Historical Archaeology at George Washington’s Mount Vernon

Greetings from Virginia! Though the #SHA2016 Annual Meeting is some months away, we are assisting the social media committee in presenting the archaeological outlets that the Washington, DC metro area has to offer. Archaeology plays a major role towards interpreting George Washington’s Mount Vernon, and we are pleased to take this opportunity to briefly introduce our program and some of our recent projects.

George Washington called Mount Vernon home for 45 years, and though two wars and a Presidency often called him away from his estate, Mount Vernon was his life’s work. Washington transformed a modest farm house into the mansion we see today, significantly altered the grounds around his homelot to create a formalized ornamental landscape, and successfully farmed an 8,000 acre plantation. A period of estate decline following Washington’s death in 1799 sparked a nation-wide effort to preserve Mount Vernon, spearheaded by the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association (MVLA) who bought the mansion house and the surrounding 200 acres in 1858.

View form the Central Passage towards the Potomac. Photo Cred: Karen Price

While archaeological investigations at Mount Vernon have occurred since the 1930s, the majority of collections are from the professional archaeology program established in 1987 and a survey of the property conducted in 1984 and 1985. Excavations have yielded over a million artifacts providing a rich assemblage to study the intertwined lives of the plantation community: enslaved individuals, hired white workers, and Washington family members. Since the department’s inception we have excavated significant sites within Mount Vernon’s historic core including the south grove midden, a large concentration of trash associated with the Washington family from c. 1735–1765, and the House for Families cellar, the main slave dwelling used from c.1760—1793 located at Washington’s Mansion House Farm. Archaeological excavation and research has contributed to the re-discovery and reconstruction of George Washington’s whiskey distillery, a major operation which may have been the largest one of its kind in the United States by the close of the 18th century.

A visitor to the Estate. Photo Cred: Karen Price

Our archeology team is part of the Preservation Division of the larger Mount Vernon Department of Historic Preservation and Collections. Esther White directs our division, with archaeological fieldwork under the supervision of Deputy Director for Archaeology Eleanor Breen and Assistant Director for Archaeological Research Luke Pecoraro. Karen Price is our lab manager and photographer, and Leah Stricker serves as the field crew chief. Within the division is Deputy Director for Architectural History Thomas Reinhart, assisted by his staff of architectural conservator Steve Stuckey, and preservation technicians Elizabeth Rival and Caroline Spurry. Our staff also includes Eric Benson, who manages our GIS and viewshed preservation efforts. With our small staff we work together to fulfill the goals of our department to maintain, research, and manage the valuable historic resources at Mount Vernon.

The Mansion and Bowling Green after snowfall. Photo Cred: Karen Price

Current fieldwork will return us to the south grove this summer to fully investigate the transformation of the space form a work yard to a formal landscaped area, and we will continue an ongoing program of public archaeology in the estate’s slave cemetery. Our survey of the slave cemetery is an attempt to better understand the layout and number of individuals interred in a plot located just 200 feet south of the Washington family tomb. Our field and labwork keeps us busy year-round, and we regularly post updates via our FaceBook page—Historic Preservation at Mount Vernon—and invite you to follow us. An intensive evaluation of the finds from the south grove midden including high-quality artifact photographs was launched in web form recently and can be viewed here: http://www.mountvernonmidden.org/. Our website provides a great resource for these sites and programs in addition to the other activities going on at Mount Vernon: http://www.mountvernon.org/research-collections/archaeology/.For those of you who want to join us in the field this summer, check out our field school in historic preservation – http://www.mountvernon.org/research-collections/archaeology/volunteer-or-intern-with-the-archaeology-team/.

 

Famed 19th-century orator Edward Everett once remarked “A visit to the National Capital is but half made unless it includes the home and tomb of Washington.” When you make the trip to attend next year’s annual meeting, we hope that you will take some extra time for a visit to George Washington’s Mount Vernon. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Please join us for #SHA2016!

Did you enjoy #SHA2015? Please join us for #SHA2016!

The Organizing Committee for the #SHA2016 Conference on Historical and Underwater Archaeology invites you to Washington, D.C., the Nation’s Capital, January 6-9, 2016! The year 2016 marks the 100th anniversary of the creation of the National Park Service in 1916 and the 50th anniversary of the passage of the National Historical Preservation Act of 1966.  Because of the synchronicity of these events, and the conference location, #SHA2016 will focus on the past development and future prospects of Historical Archaeology.  The #SHA2016 theme, “A Call to Action: the Past and Future of Historical Archaeology”, encourages us to consider the impact of the NPS and NHPA on the practice of Historical Archaeology.

Washington, D.C. represents both the Federal City and the District of Columbia, providing an exciting, dynamic environment. Washington, D.C. is not only home to policy movers and shakers, but offers rich local and national histories, long preserved and made accessible by its numerous museums and institutions. In recent years, Washington, D.C. has undergone transformations that have highlighted the culturally diverse neighborhoods that make up the city, for instance, the new and flavorful restaurants, bars, and local markets. We hope to see you at #SHA2016, to reflect on how far Historical Archaeology has come, since the early 20th century!

SHA 2015: Countdown to Seattle!

It’s hard to believe that the conference is only a few days away!

We hope you are all as excited as we are for the 2015 conference in Seattle. Throughout the conference we will be posting session times, updates on sessions, event information, and other fun posts on the SHA Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/SocietyforHistoricalArchaeology) and the SHA twitter account (SHA_Org). We will be using the hashtag #SHA2015 so follow the conference on Facebook and twitter!

Currently Projected Weather

As we all know weather is very unpredictable especially in the city, but current projections for the week of the conference are upper 40sF / 7C to low 50sF / 12C for highs and low 40sF / 4C for lows and since the conference is in Seattle there is a chance of rain every day, especially Thursday and Friday.

Let’s hope the winter storm system moving across the eastern half of the US ends this weekend, making for a smooth week of travel for the conference!

Getting to the Conference Hotel from the airport reminders

Preferred Airport Transportation Provider — Shuttle Express is the SHA’s preferred airport transportation provider. They will provide SHA Conference attendees a discounted rate of $25 per person round trip between Sea Tac Airport and the Sheraton Seattle Hotel (Retail rate for this service is $36 per person round trip).

The easiest and cheapest way to get to the hotel from the airport is to take the Central Link Light Rail. The service runs from 5am to 1am Monday through Saturday and 6am to Midnight on Sundays. The trip from the airport to downtown (below Westlake Mall at 4th and Pine; 2 blocks away from the hotel) will take approximately 37 minutes and cost $2.75 each way. The trains run every 7.5 to 15 minutes depending upon what time of day. http://www.soundtransit.org/schedules/central-link-light-rail

To make your reservation, call Shuttle Express at 425-981-7000 and tell them you are with the Society for Historical Archaeology to receive the discount or you can book online at: http://shuttleexpress.hudsonltd.net/res?USERIDENTRY=SHA&LOGON=GO

If you prefer a taxi service the trip can cost $40-$50, with some hotel to the airport services for $40 and may take 25-30 minutes without traffic.

For travel around the city, the “Metro” public bus system operates throughout Seattle and King County, and is one of the most extensive and highly-praised in the nation. To find a route, maps, and fare information visit Metro online at www.metro.kingcounty.gov

Seattle Neighborhoods

In case you find yourself with some time on your hands and wish to strike out on your own beyond downtown area and explore one or more of the city’s other great neighborhoods (Seattle is definitely a city of neighborhoods, each with
their own unique personality) we wanted to share this guide to help you choose your adventure. Each of these communities is only a short commute from the conference hotel. http://www.seattle.gov/TOUR/neighborhoods.htm