Searching for the Fort — Finding a Changing Landscape

2016 Germanna Archaeology Staff and VCU Field School

The 2016 Day of Archaeology finds the Germanna Foundation and Germanna Archaeology in very different circumstances than one year ago. The 2015 Day of Archaeology found us stabilizing an archaeological site dug more than 20 years ago and largely untouched since. That work has proven successful and the old excavations are safely covered and secured.

This year finds Germanna Archaeology nearing the end of its inaugural excavation season and the first excavations at the site in over 20 years.  The Foundation brought on Amelia Chisholm as Assistant Field Director, and four seasonal Archaeological Technicians — Marissa Kulis, Emily Lew, Rachel Manning and Zoe Rahsman. We were most fortunate to partner with Dr. Bernard Means and the Anthropology program at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU).  We gladly hosted the Field School consisting of nine capable students to round out Germanna’s 2016 Archaeology Team.  The goal for this inaugural season was to find more of the palisade walls for the 1714 Fort Germanna and better define it on the historic landscape.

Palisade Trench found and defined in the 1990s

Palisade Trench found and defined in the 1990s

The Fort’s location is known only through a segment of a linear feature found in 1992.  The palisade trench is interrupted at each of its ends by the significant foundations of Virginia’s Lt. Governor, Alexander Spotswood’s “Enchanted Castle” built on the site in the 1720s. While this provided evidence of the Fort’s location, the full limits of the larger Fort’s structure, even today, remain undefined.

Historic descriptions of the Fort suggest it was 5 sided wooden palisade with each side measuring 300 feet (ca 100m).  Such a finished structure encloses 154,843 square feet (14,385 m2) or around 3.55 acres.  For stewardship of these unique historic resources, both the Germanna Foundation and the Commonwealth of Virginia wish to better understanding of the layout of the 1714 Fort.

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Clearing the trench before end of Field School

This summer’s excavations sought to find more of the palisade trench along with evidence of the changing historic landscape that both preceded and followed the Fort’s short use on colonial Virginia’s frontier.  Over the course of this season’s small scale excavations, Archaeologists and students have uncovered a rich and complex landscape though the remains of the palisade have eluded us.  We have found tools made from gunflints.  We have found colonial era ceramics along with hand wrought nails.  We have identified 19th-century artifacts and the edges of 19th century agricultural fields.  There has been much fun and excitement along with the warm temperatures of the last few weeks.

Sadly, yesterday was the Field School’s last day at the site.  Germanna Archaeology is preparing to wrap up fieldwork over the next couple of weeks.  Taking advantage of the quiet today, the remaining staff is working on washing artifacts in the lab and getting ready to shift work into the lab for the next phase of processing and analysis.

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Molded stoneware found in plowzone


Washing finds and recapping the season today, this “Day of Archaeology”

Looking back to last year’s Day of Archaeology, our progress is remarkable. Germanna Archaeology is a small operation.  Starting a new archaeology program is difficult.  It’s exciting to see the new research questions and future possibilities arising from these initial efforts to better define the cultural resources of Germanna.  Hoping for even greater reports for next year’s Day of Archaeology.