Shannon Bremer- The Invisibles: Women and the History of Jamestown

When people first think of Jamestown, they think of gold, John Smith, and Native Americans. The only female that comes to mind at all is usually Pocahontas. But the history and importance of women at Jamestown is so much more than just Pocahontas, as the 1619 class learned on our trip to Jamestown Settlement last week.

            When we first arrived at Jamestown Settlement, we headed outside into the recreated Powhatan village. When not surrounded by a ton of school kids there on field trips, we were able to speak with the interpreters about the tasks they were performing across the village. Seeing the yi-hakans, or long houses, and daily tasks of both men and women that we had learned about in the classroom come to life before our eyes was very cool. It was almost like being a little kid again; learning new things through extensive hands-on experiences. The one activity all of us thoroughly enjoyed was learning how Natives American’s would make rope using plant fibers, including from the yucca plant. Several of us took turns weaving our own strand, which followed a pattern almost similar to making friendship bracelets.

            Helen Rountree argues that, “women’s work in the Powhatan world was at least as varied as men’s work,” much of which she learned through experience by engaging in these day to day tasks (Rountree 1998:4). One of the ways she gained knowledge about the lives of Native women was by visiting Jamestown Settlement’s Native American village. I found Rountree’s experience to be similar to mine; women would complete many different tasks from making bone tools and farming to sewing and preparing the animal hides for clothing. In this section of Jamestown Settlement, there were several female interpreters, explaining the work that Native women would complete on a daily basis. This trend, however, did not continue as we moved into the fort section.

            Once in the fort section, we learned about medical practices and experienced gun and cannon demonstrations. Within the fort, I noticed that only a few of the interpreters were women. The women that were interpreters were dressed as men, as was the case with a sailor we chatted with. But there were no female interpreters portraying the important influence of women in Jamestown. This we learned from our tour of the new special exhibit, Tenacity: Women in Jamestown and Early Virginia, with Kate Gruber (UMW alumna and Curator of Special Exhibits at the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation), is mainly due to the fact that the period portrayed (1614) in James Fort is dated to before the arrival of a large number of English women to Jamestown in 1620.

            The Tenacity exhibit was extremely eye-opening and informative. There were several interactive spaces where you could learn more about the women of Jamestown: the people that had a profound impact on the survival of Jamestown, but were seemingly invisible to modern visitors until now. One of the most important groups of women to come to Jamestown were the “Jamestown wives” who arrived to the colony in 1620 (Zug 2012:88-89). In 1619, Sir Edwin Sandys, the treasurer of the Virginia Company, proposed sending “marriageable women” to Jamestown to save the colony from going under (Zug 2012:88-89). The introduction of these women kept the men from returning to England as well as prevented them from marrying Native American women (Zug 2012:89). The exhibit went into great depth about the arrival of these women as well as the other women, including both Native and African, that were crucial to the survival of Jamestown during the first few decades of colonization. Tenacity tells the stories of these women to a broader audience, no longer keeping them invisible, but portraying them as agents of change in a 400-year story.

Works Cited

Rountree, Helen C.

1998    Powhatan Indian Women: The People Captain John Smith Barely Saw. Ethnohistory 45(1):1-29.

Zug, Marcia

2012    Lonely Colonist Seeks Wife: The Forgotten History of America’s First Mail Order Brides. Duke Journal of Gender Law and Policy 20(1):85-125.

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Abigail Phelps- Native Language: Reviving Patawomeck

Learning a second language doesn’t come easily to everyone. Memorizing grammar and vocabulary is often an intimidating task. But imagine trying to learn a language that has not been spoken for over one hundred years. This is precisely what Garry Cooper, or TaPaKo KwaNGaTaRask (Night Owl) has been leading efforts to do. With a 17th-century guidebook in hand, Cooper is attempting to solve a historical and linguistic puzzle that spans centuries.

Language is an integral part of any culture. Gary Cooper made this very clear; in the case of Virginia Indians, losing their language was partly due to the cultural domination of the English colonists in the 17th and 18th centuries. A large portion of the tribe was eliminated by 1666, with men being massacred and the women and children sold into slavery (Rountree 1996:95). Expansion and integration further stamped out the once thriving and unique cultural entity of the Patawomeck Tribe.

