Virginia Commonwealth University

Featured Today at the Virtual Curation Laboratory: George Washington’s Boyhood Home, Jamestown, and Monongahela Villages

by Bernard K. Means, Director of the Virtual Curation Laboratory

Bernard K. Means scanning the cellar feature at Ferry Farm.

Bernard K. Means scanning the cellar feature at Ferry Farm.

I just walked in from the field where I 3D scanned a Colonial-era cellar feature at George Washington’s Ferry Farm, continuing a busy week that will end tomorrow, July 11, 2014 in a Day of Archaeology Festival in Washington, D.C. sponsored by Archaeology in the Community. This is not the first feature that I have scanned at Ferry Farm using the Sense 3D scanner. A couple of weeks ago, I scanned this cluster of Colonial-era features at Ferry Farm–and one shovel test pit from a 1990’s archaeological survey (the square hole).

Animated Colonial-era feature from Ferry Farm.

Animated Colonial-era feature from Ferry Farm.

More typically, at Ferry Farm and other locations, I use a NextEngine Desktop 3D scanner to create artifact models.

Masonic pipe dating to the George Washington-era occupation at Ferry Farm.

Masonic pipe dating to the George Washington-era occupation at Ferry Farm.

The Virtual Curation Laboratory creates printed replicas of the digitally scanned artifacts and features, which are painted by students at Virginia Commonwealth University for public programs, teaching, and exhibition.

Becki Bowman (left) and Lauren Hogg painted printed artifact replicas.

Becki Bowman (left) and Lauren Hogg painting printed artifact replicas.

Some of these painted replicas were featured in a public archaeology program held on Independence Day (July 4)  just one week ago.

A young visitor in Colonial garb examined a chess set created using scanned artifacts.

A young visitor in Colonial garb examines a chess set created using scanned artifacts, as well as other artifact replicas.

The Virtual Curation Laboratory works with many partners in the cultural heritage community dedicated and devoted to protecting and presenting the past.  We have a particularly fruitful relationship with Historic Jamestowne, where we have 3D scanned a wide range of artifacts that are incorporated into public programs.

Becki Bowman holds up a freshly painted replica of an ivory compass dating to the early 1600s from Jamestown.

Becki Bowman holds up a freshly painted replica of an ivory compass dating to the early 1600s from Jamestown.

Ivory compass from Jamestown

Ivory compass from Jamestown

In late June, with help from Jamestown Rediscovery’s Danny Schmidt, we scanned this partially excavated bread oven at Jamestown, from a cellar where the cannibalized remains of a young woman dubbed “Jane” were found.

Animation of cellar from Jamestown.

Animation of cellar from Jamestown.

Lest it be thought that we only work on historic-era sites, we also pursue research on pre-Contact sites, including Monongahela villages that once existed across southwestern Pennsylvania and adjacent states. We work closely with the Westmoreland Archaeological Society, a group of avocational archaeologists in Pennsylvania that are actively excavating the Consol site, a multi-component Monongahela village.

Ceramic vessel from the Consol site.

Ceramic vessel from the Consol site.

 

Basin-shaped feature from the Consol site.

Basin-shaped feature from the Consol site.

For more about  the Virtual Curation Laboratory, you can visit us here. Other animations can be found at the Virtual Curation Museum, including this mummified opossum.

1179_opossum_mummy_new

 

 

Growing up with George – A Day in the Field at Ferry Farm

Excavation at Ferry Farm, George Washington's Boyhood Home

Excavation at Ferry Farm, George Washington’s Boyhood Home

 

By Ashley McCuistion, diganthro.wordpress.com

I spent my Day of Archaeology this year at Ferry Farm, George Washington’s boyhood home in Fredericksburg, Virginia.  I have been working at this site as an intern in the field since May, and have loved every minute of it!  We are currently excavating behind the site of the Washington home, seeking any evidence of outbuildings and trying to gain a better understanding of how the land was used during their occupation there.  George lived at Ferry Farm from age six to twenty-one, but the land was occupied by his family for 34 years, making it an incredibly significant part of his life’s story, and our history!

