by Bernard K. Means, VCU/Virtual Curation Laboratory
The morning of July 17, 2013 started out pleasantly enough, but then the sun made its appearance and a sweltering day was to begin. On this day, the VCU field school students were traveling to the nation’s capital.
The trip up with the students was fun, and it was Vivian’s first time on a train.
We were fortunate to run into Paul Nasca, who was on his way to work via the VRE.
Paul works now at the Alexandria Archaeology Museum although he had previously worked for some time at Ferry Farm, leading the excavations adjacent to where the VCU field school is currently working. As our appointment with the DC archaeology office was not until the early afternoon, we decided to spend the morning at the National Zoo.
Walking up to the zoo, around its landscape, and back to the Metro certainly got our energy up for an afternoon of GIS!
After the Zoo excursion, our intrepid band of sweaty explorers made our way via Metro to the offices of Dr. Ruth Trocolli. Ruth wears many hats for the DC Government, and is officially an archaeologist for the District of Columbia Historic Preservation Office. As she told us, and as is described on her DC government web entry: “Her duties include review of federal and local projects, maintaining the archaeological site files, and public outreach.”
Ruth talked to the VCU field school students about archaeology in Washington, D.C., particularly the efforts with her staff, notably Charde’ Reid and Tim Denee, of developing a comprehensive GIS (Geographic Information Systems) for archaeological and other cultural resources within the Washington, D.C. boundaries. This GIS involves not only looking at historic maps, and the results of archaeological and historic architectural investigations, but also trying to determine the location of former stream channels–many of which are now buried out of sight below the streets of D.C.
This is particularly useful for trying to determine the potential locations of American Indian sites that were spread across the now heavily modified landscape of D.C. before the arrival of Europeans. Ruth also discussed here work with geoarchaeologists to determine the possible location of deeply buried landscapes associated with ancient Paleoindians.
Following our time with Ruth, we journeyed via Metro to the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. Our primary goal here was to examine the spectacular “Written in Bone” exhibit, which focuses on early European settlers in the Chesapeake region and what their skeletal remains can tell us–although there are also exhibits on forensic archaeology and even the mounted skeleton of a physical anthropologist, Grover Krantz, and his dog.
Although I’ve been to the “Written in Bone” exhibit several times, a nice, very recent addition is an exhibit case devoted to “Jane” whose skeletal remains were found by the Jamestown Rediscovery team. These remains show traces of markings attributed to cannibalism, something that had only previously been known from historic documents. The exhibit includes a reconstruction of “Jane” as well as a 3D printed replica of her skull.
As many of the VCU students, and myself for that matter, have an interest in human evolution, we also took time to go through the Smithsonian’s Hall of Human Origins. This is another great, interactive exhibit, and one that I highly recommend to any visitor to the nation’s capital.