That’s pronounced “Pahtohwomehk,” not “Patahwohmehk,” as I once thought. That was one of many new pronunciations and words I learned when Gary Cooper visited UMW’s Worlds Collide: Virginia 1619 class. Beginning with the work of linguists, Cooper is heavily involved in reviving a language that was dead for centuries. He currently teaches the Patawomeck language at the conversational and intermediate levels. He also has an advanced level workbook ready to use when the class progresses that far.

Some of the earliest work on reviving the language occurred when linguist Blair Rudes was tasked with translating the Algonquian script for the 2005 film, The New World. Rudes had only two written sources from which to work: a list of words and translations by John Smith, and another by William Strachey (Rudes 2014). Both were written in the early 1600s, and even deciphering the spelling of the English, much less the Algonquian, was difficult enough. Rudes gained roughly 600 words from these sources, but he found ways to expand his Algonquian vocabulary and syntax through researching previous studies of Powhatan languages and recordings of Algonquian languages from the northeast similar to the kind spoken by the Powhatan Confederacy (Rudes 2014).

Restoring the Patawomeck language is part of a larger movement to revive the tribe’s culture, one that has continued to be suppressed as late as the 20th century. In the 1920s, the white eugenics movement swelled, and Virginia’s state registrar Walter Plecker organized a restructuring of the demographic system in which Native Americans would have to be listed as “colored.” Unless they could prove descendancy from Pocahontas, anyone with even a slight amount of Native American ancestry would be prevented from enjoying the same legal privileges as white people (McRae 2018). Although these policies no longer exist, and Virginia’s tribes are increasingly becoming state and federally recognized, the damage headed by Plecker and his paper genocide still exists. This is mainly through a widespread ignorance of Native Virginian presence in today’s society and a lack of understanding about their culture. That is why revitalizing the Powhatan language is so important. It both teaches members of the tribe and also spreads awareness of Patawomeck culture throughout Virginia. Gary Cooper estimates that only a handful of people today can speak it well, but that number is expected to grow.


McRae, Elizabeth Gillespie
2018    Mothers of Massive Resistance: White Women and the Politics of White Supremacy. Oxford University Press, New York, NY.

Rountree, Helen
1996    Pocahontas’s People: The Powhatan Indians of Virginia Through Four Centuries. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman.

Rudes, Blair A
2014    Giving Voice to Powhatan’s People: The Creation of Virginia Algonquian Dialogue for The New World. Southern Quarterly 54(4):28-37.

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Shannon Bremer- CaMa CeskCaMei: The Revitalization of the Powhatan Language

CaMa CeskCaMei. Garry TaPaKo KwaNGaTaRask (Night Owl) began his lesson with this simple phrase. In the Powhatan language, it means “Greetings all friends.” While Garry Cooper, the language instructor from the Patawomeck Tribe, has become the main teacher of the Powhatan language and there are many tribal members trying to learn the language of their ancestors, this was not always the case. Before the filming of The New World began in 2003, the Powhatan language was virtually non-existent (Rudes 2014:29-30). According to Cooper, the beginning of the end of the language as it was spoken by the Patawomeck occurred in 1666 when the English were ordered to wipe out the tribe (Lewis 2017:19). The language itself was lost well before the 20th century; however, when the Racial Integrity Act of 1924 was passed in Virginia, which denied the existence of Native Virginians, it continued to suppress the Patawomeck tribe as well as other Native peoples across the Commonwealth (Maillard 2007).

When filming for The New World began, director Terrence Malick was eager to include the traditional Virginia Algonquian language within the movie to make it more authentic (Rudes 2014:29-30). Malick contacted linguist Blair Rudes from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte to gain his assistance on the project (Boyle 2006). Rudes not only had to reconstruct an almost virtually extinct language, he also had to reconstruct the grammar as well (Boyle 2006). He did so using William Strachey’s book, The Historie of Travaile into Virginia Britannia (Rountree and Wolfe 2014). According to Cooper, Mattaponi tribe member Ian Custalow took over Rudes’s work after his passing. Becky Guy of the Patawomeck Tribe was also involved in this larger language revitalization project, which is how Cooper was introduced to the language. Cooper picked up Guy’s work with the Patawomeck and continues to teach the Powhatan language classes to the tribe.