Though the majority of my summer has been spent excavating the site, I took on a considerably different role in late June when nine students from Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) arrived, ready to begin a five week field school.  I was hired as their teaching assistant, a job that required me to instruct the students on how to excavate, keep records, and identify artifacts.  This was a very special opportunity for me, as I completed my field school at Ferry Farm just last summer and had an incredibly positive experience that lead me to pursue archaeology as a career.  I was very eager and excited to guide these new students through their experience here and share all I have learned with them, though I will admit that I was terribly nervous as well, as this was my first time teaching and I was not sure what to expect.  As the first week began, however, my nerves very quickly disappeared and I became quite comfortable in my new role – a development that was very much influenced by the enthusiasm and abilities of this great group of students.  I was constantly impressed by their positive attitudes and responsiveness to my instructions.  I truly could not have asked for a better bunch of students, which is what made this year’s Day of Archaeology so bittersweet.

Excavating with the VCU students on the 4th of July, 2013

Excavating with the VCU students on the 4th of July, 2013

Friday was the last day of the VCU field school, which began rather quietly as the students spent the morning inside taking a ceramics test.  I kept busy in the field by helping fellow interns Allen and Katie quickly fill a few wheelbarrows with soil in preparation for a kid’s archaeology camp that was coming out to help us screen.  Unfortunately, last week was our final week of excavation, so we only had one mostly excavated unit left to produce soil from, and what was left did not have much in the way of artifacts.  The kids arrived about an hour after we opened the site and went straight to work at the screens to see what they could find.  I was working with a particularly animated group, and I loved how excited they became every time they found something, despite the fact that all we had was a couple of nails and some lithic debitage!

After the kids left, the field school students returned and I joined them in scraping the base of the units they had excavated so that we could begin mapping them later in the day.  Once that was done, I dismissed those who needed to leave early and asked the others if they would mind helping us draw profiles of the southern wall of the site.  They very happily accepted the task and got to work, and before the day was done they had helped us complete every drawing, as well as begin the map for the block of the site that they had excavated.  Before I knew it, the time had come to close the site and head home.  I said goodbye to the students and thanked them for all of their hard work, and with that another wonderful chapter of my life at Ferry Farm came to a close.

VCU students Mariana Zechini (left) and Lauren Volkers (right), profile a unit

VCU students Mariana Zechini (left) and Lauren Volkers (right), profile a unit

This was my second Day of Archaeology at Ferry Farm.  Last year I wrote about my first day in the field after my last day of field school, and I could not have been more excited to continue my experience there!  I had no idea where my pursuit of this field would take me, but I knew that I had found something special at Ferry Farm, and I wanted to hold on to that for as long as I could.  I suppose it is somewhat poetic that I would spend this day in such a similar place as I did last year, this time as a teacher instead of a student…  I feel so incredibly fortunate to have had the opportunity to learn and grow at this site, and to work with such incredible supervisors, teachers, coworkers, and students.  It has been a wonderful summer at Ferry Farm, and though I will be sad to leave as this final week comes to a close, I look forward to my next adventure – and to next year’s Day of Archaeology!

Final Field Fun at Ferry Farm

Friday, July 26, 2013 was the last day of the VCU field school at George Washington’s Boyhood Home in Fredericksburg, Virginia as well as the 2013 Day of Archaeology – how fitting!

Scraping our wall in order to profile.

Scraping our wall in order to profile. Photo by Bernard Means.

Instead of starting the day off uncovering the site like we had been doing for five weeks, the field school students had a ceramics test scheduled for the morning. My classmates and I had been studying for weeks and testing ourselves with ceramic sherds found in the field. After the test, we were able to return to the field and help Ferry Farm interns profile the remaining walls. Over the course of five weeks, VCU field school students excavated a total of eight units in the southeast corner of the site. Each group was responsible for drawing their profile and completing their unit summaries before moving on to anything else. My digging partner, Lauren, and I had finished our profile the previous day and were focusing on our unit summaries on Friday morning.

