george washington

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.




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.

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

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 🙂


Afternoon on the Piazza at Mount Vernon

Hi from Esther White and Luke Pecoraro, the Director of Archaeology and Assistant Archaeologist at Mount Vernon!  There is never a dull day at George Washington’s estate.   A search has been underway all week for a leak in one of the modern irrigation lines.  Mount Vernon was surveyed during the 1980s so we know where archaeological sites are located on our 425 acres.  Despite this, when our grounds crew is looking for a leaky pipe we monitor their exploratory trenches to ensure that nothing of cultural importance is disturbed.  You can see how we spent part of our afternoon in this photo.


Work in the Mount Vernon Lab

Hello again from Mount Vernon!  My name is Laura and I’m the Archaeology Laboratory Assistant and Volunteer Coordinator.  Work in the lab can vary greatly each day.  After spending some time this morning finding the perfect avatar for our Mount Vernon Day of Archaeology account (see below!), the assistant archaeologist and I spent some time reviewing distribution maps from the Phase II excavations of the George Washington Library site.  The distribution maps tell us where certain classes of artifacts were found and help us narrow down site locations.


George Washington excavating!


This map shows where all the sherds of creamware were recovered from the George Washington Library site


I spent this afternoon cross-mending ceramic sherds from an 18th century tin-glazed chamber pot, excavated from the neighboring Potomac Overlook site.   Cross-mending allows us to determine minimum vessel counts and helps us to understand the relationship between different layers of fill.



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.

A Day at Mount Vernon

Good Morning!  As the work day starts to close in the UK, things in Virginia are just getting started!  We are archaeologists working at the home of our first president, George Washington, who owned a large plantation in Virginia in the 18th century.  Our job, as part of the permanent Archaeology Department, is to protect and research the valuable below-ground resources that inform us about plantation life and labor.  Historic Mount Vernon is a private, non-profit organization owned and maintained by the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association since 1853.


With the temperature outside approaching 100 degrees it’s nice to be working in the lab today.  The archaeology lab is currently focusing its energy on two main projects.  The first project is the re-analysis of the South Grove midden site, a trash deposit that spans the occupation of several Washington households.  The second project is the analysis of the George Washington Presidential Library site.  This site was excavated last year in preparation of a huge library complex which is slated to begin construction later this summer.



Throughout the afternoon our staff and interns will be posting about their Day of Archaeology at Mount Vernon!