The hardest part of the language for modern learners is the phonetics or sounds of the words. At the time that Strachey created his dictionary, the English had not heard some of the sounds being used by the Algonquian people. For that reason, many of the words may not be pronounced or actually spelt the way they should be due to the miscommunication and misunderstanding between two entirely different cultures. That is why Cooper stresses the importance of phonetics and pronunciation to his students, including our class during our brief lesson on the Powhatan language.

During our lesson with TaPaKo KwaNGaTaRask, I learned a lot about the difficulties that come with learning a language that many living people have never heard before. At first, the pronunciation is very hard to grasp, but after a while and with the help of some phonetic spelling, it becomes easier. Like any language, the translations from Powhatan to English and vice versus are not exact, making it difficult to translate certain phrases or sentences. For example, the word, NeTab is used to say hello; however, the literal translation means, “my friend.” Similarly, the phrase MaCa NuTuWinKan is used to say “have a good day.” However, since one cannot “own” the day, the literal translation is, “we leave each other well.”

Although the new Powhatan language, or the language being taught by Night Owl to tribe members today, is not necessarily exactly the same as the old language, the fact alone that tribe members are beginning to have an interest in revitalizing the language is extremely important. This revitalization project is an important stepping stone towards giving the Algonquian people back a part of their culture that was repressed and lost for hundreds of years. 

Works Cited

Boyle, Alan
2006    How a Linguist Revived ‘New World’ Language. NBC News. Accessed April 2019.

Lewis, Kay Wright
2017    A Curse upon the Nation: Race, Freedom, and Extermination in America and the Atlantic World. University of Georgia Press.

Maillard, Kevin Noble
2007    The Pocahontas Exception: The Exemption of American Indian Ancestry from Racial Purity Law. Michigan Journal of Race and Law 12(2):351-386.

Rountree, Helen C. and Brendan Wolfe
2014    Languages and Interpreters in Early Virginia Indian Society. In Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities. Accessed April 2019.

Rudes, Blair A
2014    Giving Voice to Powhatan’s People: The Creation of Virginia Algonquian Dialogue for The New World. Southern Quarterly 54(4):28-37.

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Rick Altenburg- CaMa CeskCaMei: Reviving the Virginia Algonquin Dialect

The revival of the Virginia Algonquin dialect began in 2003 for the making of the film The New World. Director Terrence Malick wished to create an atmosphere as closely related to the historical encounters between Powhatans and the English. He hired linguist Blair Rudes to help reconstruct the specific Algonquin dialect that Native Americans in the area would have spoken (Rudes 2014:32). Today, Garry “TaPaKo KwaNGaTaRask (Night Owl)” Cooper continues this tradition by teaching Virginia Algonquin within the Patawomeck Indian Tribe.

TaPaKo KwaNGaTaRask’s visit to our classroom on April 4th gave me a much different perspective of the native language revival movement than I had previously had. The Virginia Algonquin language came to the brink of extinction due to colonization and subsequent racial laws that forced many Native Americans to hide their racial identity. Using centuries-old dictionaries, along with knowledge of Algonquin language patterns from other regions of the US, Rudes worked to put together a rough estimate of how the Virginia Algonquin dialect would have sounded (Rudes 2014). According to Night Owl, the Patawomeck are the only tribe left in Virginia that offers language classes, and only about three members are fluent in the language.

Luckily, activists like Night Owl are trying to turn these declining numbers around and are instituting a system by which they can better reach the younger members of the tribe. An interesting point he made was that it is much easier for children/young adults to learn new things than older people. It is for this reason that the Patawomeck have created lesson books similar to those provided in schools for learning languages like Spanish and French. The lesson books include activities such as word finds, oral exercises, and even practice pages for writing the alphabet used by Algonquin speakers.

