D.C. Historic Preservation Office takes on Hot and Humid 2016 Day of Archaeology Festival!

Greetings and Happy Day of Archaeology (#DAYOFARCH)! The D.C. Historic Preservation Office (D.C. HPO) is proud to have co-sponsored and participated in D.C.’s Day of Archaeology Festival on July 16th!  This year marked the 5th Annual Day of Archaeology Festival, organized by the local non-profit Archaeology in the Community, and was held at historic Dumbarton House in Georgetown for the 2nd year in a row.  About 30 cultural resource-based agencies, firms, departments, and organizations participated, and over 500 visitors attended!  It was a huge success, and the D.C. HPO is thrilled to have reached out to so many eager children and adults, who now know more about their city’s archaeological past.

Dumbarton House, Georgetown. Photo courtesy of AITC.

D.C. HPO booths. Photo courtesy of D.C. HPO.

D.C. HPO booths. Photo courtesy of D.C. HPO.

It was all-hands-on-deck for D.C. HPO staff, interns, and volunteers- providing no less than four engaging archaeological activities and two archaeological displays. Activities included our staple ‘What is This?’ artifact guessing game, which has since grown to include prehistoric, historic, and faunal artifact categories of materials typically found in the mid-Atlantic region, and specifically from archaeological sites in D.C.

'What is This?' artifact guessing game. Photo courtesy of AITC.

‘What is This?’ artifact guessing game. Photo courtesy of AITC.

We brought along our ‘Mend Me’ historic ceramic mending exercise, where visitors tried their hand at refitting ceramic sherds. We have since added to the mending exercise, creating puzzles with whole images of ceramic vessels.  These have proved a great alternative for those unable to handle the actual ceramic sherds.

Children working on the 'Mend Me' exercise. Photo courtesy of D.C. HPO.

Children working on the ‘Mend Me’ exercise. Photo courtesy of D.C. HPO.

We also dusted off our Pinch Pot activity, and brought along quick-dry clay for visitors to make their own pots to take away.  Visitors could decorate their pots similarly to prehistoric Woodland Period pottery, using replica tools including sharks teeth, and cordage wrapped paddles. And, thanks to current District Leadership Program Intern Julianna Jackson, we added a new activity this year- Make Your Own Cordage!  Visitors were able to twine fibers into cordage or string, and then use it to create  a personal bracelet.  In doing so, visitors got a better idea of how prehistoric peoples made their own personal adornments but also how they would create cordage suitable for so many important purposes like fishing lines, snares, etc.

Assistant District Archaeologist Chardé Reid, center, and volunteer Hali Thurber, far right, helping children make pinch pots. Photo courtesy of D.C. HPO.

Capital City Fellow Christine Ames, left, and Assistant District Archaeologist Chardé Reid, helping children make pinch pots. Photo courtesy of D.C. HPO.

Make Your Own Cordage exercise. Photo courtesy of AITC.

Volunteer Lois Berkowitz making a cordage bracelet with a young visitor. Photo courtesy of D.C. HPO.

Volunteer Lois Berkowitz making a cordage bracelet with a young visitor. Photo courtesy of D.C. HPO.

Finally, the D.C. HPO had two archaeological displays.  The first was our Woodland Period pottery display, featuring  artifacts from the Barney Circle archaeological project.  Various  types of pottery sherds were on display and, to give the visitor a sense of what an unbroken pottery vessel might look like, we also provided a complete replica Woodland Period pottery vessel, courtesy of the Jefferson Patterson Museum Maryland Traveling Trunk and a 3-D printed scan of one by our colleague Dr. Bernard K. Means of the VCU Virtual Curation Laboratory. In this way, the display tied in nicely to the pinch pot making activity. In addition, the D.C. HPO also displayed a variety of replica containers, also from the Maryland Teaching Trunk, made from organic materials such as gourd, birch bark, reed basketry, and wood. These were commonly used prehistorically, but examples are rarely found in our local archaeological deposits and so we know little about them in comparison to the more durable pottery vessels.

District Leadership Program Intern Julianna Jackson, center, arranging the Woodland Period Pottery Display. Photo courtesy of D.C. HPO.

District Leadership Program Intern Julianna Jackson, center, arranging the Woodland Period Pottery Display. Photo courtesy of D.C. HPO.

