Politics, Parliament, and Anthropology: Canberra by Jennifer Ellis

Stepping off the train in Canberra was quite daunting after the experience of Sydney. Canberra is much smaller and serves as the political hub of Australia. Fortunately, because it is the nation’s capital, the public centers (museums, government buildings, archives) are incredible. My first day in Canberra consisted of riding a bicycle to the National Museum of Australia, located on the banks of Lake Burley Griffin.

View of Canberra from Telstra Tower

View of Canberra from Telstra Tower

This museum was much different from the Australian Museum in Sydney, as its focus was not on natural history but instead on the social history of Australia. In some ways, this provided more use for me as a cultural anthropologist exploring Aboriginal peoples. Most significant to my blossoming research interests were the exhibits that focused on the political presence and activity of different Aboriginal peoples.

Ranging from the Freedom Rides of the 1960s to the Mabo decision in 1992 (recognizing Native Title in Australia) to the present Aboriginal presence in Australia’s parliament, the National Museum of Australia works to accurately portray how poorly

Map of Aboriginal language groups throughout Australia

Map of Aboriginal language groups throughout Australia

Aboriginal nations have been treated since the European invasion in 1788 while additionally attempting to highlight the importance of Aboriginal peoples in Australia today. These race relationships have been difficult and almost always unfair for Aborigines, but the museum does not work to hide this, instead underscoring Aboriginal contributions to society.

Furthermore, by visiting parliament, I was able to see a temporary exhibit called “Prevailing Voices,” which focuses on Aboriginal political leaders. While there is certainly a place for more Aboriginal leadership

Prevailing Voices political exhibit at Parliament

Prevailing Voices political exhibit at Parliament

in parliament, this exhibit shows the important steps that have been made towards more inclusive Australia. It was evident to me, through these exhibits, that a continuing apologist narrative is being perpetuated. While I certainly fall on the side of equality of Aboriginal rights, which underscores how European invaders acrimoniously treated Aborigines for hundreds of years, often refusing to acknowledge Aboriginal existence, I cannot help but notice trends in the way these relationships and narratives are discussed in the public sphere.

My next and final stop was the National Archives. Unfortunately, because my research interests are so

National Archives of Australia

National Archives of Australia

broad, there was only so much I could search for at the archives. Nevertheless, an extremely helpful aid spent time conversing with me about possible research directions and additionally explained how the archives system works. The aid also suggested exploring Maralinga and related topics, due to my interest in contemporary Aboriginal Rights. Maralinga served as a nuclear testing site during and after World War II. However, the site was erroneously thought to be unoccupied, but was inhabited by the Pitjantjatjara people. These people consequently endured the caustic radiation poisoning and other adverse effects. This subject struck me as a potential jumping off point for furthering my exploration of white/Aboriginal relations in Australia.

As my research topic narrows, I will be able to utilize the information available (such as documents related to Maralinga) through the National Archives of Australia. Going forward, I want to use the information I was provided by the National Archives, the National Museum, and Parliament to hone my research question.

Native Title display poster at the National Museum of Australia

Native Title display poster at the National Museum of Australia

While my interests are still broad, this trip to Australia allowed me access to countless pieces of information that are simply not available in the States. I plan to continue working to sift through my journals written while down under to develop my research. It is evident that an intersection between politics, Aboriginal rights movements, and race relations between white Australians and Aboriginal Australians is a particularly ripe place to start.

I want to thank the Reves Center, the College of William & Mary, my advisor, and every single person and part of Australia for this preliminary research opportunity. In the coming months I plan to have a more clearly defined research question for my thesis. In the next year, I plan to be back in Australia furthering my research.

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Finding a Research Foundation in Sydney

By Jennifer Ellis

After spending weeks stressing about how I would spend my first summer as a graduate student, I ended up with several options that I thought were reasonable and would lead me in a fruitful direction. These plans included myriad internships for grassroots organizations in San Francisco, a volunteering opportunity with a non-governmental organization (NGO) in Ecuador, and spending time trying to hone in on a research topic for my upcoming thesis. I spoke with my advisor, who upon first hearing these options told me that any of them would be fine; however, she boldly instead encouraged me to begin trying to travel to Australia for the summer. After all, Australia is where I want to ultimately conduct research and I had yet to visit the country. This suggestion both terrified and excited me and served as the impetus for my maiden voyage down under.