Teaching the language of his ancestors is something that is obviously very important to Night Owl. Language is inherently related to culture: it is a means by which we express ourselves, share ideas, and it provides a sense of community for its speakers. Hinton (2010:36) quotes several Native Americans saying they want their language revived because, “It is [their] heritage,” or, “Language is a key to culture, and [they] want to retain [their] traditional cultural ways.” Night Owl was also very eager to share Patawomeck culture with us, for which I am very grateful. He did not have to spend his Tuesday morning teaching our class the history of the Algonquin language, nor did he have to teach us how to say phrases like, “Hello,” and, “My name is…” I feel very fortunate to have heard Night Owl speak about his Native American roots and the movement within his tribe to revive their traditional language.


Hinton, Leanne
2010    Language Revitalization in North America and the New Direction of Linguistics. Transforming Anthropology 18(1):35-41.

Rudes, Blair A.
2014    Giving Voice to Powhatan’s People: The Creation of Virginia Algonquin Dialogue for The New World. Southern Quarterly 51(4):29-37.

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Ethan Knick- A Living Thing Stuck in Time: The Revival of Virginia’s Native Algonquian Language

Until recently, scholars considered the language of Virginia Algonquin, or Powhattan, to be long dead. English colonizers who sought to suppress Powhattan culture, especially after the Second Anglo-Powhatan War of 1622 (Horn 2018:162), gradually stifled the language, eventually resulting in its apparent extinction by about the middle of the 1800s (Rudes 2014:30). Today, however, linguists, anthropologists, and everyday Virginians are working to revive Virginia Algonquin. The language is having a profound impact on modern Tidewater tribes, proving that Virginia’s native language is very much alive.

Just under 400 years after Christopher Newport and John Smith set up the first permanent English-speaking outpost in North America at Jamestown in the early 17th century, a Hollywood blockbuster provided an opportunity to revive the long-unused language originally spoken in Virginia. In 2003, director Terrence Malik began production on a historical drama based on the Jamestown Colony called The New World. The filmmakers contracted renowned linguist Blair Rudes to reproduce the language for actors playing Algonquin characters in the film (Rudes 2014:29-30). Soon after Rudes’ untimely death, Ian Custalow of Virginia’s Mattaponi Tribe began to learn, teach, and further piece back together Virginia Algonquin, also known as Powhatan, and teach the resuscitated tongue to Virginia Indian communities (Cooper per. comm.).

 Today, people like Garry TaPaKo KwaNGaTaRask or “Night Owl” Cooper, language instructor for the Patawomeck Tribe, are using this 17th-century language to preserve a culture that segregationists of the 20th century did their best to suppress, and which is still unknown to most residents of the Commonwealth in the 21st century. Earlier this month, Mr. Cooper spoke to Dr. McMillan’s 1619 class, focusing on the central role that language plays in a culture.

As an example of the social implications of language, consider the Virginia Algonquin translation of the word “Hello.” It is actually impossible to directly translate this English salutation. “Hello”translates to NeTab, the literal meaning of which is “Greetings, my friends.”  Clearly, this greeting has deeper meaning than a mere acknowledgement of someone’s presence. It stresses a desire for congeniality with the person with whom you are about to engage in conversation.

The power of Virginia Algonquin is made manifest in our time, as it serves to help reawaken and buttress long-standing traditions. Mr. Cooper, however, does not intend for the language to serve as a mere window into the past. Rather, he expects it to be central to the changing culture of the modern DuhNaPeiWak, the indigenous population of Virginia. “Language is a living thing,” he explained, “It’s ever-evolving. Ours kind of got stuck in time.” I look forward to seeing how the new implementation of this old language will shape the culture of Virginia’s tidewater.


Horn, James
2018    1619: Jamestown and the Forging of American Democracy, Basic Books, New York, NY.

Rudes, Blair A
2014    Giving Voice to Powhatan’s People: The Creation of Virginia Algonquian Dialogue for The New World. Southern Quarterly 54(4):28-37.

