Olivia Larson- “Find Me a Village with a View”

In a land far, far away two genius professors joined forces to bring us the UMW 2018 Archaeological Field School; Dr. King of St. Mary’s College of Maryland and Dr. McMillan of the University of Mary Washington.

In all seriousness though, this research project was significant because of the collaboration that occurred with the Rappahannock Tribe of Virginia. Dr. King worked closely with leaders of the Rappahannock Indians, who shared significant oral histories and records to identify possible areas of excavation. Maps created by Captain John Smith during his explorations in the early 1600’s and GIS models created by Scott Strickland in the mid-2010’s were also used. After areas of interest were identified, we excavated and investigated several locations along both sides of the Rappahannock River to find sites associated with the tribe, from about 2,000 years ago to the present.


Unlike previous archaeological field schools that have been sponsored by the Center for Historic Preservation at Mary Washington, this particular project focused on pre-colonial, contact period, and colonial sites rather than solely historical sites. Additionally, we were afforded fabulous waterfront views. This was my second summer in the working on an archaeological site. Because I was a Teaching Assistant/Field Tech rather than a student this summer, I was on site longer and more often than the students. The students spent two days in a lab setting and the other three on site. The lab was set up at Stratford Hall, and the students would take a van to the site.

We conducted Phase I and II surveys this past summer, which mainly consisted of walking several miles a day digging about 800 shovel test pits (including a lot of empty holes!) and excavating select test units. Phase I is great for getting the “lay of the land.” The STPs are dug in 25-foot to 50-foot increments. This can show where there are higher and lower densities of artifacts and soil types distributed across the site. This is a very informative process, so many archaeologists chose to stop after this. Test units dug during Phase II allow for additional evaluation of the site.

In the summer of 2017, Sherwood Forest Plantation was in Phase III while I was a field school student there. Phase III includes digging test units and features. This is great, in that is allows for an in-depth analysis of a site. But, it also generates a lot of artifacts that have to be cleaned, cataloged, and stored. This, some believe, is creating a curation crisis in many archaeological laboratories which can no longer support the massive inflow of artifacts from Phase III projects.

In the 2017 Field School, I was a student; a student that was very spoiled. On-site we had shade (quite the luxury) and a port-a-john. We also had a bench and table to have lunch, and we stayed at one site that was near the university. This summer, we had to move around to various locations (along the river and Route 17) which had very little shade, no outhouses, and no benches. However, moving from site to site and working in more demanding environments taught me what it was like to experience archaeology for a boss rather than a professor; giving me a little taste of what it will be like in the real world after May. These types of projects that cover a lot of area also allow for a greater understanding and appreciation of the landscape of an area and contribute to studies of settlement patterns.

The education I received from this experience has already worked to my benefit at my current internship at Dovetail Cultural Group in Fredericksburg, where I am currently processing a multi-component site from New Jersey, which includes stone tools and debitage. The experience of working on several Native sites this summer has also re-affirmed my interest in pre-colonial archaeology. I would like to focus my attention on marginalized groups, whose story has often been left out of history.



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