Archaeology in Action: South Royal Street Site

Posted on November 10, 2023 by Rachel Hines
Rachel Hines

We excavated the South Royal Street Site, or 1MB510, as part of the I-10 Mobile River Bridge Archaeology Project in 2022. This was one of the largest sites we excavated for our project and is one of three sites at what is referred to as “RV City,” the area under I-10 where RVs are parked during Mardi Gras. Dr. Alex Beebe of South’s Department of Earth Sciences created a 3d model of our excavations at this site.

Construction site

Our 2022 excavations at the South Royal Street Site on top of the 1904 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

The South Royal Street site spans the history of Mobile Bay, including Native American, colonial, and American period components. The middle of the site had evidence from colonial-era landscape modifications, including a large hand-dug ditch and other water control features. These features were buried by storm deposits, potentially from the 1772 and 1822 hurricanes.

This site was a residential area from the 1820s until I-10 was constructed in the 1960s. There were about 30 homes within the site boundaries, most of which were wood frame structures, including shotgun houses and Creole cottages. There were also multi-household dwellings, such as tenements and boarding houses, and a few neighborhood businesses, including a corner grocery store, an “eating house,” and an auto repair shop at different points in time.

Construction site

Lindsey and Richard map features at the former street level at the South Royal Street Site. Lindsey is sitting on the former sidewalk, and Richard is measuring bricks from a porch foundation.

Because this was a residential area, like most of our sites, we found many privies, or outhouses, during excavation. Notably, at this site, we found our only brick-lined privy of the project behind what was once 309 South Conception Street (below). While brick-lined privies were thought to prevent water pollution and disease by the mid-1800s, most of the privies we’ve excavated were wood-lined, likely due to cost.

Construction site

A brick-lined privy found behind what was once 309 South Conception Street. Archaeologist Hamilton Bryant III compared privies from the I-10 project in a poster for the 2022 Southeastern Archaeological Conference.

As we continue analyzing our finds from this site, we can learn more about the people who lived here through time. Learn more about our excavations at RV City.  The South Royal Street Site is one of 15 sites we excavated for the I-10 Mobile River Bridge Archaeology Project. Stay tuned to learn more about our work at the other sites!

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