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Tessa Honeycutt- Forget About Frames, Get New Lenses

The history of Jamestown has been recorded and interpreted by wealthy, white men since its founding in 1607. Due to this, the history presented to us has been skewed to align with their bias and intentions. As we commemorate 400 years since the first Africans and English women came to Jamestown, Jamestown Rediscovery has begun to look at their interpretations in a new way. Recently, the director of archaeology at Jamestown, David Givens, presented a lecture at the University of Mary Washington entitled “The Angela Site: An Archaeological Student of Race, Inequality, and Community in Early Jamestown.”  His talk focused on the archaeology being conducted at the Angela site, the site where an enslaved African woman worked for the Pierce family, and how the discoveries being made would add a new layer of interpretation to the Jamestown Island.  

In 1619, two ships, the Treasurer and the White Lion attacked a slave ship on route to the Caribbean, capturing between 55 and 60 Africans (Horn 2018:86). The Treasurer along with the White Lion landed in Virginia where they sold “20. and odd” Africans to the colonists (Horn 2018:87). David Givens believes that Angela was one of the captured Africans sold during this transaction. With the development of tobacco as the cash crop of the colony, many settlers became desperate for laborers to aid in harvesting and to maximizing profits (McCartney 2003:43). The African slave trade became a solution to this problem, thus binding them to slavery and perpetual labor in the tobacco fields.

The labeling of these first Africans as indentured servants or slaves has become a hotly debated topic among scholars, but the answer may depend upon the lens through which they choose to view 1619 Jamestown. Individuals in the indentured servant camp cite that because laws outlining slavery did not go into effect until the late 17th century that the first Africans were treated as servants and that slavery evolved later. They also referenced that Africans were listed as servants on records and the label of slave was not applied until later (Horn 2019:103). Perhaps the term slave was not used because the English associated it with punishment for an indiscretion and these Africans were not being punished for anything; therefore, servant may have seemed like a more appropriate term (McCartney 2003:30). There is also some evidence that a few Africans gained their freedom and were able to become landowners; however, the majority never had this opportunity (Horn 2019:103-104).

Even though these first Africans were not labeled slaves, they were treated very different from the white indentured servants. As David Givens also pointed out, these Africans were bought against their will; whereas, indentured servants willingly signed a contract of servitude. The white settlers that purchased Africans also had no intention of ever granting these people freedom or land. Due to their knowledge of tobacco, African slaves were seen as more valuable than traditional servants and only the wealthiest colonists could afford to purchase them (Horn 2018:100-101). Additionally, the concept of slavery was also not new to the English settlers. For many years, the Spanish had enslaved Africans on sugar cane plantations in the Caribbean (Horn 2018:87).  Slavery was also not new in the colony, as there is record of colonists selling captured Natives into slavery following raids (McCartney 2003:30).

In a world where history has been recorded by the victors, it is important to recognize and criticize the biases that history has been told through. As David Givens stated, academics must start looking at history through different lenses and provide interpretations for all parties involved.  One cannot possibly understand what life was like at Jamestown if we only interpret the Anglo perspective. For decades society has overlooked those whose stories were deemed insignificant by the writers of history, but perhaps now that there is increased advocacy and study of minorities the complete story can come to light.

Works Cited

Horn, James
2018     1619: Jamestown and the Forging of American Democracy. Basic Book, New York, NY.

McCartney, Martha W.
2003     A Study of the Africans and African Americans on Jamestown Island and at Green Spring, 1619-1803.  Report to the Colonial National Historical Park, National Park Service from the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, Williamsburg, VA.

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Olivia Larson- A Spooky Analysis

On an eerie Thursday morning, Dr. McMillan’s class trudged through the still dewy grass, with only clipboards to protect them from the spooky cemetery analysis. Prepared for anything, the students collected data from different gravestones to be analyzed and graphed. Thankfully no ghosts of the townspeople of Fredericksburg past had been spotted, but all our feet did get uncomfortably wet.

