Welcome to the UMW Archaeology Lab website- An Introduction

Hello World! Welcome to the UMW Archaeology Laboratory blog! We are so excited to revamp this website and tell you what we are up to!

This summer has been a busy one of changes and transitions. Professor Doug Sanford retired at the end of the 2016-2017 academic year. Dr. Sanford was in the Department of Historic Preservation for over 25 years. While I know students, faculty, and staff will miss him (and he us), I think he is looking forward to retirement and spending some quality time with his wife, boat, and fishing pole! You can see what Professor Sanford is up to here.

I (Lauren McMillan) was hired as Doug’s replacement and hit the ground running this summer. I have been an adjunct professor in the summers since May 2015, directing the Sherwood Forest Plantation research project. We held our third archaeological field school (HISP 467) at SFP this summer and uncovered many interesting finds, made some new discoveries about the 1840s plantation landscape, and had a grand time doing it! With me this summer were six field school students, two student field assistants, two student volunteers, and several other visitors and volunteers throughout the eight week season.

In the coming months, you will hear from several of the students who spent their summer with me. They will discuss their experiences excavating, processing artifacts in the laboratory, and conducting analytical class projects using these materials. This space will also be used by students to discuss other aspects of archaeology, collections management, historic preservation, internships, and independent research projects they are working on

But, first some background on some of the archaeology projects at UMW right now:


Sherwood Forest Plantation:

Sherwood Forest Plantation (44ST615) was built in the 1840s and is located approximately five miles outside of the City of Fredericksburg in Stafford County. We started this project in 2015 with two main goals: reconstruct and understand the antebellum landscape and explore the lives of those who lived and labored (both in bondage and free) on the plantation. We have been conducting a shovel test pit survey across the property during the school year as class projects and test unit excavations in the summer based on historical research, oral history accounts, and the STP survey results.

Last year, we began investigating a large, shallow, stratified, intact feature in the yard between two standing antebellum buildings (a brick kitchen/laundry slave quarter and a frame duplex quarter) located in the plantation’s curtilage. Originally, we had thought this area was either a naturally low spot used for refuse disposal or a purposefully dug trash pit filled in around 1860. However, the feature itself is less than a foot deep- not really big enough to be a true trash pit. This year, we were able to define and delineate the edges of this approximately 20ft. x 30ft. feature. This feature has roughly straight edges with the same orientation as the 1840s buildings. The orientation of the feature, combined with evidence of several planting holes identified in the final mixed clay layer (right before subsoil), has led to the new interpretation of this feature as a large, somewhat sunken, garden associated with the kitchen and duplex quarter. The analysis of the 2015 and 2016 artifacts indicate that this feature was filled in rather quickly and purposefully in the middle of the 19th century. We are all very excited about this new development, as we had previously thought much of the antebellum landscape within the curtilage had been destroyed in the mid-19th century and again during an early 20th century landscaping episode.


Visitors and Field Trips:

We had many visitors to the site this summer. Many preservation professionals in the Fredericksburg area visited us, from organizations including Dovetail CRG, the City of Fredericksburg, Historic Fredericksburg Foundation, Inc., the Fredericksburg Area Museum, Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park, Stafford County Historical Commission, and the George Washington Foundation. From further afield, the archaeological field school from Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forest spent an afternoon with us! We were very happy to host Jack, Eric, and all of their students and staff.

The UMW archaeological field project also hosted a week long Archeological Society of Virginia field school. This was the second year that we opened up the project to ASV volunteers and certification students. The ASV Archaeological Technician Certification Program is an amazing way for people who have not received a formal academic education in anthropology, archaeology, or historic preservation to gain formal (and intensive!) training in archaeology under the guidance of professional archaeologists across the state. This is the second year that UMW has joined other institutions, such as the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, James Madison University, Mount Vernon, the Virginia Museum of Natural History, and the University of Tennessee, Knoxville in providing training to certification students.

We also had a very special visit by UMW’s own President Paino! We were so excited to host President T-Pain on one of the hottest days of the year. Students were able to discuss their research projects based on the 2015 and 2016 excavations, show the president what we found this year, and illustrate how fun and hands on archaeology and historic preservation are!