Because of this conversation with my advisor, I applied for funding from several university sources at William & Mary and was fortunate enough to be selected for a Summer Research Grant from the Reves Center. This funding has directly contributed to the costs of traveling to and staying in Australia for two weeks this summer. My research circumstances are highly unique because I have yet to narrow my research focus for my thesis and later dissertation. That being said, I made it my goal to use this trip to Australia as a careful preliminary trip that would work as the foundation for my future research ideas.

Aboriginal Clubs, shields, boomerangs and other assorted tools on display

Aboriginal Clubs, shields, and boomerangs on display @ the Australian Museum










In planning this excursion, I wanted to make sure I visited the National Archives of Australia in the nation’s capital, Canberra. Additionally, I wanted to explore different museum exhibits that focus on Aboriginal communities. This meant I would be traveling to Sydney, in addition to Canberra. Furthermore, I planned to attend cultural events led by Aboriginal groups and peoples who work to strengthen awareness about indigenous rights in the country.

My first stop on the Australian journey was in Sydney. Between walking, at times aimlessly, through the many neighborhoods of Sydney, one of my initial significant academic stops was a guided walking tour of the central business district (CBD). Notably, the guide leading this tour made several mentions of European history of the city while always underscoring that this was only part of the story; tens of thousands of years of continuous history of the Aboriginal peoples inhabiting the land is frequently ignored or glossed over. This is significant to my research as “Aboriginal rights in Australia” is the guiding frame of my academic interests in the locale. Hearing white Australians consistently and pointedly explaining the Aboriginal ties to ownership of the land and historical narrative was a surprising yet enlightening aspect of my trip.

Me at Sydney Harbour excitedly posing in front of the Opera House

Me at Sydney Harbour excitedly posing in front of the Opera House

In a more general sense, the fact that tourism agencies and other popular places of interaction were openly contributing to an almost apologist narrative of white/non-white Australian relations suggests to me that understanding the mainstream efforts to include Aboriginal groups in the greater Australian cultural landscape is a possible route for my research explorations.

The subsequent stop on my trip in Sydney was the Australian Museum. This museum is the first public museum in Australia. Additionally, the museum serves as a natural history museum of sorts. My interest at the museum was the indigenous exhibit, which broadly discussed the presence of Aborigines in Australia but discussed in more detail the Gadigal people of the Eora nation from the Sydney basin. Through videos, photos, and the inclusion of Aboriginal artifacts (used with permission from the Eora nation) a non-white Australian perspective became clearer.


Totems from different Aboriginal peoples on display at the Australian Museum

Finally, on one of my final days in Sydney, I was able to meet a Yuin Aboriginal elder for a tour of Guriwal (now known as La Perouse). The elder explained his family’s origins in the region, connecting his people to the broader Aboriginal history of Australia. He had tools from his family as well as vast knowledge of the local ecology, which he shared with me. This experience was particularly helpful for developing my understanding of the non-white Australian perspective that has been overshadowed for centuries.

Yuin elder with boomerang and boondi club

Yuin elder with boomerang and boondi club

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Pupusas and Porcelana

If someone asked me seven years ago where I would be today, I would never have guessed El Salvador.


Pupusas obtained for $1 out of the back of a truck on the way to the museum

Early in my academic career, El Salvador was emerging from twelve years of civil war (1979-1992). It was a location far removed from my studies, that is until I had the immense pleasure of working with Dr. Kathryn Sampeck at Illinois State University. I received a masters degree in historical archaeology through the focused study of 19th century ceramics from western El Salvador. These materials were the result of fieldwork conducted by Dr. Sampeck in 1994 and 1995, when the government was building up the infrastructure of the country. I spent the subsequent five years delving deep into the history of the early modern era, the Republic Period of El Salvador. This was a time of rapid industrialization, commercialization, and politicization. I used the study of especially the British-imported ceramics as a way to access the past and provide an alternative and comparative line of evidence to historical sources. There were and still are almost no historical archaeologists, with the exception of Dr. Sampeck, Mtro. José Heriberto Erquicia, and Roberto Gallardo, studying the late colonial and early republic periods of Salvadoreño history.

I mentioned Roberto Gallardo. He is an impressive force of Salvadoran historical archaeology (terrestrial and maritime) at the Museo Nacional de Antropología Dr. David J. Guzmán.