It took five class periods in total to complete this in-class project. On days one and two the class collected data from as many gravestones as possible (averaging 20-25 gravestones per student). Students were asked to record names, birth and death years, gender, shape, and treatments of headstones, as well as motifs, epitaphs, and whether they had footstones. We also recorded whether there was a mention of the age of the deceased or if they had a relationship with someone living or dead mentioned was also recorded. While in the field, several patterns began to emerge; gravestones were becoming simpler over time and women were more likely to have a mention of relationship on their headstones. Of course, it is easier to see patterns when all the data are combined.

Day three and four were devoted to cataloging the information that we recorded out in the field. Once all the data were inputted into Excel, we generated percentages for the different categories of information that we recorded. Trends seen in the cemetery were now backed up by actual numbers. Even though individually our sample sizes were small, it was clear that gravestones became more streamlined over time, women were more likely to have mentions of relationships and epitaphs on their headstones and were more likely to have mention of their age as well.

On our last day working on this, the data were pooled together, creating a larger sample size with which to work. Though the trends from the combined data reflected our individual numbers, accuracy was improved by having more information to analyze. Some other patterns that were revealed were that smoother fronts and rusticated sides became very common in the mid-1900s on and that motifs and epitaphs became less frequent over time. These reflect an overall trend in America to move toward simplicity. It is also important to note that cemeteries were once utilized as greenspaces for leisure activities, so gravestones were once multi-purpose: memorializing the dead and decoration to create an attractive park-like atmosphere in an urban setting (Meyer 1992: 261). However, over time this became less popular. This is shown in our data as gravestones became less ornamental; as we move forward through time, gravestone without epitaphs or motifs become increasingly popular. The earliest recorded gravestones (1800-1839) all had epitaphs, which decreases over time to only 8% in the late 1900s. Mentions of Jesus or religious texts also decrease through time, which is correlated with the decrease in religious motifs/imagery; instead, the epitaphs become more personalized focusing on the individual.

Much of these trends were found using seriation, a dating procedure that was originally used in prehistoric archaeology to date ceramics and was developed by James A. Ford (Deetz 1996: 93). Basically, seriation orders the artifacts by time and type, showing how one style will come into and fall out of fashion. Think of it like cell phones: flip-phones come around, and car phones fade away, then smartphones replace flip-phones, and now one model of phone replaces the other and so on. This same method works for gravestones. As one type of gravestone or motif becomes popularized, an earlier style gets replaced. These seriation graphs reflect changing cultural themes in America. Meyer (1992:105), remarks that the gravestones “Take on distinctive flavors relating to regionalism, ethnicity, religious influence, and a whole host of other factors.”

Headstone Seriation from Deetz 1996:97

This exercise in cemetery analysis and seriation graphs helped our class to understand how gravestones specifically are connected to other broad themes in American culture and reflect our cultural identity throughout history. Archaeologists use seriation to measure the length of time that certain styles of gravestones were popular as well as how the gravestones reflect the population’s view of the departed. These concepts of popularity can be applied to many facets of archaeology like transfer prints on ceramics and projectile points for Native Indigenous populations.

Deetz, James
1996    In Small Things Forgotten: An Archaeology of Early American Life. Anchor Books, New York, NY.

Meyer, Richard
1992    Cemeteries and Gravemarkers: Voices of American Culture. Utah State University Press, Logan.

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Abigail Phelps-Life Lessons from Artifact Photography

In my time at the university’s archaeology lab, I’ve learned just how diversified archaeology work can be. While a lot of lab work is computer-based, including research and data entry, some lab work is very hands-on. Although I was familiar with washing, sorting, and storing artifacts, photographing them was entirely new territory for me. At first I was not too concerned about attempting this photography. After all, I’ve always enjoyed taking pictures on vacations and in my backyard. And in the case of photographing in the lab, I wouldn’t have to worry about harsh sunlight or moving subjects. So I could simply point the camera and shoot, right?

That would be the first of several life lessons I’ve learned from taking photos in lab: avoid foolish first assumptions! Over the last month or so, and with the help of Dr. McMillan, I’ve picked up several skills related to artifact photography, while also reminding myself of some important skills and values I can transfer to everyday life: patience, focus, and attention to detail.

