St. Antoine's Archaeology Project
St. Anthony's Garden is the name given to the green space located behind New Orleans' iconic St. Louis Cathedral in the heart of the French Quarter.
No site quite like St. Anthony’s Garden has ever been excavated in the state of Louisiana. In terms of preservation conditions, archaeological features, and historic import, it is akin to Louisiana’s Jamestown or Plymouth Plantation -- two other colonial centers that might be better understood through comparison with this other American foundation story.
In just three small areas opened in the 2008 field season, the site exceeded expectations in its ability to reveal how the early city was constructed -- from the form of its earliest temporary architecture (ca. 1717-1726) and the meals that Governor Bienville’s pioneers were eating, to the unexpected influence of Native Americans in the form of hybrid pottery, decorated pipe bowls, and a hut with an axe-hewn rectangular European form and possible palmetto thatch walls of Native American technique. The team returned to the site in 2009 to extend the excavation of what is probably the most significant colonial-era archaeological site yet investigated in New Orleans.
Many people do not realize that the French Quarter has very little of its French heritage left in architectural form. The Ursuline Convent (ca. 1745-1752) is the only standing structure from the French period that survives in New Orleans today due to two devastating fires that struck the city in the Spanish colonial period in 1788 and 1794. Therefore, the kind of information that material culture can provide on the processes of colonization and creolization in the French period lies almost entirely below ground in the form of archaeological deposits.
The St. Antoine's Garden Project fits into a larger long-term effort to understand the economic and ecological factors that helped shape New Orleans' unique creole culture. How and when did African, Native American, and European colonial residents exchange knowledge about plants, medicines, and foods? Or share technical know-how regarding architecture or other material aspects of daily life (how to tan a deer hide, or how to make a ceramic pot)? In what situations were these exchanges most likely to occur?
The St. Antoine's Project promises to answer many of the questions raised by some of the earlier archaeological projects undertaken in the French Quarter and nearby neighborhoods, such as those at Madame John's Legacy (Dawdy 1998) Treme Plantation by Dr. Christopher Matthews (1999). But perhaps the most important comparison will be to the Rising Sun Hotel site, excavated by Dawdy and Earth Search, Inc. in 2005, which uncovered the first protohistoric site identified in the French Quarter (dating to the mid-1600s) and a very well-preserved household garden dating to the French colonial period (ca. 1720s-1750s).
To learn more about what we found during excavation and are learning from our ongoing analysis, go to Research.
13 University of Chicago students and over 20 local volunteers assisted with the excavation. The central location of the site made it a perfect opportunity for project members to engage in public archaeology and interface with locals and tourists on a daily basis. Over 300 visitors toured the site during an open house on July 1, 2008, and the project was followed by local media and national media (to go Links). A public talk was given in January 2009 when the restoration plans for the garden were unveiled. Another talk in New Orleans is planned for October, 2010.
In 2008-2009, field and lab work was made possible by the generous financial support of the Getty Foundation as well as the University of Chicago.
In 2009-2010, field and lab work was made possible by grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Science Foundation. NEH support will continue in 2010-11 and 2011-2012 in what has now become a multi-site project that will include excavations at Ursuline Convent and comparative analysis of several colonial sites across the city.
In 2009-2010, doctoral student and collaborator Lauren Zych was awarded a grant by the University of Missouri Research Reactor for Neutron Activation Analysis. Her dissertation focuses on handbuilt pottery in Southeast Louisiana, and this grant will significantly expand the number of samples that can be run as well as provide valuable technical assistance in their interpretation.
- Getty Foundation Conservation Survey Grant (collaborator with St. Louis Cathedral), 2008-2009
- National Science Foundation Award # 0917736. 2009-210:
"Grounding Creolization: Ecology and Economy in Colonial New Orleans"
- National Endowment for the Humanities Grant # RZ-50992-09, 2009-2012:
"The Roots of Creole New Orleans: Archaeological Investigations at St. Louis Cathedral and Ursuline Convent"
Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this website do not necessarily reflect those of the National Endowment of the Humanities.
Update of September 30, 2010:
Dr. Dawdy will give a public talk and update on the research at St. Anthony's Garden on Thursday October 7th at 5:30 p.m. Location: St. Mary's Church (Old Ursuline Convent), 1116 Chartres St., New Orleans, LA.
On September 28th, it was announced that Shannon Dawdy was a 2010 recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship.
MacArthur Fellowship Announcement