Lauren Volkers profiles our second test unit.

Lauren Volkers profiles our second test unit. Layers seen are topsoil, 20th century disturbance, antebellum and colonial.

After lunch, we went down to the Rappahannock River with our professor, Dr. Bernard K. Means, to throw rocks across the river, as is tradition.  Unfortunately, no one made it across the Rappahannock but it was a fun activity nonetheless!

We returned to the site and I immediately began preparing to profile a test unit dug last year during the 2012 field season. That’s when Dr. Means came up to four of us and asked if we would like to begin mapping the area that field school students had excavated this year. I was thrilled! As a field school student, I had only expected to be digging this summer but thanks to the wonderful people at Ferry Farm we were able to get a bigger picture on what archaeologists do other than excavation, such as profiling and mapping. Vivian, another student, and I began mapping a portion of the 10 ft x 30 ft area that students had excavated. By the end of the day we had made it through four units and had mapped three features – an unidentified circular feature and two portions of Feature 13, a modern utility trench that runs diagonally (northwest to southeast) through the site.

The area excavated by VCU students (except for the very last two units).

The area excavated by VCU students (except for the very last two units).

Vivian and I map the area excavated by VCU students. Photo taken by Bernard Means.

Vivian and I map the area excavated by VCU students. Photo taken by Bernard Means.

By the end of the day only four of nine field school students (including myself) remained on site. As per tradition, the four of us signed our names on the giant toolbox housed in the northern half of the site along with our nicknames.

Screen Shot 2013-07-28 at 6.30.37 PM

I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to learn and work at Ferry Farm. The skills that my site director Laura Galke, archaeology professor Dr. Bernard Means and teaching assistant Ashley McCuistion have taught me will help me succeed as a professional archaeologist and the connections I have made with peers and professionals make me excited for the future. I cannot express in words how much I value my experience at Ferry Farm and how it has shaped an understanding of what it means to be an archaeologist.

-Mariana Zechini, VCU student.

George is Waiting: the 2013 VCU Field School @ George Washington’s Ferry Farm

by Dr. Bernard K. Means, Director of the Virtual Curation Laboratory at Virginia Commonwealth University

Excavating at Ferry Farm.

Excavating at Ferry Farm.

Just over a year ago, on the last Day of Archaeology, I found myself at George Washington’s Ferry Farm in Fredericksburg, Virginia, focused on using a laser scanner to create 3D digital models of artifacts recovered from this site.  Today, I find myself again at Ferry Farm, this time on the last day of the Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) archaeological field school that I am teaching in cooperation with the George Washington Foundation (GWF). GWF archaeologist Laura Galke is director of the field effort, and her assistant field director is Eric Larsen.

Ferry Farm field director Laura Galke.

Ferry Farm field director Laura Galke holding a recent find.

Eric Larsen helps map the current excavations.

Eric Larsen helps map the current excavations.

 

My direct field assistant to the VCU field school for this effort is Ashley McCuistion, a GWF intern, current VCU student, and a legacy of the VCU field school.  Ashley was a field student here herself last year, and blogged about her time at Ferry Farm for the 2012 Day of Archaeology.

Ashley McCuistion is shovel ready.

Ashley McCuistion is shovel ready.

Ferry Farm is the location where George Washington grew from boy to man, and GWF archaeologists have been working for years to explore this archaeological landscape.  Nothing remains standing of the Washington-era structures, nor the extensive American Civil War encampment that was located here—directly overlapping the buried remains of the Washington house itself in some places. The history of human occupation in this area stretches back millennia, with evidence of American Indian use of the Ferry Farm landscape going back at least 10,000 years.

George Washington, third from left, stands with three of the field school students.

George Washington, third from left, stands with three of the field school students.

