As a curator at Grave Creek Mound Archaeological Complex in Moundsville, West Virginia, I find myself asking this question often, “…and just where did that come from?” This facility houses thousands of boxes of archaeological artifacts, many of which were excavated as far back as fifty to sixty years ago. Most of the boxes had been moved here and there throughout the state of West Virginia until our facility was built in 2008. With all of that “moving,” it is no wonder that some of the artifacts’ “stories” have been lost to time. On some days, I feel like I’m conducting archaeology on archaeology.
Just yesterday, I opened a box that had simply been labeled “Museum.” It contained multiple artifacts including both prehistoric and historic material, some from identifiable sites and others with no provenience at all. Many of the artifacts still had residue from where they had been mounted in an exhibit years ago. Being a historical archaeologist in a state with such an overwhelming prehistoric archaeology presence can be tough sometimes, so you can imagine my utter joy when I retrieved a few late eighteenth/early nineteenth century artifacts from the box. There were bone handled forks, tombac buttons, hand painted polychrome pearlware sherds, and musket flints…oh my! Lucky for me, there was a tiny accession number written on a few of the flint pieces. What a fortunate find indeed! With a little more digging, pardon the pun, I was able to find out that the artifacts had been excavated from a site in the summer of 1970 by Ms. Bettye Broyles (of St. Albans fame) and a team of students from a science camp being held in the Pocahontas County area. The site was described as a farmstead that had been inhabited from the late eighteenth century to no later than 1810. After even more investigating, I discovered that we have six more boxes of artifacts from the site, all patiently waiting to be rehoused into new boxes and bags! What a discovery!
I am looking forward to when I have some “free” time to continue my research into this surprising early historical archaeology site from the Mountain State. Perhaps if you visit the museum in the next couple of months, there will even be a display of the ‘treasures’ that were excavated there some 43 years ago, and I will be able to tell you even more of the story behind these wonderful, early American artifacts.