Our second archaeological display contained a variety of artifacts  from the 2015 Yarrow Mamout Archaeology Project.  The D.C. HPO conducted a community-oriented archaeology project on the former property of Yarrow Mamout, a freed slave who purchased a lot in upper Georgetown in the early 19th century.  The 17,000+ artifacts are still being processed, and while we cannot definitively say yet if any are directly associated with Yarrow Mamout’s occupation, there are many artifacts that are datable to his period of ownership.  Much of the assemblage represents the households of the families that lived on the property following Yarrow Mamout, throughout the remainder of the 19th and into the 20th century.  Artifacts included personal items such as religious pendants, crosses, and buttons, including potential U.S. Navy and Union Civil War-era buttons, and a possible German Imperial WWI-era button.  A D.C. dog tag from the year 1922-1923, porcelain doll parts, a plastic toy soldier, possible gaming pieces, and quite a few marbles made up a rich and relatable exhibit to all.  In addition, a beautiful and complete agate pottery doorknob, a heavily corroded door bolt (identified via x-ray scanning from the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Lab), Chestnut Farms Dairy milk bottle, and Parke-Davis pharmaceutical bottle were also a part of the display.

Yarrow Mamout Archaeology Display. Photo courtesy of D.C. HPO.

Yarrow Mamout Archaeology Display. Photo courtesy of D.C. HPO.

District Archaeologist Ruth Trocolli, far right, talking to a visitor. Volunteer George Riseling, back center, manning the Yarrow Mamout archaeology display. Photo courtesy of D.C. HPO.

District Archaeologist Ruth Trocolli, far right, talking to a visitor. Volunteer George Riseling, back center. Photo courtesy of D.C. HPO.

In all, the D.C. HPO could not have pulled off such a successful Day of Archaeology Festival without its hard-working and amazing volunteer team.  Seven people gave up their Saturday to help us set-up, exhibit, and break-down our booths on a day when temperatures were 99 degrees Fahrenheit with 99% humidity!  Our volunteers have shown nothing but love and support to our archaeology program, and we could not effectively do this type of public outreach without them. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

D.C. HPO Volunteer Team:

Lois Berkowitz

Mia Carey

Hali Thurber

Justin Uehlein

George Riseling

Becca Peixotto

Lauryl Zenobi

D.C. HPO Staff Team:

Christine Ames, Capital City Fellow

Julianna Jackson, District Leadership Program Intern

Chardé Reid, Assistant District Archaeologist

Dr. Ruth Trocolli, District Archaeologist

Order UP! Artifacts in from the Field, What Happens Next?

Most folks don’t consider what happens to material collected in the field.  The artifacts have to go somewhere.  Where do they go?  What happens to them?  Is there a cost?

A quick overview of the answers to these questions:

Where Do They Go?:  In a perfect world the artifacts/objects/material and its associated documentation (field notes, maps, photographs, journals, budgets, etc.) are typically stored either in a museum or an institutional/agency storeroom or repository.

What Happens to Them?:  Objects and associated documentation are accessioned, assigned catalog numbers, labeled, cataloged, inventoried, rehoused from their field bags/boxes (in acid-free, inert, archival microenvironments), assigned locations within the facility, and stored.  Some, usually the unique or “really cool” objects, are kept out to become part of an exhibit.  Most often the only time artifacts are accessed is for loan to other museums/institutions, further study, or yearly inventory.

Is There a Cost?:  YES – the cost is exceptional:  a facility must be acquired and maintained, qualified staff for accessioning, cataloging, housing, and management are required, temperature and humidity must be regularly monitored, pest control measures must be taken, security measures must be implemented and adhered to, protection from light, fire, and natural disasters must be implemented, and proper supplies must be used to ensure the health of the objects and their life in perpetuity.  (There is a lot of “must” in this paragraph, isn’t there?)

Keep in mind this is just a quick overview and food for thought.  Most museums have hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of artifacts in storage with just a few thousand on actual display.  Most educational institutions and repositories have hundreds if not thousands of boxes of material in storage/on-site facility with a small amount out for loan, continued research, and use in classrooms.  Once an object is taken out of the ground we (humans) have a permanent responsibility for its care and future as well as public education.  Museum and Agency Curators are Stewards of the Past and the Future.

Here at Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission, objects that are found in the facility or recently received from the field are given a good, clean, safe, and proper home.  We make them accessible to agency staff, Native American Tribes, educators, like agencies or institutions, researchers, genealogists, students, and the public (when appropriate).  We also make sure the collections are searchable in a database so as much study/research can be done prior to accessing actual objects, we prefer them to handled minimally and for as brief a time as possible.

