Mount Vernon

Two Different Labs, Two Different Jobs, Two Different George Washington Sites

Hello, from the Commonwealth of Virginia!  My name is Tabitha Hilliard and I am beginning a graduate program at Monmouth University this September.  I am majoring in Anthropology, with a concentration in Archaeology.  I have the good fortune of telling you about two archaeology sites that I am associated with.  I know the purpose of this blog is to write about a “day” in archaeology, most specifically- the day that I’m writing this entry.  First, I am going to tell you about my work at the first site.  Afterwards, I will tell you what I’m currently working on at the second site.

Aerial Photo- pasted from

I began as a volunteer in May of 2009 at Ferry Farm, George Washington’s Boyhood Home Archaeology Lab.  George Washington moved to Ferry Farm in 1738 at six years of age. In 1754 he moved to Mount Vernon.  His mother, Mary Ball Washington, remained at Ferry Farm until she moved to the city of Fredericksburg in 1772.  As a volunteer, I was responsible for washing, sorting, and labeling artifacts. Beginning in May of 2010 I was accepted a position as the Archaeology Lab Assistant, my first full-time position in the field- woohoo!  I remained on staff until I fulfilled my X amount of hours in my contract.  I finished up my term last week, which gives me a few weeks to prepare for my move back to school.  While working as a Lab Assistant- I was responsible for cataloging artifacts, supervising and training new interns and volunteers, and cataloging new materials in the library and archives.  I also co-hosted VIP tours of the lab and I assisted with public events like our Deaf and Hard of Hearing Archaeology Day Tour (this happens once a year, during archaeology month- October for Virginia).  Ferry Farm is in the very early stages of development as far as public archaeology sites go, as a result I was able to assist with tasks associated with other departments- like putting together a new exhibit case in our Visitor’s Center.  I will be staying on as a volunteer at Ferry Farm to assist with researching several artifacts in our collection until I ship off for school in September.

TODAY, I am working as an Intern at Mount Vernon Estate and Gardens.  I began my internship with Mount

Surveying in the Upper Garden at Mount Vernon

Vernon in June and my term will conclude the second week of August.  I work here two days a week in the Archaeology Lab.  My primary task this summer has been to digitize features for a master map of Mount Vernon in a GIS program.  The department is taking all of the hand drawn maps of every excavation completed at Mount Vernon and digitizing them in GIS.  Some of these maps date to the 1930’s! The maps are scanned, uploaded into GIS, and adjusted to fit real-world-coordinates.  My job is to digitize each feature within each excavation project and insert the metadata associated with that feature.  The details of how I’ve been doing this can be found here: Mount Vernon Mystery Midden Blog. Other tasks this summer have included: mapping the Upper Garden, mapping the Lower (Kitchen) Garden and working on a bit of excavation in the Lower Garden.  It is trying to rain outside today, so I believe I will be finishing up the Laundry Yard project in GIS and moving on to the Dung Repository.

I love my field 🙂


Afternoon on the Piazza at Mount Vernon

Hi from Esther White and Luke Pecoraro, the Director of Archaeology and Assistant Archaeologist at Mount Vernon!  There is never a dull day at George Washington’s estate.   A search has been underway all week for a leak in one of the modern irrigation lines.  Mount Vernon was surveyed during the 1980s so we know where archaeological sites are located on our 425 acres.  Despite this, when our grounds crew is looking for a leaky pipe we monitor their exploratory trenches to ensure that nothing of cultural importance is disturbed.  You can see how we spent part of our afternoon in this photo.


Work in the Mount Vernon Lab

Hello again from Mount Vernon!  My name is Laura and I’m the Archaeology Laboratory Assistant and Volunteer Coordinator.  Work in the lab can vary greatly each day.  After spending some time this morning finding the perfect avatar for our Mount Vernon Day of Archaeology account (see below!), the assistant archaeologist and I spent some time reviewing distribution maps from the Phase II excavations of the George Washington Library site.  The distribution maps tell us where certain classes of artifacts were found and help us narrow down site locations.


George Washington excavating!


This map shows where all the sherds of creamware were recovered from the George Washington Library site


I spent this afternoon cross-mending ceramic sherds from an 18th century tin-glazed chamber pot, excavated from the neighboring Potomac Overlook site.   Cross-mending allows us to determine minimum vessel counts and helps us to understand the relationship between different layers of fill.



Mount Vernon Interns

At Mount Vernon, we have reached our final day (sad face) of an 8 week internship program devoted to different aspects of the Archaeological Collections Online initiative.  Our interns came from prestigious universities around the country to take on individual research projects pertaining to the material and social worlds of planter elites like George Washington and the enslaved community upon whose labor these genteel lifestyles were based.