This year, VCU and GWF archaeologists are working to explore the backyard associated with the Washington-era home.  This was a working yard in part, with one of the activities reflected being the maintenance of wigs.  Ferry Farm has over 160 wig hair curlers—a large number from a domestic site—and these were associated with maintaining wigs for George Washington’s younger brothers.  The fashionable gentleman of the late 18th century wore a wig—the single most expensive part of the gentry-class man’s wardrobe.  Traces of a formal garden behind the house have been found as well.

The end of a wig hair curler found on July 4, 2013.

The end of a wig hair curler found on July 4, 2013.

Today is a bittersweet day for the VCU field school, as it is our last day.  The field school students will work on their unit profiles, fill out their unit summary forms, take a quiz on identifying ceramic types, and discuss readings about challenges in interpreting the past.  Most of the students I will see in a few short weeks, as they are either taking additional classes from me, and/or interning in the Virtual Curation Laboratory that I direct.  The archaeology bug has bitten these students, and soon they will be unleashed upon the world.  Rather than reflect on my experiences as their instructor for this field school, I’ll present here their impressions of their favorite thing about field school or what field school has meant to them, which they provided to me yesterday in written form:

Francesca Chesler : “My favorite thing about field school was finding a wig curler! This was my number one goal in field school, and finding one really boosted my confidence not only in myself, but in my abilities as an archaeologist.  In addition to this, I enjoyed the screening process because it gave me a chance to scrutinize the dirt excavated and look for additional artifacts which may have been missed while digging the dirt in the unit up originally.”

Francesca Chesler finds a wig hair curler.

Francesca Chesler finds a wig hair curler.

Aaron Ellrich: “My favorite thing is the camaraderie found in the field. Like the saying goes, “There is no ‘I’ in team.”—which is what I found out on the first day. . It is a team effort…. and communication is essential for not only understanding what is going on at the site, but, a time to get to know others interested in the field—you never know, you may be working with them (or they may even get you a job) in the future! Second to this, our field trips went hand-in-hand with this topic and enhanced my experience!”

Aaron Ellrich holding a 8,000 year-old American Indian stone tool.

Aaron Ellrich holding a 8,000 year-old American Indian stone tool.

Vivian Hite: “I think that with field school there wasn’t an exact moment or practice that I enjoyed most but what I got from the field school.  I took field school so that I could better determine if I wanted to pursue a career in archaeology.  The reason I love archaeology is because I’m constantly learning something new.  Whether it’s a new way to do something, a new technique or skill, a strange artifact, an unidentified feature, or just compiling the knowledge learned and applying to a more generalized question; it’s a constant cycle.  The flow of information from one person to another about artifacts, features, and sites is amazing to be a part of. That’s my favorite thing about field school. “

Vivian Hite, pointing, interacts with a visitor on July 4, 2013.

Vivian Hite, pointing, interacts with a visitor on July 4, 2013.

Stephanie King: “I consider field school to be the final step to becoming a legitimate archaeologist. The lessons learned here provide students with the necessary knowledge to execute archaeological processes on a basic level, and those who are flexible will adapt to the needs of related occupations. In short, I feel that field school is paramount to employment in any archaeological field.”

Stephanie King begins excavating a new test unit.

Stephanie King begins excavating a new test unit.

Ruth Martin: “The part of field school that means the most to me is all of the experience I am gaining.  Learning things outside the class room and applying things you learned in class has been a great experience for me.”

Ruth Martin works in the lab.

Ruth Martin works in the lab.

Olivia McCarty: “What I have enjoyed the most about field school is what a sense of accomplishment you feel throughout the day. It can stem from the fact that you just found a special artifact, someone in your group finding an interesting feature (this of course doesn’t include the 20th century trench), the fact that you and your partner have managed to keep your unit even as you’ve scrapped away at your layer, or when you finally begin to pick up the subtle changes in soil that at the start of the school you couldn’t see at all. All these things have validated to me that field school had been an amazing experience and made me hungry for more fieldwork opportunities.”

Olivia McCarty removes soil from her unit.