NOTE:  Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission does not actively excavate for artifact and data collection meant only for interpretive or research purposes.  We work primarily with Cultural Resource Management (CRM) firms and Native American Tribes when a development or utilities upgrade/repair is necessary in one of our parks.  We have agency Archaeology staff that manage the archaeology aspect of a project and can and do engage in surveys, shovel probes, test pits, and excavations.  We are stewards of state lands and the state’s cultural and natural resources, therefore, we prefer to work outside the boundaries of a known site or divert a project if a new site is realized.

2013 Day of Archaeology Festival Thank You!

The D.C. Historic Preservation Office (DC HPO) would like to thank everyone who came out and supported the 2013 Day of Archaeology Festival!  Thank you for stopping by our table and participating in our activities, we really enjoyed having you.   We would also like to thank Archaeology in the Community, for hosting the D.C. festival. 

It was a very successful event!

For those of you who wish to learn more about the DC HPO, within the Office of Planning, please navigate to our website.

The DC HPO presented on Prehistoric Pottery and Historic Ceramic assemblages, found in DC archaeological sites.  Displays were complete with signage and artifacts.  Visitors were engaged in a variety of activities, such as the “What is This?” game, where visitors had to guess the identity and function of artifacts on display.  The Stratigraphy Exercise, where visitors matched artifacts to associated soil contexts.  And, finally, the Pinch Pot making station, where visitors make their own clay Pinch Pots using prehistoric-themed tools and techniques.  It was a huge hit with the kids!

Scroll down to view photos!

Photos and Captions Blog Photos and Captions


DC Day of Archaeology Festival!

 Day of Archaeology_DCHPO flyer


Saturday July 27th 2013

10 am to 3 pm

Turkey Thicket Park

1100 Michigan Ave., NE

Washington, D.C. 20017


The District of Columbia Historic Preservation Office (DCHPO) will be participating in the second annual Day of Archaeology Festival, Saturday, July 27th from 10 am to 3 pm at Turkey Thicket Park located at 1100 Michigan Ave, NE. Some parking is available; the nearest Metro stop is the Brookland-CUA station, on the Red Line.  The event is free to the public and open to people of all ages.


Part of a worldwide celebration of archaeology, the D.C. festival will be hosted by Archaeology in the Community, a District-based nonprofit educational organization.  Archaeology organizations from D.C., Maryland, and Virginia will be present.  The public will be able to talk to archaeologists in person and learn about the science and art of doing archaeology as well as volunteer opportunities in the field.  There will be engaging activities for children, including mock-excavation, hands-on artifact displays, crafts, and lectures.  The archaeology of local prehistoric and historic inhabitants of the area will also be featured.  Visitors will have an opportunity to enjoy live music, face painting, and visits from some of D.C.’s best food trucks.  Both local and worldwide participants will be featuring the event live, across Facebook and Twitter (thedayofarchaeology and @dayofarch, respectively).


For more information on the festival, please call DCHPO at (202)-442-8800 or email historic.preservation@dc.gov or ajones@archaeologyincommunity.com

Participants include: The DCHPO Archaeology Program, Mt. Vernon, Maryland National Capital Parks and Planning, the Urban Archaeology Corps of the National Park Service, the Virtual Curation Laboratory of Virginia Commonwealth University, the Environmental Programs Division of the National Guard, the Society for American Archaeology, and the festival host, Archaeology in the Community.

I hope to see you there!

On the Polychromy of Ancient Palmyra and on Nomads and Networks in Ancient Kazakhstan in Washington DC

Many greetings from the Smithsonian!

With Syria and its UNESCO world heritage sites in the news these weeks, it is time to look at one of those sites described as one of the surviving wonders of antiquity: Palmyra. Also, we are in the preparation of an exciting exhibition with a wide array of objects from yet another fascinating part of the world, ancient Kazakhstan, that will open soon to the Sackler Gallery here in the Smithsonian in Washington, DC.

We are  in the first week of July 2012. First thing Monday morning, was catching up on the latest news from Kazakhstan for our upcoming exhibition highlight Nomads and Networks: The Ancient Art and Culture of Kazakhstan. One of our colleagues, Claudia Chang, in Kazakhstan had reported earlier this week on this blog and we will continue to run a parallel blog on our exhibition and ancient Kazakhstan on our website starting soon before the exhibition opening in August here in Washington, DC.

Also this Monday, before a meeting with our colleagues from the embassy of Kazakhstan, I presented some current research on pigments and paints on ancient near eastern stone monuments to a wider public in the Smithsonian Institution’s Smithsonian Congress of Scholars Research Tent on the Mall. Despite some heat waves, a good number of visitors came to some twenty presentations from units in the institution, and asked also many questions about the role of pigments on stone monuments in the Ancient Near East. By studying materials that still contain much of the pigments, we can learn more about the aesthetics of the ancient world. Palmyra, “the Place of Palms” as it was known to the Romans, in modern Syria, flourished as a colourful caravan oasis on the trade route linking the Mediterranean with West and Central Asia. Most of the monuments visible on the site today date from the first three centuries CE, including the large colonnade streets and the extensive cemeteries around the city.

