Searching for the Fort — Finding a Changing Landscape

2016 Germanna Archaeology Staff and VCU Field School

The 2016 Day of Archaeology finds the Germanna Foundation and Germanna Archaeology in very different circumstances than one year ago. The 2015 Day of Archaeology found us stabilizing an archaeological site dug more than 20 years ago and largely untouched since. That work has proven successful and the old excavations are safely covered and secured.

This year finds Germanna Archaeology nearing the end of its inaugural excavation season and the first excavations at the site in over 20 years.  The Foundation brought on Amelia Chisholm as Assistant Field Director, and four seasonal Archaeological Technicians — Marissa Kulis, Emily Lew, Rachel Manning and Zoe Rahsman. We were most fortunate to partner with Dr. Bernard Means and the Anthropology program at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU).  We gladly hosted the Field School consisting of nine capable students to round out Germanna’s 2016 Archaeology Team.  The goal for this inaugural season was to find more of the palisade walls for the 1714 Fort Germanna and better define it on the historic landscape.

Palisade Trench found and defined in the 1990s

Palisade Trench found and defined in the 1990s

The Fort’s location is known only through a segment of a linear feature found in 1992.  The palisade trench is interrupted at each of its ends by the significant foundations of Virginia’s Lt. Governor, Alexander Spotswood’s “Enchanted Castle” built on the site in the 1720s. While this provided evidence of the Fort’s location, the full limits of the larger Fort’s structure, even today, remain undefined.

Historic descriptions of the Fort suggest it was 5 sided wooden palisade with each side measuring 300 feet (ca 100m).  Such a finished structure encloses 154,843 square feet (14,385 m2) or around 3.55 acres.  For stewardship of these unique historic resources, both the Germanna Foundation and the Commonwealth of Virginia wish to better understanding of the layout of the 1714 Fort.

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Clearing the trench before end of Field School

This summer’s excavations sought to find more of the palisade trench along with evidence of the changing historic landscape that both preceded and followed the Fort’s short use on colonial Virginia’s frontier.  Over the course of this season’s small scale excavations, Archaeologists and students have uncovered a rich and complex landscape though the remains of the palisade have eluded us.  We have found tools made from gunflints.  We have found colonial era ceramics along with hand wrought nails.  We have identified 19th-century artifacts and the edges of 19th century agricultural fields.  There has been much fun and excitement along with the warm temperatures of the last few weeks.

Sadly, yesterday was the Field School’s last day at the site.  Germanna Archaeology is preparing to wrap up fieldwork over the next couple of weeks.  Taking advantage of the quiet today, the remaining staff is working on washing artifacts in the lab and getting ready to shift work into the lab for the next phase of processing and analysis.

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Molded stoneware found in plowzone


Washing finds and recapping the season today, this “Day of Archaeology”

Looking back to last year’s Day of Archaeology, our progress is remarkable. Germanna Archaeology is a small operation.  Starting a new archaeology program is difficult.  It’s exciting to see the new research questions and future possibilities arising from these initial efforts to better define the cultural resources of Germanna.  Hoping for even greater reports for next year’s Day of Archaeology.


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.

Anthroprobably 2015

Hello again, all, it’s Matt Tuttle! I’m a little late to the party this year but better late than never, right?

It has been an exciting and productive year in the field for this archaeologist. I worked on a number of projects around the historic Hampton Roads, Virginia area (U.S.) over the past year. Most recently, for the past 7 months, I have been excavating in Isle of Wight County at a 17th-18th Century colonial site that has been yielding very impressive finds. Underneath and amongst standing structures at the site there are forgotten objects and architecture that hint at what daily life was like for the sites inhabitants. These signatures of early colonial occupation have been my focus lately after the initial archaeological survey I completed during winter.

Excavating in Isle of Wight County, VA.

Excavating in Isle of Wight County, VA.

Among the most interesting and important features of the site is a root cellar encased in a brick foundation associated with an early structure. The preservation of the objects inside the cellar is better than anywhere else I’ve seen in the southeastern Virginia; usually conditions in this region are not conducive to artifact preservation as it is often tidal, has a very high water table, volatile weather, and temperature fluctuations from 0 to 100+ degrees F within a season.

