she said.
For Cook Hale, Wormsloe presents incomparable archaeological and historic riches to mine. Wormsloe even contains ruins that date back to the aboriginal Indians who lived in the southeastern United States around 2000 B.C. Since the land remained in one family for nine generations, it is pristine in many important ways as a physical site.
Presented with this research utopia, Cook Hale has the educated eye, the equipment and the academic drive to unlock secrets beneath Wormsloe’s surface while disturbing as little as possible.
“Through her work at Wormsloe, Jessica [Cook Hale] is producing data for the study of archaeology in general that will have value for many years to come,” said Sarah Ross, the president of the Wormsloe Foundation and director of the Wormsloe Institute for Environmental History.
Cook Hale recently began a limited excavation of a survey area. But beforehand, Cook Hale carefully surveyed everything before any excavation took place. Puzzles appeared immediately. “I believe there were originally 10 to 11 slave quarters. Where were the missing ruins?” she asked herself.
Tying together Wormsloe’s history is an arduous task, as Cook Hale employs a variety of techniques to envision how the site might have appeared a century ago. Along with Drew Swanson, another Wormsloe Fellow, the two analyzed photographs and maps to plot where the plantation’s original rice mill existed.
“Looking at trees and other clues on the maps, we uploaded digital images to see what the place looked like in 1908,” she said. They had more than 20 still images to evaluate for clues.
Cook Hale explains the benefits of the collaborative approach: “The truly interesting aspect of working in the Rice Mill field was the way we were able to combine the geophysics with the GIS (Geographic Information Systems), the HABS (Historic American Buildings Survey) archives of photographs, Drew’s work, and very limited excavation, in such a way that we’ve been able to pretty securely identify the building as the Rice Mill itself. It usually requires extensive artifact recovery to even begin to speculate about a building’s purpose, and that only comes with massive excavation. That’s not only highly intrusive (not a great thing for a site like Wormsloe); it’s also massively expensive.”
Story by Cynthia Adams
Modifications for Internet made by Ben Benson