by Bernard K. Means, VCU/Virtual Curation Laboratory
On Monday, July 22, I took the intrepid band of VCU field school students down I95, around I295, and across I64 to Colonial Williamsburg. For those of you who do not know, the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation (CWF) has as its mission:
to be a center for history and citizenship, encouraging national and international audiences to learn from the past through the preservation, restoration, and presentation of 18th-century Williamsburg and the study, interpretation, and teaching of America’s founding democratic principles (www.history.org/foundation).
We began our morning at the Market Square excavations, directed by CWF archaeologists Meredith Poole and Andrew Edwards. Meredith was unable to meet with us that day, but Andrew gave us a great overview of these excavations.
The goal of these excavations is to find the original Market Square building’s location, which is shown on a 1782 map. The current excavations are challenged by the repeated reuse of this particular area, including a church that stood into the 20th century before being removed. Previous excavations have taken place in this area, including work by the CWF architectural department in 1948 to dig a series of trenches at a 45 degree angle to the 18th century city’s plan. Excavated under the direction of Jimmy Knight, and known today as “Jimmy trenches,” these trenches were designed to locate buildings but were not excavated according to modern archaeological standards. These trenches encountered archaeological deposits, but artifacts were not necessarily saved–complicating modern interpretations.
After we left this site, we went over to where CWF is running a field school through the College of William and Mary, the Bray School site: “a school for enslaved children operating in the 1760s.” There we were met by CWF intern Crystal Castleberry, a recent VCU graduate who was a VCU field school student at Ferry Farm in 2012. It was great to see Crystal in this supervisory role and she gave us a great overview of their current excavations.
The College of William and Mary field school is investigating outbuildings, and the activities around them, associated with the Bray School.
Crystal joined us for lunch at the Cheese Shop, where we met with Emily Williams, CWF’s Conservator of Archaeological Materials.
Emily gave us a great overview of archaeological conservation in the afternoon, including its history across the world and past and current archaeological conservation efforts at CWF. I learned, for example, that early 20th century conservation efforts at the site of Tutankhamun’s tomb have ensured that 99.9 percent of the material excavated in the 1920s survives to this day! I stress to my students the importance of archaeological conservation, something that I’ve learned over the years through frequent conversations and collaborations with Emily. Emily told the students that archaeological conservation is not simply preserving past archaeological objects and putting them away, never to be seen again, but is integral to learning about the objects–their provenance, manufacture, and use–and making sure that the objects are available for all to study.
In fact, when we were developing our protocols for the Virtual Curation Laboratory, we met with Emily Williams in her laboratory to discuss how to implement our 3D artifact scanning project in a way sensitive to the materials we were digitally documenting.
A number of the students are interested in careers in archaeological conservation, and Emily was able to provide them with the information they need if they wish to pursue further studies. I could not think of a better place to take our last official field trip for the VCU field school.