Olivia McCarty removes soil from her unit.

Linda Polk: “My favorite thing about field school had to be finding artifacts and trying to interpret what they were. To me, it was like a big game of Clue with ceramics, nails, glass, and all the other types of artifacts found at Ferry Farm.”

Linda Polk finds a wig hair curler.

Linda Polk finds a wig hair curler.

Lauren Volkers: “This whole field school experience is my favorite thing about field school, because it has helped me gained the skills and knowledge I need for future archaeological dig sites. I also enjoyed my entire time here at Ferry Farm and all of the people I met along the way. I had such a great time that choosing one aspect is just too hard of a task.”

Lauren Volkers compares a sleave button she found with a replica from a Civil War soldier reenactor on July 4, 2013.

Lauren Volkers compares a sleave button she found with a replica from a Civil War soldier reenactor on July 4, 2013.

Mariana: “I cannot express in words how much I value my experience at Ferry Farm. Field school was a chance to gain the knowledge and skills needed in order to become a successful archaeologist. More than that, it was a chance to connect with peers with similar interests and professionals from all over Virginia. Field school has been an amazing experience that has given me the confidence to move forward and one that has equipped me with an understanding of what it means to be an archaeologist.”

Mariana Zechini's finding of a wig hair curler attracts some attention.

Mariana Zechini’s finding of a wig hair curler attracts some attention.

Ashley McCuistion, far right, instructs the VCU field school students on their first day.

Ashley McCuistion, far right, instructs the VCU field school students on their first day.

I can add that I look forward to working with these burgeoning professionals in the future, and seeing what exciting research they are doing—and about which they will be posting in a future Day of Archaeology blog!!!!! And, you can learn more about our VCU field school from our own blog.

 

VCU 3D at George Washington’s Boyhood Home

by Bernard K. Means, project director, Virtual Curation Laboratory

VCU students Alison Curran and Ian Salata participate in the Day of Archaeology by excavating at Ferry Farm.

I chose to spend my Day of Archaeology at George Washington’s Boyhood Home, located in Fredericksburg, Virginia.  Archaeologists working here have uncovered traces of human occupation dating back thousands of years, but understandably have been focused on the period associated with George Washington’s tenancy.  George moved here at the age of 6 with his mother Mary, his father Augustine, and several family members.  A team of archaeologists is working this year–as they have in past years–seeking to broaden our understanding of George Washington’s childhood–a rather poorly documented time period.

VCU students Ashley McCuistion and Victoria Garcia look on as the “BW” spoon is being scanned.

My goal today is to use my NextEngine scanner and create digital models of archaeological objects recovered at Ferry Farm, including items recovered this year by Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) students as part of their recently completed field school, as well as objects recovered in past years from  contexts definitely associated with the Washington family occupation.  These objects are categorized as “small finds” or unique objects that might be lost in traditional archaeological mass data analyses.  For a recent article on small finds at Ferry Farm, and how they can broaden our understanding of the Washington family’s personal and social worlds, I recommend Ferry Farm archaeologist Laura Galke’s (2009) article “The Mother of the Father of Our Country: Mary Ball Washington’s Genteel Domestic Habits” Northeast Historical Archaeology 38:29-48.  I began the day by scanning a pewter spoon handle with the initials “BW”–representing George Washington’s sister, Betty.  This spoon and its significance for socializing Betty in gentry-class society is discussed by Galke (2009).

“BW” spoon as it is being scanned.

The spoon actually proved more challenging than expected because it is thin, dark, and the design is shallow.  But, a little fine powder coating and a long scan seems to have resulted in a nice digital model.

The second artifact we scanned is a lead alloy cloth seal that resembles late 16th century AD examples from France, Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands. We also scanned a Civil War Minie ball found by VCU student Ian Salata during this year’s field school.  An interesting artifact that we scanned was a toy hatchet made of lead dropped by a tourist visiting the place where some claim (erroneously) that George Washington chopped down the cherry tree!!!