While one can often get satisfactory results from point-and-shoot photography for scrapbooks and family albums, photographing artifacts is a more involved process. The purpose of taking these photos are to record in precise detail the appearance of an artifact, and to share them with other archaeologists, researchers, or the public, who cannot necessarily access the physical objects. Photographing artifacts also acts as a recording measure taken in case the original artifacts are destroyed. In order to get a high-quality photograph, we use a dark room with various backdrops, small adjustable lights, filters, and a DSLR camera with a tripod.

Getting the photo station set up is quite a process in itself. Setting up the tripod, attaching the camera, remembering to put the batteries in the camera and taking the lens cover off are all important. Then it’s lights (off), camera (on), action!  The next steps all depend on the kind of artifact that is photographed. Most artifacts, unless they are very dark, are placed against a black background to make them stand out, and to absorb extra light, avoiding a washed-out look. After the camera is level in relation to the artifact, it must be adjusted to the right zoom and focus. Choosing the shutter speed (how long the camera gathers light when taking a picture) and aperture (how large the light-gathering area of the lens is) determines how bright the picture will be. Of course, the lights themselves are a crucial factor in taking close-up shots of artifacts. How brightly they shine and the angle at which light hits the object can be the difference between a dull, shadowy photograph, or one that brings out the depth and detail in an object better than the human eye.

I could go on and on about the endless back-and-forth adjustments that are made between the artifact, the camera, and the lighting before even a single picture is made. But suffice it to say that a lot of finesse is required to make a good photo. As a beginner, I still have to take a dozen pictures with slight modifications to get one or two photos that make the cut. When I was first learning the whole camera setup and all the moving parts involved, I couldn’t understand how anyone could have the patience to spend over ten minutes getting one good picture of an inanimate object. It tested my patience, and even frustrated me at times, but as I got more practice, I learned to enjoy (to some extent) the subtle factors that make a successful photo.

Along with the increased patience required for this task, I also noticed how important a strong focus is, and not just for the camera. The camera needed exactly the right amount of light to focus well on its subject. It needed to be balanced stable, and in order to focus on the artifact, the background needed to be distraction-free. Sounds a lot like someone I know: me. I also discovered how important it is to consider all the details involved in each artifact and its background before taking the picture. Our minds might be wired to ignore the few pieces of fuzz on the black background, or minimize the shadows around an object, but the camera picks up on these details as readily as minor grooves and scratches on the artifact itself. Learning to recognize the need for minor adjustments turns a decent photo into a great one. The same could be said for countless daily situations.

I may not have mastered the use of a good camera yet, nor the art of taking photos of artifacts. But I’ve enjoyed applying and improving what I have learned from artifact photography, both in and out of the lab.


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Lilly Salamone- That Looks Like A Job for the Lab!

Although field work is the most visible part of archaeology, most of the work actually goes on inside the archaeology lab. As a general estimation, one day in the field equals roughly 3-7 days in the lab, depending on the amount of artifacts found and the experience of the lab techs. All the artifacts collected in the field must be washed, cataloged, analyzed, and interpreted. Lab work is extremely important, because if the artifacts are excavated just to sit in storage, it is both a waste of time and highly unethical.

Lab work can be broken up into several steps.

Step one is artifact processing and cleaning. In the field, artifacts are placed in bags labeled with the provenience (exact location the artifact was located). The number one commandment is to ensure the artifacts are properly labeled with the provenience (in this screen, it is written on the little white card) to ensure that the data is accurate. The artifacts are then separated by how they can be cleaned. Bone, iron, ceramics with decoration over the glaze, brick and anything to delicate to wash with water will be dry brushed with a toothbrush. Ceramic, plastic, glass and more durable materials will be wet washed with water and a toothbrush. After being cleaned the artifacts are set into a screen to dry for at least 24-48 hours before being rebagged. Cleaning and processing reveals details about the artifacts which dirt obscures.