When the cellar was no longer in use, probably sometime in the late 1700’s based on the artifacts, it was filled in and leveled off. We expect to learn a lot about the early colonial Virginians who closed this cellar by analyzing the refuse we found among the dirt, ash, bricks, and clay. The cellar is so well protected from the elements that fish scales, bone, teeth, metal artifacts, and even some wood have been preserved. Articles of clothing, tools, and recreational objects have also been turning up inside the cellar. This truly is an archaeologist’s dream and I am very fortunate to be working at such a unique colonial site. We hope to continue excavating the early structures and the remainder of the cellar over the next couple of seasons. One of the best parts about the site has been the outpouring of support and interest from the local community where the site is located. Once we are finished with research, we would like to establish an educational public archaeology park featuring the archaeological structures’ footprints to accompany the existing public historic site. See you next year!

Cellar excavation.

Cellar excavation.

2015 Day of Archaeology — Open House for the Fort Germanna/Enchanted Castle Site


I like the idea – a day exploring what Archaeologists really do. People generally think of us “finding stuff.” Well, this year my Day of Archaeology is a little different than that…

Eight months ago I started a new position as the Archaeologist for the Germanna Foundation. The Foundation is steward for several historic properties in Orange and Culpeper Counties in Virginia, USA. The oldest – the one needing most of my attention—was the site of a 1714, palisaded fort.

Fort Germanna_Artists Conception 1

Artists conception of Fort Germanna.

Fort Germanna was settled by several German immigrant families sent to Virginia’s Frontier by Colonial Lt. Governor, Alexander Spotswood. The men from these families were designated “Rangers” as their presence was meant as a buffer for the English colonial settlements to the east. These German immigrants were also indentured to Spotswood and for 4 years they worked the land around the Fort. Around 1720, the fort walls were removed and a new residence for Spotswood was built at the site. Spotswood’s new mansion, reminiscent of the Governor’s Palace he’d helped oversee in Williamsburg, was built in the wilderness some 20 miles west of nearest settlement. One prominent visitor to Spotswood’s estate deemed the structure the “Enchanted Castle” and the name stuck.

During the 1970s, American Archaeologists grew increasingly curious about the location of this “Enchanted Castle.” By the end of the decade they had found man made terraces and located foundation ruins from the building. It sat known but undisturbed until threatened by a development plan during the 1980s. Elizabeth Schneider and Historic Gordonsville, Inc. were fundamental in purchasing the property and saving the site. Archaeology of the Enchanted Castle began in the mid-80s, first as “salvage archaeology” which attempted to recover as much information as possible before the site was destroyed. Once the site was no longer threatened, a more systematic study of the structure was begun. Mary Washington College (now University of Mary Washington) became involved and their Archaeology Professor, Dr. Douglas Sanford, oversaw excavations through 1995 when funding ran out. Since that time, no further archaeology has been done.

In late 2013, the property for the Enchanted Castle and Fort Germanna Sites was entrusted to The Memorial Foundation of the Germanna Colonies in Virginia, Inc. (The Germanna Foundation). The intent is to restart archaeology at the site. One of my first and most important tasks is the stabilization of the previous archaeology. The site was cleaned up and the vegetation that had grown up over the years removed. We then needed to fill-in (not dig up!) the site so that the old excavations and ruined foundations no longer collected water from rain and run-off.

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Bringing in fill…

I mapped the areas that needed to be covered and calculated the volume of fill needed. Then I waited for the weather to cooperate (we had a wet winter here in Virginia). It wasn’t until May that I was able to get truckloads of fill material delivered to the site. Once that was done, it was a matter of moving the soils into place. By mid-July we were close to finished. Most of the 20 truckloads of fill that was brought in was spread across the site (by hand!). The deepest excavations are now leveled, and I no longer need to bail out the site every time it rains. The remaining resources are safely protected under the fill. When the time comes to undertake new excavations on the Enchanted Castle, it will be waiting for us to uncover it once again.

On 16 July 2015, we celebrated our “Day of Archaeology” with an Open House at the Site. Members of the Germanna Foundation – many of them descendants of the original German settlers – came out to visit. We marked the location of the Enchanted Castle and put up interpretive signs explaining what was discovered in the 1980s and 90s excavations. We also marked the location of the small segment of the palisade wall found from the 1714 Fort.


Signage explaining the small section of the palisade wall found in 1994.


Larsen speaking with visitors to the site.


Dr. Means setting up his table of printed “artifacts.”












