Archaeology in Action: Mardi Gras Camp Site
Posted on November 28, 2023 by Rachel Hines
The Mardi Gras Camp Site is one of three sites at “RV City,” the area along Water Street where RVs park during Mardi Gras. We excavated this site, also known as 1MB564, in 2022 as part of the I-10 Mobile River Bridge Archaeology Project. This site is located beneath I-10, which limited our investigations to the southeast part of the site. Most of the site dates to the 19th and 20th centuries, when the area was a residential neighborhood. Our excavations were placed in the backyards of the homes to investigate the lives of the people who lived there.
Our 2022 excavations at the Mardi Gras Camp Site overlay the 1891 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map (left). Map courtesy of the Library of Congress. The map on the right shows the location of the site (in red) and the other sites for the I-10 MRB Archaeology Project (in gray).
As with most of our sites for the I-10 project, the most common feature we identified at the Mardi Gras Camp Site was the privy! Privies, or outhouses, were often used as trash pits when they were no longer used, so they can contain dense artifact deposits. Hamilton Bryant compared privies from different sites, including one from the Mardi Gras Camp Site, in his poster for the 2022 Southeastern Archaeological Conference.
A wood-lined privy (Feature 690) that contained remains of fruits and other foods, including grape, muscadine, blackberry, raspberry, passionflower, peanut shells, chinaberry, cherry/plum, peach, gourd, coffee beans, hickory nut, mango, prickly pear, and grain. Archaeologists can study past diets through these plant remains.
One of the privies, known as Feature 499, contained a number of interesting artifacts, including a ginger beer bottle filled with coffee beans, a fragment of a coconut, and a Civil War era Sheffield Bowie Knife (below). This privy was located behind 301 and 303 South Conception Street; 301 South Conception was listed as a store around the turn of the century, which may explain the exotic plant remains.
A corroded knife found in a wood-lined privy known as Feature 499. It resembles a Civil War era Sheffield Bowie Knife. Archaeologist Caleb Thomason labeled the similarities between the knife we found (left) and the Civil War era knife (right).
Many of the privies at the Mardi Gras Camp Site had great preservation. The wood lining was preserved, as were many fruit seeds and other plant remains. One privy, known as Feature 690, was a wood lined privy with fruit remains behind what was once 104 Madison Street. The plant remains found in the privy include grape, muscadine, blackberry, raspberry, passionflower, peanut shells, chinaberry, cherry/plum, peach, gourd, coffee beans, hickory nut, mango, prickly pear, and grain.
A ginger beer bottle found in a wood-lined privy known as Feature 499. It was filled with coffee beans, which would have been imported from another country.
The Mardi Gras Camp Site is one of 15 sites we excavated for the I-10 Mobile River Bridge Archaeology Project, and one of three sites at RV City. Learn more about our excavations at RV City in this short video and continue to follow along as we share our results from this project!