National Anthropology Museum, San Salvador

National Anthropology Museum, San Salvador

When beginning my studies at the College of William and Mary, I did so on the proposal of  expanding my master’s thesis. With the help of Dr. Sampeck and Don Roberto, it took about two years to secure funding and focus my doctoral studies, but here I am, nose deep into piles of 19th century ceramics from the pacific Port of Acajutla. Each day I begin my morning with the energizing aroma of coffee from my hostel. I then trek down the street, past the alluring sizzle of pupusas from vendors (yes, sometimes I can’t resist and buy a bag for lunch). The museum staff is warm and welcoming and allows me, from 8am to 4pm, to use their space to methodically weight, measure, photograph, and record the approximately 6,000 artifacts. There are an additional two sites–one in Santa Tecla and one from the “White House” in San Salvador–I am eager to incorporate into future studies. This past Saturday Roberto and I spoke to a group of intellectuals about the role of maritime commerce in the mid-1800s and the preliminary results of this week’s analysis sponsored by the organization of Academia Salvadoreña de la Historia. I feel it is of utmost importance to keep the work I produce accessible to those desiring to learn about this period in history within and outside of El Salvador.

Roberto Gallardo speaking to history students about the maritime history of the ports of El Triumfo and Acajutla.

Roberto Gallardo speaking to history students about the maritime history of the ports of El Triumfo and Acajutla


I know you have been waiting for the big reveal, the tension is palpable. Here is a glimpse at the actual materials I have been working with and some of my initial observations. Although I am recording all the materials including glass, metal, bone, shell, and construction materials, my main objective is the focused analysis of the ceramics. There are three main categories of ceramics; 1) the imported refined wares (like porcelain, whiteware, and stoneware); 2) the less refined imported wares (redware and olive jar); 3) and the locally produced wares (which could also include ceramics that fall within the redware category, perhaps making this category one of the most intriguing). Based on the data from my master’s thesis, I have just this past week identified two kinds of decorated imported refined ceramics that appear in both assemblages (Puerto Vieja de Acajutla and Hacienda Ariete) providing tangible proof connecting the port to the inland more rural populations. There is a broad range of ceramic wares, vessels forms (like pitchers, plates, cups, and platters to name a few), and decorations that make this assemblage deeply informative. I look forward to two more weeks of discovering, recording, and analyzing what these materials may say about the historical development of El Salvador.

vessel 96 profile

Imported whiteware handpainted sponge-stamped cup

vessel 109 ext

Imported whiteware blue transferprint cup

vessel 137 ext

Imported whiteware handpainted cup


vessel 212 detail 2

Olive Jar


vessel 170 profile

Undecorated imported refined whiteware dish


vessel 160 profile detail

Possibly locally produced redware water pitcher

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It has been a whirlwind spring semester, with barely enough time between tasks to keep up with the political news of the day. Politics aside–for that is fodder for another post–this semester the anthrograd students have presented work at international conferences, published books and papers, as well as been awarded some fairly prestigious grants. We are a diverse group of people with divergent research interests, but can always come together over a pint at Dog Street Pub. Here we recognize the significant efforts of those below for their academic and professional accomplishments.

(From top left to right: Konrad Antczak, Hayden Bassett, Jenna Deitmeier, Ashley Atkins-Spivey, Andrew Beaupre, Emily Bagdasarian)

This group of six, count them, SIX students completed their dissertations and masters thesis this year. The geographic regions of study ranged from Jamaica, to Venezuela, to Canada, in addition to Virginia’s own plantation and indigenous locales. The underlying theoretical and methodological frameworks synthesized by these individuals were some of the most progressing and interesting to come out of William & Mary to date.

(from top left to right: Patrick Johnson, Jess Bittner, Summer Moore, and Mallory Moran)

Students haven’t just been busy graduating, they have also been recognized for their outstanding work. Patrick Johnson received the Provost Dissertation Fellowship to complete his studies on the 17th and 18th century Yamassee. Jess Bittner was able to score a prestigious Smithsonian internship for this upcoming summer of 2017. Summer Moore, with her quantitative analysis of historical archaeological assemblages on Hawaii, was awarded an NSF grant. Mallory Moran is all set to take off to Canada to explore canoe portage routes under the auspices of a Fulbright.