Dr. Bernard Means, professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, set up a display of “virtual artifacts” that he has collected from Virginia and the world. Dr. Means and his students have scanned artifacts from numerous sites and then printed them with a 3D scanner. While we have yet to re-start excavations, we hope to have artifacts to scan for next year. Our next goal is to begin better defining the perimeter of Fort Germanna. Maybe we’ll find some “stuff.”

Day of Archaeology with the Archeological Society of Virginia, Board of Directors

As readers of the Day of Archaeology (DOA) blog have realized, there are many aspects to what goes on within the field of archaeology. Throughout much of the U.S., many states have archaeological societies. Typically, these non-profit volunteer organizations bring together those involved in archaeology as a unified voice and force for the archaeology of that particular state.

Since 1940, Virginia archaeology has been promoted by the Archeological Society of Virginia (ASV). Yes – the society uses the “eo” spelling variant of archaeology in its title. For the past 74 years, the ASV has been a dynamic and active voice for Virginia archaeology.

During its quarterly meeting, the Board of Directors of the Archeological Society of Virginia was divided into small work groups.  The board participated in a Value Exercises to discuss and better understand the mission and objectives of the society.  Photo courtesy David E. Rotenizer.

During its quarterly meeting, the Board of Directors of the Archeological Society of Virginia was divided into small work groups. The board participated in a Value Exercises to discuss and better understand the mission and objectives of the society. Photo courtesy David E. Rotenizer.

View of the Board of Directors of the Archeological Society of Virginia at its quarterly meeting 12 July 2014 in Bridgewater, Virginia.  Photo courtesy David E. Rotenizer.

View of the Board of Directors of the Archeological Society of Virginia at its quarterly meeting 12 July 2014 in Bridgewater, Virginia. Photo courtesy David E. Rotenizer.

It was perfect timing that the ASV Board of Directors held its quarterly board meeting that coincided with the DOA event. I felt this was a unique opportunity to participate in DOA and help bring to light the fact that archaeology is often supported by organizations such as these. The meeting was held in the Town of Bridgewater, which is situated within the Shenandoah Valley of western Virginia. Being a statewide organization, the meetings move around the state.

Responsibility for directing the activities of the ASV is vested in a Board of Directors that consists of the President, Vice-President, Secretary, Treasurer, immediate past President, six elected Directors, chairs of Standing Committees and the President of each Chapter. Yes, it is a large board, but it is functional.

With this blog entry, I’ll discuss some of the topics and items brought up during the meeting.

View of one of the Batteaux Boats recovered with ASV support in 1983.   The ASV is seeking funds to help with the proper conservation and study of the remains.   The have been stored in fresh water the past 30 years.  Photo courtesy Lyle Browning.

View of one of the Batteaux Boats recovered with ASV support in 1983. The ASV is seeking funds to help with the proper conservation and study of the remains. They have been stored in fresh water the past 30 years.   The ASV Board of Directors voted to allow the boats to be submitted the Virginia Association on Museums’ annual Top Ten Endangered Artifacts Program.  Photo courtesy Lyle Browning.

Listing for Top Ten Endangered Artifacts

In 1983, during a construction project in downtown Richmond, Virginia a number of historic bateaux boat remains were recovered. Batteaux were rapids running craft, invented and patented in 1765 by the Rucker Brothers. They were up to 70 feet long and 7 feet wide, pointed at both ends with sweep oars and a hearth for the tiller man to tend. They carried tobacco hogsheads and other cargo downstream and any cargo needed was poled upstream.

Prior to the excavation, we had limited knowledge how the craft were constructed. The boats were built by master craftsmen with individual boards tapering over 40 feet to the bow. This is in contrast to later boats that were basically industrial constructs with straight boards that had pre-constructed nose-cones nailed to a rib. In order to complete the report, we need space to conserve the boats and we need the chemicals to preserve them. This boat and others have been sitting in fresh water for 30 years and are in danger of deteriorating without proper conservation and the information regarding them needs to be reported to fill a large gap in the history of Virginia history.

The ASV Board voted to approve having the boats submitted to the Virginia Association of Museums’ annual Top Ten Endangered Artifact listing. This is a program designed to help bring attention and awareness to many of Virginia’s artifacts at risk. It is our hope that awareness for the boats will lead to funding for much needed treatment and research regarding this collection.  I hope you can go on-line to help vote for our candidate.

