FORT EDWARD — It had been a while since Peter Martin was a Boy Scout, camping on Rogers Island and searching for buried treasure — four or five decades, he said.
But the possibilities hidden in the dirt and roots of Fort Edward brought him back this summer from his current home in Los Angeles. A continuing education student participating in the SUNY Adirondack archaeological field school, he got down in the dirt once more Thursday to see what artifacts could be uncovered.
The sifters and other tools were perhaps more technical than when Martin was a boy, and the documentation more orderly.
“They let us loose with a few spoons, and a friend and I found a circle of rocks that had been a fireplace, and there was some blue glass that they said was a rum bottle, but I’ve seen a lot of blue glass now, and I guess it was just something they got their alcohol in,” he said.
With some nudging from his wife, Martin said, he signed up for the field school, which has surveyed the area since 1991.
Fort Edward was a main base camp during the French and Indian War, a site filled with discovery, history and possibility for archaeologists and history scholars. It was also the home of Capt. Robert Rogers, who wrote some of the most famous rules of forest warfare, and it was the site of the only smallpox hospital ever unearthed in the United States.
David Starbuck, the lead archaeologist at the site, brought students to a more remote place than the usual hot spot of Rogers Island for this year’s dig. The state Department of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation is still working on a master plan for the island before new work begins, he said.
So students drove down the road to a site Starbuck had worked on five years ago, a sutler’s house. A sutler is a merchant who sold items to officers, and in this case, the British.
Examining a 1760 map, Starbuck said a couple of other buildings may also be buried underground. He also expects to find out more about what the average officer would spend his extra money on — alcohol, tobacco, buttons.
Starbuck said he was taken by the vines and vegetation that had grown over the site since 2013. The first step this week was to clear away brush and cut down some trees.
By the middle of the week, holes were dug, dirt was sifted, and already some bones, chips of tin-glazed earthenware, bits of brick and flecks of charcoal emerged from the dirt.
Swede Ekstrom, who said he was the oldest student there at 71, and SUNY Adirondack student Alexandra Steves, about a half-century his junior, shared smiles and enthusiasm as they swung sifts hanging from an apex, scouring the earth for something wonderful.
“I was just in love with the idea of coming out here, and it beats my expectations,” said Ekstrom, who is from Florida.
Starbuck hopes the rest of the world will catch on about the hidden gem that is Fort Edward. Often, people think of the Hudson River town as a place fading away after the General Electric Co. picked up and left, leaving behind its pollution and empty buildings.
They miss its rich history, he said. As he and his students uncover more about early America over the next five weeks, he hopes to continue inspiring others to learn.
“I will never retire,” he added. “I will hopefully be digging until the day I die.”