Step two is cataloguing.  Using UMW’s  cataloging procedures, the artifacts are listed into a digital database by their type (ceramic, metal, organic material, glass), use (projectile, bowl, vase), material (shell, quartz, cement, iron), appearance (colorless, painted, raise decoration), decoration (cobalt glazed porcelain, tortoiseshell ceramics, etc.) and measurements (weight, thickness, length). The catalogue can get very exact, especially for ceramics. All of the information about the artifact’s provenience is also transferred into the database. Cataloguing allows you to examine the artifacts’ information without having to examine all of the artifacts together. If the database where the cataloguing information goes is public, it also allows other people access to your information. Such open source data websites include and


Step three is analyze. Once the data has been gathering into once place, you can begin to examine the information you have. Doing this makes patterns clear.  You can find areas which higher concentrations of artifacts, predict locations of sites and begin to explain the patterns. Additionally, it allows you to examine both within the site and between other sites.

Step four is interpretation. In this stage, you use the information and patterns noticed in step three and draw formal conclusions. At the end of this stage, the research is published.

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Shannon Bremer- One Man’s Trash…

They say one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Well, that can certainly be said for archaeologists who spend endless days digging at archaeological sites looking for the things that were left behind by people of the past. But there is a lot more to archaeology that just digging. Beyond the field, there are important steps archaeologists must take both before and after digging. In our Archaeology Lab Methods Class, my classmates and I have had the opportunity to learn the necessary steps and events that happen before the dig can begin as well as what happens once the dig has been completed and artifacts have made their way back to the lab for processing and analysis.

Before a dig can begin, we learned that it’s important to create a research design. This includes your project goals, questions the project is meant to answer, background research, data collection, analysis, interpretations, and publication of the project’s findings. Once project goals and background research are completed, archaeologists can begin excavations. According to our textbook Archaeological Lab Methods: An Introduction by Mark Sutton and Brooke Arkush, there are two types of excavations: small-scale and large-scale (Sutton and Arkush 2014:14). Small-scale excavations are usually several shovel test pits (STPs) which are used to determine if an area is a site or not, while large-scale excavations generally occur after testing when an area has been determined as a possible site (Sutton and Arkush 2014:14-15).

While there is some important work accomplished in the field, such as the discovery of artifacts, various features, and building foundations, some of the most crucial work occurs in the lab. For every day of field work, three to seven days are usually spent in the lab washing, cataloging, labeling, rebagging, and analyzing artifacts found during excavations. When processing artifacts, it is very important to include the field context with the artifacts at all times. The field context includes the horizontal and vertical provenience information which helps identify where the artifact came from in relation to the site. In the words of Silas Hurry, Laboratory Director and Curator of Collections at Historic St. Mary’s City, artifacts without their locational information “are what they were when originally discarded, trash,” because the provenience information tells us everything we need to know about the context in which an artifact was found in relation to the site as well as other artifacts found there (Hurry nd:1).

For a class activity, half of the class learned how to both wet brush and dry brush artifacts, while the other half began learning how to catalog artifacts; we then switched the next class period so that we could experience both parts of lab work. Not only were these activities a hands-on way to better understand how time consuming and important processing artifacts can be, we also were able to help our lab at UMW make further progress in cataloging artifacts from Sherwood Forest, the site of the 2015-2017 field school. Just as other labs around the United States, such as Historic St. Mary’s City, the lab at the University of Mary Washington processes artifacts in a similar fashion. Artifacts are cleaned, labeled, and rebagged according to their unit, level, and artifact group. This method of bagging and labeling keeps the artifacts organized so that if they need to be pulled out for examination, analysis, or photography they are easy to locate. The process of cataloging the artifacts helps archaeologists better understand the site since it allows us to create important distribution analyses based on artifact type and other types of studies, such as site function analysis and site dating. For that reason, sometimes the laboratory work done after digs is even more important and insightful than the dig itself. I guess there’s a lot you can learn from another man’s trash!


Works Cited

Hurry, Silas
n.d. After the Dig. Historic St. Mary’s City, Maryland. <>

Sutton, Mark and Brooke Arkush
2014 Archaeological Lab Methods: An Introduction. Kendall Hunt Publishing Company, Dubuque, IA.


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