Outreach Committee

An objective for this committee is the capacity to maintain a public presence for the sharing of both organizational and scholarly information. Current vehicles for this mission include a quarterly newsletter, a quarterly journal, special publications, a website, and an emerging social media presence. It was almost a year ago that the ASV launched its first Facebook page, which has continually grown.  Please visit our page.

Research Committee

The ASV directly and indirectly supports archaeological research in Virginia. Some chapters of the society are currently collecting slag samples from historic iron furnace sites. The slag will be chemically analyzed for sourcing purposes. As a result, iron found on archaeological sites could be traced back to where it was manufactured, thus giving insight on past economic trade patterns. Another survey activity is the documentation of Civil War earthworks at risk to loss.

A number of field schools recently took place this spring that included the ASV, in partnership with other stakeholders such as the Virginia Department of Historic Resources; James Madison University, and the United States Forest Service. These projects touched upon a range of site types, including testing of a Woodland Period shell midden eroding into the Chesapeake Bay, a low artifact density, yet stratified prehistoric site in Northampton County and a nearby 17th century historic site, and the testing around a circa 1760 house in western Virginia.

Virginia has a unique program that helps to address important archaeological sites and collections at risk. The Threatened Sites subcommittee works with the Threatened Sites Committee of the Virginia Department of Historic Resources to help target a small amount of available funding for its best use. During 2013-2014, the nine projects funded by this program included the study of the effects of maize horticulture, the testing of the Nelson County Courthouse, the analysis of a Gloucester County 18th century artifact assemblage, side-scanning sonar of 1812 British Fort Albion as well as a 17th century church site, a listing of Civil War shipwrecks, a survey of sites on the Eastern Shore, the evaluation of an Atlantic Archaic site, the dating of a Prince George County shell midden, and final analysis of an occupation at Maycock’s Point. The Threatened Sites Program is important to Virginia archaeology.

Education Committee

This committee is charged with developing and implementing instructional programming, encouraging scholarly development, and promoting best uses for archaeological collections. The committee reported that two field schools had been conducted since May. An annual “field school,” with a focus on lab work, will be hosted at the Virginia Department of Historic Resources in Richmond. Many of the committee’s activities are held in conjunction with the Archaeological Technician Certification Program.

The ASV maintains a research library which is currently being cataloged. It was reported that nearly 4,000 items have now been cataloged. The library recently obtained collections from the estates of Cindy Dauses and Ed Bottoms. The committee strives to develop and award scholarships to students, primarily in support of student paper presentations at the ASV annual meeting.

As part of our commitment to the original deed of trust for Kittiewan (granted to the ASV from Mr. Bill Cropper in 2006), we must read the requirements of maintaining the property each year at an ASV board meeting. This year, Martha Williams read the Will.  Photo courtesy of David E. Rotenizer.

As part of our commitment to the original deed of trust for Kittiewan (granted to the ASV from Mr. Bill Cropper in 2006), we must read the requirements of maintaining the property each year at an ASV board meeting. This year, Martha Williams read the Will. Photo courtesy of David E. Rotenizer.

Kittiewan Committee

In 2006, the ASV was bequeathed from Bill Cropper, the 18th century Kittiewan Plantation and its 720 acres containing evidence of 6,000 years of occupation. This facility functions as the ASV’s headquarters and base of operations. The property also operates as a historic site and hosts the ASV collections and research library. Kittiewan recently hosted a festival event to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Civil War.

74th Annual Meeting of the ASV

Each year in October, the society holds its annual meeting. This conference is perhaps the highlight of the society. The meetings are always held in October. The locations move around the state. This year (2014) it will be held in Richmond. Meetings are held on a weekend, with Friday being a day of meetings and presentations hosted by the Council of Virginia Archaeologists (COVA) – an organization of professional archaeologists working in Virginia. It was reported that the meeting is on track and the Call for Papers has gone out.

Certification Program

Archeological Technician Certification Program is designed to give individuals the opportunity to obtain recognition for formal, extended training in the techniques and goals of archaeology without having to participate in an academic degree program. Certification students are provided technical training in both the field and laboratory in conjunction with rotational lectures and workshops and required readings.

The program is sponsored by the Archeological Society of Virginia (ASV), the Council of Virginia Archaeologists (COVA), and the Virginia Department of Historic Resources (VDHR). There are currently 115 participants enrolled in the program.


