Field School in Public Archaeology

Haven’t figured out what to do with your summer yet?  Can’t seem to get enough archaeology?  Archaeology in Annapolis is pleased to announce an advanced field school in public archaeology for summer session 1, 2014.  This course is geared toward students who have already completed some training in archaeological field methods and want to work more closely with members of the public to construct meaningful interpretations of the past.

James Madison's mansion

James Madison’s mansion. Source: Montpelier Foundation

From June 2-June 21, we will be at Montpelier, James Madison’s home in Orange County, Virginia.  Tying in with excavations ongoing since the 1980s, this year’s excavation will explore the impacts of Emancipation on the African American community in Orange County.  The excavation will take place at the site of a late antebellum slave quarter that may have been reoccupied following the end of the Civil War.  This presents archaeologists with a unique opportunity to understand the effects of Emancipation at both the household and the community levels through the comparison of this site with other late antebellum and reconstruction era African American sites that have been excavated on the property.

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Metal Detecting in the Snow at Montpelier

It seemed like a great idea to spend spring break a month ago learning how to metal detect at Montpelier in Virginia. It was a good excuse to get outside, learn a new surveying technique, and get to see James Madison’s house.

And then it snowed. And not a little bit of snow, but a lot of snow. So much snow that we couldn’t even get to the site we were supposed to be surveying for two days.


Montpelier, James Madison’s Plantation home, Orange, VA

This, however, gave us plenty of time to tour Montpelier and even go on a side trip to Monticello. We did the two tours almost back to back, with a brief break in the middle for lunch. But it allowed us to do a direct comparison between the two historic houses, their tours, and their archaeology programs and interpretation. In general, the histories of people other than James Madison were incorporated better at Montpelier than the stories of people other than Thomas Jefferson were incorporated at Monticello. The interpretation at Montpelier felt more inclusive and was better at presenting a picture of the plantation as a whole.


Archaeologists Kate Deeley and Stefan Woehkle metal detecting at Montpelier. Photo courtesy of Montpelier Archaeology

Once the snow melted enough to begin the metal detecting, we bundled up and headed out to the woods. The snow that covered the site had been shoveled to the side by the archaeological interns who are employed at Montpelier. The next step for the site was to lay out a grid, creating 10 foot by 10 foot squares marked by orange flags. Once the whole grid was laid about (about 100 square feet), we began the metal detecting process. There were two professional metal detectorists, who were teaching three of us who had never detected before what to do. Metal detecting seems like a simple enough process, but no one tells you about the background noise you hear when you put that headset on. It is very loud, and hearing the difference between background noise and an actual metal object is not easy. But there is a difference in the sounds, and that was what we were looking for. We covered the 10 foot by 10 foot squares one at a time – marking all of the hits (that’s when you hear a metal object) with blue flags. Then the professional metal detectorist would come in and check our work. In general, it seemed that those of us who were learning could hear about half of the metal objects that were in each square. But we improved as the day went on. The snow continued to melt, and by the end of the day, the site was covered in blue flags and an ever-increasing amount of mud. The flags were then counted, and recorded on a site map, so we would know how many hits were in each 10 x 10 foot square.

This data will be used to determine where excavation units should be located during our advanced archaeological field school this summer.

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Archaeologies of Conflicting Ideologies: Frederick Douglass, Democracy, and Combating Racism

The following post comes from a paper I presented at the annual Society for Historical Archaeology conference held in Quebec City, Canada this January.  Continue below for the body of the presentation.

Frederick Douglass Statue. Talbot County Courthouse, Easton, Maryland. Photograph by the author.

Archaeologists working at Wye House in Talbot County, Maryland have taken advantage of the historical descriptions provided by 19th century writer, orator, and abolitionist Frederick Douglass, who was enslaved there briefly as a child and describes his experiences in all of his autobiographies.  These textual accounts allow the archaeologist to see the plantation landscape and enslaved African American culture through the eyes of one who was enslaved there himself.  Such a perspective is extremely rare in the historical record and have greatly aided archaeological investigations.  Not only have we turned to Douglass for help in locating and describing the structures we excavate on his former plantation, but we have also turned to his writings and his work to help us get inside American slavery, race and racism, colonialism, and ideology.

During the American Civil War, Douglass was a vocal supporter of the US Colored Troops, and actively worked to

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Intersections of Place, Landscape, and Spirit at Wye House

This is a shortened version of my paper for the 2014 Society for Historical Archaeology annual conference, delivered at the beginning of January. I contributed to the second part of an exciting session called The Intersecting Plantation Landscape. You will be able to find my full presentation, and those of the other archaeologists in the session at our website, created by Terry Brock.

West side of the Wye House garden (1904).

West side of the Wye House garden (1904).

The sandy loam of the tidal shorelines of Talbot County, Maryland made for rich planting soil. Edward Lloyd I came to Talbot County in the mid seventeenth-century, carrying the name of Wye with him as an immigrant from Wales. His slaves built the Wye House Plantation along the Wye River which gave the Lloyds access to the Chesapeake Bay and all of the international trading routes it offered to a tobacco merchant. Within this perspective of the landscape are his story and the stories of the generations of Edward Lloyds that followed him. There is the way he saw his land, the formal garden paths, the plants, his view of the nature that surrounded him, and the place that he had created for himself. But his story is far from the only story, and he was not the only one creating places or bringing aspects of a homeland to the plantation. There were hundreds of enslaved men, women, and children at Wye House and several other properties owned by the Lloyds throughout the county.

The most famous was Frederick Douglass the abolitionist, who was held in bondage at Wye House as a child in the early nineteenth century. After his escape, he gave voice to his experience of slavery and oppression in his speeches and autobiographies. These are helpful to an extent, but for those who could not escape or write or speak, we have to turn to the records kept by the Lloyds, the archaeology of the plantation, and archaeobotany to illuminate their lives and histories.

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