All-in-all a successful year. We look forward to a new crop of graduate students to again reinvigorate our quest for knowledge and world peace. Okay, well the latter may not be possible, but definitely we continue to seek understanding through knowledge.

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16th Annual Graduate Research Symposium

grs-cover-17The coffee is brewing and the name tags are affixed to colorful blazers, which means that it is once again time for the annual Graduate Research Symposium. The recently dissertated Jenna Carlson Deitmeier has led the charge, organizing this student-centered conference in which students from universities at home and abroad come together in thematic sessions to present recent research. We get paired with American Studies, History, Applied Science, and even Biology students (who have an unfair visual advantage because they get to share cute animal pictures throughout their presentations) to explore many facets and perspectives on a theme, like “The Information Exchange.”


Lauren Alston Bridges

It can honestly be very awkward and daunting to present current or past research to an audience of peers. I often stumble over words, get tongue-tied, in addition to wondering off in my internal thoughts as I mechanically read through the typed words of my presentation. “What are these words coming out of my mouth?…oh god…I think I see someone falling asleep…how late did I stay up writing this?…does any of this make sense?…are you judging me?”  What better way to practice oratory skills and try out new ways to present research than to present in front of the other people in varying stages of “figuring it out.” This style of symposium really takes the pressure off and allows an open and constructive exchange of ideas and feedback.

We have had a major showing by the Anthropology graduate students, with Megan Victor taking the People’s Choice Award in the 3-minute thesis competition, Summer Moore receiving an award for Interdisciplinary Excellence in Research, and Jenna Carlson Deitmeier and Olarenwaju Blessing Lasisi given honorable mentions for Excellence in the Humanities & Social Sciences.


Summer Moore

I look forward to next year and highly encourage any of you thinking about presenting, or even begrudgingly acknowledging that practice makes perfect (or at least better), sign up, come, and experience this uplifting experience of William & Mary’s Graduate Research Symposium.


Erin, Alexis, Jennifer, and Lasisi



Patrick Johnson

Patrick Johnson

Nick Belluzzo

Nick Belluzzo

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Caught in the Middle of Tech Wars, Grad Life

For the past 20 years and more, graduate students in archaeology have been caught in the middle of a low-tech-high-tech war. One of the persistent issues we encounter in the course of a curriculum is that we are taught what our professors were taught, and what their professors before them were taught, with little room to budge. This teaching methodology is increasingly detrimental to our abilities to find viable employment opportunities in the post-grad school world, which is exponentially obsessed with lightning advances in technology and those who know how to wield it’s power. I know it has been a struggle for myself, barely getting a B in an Intro to GIS course offered at school, and stumbling through YouTube tutorials for arcGIS, Surfer, and AutoCAD. I have managed to pick up a few tricks working for a large CRM company with a substantial and quite cheerful GIS  and programming team.

InstituteDigitalArch-Logo-35Luckily for our current generation in grad school, the Humanities and Arts & Sciences has recently become interested in this thing call “Digital Archaeology.” The NEH funded an Institute on Digital Archaeology through Michigan State University. Research, teaching, compliance, preservation, public engagement, and publication – all are being transformed by digital tools and technologies, yet there are very few opportunities for students, scholars, professional archaeologists, or closely related disciplines to build these vital digital skills. The Institute on Digital Archaeology Method & Practice addresses this by providing invited attendees the opportunity to receive hands-on instruction and experience in a wide variety of critical digital skills, tools, and technologies – especially those that fall outside the “traditional” suite of digital tools with which many archaeologists are already comfortable (CAD, GIS, databases, etc). What is so great about this is that you can follow these trainings and projects through YouTube and Twitter. I mean these guys are going to the Institute on Digital Archaeology, they are very active and accessible through social media.

static1.squarespace.com Second logical question is, okay that is great NEH, but how can I learn to incorporate new digital technologies in a productive and efficient way into my own field work or CRM work? Technology is supported to simplify our lives and make our work better right? This is where traditional curriculum takes a back seat to student and nonprofit groups who can bring in digital archaeology professionals and supplemental technical training that can be applied in the “real world.” One such resource is Professional Certifications for Scientists (PCS) that offers, as of right now, free courses on subjects like artifact identification or navigation. The Center for Digital Archaeology (CODA) is another site that offers trainings to archaeologists. codaOne of the CRM professionals making it easier for us anthrograds to gain the skills necessary to be competitive in this digital age is Chris Webster. He is the Chief Operating Officer at Codifi, Inc. which is a company devoted to paperless archaeology. This company provides all the support you need on the back-end so that you can just do archaeology, what you have been training for your whole life! Chris also runs his own CRM company DIGTECH, LLC and is the driving force behind the Archaeology Podcast Network (APN). It was first through the APN, specifically the show Archaeotech where I first began to learn about R Code, Python, and why it is important to have some semblance of photography skills. It was as easy as popping in some earbuds on my walk to campus to find out what current working archaeologists are using in the field, whether its drones, software, ipads, etc.

