• Name: Paul McLerran
  • Locations:Virginia, United States
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Friday, February 26, 2010

The Madison Legacy From the Ground Down

For those familiar with the historical foundations of the U.S. American experience, James Madison figures very large among the country's founders. In fact, among his peers in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, and according to most present day scholars, Madison is widely regarded as the "Father of the U.S. Constitution", reflecting the prominent role he played in it's inception. His famous wife, Dolley Madison, for her part, figured no less prominently on the early American stage. What is less known about the Madisons is the fact that they owned and operated one of America's greatest early plantations, matching those of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and George Mason. Known as Montpelier, the plantation, including the great mansion house, has been preserved for public touring and education and continues to improve what it has to offer to the visiting public through well-organized programs and research. Public participation factors as a major component of the Montpelier experience, and nothing could be more hands-on than the activities designed by the Montpelier Archaeology Department to let the public really get their hands dirty by excavating history in the plantation soil.


Beginning in the spring of 2011, the Montpelier Archaeology Department will be conducting investigations of the "South Yard", an area immediately to the south of the mansion and location of the domestic slave quarters. During the 2011 excavations, archaeology team members will be looking for the structural remains of the quarters, smokehouses, work yards, and the pathways that link them into the broader plantation community. The objective is to examine and interpret the cultural data to help piece together a picture of how the South Yard related to the plantation, and how it helps in developing a more complete understanding of slave life on the plantation and the plantation operations in general.



The Archaeology Department is currently seeking volunteers who would be interested in becoming an integral part of the research team. The season will be divided into nine 1-week programs or sessions (called expeditions), beginning March 27 and ending October 29. With a staff of 8 archaeologists, volunteers will enjoy significant personal interaction with the research team professionals, who will walk the volunteers step-by-step through the entire excavation process, including lab work. The experience includes lectures and tours of various archaeological sites on the property, including the mansion house. For a tax deductible fee of $650, participants will get all of the above for each 1-week expedition, including two group dinners and lodging at the Arlington House, a historic antebellum home located on the estate's historic grounds. All in all, this program ranks among the best for those interested in a practical, hands-on introduction to American historical archaeology.
More detailed information about the research, opportunity, and application procedure can be found on the website at www.montpelier.org/archaeologyprograms . For general information about James Madison, Dolley Madison, Montpelier, and the archaeology program, go to www.montpelier.org.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Digging Jamestown

For many years it was assumed by scholars that the original James Fort constructed by English colonists in 1607 at the site of Jamestown, Virginia (the first permanent English colony in America) had long been claimed for oblivion by the waters of the nearby James River; however, since 1994, the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities, in conjunction with the University of Virginia, has conducted excavations that have revealed thousands of artifacts and soil features clearly identified with the Fort. Thus far, these excavations have uncovered most of the palisade wall lines, bulwarks, cellars, and buildings that were all part of the original James Fort configuration. This is the "glamour dig" of American historical archaeology. It is meticulously executed, well managed, and extremely well documented and published. An ongoing account of the discoveries can be found by going to the website.

You can also apply to be part of this investigation. Dr. William Kelso of the University of Virginia leads a formal field school during the summer of 2010. The field school is designed to teach theory and methods of field work in American Historical Archaeology. Students will learn how to investigate the features related to James Fort and to identify and interpret 17th century European and Native American artifacts. In addition, upon successful completion of the program, students will receive six (6) graduate credits in Anthropology from the University of Virginia. You should know that this would involve a six-week commitment, provided your application is accepted......and if it isn't in the cards for you now, it might be worth keeping it in mind for the future. For more detailed information about the field school and the application requirements, go to www.apva.org/fldschl.html.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Uncovering the Mysteries of Khirbet Qeiyafa

Anyone following major archaeological discoveries in Israel will recall the pottery shard whereon was found five lines of what may be the oldest Hebrew script ever discovered. The find was uncovered at a hitherto unknown archaeological site known as Khirbet Qeiyafa. Despite its mystery, it is emerging as one of the most important archaeological excavations in Israel, revealing an ancient city that may tell a new story about life during the times of ancient Israel's best known kings. Add to this its massive fortifications and its strategic location between Jerusalem and ancient Israel's coastal plain on the main road from ancient Philistia, and we have a site that promises to add much to our understanding of Iron Age Judah. It is in this area that the famous battle between David and Goliath may have taken place.

During previous excavations, an early Iron Age II stratum was uncovered, including a massive casemate wall and two residential buildings. Radiometric dating places this stratum in the years 1,000 - 975 B.C., the time of King David. This makes it the only site in Judah that can be securely dated to the time of King David. The 2010 Season will continue to focus on the site's fortifications.

Students and volunteers will have the opportunity to participate and help make a difference in this effort to answer important questions about this significant location. If you are interested in joining the team this summer, go to qeiyafa.huji.ac.il to learn more about how to apply. You may also find additional information about the project at Foundation Stone's site at www.elahfortress.com.