ASV Facebook Page

ASV Website (Changing to:

Blog for Virginia Archaeological Technician Certification Program

Kittiewan Plantation (ASV’s Home): Facebook, Website

Alexandria Archaeology: We Dig Virginia’s History

Lab volunteers wash artifacts from the Shuter's Hill site in Alexandria, Virginia

Lab volunteers wash artifacts from the Shuter’s Hill site in Alexandria, Virginia

Since 1995, staff archaeologists and volunteers with the Alexandria Archaeology Museum have been working to excavate a site on the grounds of the George Washington Masonic National Memorial that sits high on a bluff overlooking the historic downtown area of Alexandria, Virginia. The site — known as Shuter’s Hill (44AX175) — was once the location of an 18th century plantation, as well as a second home built in the mid-19th century when the plantation home burned. Artifacts associated with the Civil War era occupation of the city have also been uncovered. More information about the Shuter’s Hill site is available here.

Shuter's Hill (44AX175) site (Alexandria, Virginia)

Shuter’s Hill (44AX175) site (Alexandria, Virginia)

During the Day of Archaeology, our dedicated team of volunteers continued the investigation of Shuter’s Hill. Field volunteers at the site worked long hours through the summer heat to uncover items associated with the early plantation and 19th century home. At the museum, our lab volunteers were busy washing artifacts and preparing them for identification and cataloging.

The Alexandria Archaeology Museum is free and open to the public. We can always count on a steady stream of visitors, including many students, families, tourists and local history buffs. In addition to our staff and lab volunteers, the museum was truly abuzz during this year’s Day of Archaeology!

    Shuter's Hill Excavation (Alexandria, VA)    Artifacts on Display at the Alexandria Archaeology Museum    Alexandria, VA Shuter's Hill Site
More Information
Alexandria Archaeology Museum:
Shuter’s Hill Site Information:

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

A Lab Full of Shells

In the archaeology lab at the Virginia Museum of Natural History (VMNH), I am continuing work on an assemblage from a site that I posted about for Day of Archaeology 2011 (, the Barton Village site. Located in western Maryland on the Potomac River, this multicomponent village site has been the subject of excavations for over twenty years by Dr. Bob Wall at the Towson University. The Barton site has yielded a large quantity of faunal remains – the boxes of bones fill an entire industrial shelving unit. When working with an assemblage this large, I generally sort, identify, photograph and capture data one bag at a time, with each bag from a separate provenience. This site has some interesting materials though that are worth removing from the rest and looking at separately. Specifically, this site has a fairly large number of mollusks.

Shells at the Virginia Museum of Natural History in the lab of Dr. Elizabeth Moore.

Shells at the Virginia Museum of Natural History in the lab of Dr. Elizabeth Moore.

When a site has a lot of mollusks, I find it useful to pull out all of them and identify them all at once. When working with a lot of the same thing, I find my identifications are more accurate and consistent if I do a lot at once instead of one this week, two next week, and so on. It also reduces the number of times I have to pull out specimens from the reference collection and is more efficient with my time.

Shells at the Virginia Museum of Natural History in the lab of Dr. Elizabeth Moore.

Shells at the Virginia Museum of Natural History in the lab of Dr. Elizabeth Moore.

In this photo you can see some reference material on the back of the counter and the archaeological specimens toward the front. This is a small portion of the mollusk reference material at VMNH. We have over 50 species of bivalves just from Virginia in our collection.

The mollusks from the Barton site make an interesting sample. So far we have identified almost 20 species of bivalves and gastropods – mussels and snails.

Shells at the Virginia Museum of Natural History in the lab of Dr. Elizabeth Moore.

Shells at the Virginia Museum of Natural History in the lab of Dr. Elizabeth Moore.

The stack of plastic boxes in the photo is just the shells that have been sorted and identified and rehoused so they don’t get crushed. There is another entire box of shells yet to be identified. One of the specimens we have identified is from the genus Marginella, a sea snail whose closest source would be from the Atlantic coast almost 150 miles to the east. Marginella were frequently traded by Native American tribes in the east and can be found at many sites. The rest of the specimens identified so far are freshwater species and were probably gathered locally for eating or for bead and tool making. Two of the larger specimens of freshwater mussel were modified into scrapers with serrated edges. One of the species identified was thought to have been introduced to the Potomac in the late 19th century, but its context here is 17th century. I’m withholding the name here because while I have had the identification reviewed and confirmed, the publication extending the range of this species is not yet out.

If you want to learn more about eastern mollusks, you can find some great information, identification keys, and manuals at