If you are now fired up, like I am, and are a full one hundred, where do you go from here? Well, practice makes perfect, so start practicing, start learning, and take advantage of all the free resources at our fingertips. Here is a techy-list of things that will help get you started in your new digital archaeology journey in the new year:

  1. Codifi Photoboard
  2. Compact Portable Power (also Biolite)
  3. ArchaeoTech Podcast
  4. SoilWeb (Free) USGS soil survey data app
  5. Meshlab (Free) 3-D object viewer
  6. Earthtones ($2.99) munsell soils app
  7. Theodolite ($5.99 on sale) augmented reality overlay app that displays real time GPS, compass, azimuth, bearing, range, and inclination right over the camera
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Have a Great Winter Break!

coffee break

See you when classes resume Wednesday, January 18, 2017!

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Pottery and Other Results at Garcon Point, Pensacola, Florida

This summer we finished fieldwork at Garcon Point, east of Pensacola, and uncovered not only remains of Yamasee Mission San Antonio de Punta Rasa (1749-1761) but also material from Pensacola’s Late Archaic (1000 BC or earlier, up to 3000 BC), Mississippian (ca 1100 AD-Spanish contact), British (1763-1781), Second Spanish (1781-1819), and American periods (1819-present).

The Late Archaic period marked the beginning of pottery, at about 3000 BC in Northeastern Florida and Southwestern Georgia and in Central and Western Florida. Most of the artifacts dating from this time period are ceramics with fibers such as Spanish moss added as tempering agents, and only rarely decorating with designs stamped from paddles. Exchange and other social interactions occurred during this time period from coastal Georgia to the Poverty Point area of Louisiana and perhaps farther west.
The Florida Museum of Natural History has cross-sections and other images of fiber-tempered and other sherds, and we found fiber-tempered sherds from Garcon Point:
During the Misssissippian period, Pensacola existed between the sites of Bottle Creek (interpreted at the University of South Alabama Archaeology Museum) in the Mobile River Delta and the Temple Mound of Fort Walton Beach. Ceramics wise, shell tempering dominates Mississippian ceramics, which often have incised designs. These incisions sometimes occur on the rims of vessels and other times in distinctive artistic motifs. Such designs also persisted into the colonial era. Spacing and depth of incisions provides cultural information; for example the vessel below appears similar to Fatherland Incised vessels which characterize the Natchez of Mississippi and the Bayou Goula site in Louisiana.

Left: Fatherland Incised                                                                      Right: Incised/Ticked Rim








In Florida, creamware—with a yellowish tinge to the glaze– offers the best evidence of a British occupation rather than an earlier one since creamware was first marketed in 1762 and the British took Florida as a result of the 1763 Treaty of Paris. Pearlware—with a blueish tinge to the glaze that appears closer to Chinese porcelain– was introduced to the world market by 1779, so can roughly date the Spanish re-occupation of Pensacola by Bernando de Galvez and official move in 1781. Spaniards made plantations on top of older British ones.

In addition to pottery, we found a wealth of glass, but only some the handmade olive green or amber colored glass typical of the colonial era. Nineteenth-century glass and shotgun shells demonstrate the later American period occupation at Garcon Point. All told, we excavated 146 shovel tests—50 x 50 centimeter units up to a meter in depth—and four 1 x 1 meter units specifically focused on areas with the most Yamasee artifacts and Spanish tin-enameled pottery majolicas—particularly Abo, Puebla, and Playa types. Unit excavation showed why we found mixed contexts rather that architectural features: most of the area was plowed, which mixed artifacts and left “scars” in the soil.
Left: Shovel-testing                                         Right: 1 x 1 meter unit shows scars from plowing
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Typical Yamasee pottery—termed either San Marcos or Altamaha– includes stamped designs and temper of sand, crushed stone, and/or crushed ceramic.
San Marcos Stamped sherd:20160907_142719Apalachee Indians at their seventeenth-century mission San Luis stamped pottery as well Such pottery occurred at the eighteenth-century Apalachee Mission San Joseph de Escambe in Molino as well as at the Yamasee Mission San Antonio de Punta Rasa in Garcon Point, so may reflect social connections with Apalachees. Yamasees also had a seventeenth-century mission near San Luis so the design may be tied more to the seventeenth-century Tallahassee area than to a particular ethnicity.

