John Strangfeld – GIS and Geospacial Analyses at Nomini Plantation

My name is John Strangfeld. I am one of several students working in the Department of Historic Preservation’s archaeology lab. This is my fourth and final semester working with the archaeology department before my graduation. Throughout my time working in the department, I have been a part of a number of projects. However, this semester was the first in which I have been able to apply my knowledge of GIS (Geographic Information Systems) to my work. Most recently, I’ve been researching and analyzing the Nomini Plantation archaeological site as part of an undergrad research project with the department.

Nomini Plantation (44WM12) was a site in Westmoreland County, Virginia, which had been occupied throughout the mid 17th-late 18th-century. None of the site’s building remain standing today. A trash pit within the site was excavated during the 1970s, but no formal analysis of the results was conducted, and no reports were written. As part of the current analysis project underway in the UMW Archaeology Lab, I’ve been using geographical analysis to study and visualize what has already been uncovered.


The bulk of the research involved mapping the archaeological units that were excavated and associating them with artifact counts to create what are effectively heat maps, showing artifact density within the excavation site. These data show how artifacts had been deposited in the site, both between different categories of objects (pipes, ceramics, and bone) and over time. Two important pieces of information resulted from this analysis. First, we are able to see usage of the site change and move away from the plantation’s 17th-century dwelling, around the construction of a new plantation home in the 18th-century. Secondly, higher concentrations of both utilitarian ceramics and locally made pipes (objects associated with indentured servants or enslaved African Americans) occurring in units away from the dwelling provide evidence for a previously unknown outbuilding located near the trash pit.


On the weekend of March 15th-18th, I attended the Middle Atlantic Archaeological conference at Virginia Beach with a number of my peers. Among the group representing Mary Washington were Dr. Lauren McMillan, Cheyenne Johnson, Shannon Bremer, Reagan Anderson, Daphne Ahalt, Elizabeth O’Meara, and Rick Altenburg, many of whom had come to present their own research. I brought my research to this conference in the form of a poster to be entered into the student research poster competition. Along with Shannon Bremer who’s research paper on “Hygiene and the Civil War” tied for first place in the student paper competition, my project had the fortune of winning in the student poster competition.

Outside of supporting Mary Washington students, the conference provided an opportunity to connect with other local archaeology teams and professionals in the field. There was a range of subjects being presented on, and we as a group were able to attend a number of these. Events like the poster competition also allowed for me to meet and talk with student archaeologists, especially those who were also using GIS as their tool for research. Lastly, I was able to reconnect with UMW graduates and archaeologists I’ve worked with or under in the past, such as Doug Sanford and Dennis Pogue.

Now that I’ve come back from the archaeological conference, I’ve been researching the Nomini Plantation site within the context of Westmoreland County. The first part of this is looking at historical records of land ownership within the county in order to understand how the county was divided up within the 17th-18th centuries, and to be able to locate potential future archaeological sites. This is all possible thanks to the work of David W. Eaton, who worked through countless land patent records in order to map parcels as they were in Westmoreland several centuries ago. Through GIS software, I’ve georeferenced the maps he drew to depict where these boundaries fall in a modern context. Additionally, I’ve been working to employ LiDAR scans and satellite images to show the ways Nomini Plantation will be endangered by both a receding cliff line and a rising sea level. Using these data should give an idea as to the necessity of further excavations at the plantation site in the upcoming years.

The results of my work studying Nomini Plantation have been encouraging. I’m happy with my time spent at the archaeological conference and with my experience working on this project. I look forward to seeing how this research can further benefit the Department of Historic Preservation and future studies of Nomini Plantation and Westmoreland County.


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