We are the Colchester Archaeological Research Team and are conducting excavations on Mason Neck, Virginia. We are investigating prehistoric sites ranging from approximately 500 to 8,000 years old and the historic Virginia tobacco port town of Colchester. We utilize both professional staff and volunteer help.

In the Lab – Fairfax, Virginia

CART Volunteer Setting Up to start Labeling

CART Volunteer Setting Up to start Labeling

Each Diagnostic Artifact needs to be labeled with unique identification information that corresponds to where the artifact was originally found as well as descriptive details that are recorded in an artifact catalog. In the picture, our CART volunteer is preparing to label more pipe stems.

In the Field—Fairfax, Virginia

We are archaeologists with the Fairfax County Park Authority. Today we are starting to lay out and dig test units outside a historic house. At first glance, the house looks 20th century. However, a closer look reveals an older stone chimney and s core constructed of log. This type of construction strongly suggests the original house dates to the early 19th.

Megan Veness, CART Field Director, in the field.

Megan Veness, CART Field Director, in the field.

To find out more about what we do, visit www.image.wordpress.com!

Good Morning – 2016 with CART

The Colchester Archaeological Team (CART) has recently had opportunity to help protect even more archaeological resources in Fairfax County by working on projects across the county. The team misses Old Colchester Park and Preserve and plans to return to OCPP, but we are happy to dedicate ourselves to being a county archaeological research team.

This morning, the Colchester Archaeological Research Team separated to tackle different tasks. A couple of staff went out to the field with a transit in order to map and record details of current field work, a few hopped on a computer, others are busy processing artifacts.

Erica sits at a table and catalogs historic artifacts.

Erica D’Elia, CART Assistant Lab Director, cataloging historic artifacts


We are currently testing small prehistoric sites. For control, we are excavating in 5cm arbitrary levels within natural stratigraphy. To check for small pressure flakes that would be missed with standard screening, soil samples are taken from each level and water screened through window mesh. To break down clay and speed the process we borrowed a trick. Soil + Baking Soda + Water = Deflockulation (so we are told it is called). Whatever it is, it works like a charm. Give it a few minutes to a few days, depending on how dense the clay is, then stir to make slurry. deflock

Digital Data of “Things”

AMAS The tangible material culture surrounds every single thing we do. As a lab archaeologist, my main goal is to describe each object that comes through my lab and make that description available for study. Aspects of things we would often take for granted get described, categorized, organized. In a description, I attempt to include information that may help current and future archaeologists to study the object or a collection or even groups of collections. The information helps us to identify dates of sites, areas of activities, socioeconomics of a people and available technologies. In the future, hopefully it will help to identify aspects that I have never even dreamed.

To achieve this goal better, I was set to the task of updating our cataloging and creating a relational access database. The database not only stores our information, but allows us to analyze and study it. For the first time, I began to use a system that I had a major hand in creating. I learned that creating the method of identification and description of the details & attributes of everything anyone has ever made or altered through time is really difficult and sometimes a little messy. There is no perfect system of cataloging.

But while all of these artifacts are still located in a collection together and before time has taken even more of a toll on them, the data helps us preserve our history.

Our relational database now connects geographical space with artifact details as well as dates and other information that help us determine information about a site. Each project database can be updated in a larger database that includes other projects so that artifact information will be comparable across the county. The information in each project can also connect directly to the mapping system in GIS.

It is an ongoing process. We constantly make the system better and link to more programs. Today, as most days, I am working on and in our relational database.
~the CART Lab

Marbles at OCPP

Marbles from OCPP

And my late afternoon has found me staring at these marbles excavated from Old Colchester Park & Preserve trying to extract a detailed description from my brain. It’s Friday; my brain is already on the weekend.