Here’s what our interns have to say about their work!

Katie Barca: Today I am in the process of entering decorated or marked pipes from the South Grove Midden as Objects in the Digital Archaeological Archive of Comparative Slavery (DAACS). In the future, images of these pipes will be posted on the  Mount Vernon’s Midden website.

Joe Downer: Today I am transcribing store accounts from an 18th century Virginia merchant, Alexander Henderson.  By transcribing Henderson’s ledgers, researchers are better able to understand what colonists were purchasing in Northern Virginia before the Revolution, and have a greater insight into pre-revolutionary material culture.

James Bland: I’m also transcribing the Henderson store accounts, but for Alexandria instead of Colchester.  Henderson worked for John Glassford and Company, who together were the Scottish Tobacco Kings of the Chesapeake region.  Their records show an emerging class of non-elite consumers that didn’t exist in the early colonial period.

Page from Henderson's store account, 1763.

Leah Thomas: I am currently writing the report for my summer project, which involves research on 18th century dining objects as represented in museum collections.  I am also looking into the possibility of a connection between dining vessel and utensil form variety and the Rococo art movement in the American colonies.

Sophia Farrulla: This day of archaeology has been packed with thoughts of items related to tea, coffee, and drinking chocolate.  Twinnings tea in hand, I’m finishing a final write up on exotic beverages amongst the 18th century elite.

Tea cup decorated with Aesop's fables found in the midden.

Julia Kennedy: Squirrels and Bamboo and Grapes, oh my! I’m working on drawing a small rodent decoration that appears on Washington’s (George’s or perhaps his elder half-brother Lawrence’s) Chinese export porcelain plates. Each plate was hand-painted, therefore making each curious critter unique.

Squirrel, tree shrew, or other googly-eyed rodent on Washington's Chinese export porcelain.

Jennie Williams: I’m researching George Washington’s purchases from England between 1754 and 1772.  Eventually, these data, gathered from Washington’s orders and invoices, will be available to the public through an online, searchable database.

Anna Dempsey: Today, I am working on my paper for the research I’ve done on lead shot in the archaeological and historical record. I’m also writing an entry about picking 1/16” material, including lead shot, for our blog.

Interns ponder how their projects will appear on the Mount Vernon midden website!

More from Mount Vernon

Hello, I’m writing from our archaeology lab in Mount Vernon, Virginia along the lovely Potomac River just south of Washington, DC.  I’m a PhD student at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville in historical archaeology.  At Mount Vernon, George Washington’s plantation, I’m doing a pre-doctoral fellowship to digitize and put online artifacts excavated from a fantastic feature.  By the end of 2012, we will be offering a website devoted to the material culture of George Washington and the enslaved individuals who lived and worked near the mansion.  The archaeological record of this colonial household comes in the form of a large midden feature – chock full of 18th century ceramics, glass, beads, buttons, buckles, tobacco pipes, fish scales, I could go on and on!

Archaeologists excavated the midden feature from 1990 to 1994. George Washington's mansion is in the background.

Our vision for this project takes a material culture analytical approach that unites the archaeological record with probate inventories, a database of George Washington’s orders and invoices for goods from England, those items stocked in local stores, and even museum collections to better understand the developing consumer revolution on the part of colonial Virginians.

Want to dig deeper into George Washington’s trash?  We have a blog and a facebook group!

Here’s a sample of some of the highlights of the assemblage:

Imported 18th century white ball clay figurines, minus heads.

Stoneware mug made by the "Poor Potter" of Yorktown, Virginia, ca. 1725-1745.


Sword scabbard ornament engraved with partial "GW" monogram, ca. 1778.

A Day at Mount Vernon

Good Morning!  As the work day starts to close in the UK, things in Virginia are just getting started!  We are archaeologists working at the home of our first president, George Washington, who owned a large plantation in Virginia in the 18th century.  Our job, as part of the permanent Archaeology Department, is to protect and research the valuable below-ground resources that inform us about plantation life and labor.  Historic Mount Vernon is a private, non-profit organization owned and maintained by the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association since 1853.


With the temperature outside approaching 100 degrees it’s nice to be working in the lab today.  The archaeology lab is currently focusing its energy on two main projects.  The first project is the re-analysis of the South Grove midden site, a trash deposit that spans the occupation of several Washington households.  The second project is the analysis of the George Washington Presidential Library site.  This site was excavated last year in preparation of a huge library complex which is slated to begin construction later this summer.



Throughout the afternoon our staff and interns will be posting about their Day of Archaeology at Mount Vernon!