A Wide Array of Materials: Stephanie King’s Week 2

by Stephanie King, VCU student

This week had an unexciting start, with rain putting an early end to Monday’s dig. Tuesday had the class at Montpelier, the home to James Madison and his wife Dolly, who was also very capable in her husband’s political and social arenas.


Pagoda at Montpelier

Pagoda at Montpelier

The tour of the grounds was largely self-guided, with a brief walk-through of the Madison mansion provided after an equally short introductory video. When the Madisons were present, additions were added to the house as the family grew and the Madisons’ political and social careers advanced. The massive structure that stands today is the result of efforts to restore the home to when James and Dolly were retired, and is still largely a work-in-progress as materials from the home are reacquired or reconstructed. Parts of the home were lavishly decorated according to Dolly’s acute tastes in modern style. Unfortunately, taking photos inside the home was prohibited.

We managed to catch the archaeology crew at Montpelier in their first week of field school. Dr. Matthew Reeves, the director of archaeology at Montpelier, was glad to give us a site tour and invited us to explore the collections inside of the archaeology lab. Professor Means also took the opportunity to use his digital microscope to look at floral remains recovered from flotation analyses. However, the day was cut short (again) due to steady rain.

Tin-glazed earthenware (left) and Chinese porcelain (right)

Tin-glazed earthenware (left) and Chinese porcelain (right)


Wednesday was pretty ordinary as far as field school goes, and one of our first full field days. Our unit produced a wide array of materials, from metal pieces and tin-glazed whiteware to a luminous piece of quartz. Some of my favorites for the day included a small fragment of Chinese-imported ceramic and another that resembled Staffordshire slipware, with brown marbling on a light-yellow paste. Judging by these pieces and many others, we are still firmly in our Antebellum layer.

Abolitionist Senator Henry Wilson and two Union soldiers

Abolitionist Senator Henry Wilson and two Union soldiers

Independence Day was exceptionally busy at Ferry Farm. With expositions from the Patawomeck Indians, of Colonial costume and dance (even our own George Washington), and archaeological excavations, there was plenty to see and do and no shortage of people to talk to. Plenty of children and adults alike were excited to assist students in sifting excavated dirt, and many who came to the excavation were eager to learn about its importance. I am proud to have been able to teach even a few people about the efforts of the George Washington Foundation in recreating the historic landscape at Ferry Farm. As an exercise in public archaeology, we all did a fantastic job of relaying our goals to Ferry Farm’s visitors.


A fragment of crystalline quartz

A fragment of crystalline quartz

My partner and I reached (at least in part) the Colonial layer of our unit on Friday, although we are still finding pieces of whiteware that are not related to the era. The temporal shift was made apparent by the change in soil color and texture. My goal is to be solidly in the Colonial era by next Tuesday afternoon, after our trip to Mount Vernon on Monday, and to have more diagnostic artifacts that don’t lower the layer’s integrity.



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