In 1908, while on a trip to Aleppo, the rich Detroit business-men Charles Lang Freer (1854-1919), see himself above, acquired a lime stone relief from the site from the dealer Joseph Marcopoli (F1908.236). Originally, reliefs like this one would have marked the tombs of wealthy Palmyrene citizens, either in tower-tombs or complex hypogea below ground. According to an Aramaic inscription, it is the portrait of Haliphat, daughter of Oglata, son of Harimai. This stele is dated 543 of the Seleucid era, which corresponds to the year 231 in the Christian calendar. The stone relief is one of many from Palmyra still preserving traces of the original polychromy. Some of these can be even seen with the naked eye, like the jewellery on the left hand or in details of her necklace.

Microscope images would make painted details much more visible and a red colorant on the statue has recently been identified by scientific analysis. Qualitative elemental analysis of a small sample taken shows the presence of Al, Si, Ca and Fe with a strong presence of iron.

The Freer|Sackler – Smithsonian’s Museums of Asian Art also houses also a collection of archival materials related to the modern exploration of Palmyra, among them a plan of the ruins, donated by Ernst Herzfeld (1879-1948). The plan was made shortly before Freer acquired the stone relief from Palmyra, with the ancient cemeteries indicated around the citywall, together with a series of glass negatives related to an expedition to Palmyra, carried out by Herzfeld’s colleague Moritz Sobernheim (1872-1933) in 1899. Sobernheim had photographed and made squeezes of some of the inscriptions, which later became part of Herzfeld’s collection and are available for research, documenting the very early stages of archaeological fieldwork in the ancient Near East.



Professional, Avocational and Public Involvement in Archaeology in Arkansas

This year’s “Day of Archaeology” finds me attempting to reorder my life just following the 2012 Arkansas Archeological Society Summer Training Program.

The Arkansas Archeological Society (AAS) was formed in 1960. It is open to anyone—from any walk of life—who is interested in archaeology.  This year I dug alongside retired school teachers, firemen, administrative assistants, college students, engineers, electricians, high school students, retired mill workers, social workers, research foresters, park interpreters (and park superintendents)  and college English instructors.  Many of these so-called avocationals have been doing archaeology for more years than me (some longer than I’ve been alive).  Two of our long time volunteers this year were 86 years old.  Anna Parks has been coming to the AAS “Summer Dig” since the 1970s, and Van Schmutz shoveled all day long in the hot sun despite his age.  Our youngest was 9 years old— Andy Colman who came with her mom, Carolyn, from Chicago, Illinois to learn about archaeology.

The 1836 Hempstead County Courthouse is ever present during our work at Historic Washington State Park in Arkansas.

Way back in 1964, a series of weekend excavations began under the direction of University of Arkansas Museum archaeologists and AAS members.  In the late 1960s the AAS was instrumental in lobbying my organization—the Arkansas Archeological Survey—into existence.  Thus the Survey and Society began partnering on digs by 1967.  By 1972, what had begun as a series of weekend events had expanded into a 16-day training program with excavations at various sites across the state.  Some have claimed that it’s the oldest and best program of its type in the country.

For the second year in a row I had the honor of directing the AAS Summer Dig at Historic Washington State Park in the southwestern portion of the state of Arkansas in the southern United States.  Between June 9 and June 24, 2012 over 100 volunteers and staff helped me investigate the site of an 1830s commercial district on what would have then been the edge of western expansion of the United States (Washington was a border town with first Mexico and then the Republic of Texas until Texas was annexed in the late 1840s).

The AAS has been doing archaeology in Historic Washington State Park since 1980, but these last two years have focused on the merchant district for which we have very few historical documents.  There are no known photographs and only a single map from 1926—long after fires in the 1870s and 1880s put an end to this vibrant business area.  Over the last two field seasons we have recovered the remains of at least 6 different buildings,  4-6 cellars and/or trash pits and tens of thousands of artifacts that will help us tell the story of this once important regional hub on the edge of the “cotton frontier.”