The UMW field school visited several other archaeological sites. We spent a day exploring the museums and archaeological excavations at Jamestown Rediscovery. Several staff members, including Dave Givens, Merry Outlaw, and MWC alumna Jamie May gave us all great tours of the site and collections.

We headed out west to James Madison’s Montpelier estate. There, archaeologists Matt Reeves, Terry Brock, and Mary Furlong Minkoff gave us tours of the ongoing archaeological field work exploring the lives of those held in bondage on the plantation. We also got a behind the scenes look at the archaeology laboratory, and a special tour of the Confederate Civil War encampments on the property.

Barbara Heath from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville opened up her field project at Coan Hall to us. We excavated on the 17th-century plantation site for two days and stayed overnight with the UTK field school and crew. This trip allowed UMW students to meet and work with undergraduate and graduate students, as well as professionals, from various institutions, gave them the opportunity to excavate on a different kind of site (plowzone), and learn about 17th-century material culture and the history of one of the earliest European settlements on the Northern Neck of Virginia. Also, Dr. Sanford made a guest appearance at Coan Hall!


Laboratory Collections:

As the archaeology lab is transitioning under new supervision, we are slowly, but surely, rearranging and rehousing our collections making room for new projects. Students have been helping me with this task this summer and the archaeology lab aides will continue into the Fall and Spring semesters. You will hear from these students in the coming weeks discussing the challenges (and joys!) of collection’s management. I think this summer has been eye opening to several students- most people do not think about what happens to the artifacts and accompanying paperwork after the fieldwork is complete. These students are getting a taste of why the old adage “one day in the field equals four days in the lab” just isn’t quite enough.

Another goal this coming year is to enter all of the collections generated by past UMW/MWC archaeological projects within Fredericksburg into VCRIS. This will be a collaborative project with the City of Fredericksburg. Once the Fredericksburg sites are entered into the statewide system, we will start to move onto other municipalities.  Look for future posts about this project, which will be a student internship.


Nomini Plantation:

Courtesy of VDHR

A new project to UMW is the analysis of Nomini Plantation (44WM12), a 17th-century archaeological site in Westmoreland County, Virginia. Nomini was excavated in the 1970s by ASV volunteers. While the original excavator, Vivienne Mitchell, wrote several artifact specific articles on the site, the collection was never fully processed or analyzed and no report was written. In 2012, Brad Hatch and I began the process of analyzing this collection by first cataloging all of the clay tobacco pipes, ceramics, and faunal materials. We have been able to piece together context information and determine layers and phases of the site, despite the fact that three different excavation and recording techniques were used. We phased the site through ceramic cross mends, mean ceramic dating, tobacco pipe stem dating, and careful readings of the field paperwork. Since our initial work, Esther Rimer used the table glass from Nomini in her thesis research.

Photo by Hatch. Courtesy of VDHR.

During the 2017-2018 academic year, one UMW student aid and a hired lab technician will be working on this project through a DHR Threatened Sites Grant. They will digitize all of the original field paperwork, create GIS maps of the site, and integrate all of the catalogs created by Hatch, Rimer, and myself into a single streamlined catalog through our new Access-based cataloging system. They will also catalog the bottle glass and metals. All of this work in the UMW Archaeology Lab will be used to write a report on the collection that will be submitted to the DHR.

Students in the Artifact Analysis (HISP 491) and Laboratory Methods in Archaeology (HISP 462) classes will also be using this collection for various class projects throughout the Fall semester. So- keep an eye out for student blog posts focused on the Nomini Plantation site.

Photo by McMillan. Courtesy of VDHR.

This project stems from several other collections based projects on 17th-century archaeological sites on the Northern Neck of Virginia initiated by Dr. Barbara Heath at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. These projects have included the John Hallowes site (44WM6) and Coan Hall (44NB11). The ultimate goal of this Nomini Plantation project is to place the catalog, report, and digitized records into the Colonial Encounters database. The Nomini Plantation analysis project brings UMW into a multi-institutional collaborative project focused on open sourced access to archaeological data. The Colonial Encounters project specifically focuses on “old” and previously underused collections on both sides of the Potomac River and was initiated by Dr. Julia King at St. Mary’s College of Maryland.



Future Directions:

Now that I have given you an introduction to our new UMW Archaeology Laboratory website, please stay tuned. I am going to pop in every now and again, but mostly this will be a place for students to write about their projects and research.


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