RIPLEY, Ohio -- Old nails, pieces of dishes, pottery, bones, brick fragments and a "projectile point" thought to be either a knife blade or spear point are among the items recovered at an excavation site beside the Rankin House in Ripley.

Also unearthed by the excavation efforts, a prehistoric Native American pit and what may have been a cellar possibly used to house runaway slaves many years ago.

"Further investigation and analysis are needed," said Kim Schuette, communications manager for the Ohio Historical Society.

The excavation is being completed on the National Historic Landmark grounds because of plans to install a sub-surface HVAC unit. The unit is needed, Schuette said, to control moisture in the house. However, the unit must be underground in order to preserve the image of the historic location.

"When we're doing any work to a historic site we want to ... investigate what may be impacted," Schuette explained. It was during the excavation and investigation of a 5 by 5 square of land that the artifacts and features were discovered.

Blocks were cut from the square where archaeologists worked in a method that resembled a checkerboard. Schuette said only if something was of particular interested -- such as the cellar -- were more squares removed and analyzed.

Bill Pickard, OHS archaeologist, was at the site Wednesday with two individuals from Ohio Valley Archaeology, Inc., including Vice President Albert M. Pecora and staff archaeologist Jeff Dilyard. Test excavations were to be concluded on Wednesday and Pickard said a meeting is scheduled for Friday to determine if more investigation is needed at the excavation site and whether the HVAC unit can still be located there.

Pickard said he did not expect plans for the HVAC unit to be changed because if it were moved to another area of the property, another excavation would likely yield similar results.

"Why wouldn't you find stuff here?" he queried, adding that since noted abolitionist Rev. John Rankin found the location a desirable location to live, others would likely have found it desirable as well.

"John Rankin certainly wasn't the first person to take advantage of this nice location overlooking the (river)," he said.

Pickard displayed some of the items found at the site and explained that, though a certain piece of glazed crockery might date to 1850, it could have been used by some in 1880 or later, since items are often used years after they are made.

The projectile point fragment discovered is likely not an arrowhead, Pickard said. He speculated it may have been a knife because one side had been sharpened more than the other. However, he said it might also have been a spear that was thrown, hit something, and caused the tip to break off. The type of material the fragment is made of comes from western Kentucky or southwest Indiana. However, being on the river, Pickard said it was not unusual to find an object like that some 500 miles from its origin.

Pickard explained that everything that is located is bagged with information recorded as to where it was located and at what depth in the ground. The property around the Rankin House has been mapped with a ground penetration radar survey to record the property as it was before the excavation disturbed it.

Pickard said the survey, along with the detailed records for where items were located, would assist in any possible future excavations by allowing researchers to connect certain dots.

"You don't learn everything the first time around," he said.

Pickard said records are necessary, also, because by investigating the site, they are also effectively destroying the site. However, the excavation provides a chance to recover the items while bringing a backhoe in to clear the area would destroy the site without a record.

Betty Campbell, volunteer site manager for the Rankin House and president of Ripley Heritage, Inc., said she is excited by the work at the excavation site.

"We're discovering more layers of history," she said.

Contact Misty Maynard at or call 606-564-9091, ext. 272.

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