University of South Carolina

University archaeologist to be featured on ‘History Detectives’

South Carolinians will have the opportunity to see a Palmetto State history sleuth in action on PBS’ popular series, “The History Detectives,” airing at 9 p.m. Monday, Sept. 7, on SC-ETV.

Dr. Jonathan Leader, a University of South Carolina researcher and state archaeologist, will be featured for his work on a Civil War mystery.

Leader applied scientific instrumentation, archaeology knowledge and archival research skills to determine whether an old bridge abutment found near the Broad River was the same bridge burned down to foil Gen. William T. Sherman’s advance on Columbia in February 1865. PBS filmed Leader and Carmen Beard, a geographic information systems (GIS) specialist at the University of South Carolina, conducting a series of tests at the site in March.

Leader said some remarkable archival work done by David Brinkman, a Columbia history enthusiast who purchased the land where the bridge abutment sits, provided a compelling case for testing. Brinkman had been researching the ruined bridge abutment in his yard for some time. In 2006, Brinkman and Leader looked at the bridge with the idea of dating it. Their historical research continued over the next couple of years.

“Archives and overlays do not a proof make,” said Leader. “Science isn’t only about how well things fit, but how well they test.”

Leader and Elyse Luray of “The History Detectives” used high-tech equipment, including a Bartington gradient magnetometer and a Mala ground penetrating radar, to see what was hidden under the ground. Their findings will be revealed during the course of “The History Detectives” episode.

Complementing Leader’s research will be footage from the S.C. Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum and S.C. Department of Archives and History.

“One of the truly enjoyable parts of working with the PBS series ‘The History Detectives’ is the collaboration,” Leader said. “The questions they are asked to solve are never easy and also tie in many allied colleagues and experts.”

The bridge abutment isn’t Leader’s only Civil War-era project. He and fellow university archaeologist Christopher Amer are leading a team to locate, map, recover and conserve artifacts from the Confederate Mars Bluff Naval Yard, located alongside the Pee Dee River in Marion County, and three large cannon that were once aboard C.S.S. Pee Dee.

Leader and Amer are researchers in the S.C. Institute for Archaeology and Anthropology. SCIAA, part of the College of the Arts and Sciences, was established in 1963 as a University of South Carolina research institute and a cultural resource management agency for the state of South Carolina. To learn more about SCIAA, its research projects and outreach programs, visit the Web site – -- or call 803-777-8170.

"History Detectives"

  • What: Popular PBS program that explores the details of famous points in history
  • Who: Dr. Jonathan Leader, university researcher and state archaeologist, will discuss his work on a Civil War mystery.
  • When: 9 p.m. Monday, Sept. 7, on SC-ETV

By Office of Media Relations

Posted: 09/01/09 @ 12:00 AM | Updated: 09/02/09 @ 1:57 PM | Permalink