Who is a “Real Archaeologist”?

“Seventy percent of all archaeology is done in the library. Research. Reading.”

Which eminent scholar confidently states that statistic? Certainly someone from the last half-century, right? Perhaps an archaeologist who is concerned with the inherently destructive nature of our field.

Nope. Indiana Jones.

He utters these words in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. It rings ironic not only just for the general practices of this fictional character, but also because he has just told his students that archaeology is not “about lost cities, exotic travel, and digging up the world,” yet he is about to hand the speciously-acquired Cross of Coronado to Marcus Brody. (more…)

Transitions in slavery in the Virginia Piedmont

Excavations a Wingos

Six graduate, one undergraduate, and two recent graduates in Anthropology from the University of Tennessee are working, with the support of the National Endowment for the Humanities, to study transitions in slavery in the Virginia Piedmont during the 18th century. We’re comparing three sites, all associated with members of a single enslaved community that were relocated from the eastern to western piedmont in the 1770s. The North Hill site at Poplar Forest in Bedford County, Virginia, was excavated in the 1990s, and the collection is being compared to artifacts from two sites currently under investigation: Wingos, also a quarter farm at Poplar Forest, and Indian Camp plantation in Powhatan County, about 85 miles to the east. Enslaved members of the community lived there from the 1730s-1770s before being moved west.

One part of our team came close to wrapping up work at Wingo’s quarter today. In 2009, we found two subfloor pits associated with one of the houses at the quarter; this summer we’ve been looking for additional structures and samping the yard, seeking evidence of how enslaved residents shaped the spaces surrounding their houses. Today started with backfilling and a run to the local farm supply store to buy straw. We backfilled completed units and planted grass seed on them, and finished troweling, photographing and mapping what were supposed to be our last two units. At about mid-day, as the temperatures soared to nearly 100º F, we discovered a large feature running into the south wall of one of the last units. We spent the remainder of the afternoon opening a new unit in an attempt to expose its edges. We’ll have to return Monday to continue working to define it. Luckily, we have the resources to extend our excavations for a few more days. (more…)

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 of Archaeology in Tennessee

The first task each day is to check email and phone messages to see what inquiries have come in. Part of my role with the state’s Division of Archaeology is to help inform the public about Tennessee’s prehistoric past, and on an average day I’ll receive questions and requests from a variety of sources. These typically include property owners with archaeological resources on their land, collectors interested in identifying their finds, and students, academics, and Cultural Resource Management firms conducting research. The type and number of requests seems to cycle, and recently there has been a marked increase in calls from members of the public curious about prehistoric artifacts they have found or inherited.