Pottery made by Creek Indians who lived on the Chattahoochee River by brushing or roughening the surface, creatively termed Chattahoochee Roughened or Brushed pottery, occurred almost as frequently as San Marcos pottery at Garcon Point.
Chattahoochee Roughened Pottery: 20160907_135522
Interestingly, this decoration is far more common at the mid-eighteenth century Apalachee Mission San Joseph de Escambe located just north of Pensacola, likely because many of those Apalachees lived among the Creek Indians before moving to the Pensacola area. Many Yamasees in the Pensacola area moved there from St. Augustine, but had connections to Apalachicolas and other Creek Indians. Such pottery could thus reflect time spent among Creeks, trade with those groups to the north, or both.

Eighteenth-century Native American potters across Georgia, Florida, and elsewhere in the Southeast also painted pottery red in this type termed Mission Red variety Kasita:
Native American potters in the eighteenth-century Pensacola area, and perhaps elsewhere, at times added both crushed shell and ceramic to the clay. The sherds below seem to combine to one vessel, which was decorated both with stamping more common in the eighteenth century and the ticking on the rim more common before European contact: 20160907_141056
In addition to not quite fitting into our present-day categories, pottery can indicate social contact such as trade or gift-giving, physical movements of entire communities, and tradition in terms of a common landscape or past. Analysis of this eighteenth-century Yamasee pottery assemblage—including comparing it to other pottery in the Pensacola area and other Yamasee pottery outside of Pensacola—will demonstrate continuity and change at a more quantitative level. For now it’s safe to say that Yamasees certainly kept their past traditions alive and well while also negotiating in new social and physical environments. Thank you to staff and students at the University of West Florida and College of William and Mary as well as local landowners for all of your generous support!

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Building The Brafferton Exhibit at the Muscarelle Museum

Open Tuesday-Friday 10-5, Saturday-Sunday Noon-4

Homecoming Reception

The Department of Anthropology would like to invite all of the friends of the department — current students, alums, future students — to our Homecoming Reception on Friday, October 14 from 2 – 4 pm.


So great to have you back!

Zable Stadium, Homecoming 1948

Zable Stadium, Homecoming 1948


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Richmond’s Urban Archaeology Corps in Summer 2016

IMG_5560_sm_cropWelcome back to the school  year, everyone! While many folks have been off in exotic climes, I’ve been excavating a mere ten blocks from my apartment in Richmond, at Chimborazo Park. I was lucky enough this summer to be the Project Archaeologist for Groundwork RVA, a non-profit that works with the National Park Service to do a variety of programs connecting students from local public high schools with conservation projects in national parks. This summer and last, Richmond was one of the cities selected for the Urban Archaeology Corps program, a project funded by the National Park Service to increase participation of youth and diverse communities in historical preservation and research. On this project, eight Richmond high school students were selected for an eight week paid summer internship during which they learn archaeological theory and methods, explore Richmond history, do archaeological fieldwork, and give back through several final projects. In addition to myself, the project was run by Groundwork RVA Green Team Manager Kendra Norrell and Groundwork RVA Executive Director Giles Harnsberger. We received a lot of support from the National Park Service throughout as well – Kristen Allen, Andrea Dekoter, and Ethan Bullard especially, from the Richmond National Battlefield Park, and Erik Kreusch, the Northeast Region Cultural Anthropologist/Archaeologist. I definitely learned a lot about NPS operations along the way!

