Popular culture has a way of romanticizing archaeology. Just think about it. In the movies—misty, remote, and exotic sites are explored by archaeologists who are rugged, yet inexplicably well-manicured. They extract glittering artifacts from the ground in adrenaline-fueled moments. It’s exciting stuff!
In reality, the day-to-day work of archaeology isn’t nearly as glamorous. Still—there are few professions that are more interesting or rewarding than ours. That’s why this summer, Colonial Williamsburg plans to share these adventures with visiting kids.
DIG! Kids, Dirt & Discovery opens Monday, June 8th. This brand new hands-on archaeological site invites young guests to try digging for themselves to see how we use the evidence—from artifacts and documents to dirt colors—to piece together a picture of colonial life, and to help us understand work done by archaeologists in the past.
Finding the right site for this project was the hardest step. We needed a site with some unanswered questions, but also one where we could teach enthusiastic novices without damaging the archaeological record—that delicate relationship between intact soil layers (stratigraphy) and artifacts. It is one of the contradictions of archaeology you may not have ever considered or realized. When we dig a site, no matter how carefully—we destroy that relationship. That’s why excavation is a decision we never take lightly.
In the end, to engage our younger audience, we settled on the site of the Archibald Blair Storehouse—just west of the Prentis Store. If that name doesn’t ring a bell, that’s because today, there’s nothing there! There was, however, a storehouse built in that same location in 1717. And we know it was operated by a Scotsman, Archibald Blair, whose brother James was president of the College of William & Mary.
The location has actually been dug up before, at least twice. During the summer of 1930, a small crew was dispatched from the Governor’s Palace excavation to a site “east of the Paradise House,” which we have reason to believe was the Archibald Blair Storehouse. We know little about what they discovered or what they kept. We do know that 16 years later, in 1946, another group of archaeologists fully excavated the storehouse’s 32-foot by 30-foot brick cellar. This time they left us a beautifully rendered brick-by-brick drawing and a few photographs to record what was there. They show standing brick walls about two feet high, and a brick floor, both of which were left in place. In 1969, another group of archaeologists poked around the front wall, but left the storehouse cellar alone.
So what’s left to find? We know we will uncover the early 18th-century storehouse foundation. We’ve laid out the site to be certain of that. Experience (and a few test holes) tell us we will also find 18th, 19th, and early 20th-century artifacts. That’s because until 1960, digging in the Historic Area was aimed at finding foundations, and little else. Artifacts that didn’t aid in the process of building reconstruction were generally “tossed back” into the hole. And this is where you come in!
This summer’s dig will help us answer two major questions: 1.) What can we learn about colonial life from the artifacts we find? 2.) What did earlier archaeologists think was important to know about colonial life? The second question will be answered by which artifacts we discover they threw back during previous digs.
DIG! Kids, Dirt & Discovery will be offered five times each weekday, beginning June 8th. The program has no official age restrictions, but we recommend it for ages 5-16. As parents, you’ll be the best judges of suitability. Within each 50-minute session, your kids will have an opportunity to excavate, to screen what they find, and to examine their artifacts in an on-site lab.
Want to know how archaeology contributes to what we know about 18th-century food, the environment, or how archaeology plays a role in the Historic Trades? You’ll want to come back between 3:30 and 4:30 each weekday to find out! Much of what archaeologists do—and a good deal of the exciting part—has nothing to do with digging. That’s why during that one hour Open House, you’ll meet special guests and enjoy hands-on activities.
Finally, we’re asking for you to help us keep an online catalog of everything we unearth! From the time the site opens until September 7 (Labor Day), share pictures and stories of your archeological treasures and discoveries through social media. Just upload your pictures to Instagram or Twitter with #IdigCWhistory. Not only will you help to spread the word about all the fun—your picture automatically enters you in a drawing for a stellar Colonial Williamsburg prize package that’s fun for the whole family! Everything you need to know is here.
You’ll win a book about archaeology (age specific), a Colonial Williamsburg archaeology t-shirt, a dozen gingerbread cookies from the Raleigh Tavern Bakery, and up to six tickets for your whole family to attend a Tavern Ghost Walk. And move over Indiana Jones! Your child will become Colonial Williamsburg’s archaeological superstar—with his or her picture displayed at the Visitor Center along with all the artifacts we uncover during this summer’s excavation.
Guest Blogger: Meredith Poole
Meredith has been with Colonial Williamsburg for almost 30 years and says she knew she wanted to be an archaeologist when she was just 11 years old! Meredith received her MA in Anthropology from the College of William & Mary and her BA from Hamilton College. She enthusiastically led the charge in organizing and implementing this newest educational endeavor for the Foundation. Meredith is a busy woman! In addition to her work with archaeology, she also manages the Reconstruction Blog which covers Historic Area reconstruction projects like the Market House as well as our archaeology blog, ArchaeoLogic.
If you see her out in the Historic Area, be sure to say hello!