ferry farm

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.




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!

A Day at George Washington’s Ferry Farm

I spent my day today at Ferry Farm, the boyhood home of George Washington in Fredericksburg, Virginia.  George lived in this home for most of his childhood, and it remained in his family for quite some time after he moved out.  Archaeology at Ferry Farm has been taking place for many years in an attempt to create a better understanding of the land and the life of the Washington’s during their occupation of it.  This year’s excavation is taking place behind the Washington home site (excavated in 2008), and our goal is to uncover the location of the outbuildings that supposedly stood there.  I just completed a five week field school at this site and had such an incredible experience that I elected to return as a volunteer for the rest of the summer.  Today was my first day back, and I was eager to start digging!

Upon my arrival I was immediately assigned a new unit to begin excavating with my good friend and digging partner, Victoria Garcia.  This unit is located in a particularly fascinating section of the site, as several odd soil anomalies and a myriad of strange artifacts have been discovered there.  Artifacts have included plastic toys, Civil War-era bullets, various historic ceramics and most of a porcelain teacup.  I have been very interested in all of the excitement that this particular area has stirred up over the past couple of weeks, so getting the opportunity to dig here was a real treat for me!  We began by chopping up the topsoil with our shovels and removing it in small squares, which took significantly less time than I thought it would!  Upon removing the layer of matted down grass and dirt, we came across a metal pipe that was sticking directly out of the ground.  No one was quite sure what it was, but I am eager to find out as we excavate further!  After removing the top layer, it was time to screen the matted down chunks of grass and dirt for artifacts.  We found a piece of a terracotta pot and some nicely decorated ceramics, but nothing more than that in this layer.

Our unit after removing the topsoil this morning.

While we were screening a group of children from a summer camp program came to visit the site and helped us go through our topsoil.  Ferry Farm is a public archaeology site where guests are encouraged to get their hands dirty at the screens as they learn about our work there, and I always enjoy being able to entertain and educate them.  The kids who joined us were very helpful and I appreciated their enthusiasm, despite the fact that our dirt was terribly difficult to pick through and had close to no artifacts in it!

By the time we were done screening it was time for lunch, and instead of returning to our unit after eating, Victoria and I headed to the lab with our classmates, Ian and Allison.  There, we joined our professor, Dr. Bernard Means, who was scanning Ferry Farm artifacts with his 3D scanner.  The four of us will be getting involved in his scanning project as interns this fall, so today was somewhat of a tutorial and demonstration for us.  The scanner makes 3-dimensional digital copies of artifacts, which can be studied and saved on the computer, and even replicated with a 3D printer!

The pewter spoon with the initials “BW” on it.

He first scanned a pewter spoon that is inscribed with the initials “BW”, which belonged to George’s sister, Betty Washington.  It was amazing to be able to see this piece in person, as I had only ever read about it or seen it in pictures prior to today.  Dr. Means also scanned a lead alloy cloth seal, a small metal hatchet toy, and finally, a Civil War Minie ball bullet that Ian found during our field school.

The Minie ball as it is being scanned.

The scan of the Minie ball as it appears on the monitor.

In all, it was a great day in the field and in the lab!  I love every minute of what I do here, and I feel so lucky to be a part of such a wonderful profession.  I’m glad I could share my experiences at Ferry Farm with everyone here today, and I can’t wait to read what others are up to on this Day of Archaeology!

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!!!


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 🙂