IMG_5316_smChimborazo Park was chosen as our excavation location this year because it’s one of two urban National Park Service properties in Richmond (the other being the Maggie L. Walker National Historic Site). Chimborazo was established as a Civil War hospital in 1862, and became the largest hospital on either side of the war. From the departure of the Confederate Army until 1870, the city of Richmond was held under martial law. Chimborazo Hospital was one of the locations where ex-Confederate prisoners would decamp to get their ration and transportation tickets before departing to their hometowns. Recently freed men and women of color were required to have work passes and gainful employment, and freedmen found without were sent to Chimborazo in the early days after the war’s end. By 1866, Chimborazo was a freedman’s camp, providing living quarters for some of the many destitute freed men, women, and families of the city. A freedman’s school was established at the site, providing newly-freed children and young adults access to an education. So, the site has many associations with significant events in the city, particularly around the events of the Civil War and the beginning of Reconstruction, which has been the focus of many regional and national sesquicentennial anniversaries in recent years.

IMG_5259_smThe program includes two weeks of fieldwork experience, along with classroom instruction, trips to local historic sites, a camping excursion, a community service project, and several weeks where the UAC youth develop a final product to give back to the community and the park. When we started archaeological survey at the site, we didn’t have much of an idea what to expect because the only other archaeological investigations on the site were done in response to some slopes collapsing after a hurricane. So, we started the first week with shovel test pits (STPs) – 50cm x 50cm holes dug down to learn about the site’s stratigraphy and artifacts. From those STPs we found a considerable amount of oyster shell, coal, clinker, brick fragments, and in one, animal bone midden. We selected two of the most promising STPs to have 1m x 1m test units excavated adjacent to them, which gave us a larger window for assessing soil stratigraphy and looking for features. On July 30th (pictured below) we had a public day when folks came out to see the excavation and learn a bit about what we were finding!

Probably the most important find of the IMG_5444_smsummer was the dense deposit of cow and pig remains (we recovered 253 pieces of animal bone and teeth from a single strat in a 50 x 50cm STP). Because it was located under a clay fill layer deposited when the area was turned into a city part in 1876, and the diagnostic artifacts in it were predominantly from the late nineteenth century, this layer likely dates to around or just after the Civil War. Since we know that the refuse disposal was very tightly controlled during the Civil War hospital period, we most likely have a deposit of animal bone relating to the area’s use as a freedman’s camp! This was the exact period many of us were most interested in learning more about, so we’re looking forward to getting the artifacts cataloged and furthering those interpretations. Probably the most significant aspect of our fieldwork this summer is that it demonstrates that some areas of the park have archaeological integrity, despite a lot of skepticism about the damage that might have been caused over 140 years of park landscaping and maintenance.

Savage Smith Map_detail_arrowThe Savage Smith map, a drawing made by an orderly or patient at Chimborazo, provides us with a few clues about why such a large deposit of animal bone might have been found right along the edge of a city street. Based on a georeferenced version of this map, it’s possible that the midden was associated with a well along 32nd Street, dug to supply water for the hospital. Once dry or disused, the well may have been used to dump refuse during the site’s use as a freedmen’s camp. If the project continues next year at this location, getting a better sense of the archaeological integrity across the National Park-owned portion of the hospital will likely be a priority, as will returning to the site of this midden so that we can expand our investigation area and look for signs of that well!

exhibitThe last phase of Urban Archaeology Corps was the construction of a temporary exhibit by the youth working on the project. Given the absence of signage relating to the post-hospital use of the park, the participants developed a focus on understanding the students who learned to read and write at Chimborazo School, following their lives through censuses, marriage licenses, and death records. They also investigated the conditions of the camp, the racial tensions that developed between the camp residents and the surrounding white neighborhood, and the type of education provided by the school. This information was all combined into an exhibit that included an outline of one of the former hospital wards, denoted by interpretive signs that filled in some of these missing stories. On Friday August 19th, this work was unveiled at a presentation designed and planned by the high school participants. It was a great success! An entire Montessori class from down the street showed up (they especially loved the screening of our video documentary and playing trivia bingo at the end). 2016-08-19 10.26.43-2And the audience was a great mix of folks from the neighborhood, National Park Service, parents of the participants, W&M archaeologists (thanks Derek Miller and Michelle Lelievre!) and city residents interested and curious about the archaeology. We even got a visit from Buddy the Bison, the NPS mascot practicing for his debut at the Saturday Flying Squirrels game! Of course I took a shameless selfie. That temporary exhibit is up at the park now, so check it out if you get the chance to visit Richmond this weekend!

To meet the young people at the heart of this summer’s program, check out the documentary video shot by NPS Museum Curator and secret film production expert Ethan Bullard:




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