The archaeology was great, but I am always amazed at the layers of public archaeology going on at these events.  On one level we are teaching

the volunteers how to be archaeologists—not only through digging but also through a series of half-day seminars taught in two sessions throughout the dig.  This year we offered Basic Excavation (for first time attendees), Basic Laboratory Procedures, Site Survey, Mapping, Human Osteology, Indians of Arkansas, and Establishing Time (a class that helps volunteers understand dating techniques used by archaeologists).

On a second level of public archaeology, the volunteers and professionals on site then educate the general public about the value and methods of archaeology.  As we were excavating in an Arkansas State Park this year this was done constantly as we has many curious visitors every day.  Although I was “running the show” I rarely had to stop my work to help explain things to visitors as one of my colleagues and/or volunteers would quickly rush in to take over (and even demonstrate) what we were doing.

Of course, although the dig ended on June 24, there is still much to do.  In these days following the 2012 Summer Training Program I (and Carl Carlson-Drexler, my Research Station Assistant) have been moving equipment, organizing paperwork and field notes…Today I’m captioning the hundreds of digital photographs taken during the dig.  The two years of digging in the merchant district in Historic Washington State Park has produced more than twice the amount of artifacts than I recovered during my dissertation research (and I poked at that site for almost a decade!)…so I now have my work cut out for me…

More pictures from the 2012 AAS Summer Training Program can be found here:


Pictures from last year’s dig (2011) can be found here:


Find out more about the Arkansas Archeological Society at their website: http://arkarch.org/


You can read more about the AAS work at Historic Washington State Park at my Farther Along blog:







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 www.ferryfarm.org

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 🙂


A Day in the Life of a Nevada CRM Archaeologist: Monitoring

So, I spent the “Day of Archaeology” monitoring a seismic crew as they worked a few thousand acres near a mine northeast of Winnemucca, Nevada.  This was actually on July 26th since I didn’t work on the 29th.  Our schedule is 8-on, 6-off and.  I’ll start by describing, as best I can, what seismic is.

Then come in all sizes and styles for different types of terrain. This is similar to the ones we work with.

The seismic crew consists of about twenty ground workers, a few truck drivers, a recorder, and a geologist.  The ground people lay out cable that stretches from north to south across the project area, a distance of up to five kilometers.  The truck drivers drive east/west across the project area and vibrate the ground in prescribed intervals.  The vibrations cause shockwaves that penetrate the ground hundreds of meters deep which then bounce back to the geophones that are running north/south.  We are told that the goal is to determine the geological structures that exist beneath the ground so the mine can decide whether they want to excavate that area or use it for waste rock.  I spoke to someone this weekend that works in the business and he says they are looking for oil and that eastern Nevada is sitting on a huge, very deep, oil field.  I’m not too sure about that.

As monitors, we were assigned with the care and protection of the cultural resources across the project area.  The survey was recently completed and the report has not yet been approved by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) or the State Historic Preservation Officer (SHPO).  Since the sites remain unevaluated, none of them are cleared for construction.  As a consequence, no vehicle traffic whatsoever was allowed across the sites and all foot traffic had to be observed by an archaeologist.  We watched for disturbance of artifacts and features by foot traffic and by the electrical cords that the crews were laying out.  We also watched to make sure that the seismic crew didn’t disturb any artifacts.  People like projectile points (arrowheads) and usually don’t see anything wrong with putting them in their pockets.

Nevada High Desert

A lot of monitoring involves a lot of sitting around for hours waiting for something to happen and then working furiously for a little while.  This was no different.  When you are monitoring you are on the schedule and time frame of the construction crew you are working with.  That’s why we were putting in about 13 hours a day.  When you are sitting you tend to feel like you should be doing something.  I usually read or listen to podcasts.  For the seismic monitoring I couldn’t even be away from my truck for very long.  A call could come over the radio at any time and you have to be where you are supposed to be as quick a you can.

While monitoring, you have to get over the “high and mighty” feeling that some people tend to get.  You are typically working with people that, at most, graduated high school and went right into the construction field.  They usually see us as highly paid scientists.  It’s likely that they are getting paid more than you are!  They just don’t know it.  When I’m conversing with construction workers I certainly don’t try to minimize my field or the education requirements but I don’t try to make it sound like more than it is either.  No one responds well to that.

I wish I had something more exciting to talk about for the Day of Archaeology event but the reality of cultural resource management (CRM) archaeology is that many of your days will be like this.  Sometimes you go weeks or months without finding an artifact.  You may go an entire season without finding a feature.  This work needs to be done, however.  A project area that doesn’t turn up any artifacts or other interesting finds still tells us valuable information.

Follow more of my experiences as a CRM archaeologist at my blog, Random Acts of Science.  See you in the field!

Written in Monroe, Washington.

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.