by Bernard K. Means, VCU/Virtual Curation Laboratory
On Thursday, June 27, the field school students and I met to travel to the George Washington Birthplace National Monument, where George Washington was born and lived the first three years of his life. There is an obvious connection to where the students are currently digging at Ferry Farm, where George spent most of his childhood. Assistant field director of Ferry Farm, Dr. Eric Larsen, and VCU field supervisor Ashley McCuistion joined in the excursion.
After a drive through the scenic Northern Neck of Virginia countryside for just shy of an hour, our small caravan of three vehicles arrived at the Birthplace. We were met there by the National Park Service’s Amy Muraca. Amy is the archaeologist for the Birthplace National Monument, as well as being in charge of the archaeological collections from this important site.
Amy was kind enough to give the field school a tour of the landscape associated with George Washington as a very young child, as well as other people that lived before–some well before–and after George Washington. We began our orientation to the site in the visitors center, which has a small display of artifacts recovered from throughout this national park.
As Amy took us around the park, she showed us various elements of the landscape and discussed the complicated nature of interpreting the archaeological record. Archaeological investigations of varying quality have taken place on this property throughout the 20th century, including work leading up to the bicentennial commemoration of George Washington’s birth that took place in 1932.
Some of the archaeological work in the first half of the 20th century focused on uncovering foundations in a time while historical archaeology was in its infancy. There was even a fair amount of work conducted by the Civilian Conservation Corps from the mid-1930s until the beginning of World War II. Amy and her team are working to digitize the earlier archaeological work to better understand the 18th century landscape, and how it was interpreted in the 20th century.
Ashley and I had both traveled to this national park in the past, as part of our work with the Virtual Curation Laboratory. We scanned two wine bottle seals–one with the initials “AW” for Augustine Washington, George’s father–as well as a smoking pipe from the 19th century. We were able to present Amy with plastic replicas of these objects, printed from the digital models we generated at this site.
At lunchtime, we contemplated the landscape that young George and his family might have enjoyed.
Of course, even at lunch some students could not resist practicing their archaeological skills. Olivia found this small mammal’s bone while walking about.
We at VCU and the George Washington Foundation want to extend our thanks to Amy Muraca and the National Park Service for the tour of the landscape associated with a very young George Washington, and of the important collections recovered from this park.