Archaeology for (all) the Ages

Archaeology in Virginia, eastern U.S., is for many a collaborative effort that thrives through the Archaeological Technician Certification Program (Cert Program, for short).  Sponsored by the Archeological Society of Virginia (ASV), Council of Virginia Archaeologists (COVA), and Virginia Department of Historic Resources (VDHR), the Cert Program is all about citizen science training, partnerships between avocational and professional archaeologists, public engagement, and documenting/conserving archaeological sites.  Coming from all walks of life, Cert students are regulars at our sites and in our labs.  The program has been in existence since the mid-1990s and sets a high bar:  12 courses, a long reading list, 60 hours in the lab, 60 hours doing survey, 60 hours at excavation sites/field schools, and 20 hours of public outreach.  Other requirements include skills milestones in the field, recording two archaeological sites with VDHR, keeping a field/lab and reading journal, and passing practical and written exams.  Participants complete this work on projects overseen by professionals who sign off on tasks in the famous ‘Blue Book’ that the students keep.  For a one-time $40 fee, continued membership in the ASV, and a commitment to our Statement of Ethics, students receive excellent instruction.  We have 80 graduates and over 100 current students, and our professional colleagues have come to depend on the grads long after they’ve finished the program.  Many thousands of volunteer hours each year are given to projects around the state.  In 2017, for example, students have worked on sites that are being lost to sea level rise on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, processed and re-housed important collections from past excavations, joined University field schools on colonial and Civil War-era sites, participated in trainings with the Maritime Heritage Chapter of the ASV, and engaged in public outreach activities at public parks and other events.  We are very proud of and grateful for our Cert folks, who, as my good friend, Dr. Elizabeth Moore, says “are certifiably passionate about archaeology.”      

100 Degrees, High Humidity — Field School in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley

Carole Nash writing to you from Virginia’s beautiful Shenandoah Valley, where I’m finishing up a week-long field school at a ca. 1760 Rhenish stone flurkuchenhaus, the White House, on the South Fork of the Shenandoah River.  I teach at James Madison University in Harrisonburg and co-direct the Archaeological Technician Certification Program, an effort of the Archeological Society of Virginia, the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, and the Council of Virginia Archaeologists.  This week’s field school was created for Cert students — we have over 70 grads and almost 90 active students who commit to 60 hours of lab work, 60 hours of field survey, 60 hours of excavation, 20 hours of public education, 12 courses, and a reading list a mile long.  Our students range in age from 16-83 and all share a remarkable dedication to archaeology.  The White House field school is but one of our 2012 Cert programs.

What started as a very clear, cool week ended with a blast of summer — today’s temps reached 100 degrees at the site — and we have one more day to go.  Anyone who has spent a summer digging in Virginia knows what this means:  start early, drink lots of water, and take a LONG lunch!  Fortunately for us, we’re working in an amazingly beautiful location in the shadow of Massanutten Mountain, we have shade trees and canopies, and we have a clean portajohn.  We have an outdoor lab set up to wash artifacts.  Actually feels pretty luxurious.

So….the White House:  built by a German immigrant family in ca. 1760; now part of the White House Farm Foundation, which has put 270 acres of land in conservation easement and is working toward a National Register nomination for the structure.  A flurkuchenhaus is a Rhenish (German Rhineland) design, with three rooms downstairs and two rooms upstairs, plus a vaulted basement.  They are sometimes referred to as ‘stone forts’ because they were constructed during the French and Indian War years on the Virginia Frontier, but they were not defensive structures.  They’re beautiful stone houses, though.  This one was covered with skim and stucco at least three times.  We have been reading Valley documents and know that the house was called “White House” as early as 1769 and used as a Mennonite and Baptist meeting house.

Our goals (in addition to getting our students solid archaeological training):  confirm the date of construction; learn about the evolution of the house; determine the impact of flooding on the landform (first terrace, South Fork of the Shenandoah); and learn whether the terrace was occupied by Native Americans prior to the Kauffman family.  A tall order for a week of work!  Gotta aim high, right?  We did, indeed, find evidence to assist with each of these goals, although admittedly, the heat slowed us down today.

I am so proud of our team — today’s crew included six Certification grads (Laura Wedin, Marsha Summerson, Maxine Grabill, Janice Biller, Linda Waggy, and Kay Veith), a Certification student (Philip Mulford), our local ASV Chapter President (Cindy Schroer), and a new archaeology student (Cullen Byers).  Our smaller crew today was down from 18 on Wednesday.  GO TEAM!  You’re the best!

Our findings from thirteen 2.5′ x 2.5 units and one backhoe trench:  our arms aren’t long enough to dig on the South Fork floodplain!  We have a .4′ flood deposit on top of a 1′ plowzone filled with late 18th/19th century artifacts, with Native American lithics and pottery included.  Under the plowzone we have flood deposit 1, flood deposit 2, flood deposit 3, flood deposit 4, flood deposit 5 — and that’s where we stopped.  The bucket auger is our friend.

Cool artifacts:  a piece of eight from the reign of Charles III (Carolus dollar); two French gun flints; English brown stoneware; Westerwald stoneware; a kaolin pipestem; creamware; a remarkable variety of pearlware; cut nails and more cut nails; Middle and Late Woodland pottery.

Our plan:  come back in the Fall when the weather is cooler.

Happy Day of Archaeology from Virginia, all!

East wall of White House