Macro-botonicals at Old Colchester Park & Preserve

By Julianne PowersLab Archaeologist & CART Archeobotony

When archaeologists dig, they often take soil and floatation sample in addition to looking for artifacts. These are usually close to a gallon in volume (think the size of a gallon of milk). Samples are taken when we find a feature, like a cellar, well or trash pit. We take some samples that are pushed through window screen mesh with water. Some samples go through a floatation machine. The machine is full of moving water that causes rocks and heavy artifacts to sink to the bottom while organic matter (such as roots, sticks, and seeds) floats to the top. This lighter matter floats over the edge of a wall like a waterfall, then is caught by finely woven cloth. From there, we let it dry and then look through it with it with tweezers to pull out botanical remains such as seeds and charcoal.

CART Archaeologists using the Mt. Vernon floatation machine

Kayla & Jonathan use the flotation machine at George Washington’s Mount Vernon. We are grateful to Mount Vernon for letting us borrow it for the past couple of years!

Finding seeds can tell us what people were eating at the time the feature was filled. For example, if we find lots of cherry pits in a kitchen midden, the people who lived there were probably eating cherries and throwing the pits into the trash pile. Seeds can also tell us what trees or plants were growing nearby. When we find burned seeds, we might assume that these were cooked in some way or near a fire. If we find burned pumpkin seeds, the people of the time may have roasted them to eat as a snack when a few fell into the fire.

Most of our light fraction floatation is sent to archeobotonist Justine McKinght who specializes “in the analysis of plant macro-remains from Prehistoric and Historic archaeological sites across the Eastern Woodlands of North America.” [1] From the samples we send, Justine McKnight can tell us what trees and plants might have been growing in Colchester!

Justine also studies the charcoal we find, she can see parts of the tree like pores and rings that help her identify what species the tree is. At one of our sites, she found charcoal from white oaks, red oaks, hickory, yellow poplar, American chestnut, maple, black locust and elm. Using this data, we know what types of trees were shading the residents of that site and what trees they might have been using to build their homes.


[1] McKnight, Justine. Justine Woodard McKnight Archeobotonical Consultant.  Accessed July 31, 2014


Posted in Archaeology | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Biweekly Update – 25 July 2014

The biweekly update for the Colchester Archaeological Research Team in Fairfax, Virginia 25 July © CRMPB FCPA 201425July2014

Posted in Archaeology, Biweekly Update, CART | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Tobacco Production & the Town of Colchester

by Kayla Marciniszyn - Field Archaeologist

Colchester & Tobacco; Picture of an 18th Century Tobacco Advertisement

18th Century Tobacco Advertisement
Woodcut 61 mm x 74 mm
British Museum, London

Tobacco played an important role in the development of Colonial Virginia. The tobacco plant requires very rich, sandy soils and exhausts the soil very quickly; an abundance of land and labor are required for tobacco production. It was this need for land that attracted many to the New World. Land was plentiful so in the first few decades of colonial America it was relatively easy for gentleman to secure a few plots of land, purchase indentured or enslaved laborers and establish his own tobacco farm and in turn, his fortune. As the profits from tobacco soared through the seventeenth century, its production expanded across the Virginia coastal plain and, by the eighteenth century, into the piedmont.

Initially, tobacco farmers could sell their product anywhere, no matter the length of distance from their farm. There was always the assumption, on both ends of transaction, that the tobacco a merchant was selling was of good quality and the proper quantity. It wasn’t until 1730 that Virginia enacted a comprehensive inspection law which required each planter to have the quality of his tobacco inspected before selling. As a result of this policy, tobacco warehouse construction soared along Virginia port towns. It was at these warehouses that merchants were required to bring their tobacco for inspection, and graded according to quality, packaged up in hogsheads for shipment and sale.

Kayla excavating Feature 92 at OCPP in NoVA which included a number of broken tobacco pipe stems & bowls.

Kayla digging Feature 92 which included a number of broken tobacco pipe stems and bowls.

There is documented evidence that Colchester had at least two tobacco warehouses, both of which were situated on town plats along the Occoquan River. Why was it necessary for these towns to construct these warehouses so close to the river? The answer is simple. It provided a centralized inspection and made transportation from the site of inspection to the shipping vessel much easier (they were really heavy barrels!)

A Few Pipe Stems Found at Old Colchester Park & Preserve

A Few Pipe Stems Found at Old Colchester Park & Preserve

The first tobacco warehouse in Colchester town was owned by Benjamin Grayson. Another warehouse was built several years later in response to the growing colonial tobacco industry. It’s safe to assume the town of Colchester depended on the sale and exportation of tobacco to Great Britain for distribution throughout the world.

The park does not currently own the lots on which the tobacco warehouses were located but there is evidence in our collections of the significance of tobacco in colonial Colchester.

See also Cool Finds from 44FX0704

Pipe Bowl with "TD" stamped on it

Pipe Bowl with “TD” stamped on it


Other things to check out: On the Water – Living in the Atlantic World, 1450 – 1800: New Tastes, New Trades  from the National Museum of American History

Posted in CART, CART Historian, Colchester, Historical Archaeology | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Wanna Help?

Our interns will become contributing authors on the CART blog soon. Hopefully, we will also begin to incorporate volunteers who are interested in writing. Volunteers, interns and work study students are an invaluable part of our branch. The Cultural Resources Management & Protection Branch often provides opportunities within archaeological field and lab, GIS, office and computer skills as well as archaeological collections. Last month, between vacations and busy summer activities, people donated well over 200 hours of their time.

Volunteers, Interns and Work Study Students

Volunteers, Interns and Work Study Students

If you wish to volunteer, schedule an orientation by sending us an email. As always, volunteers are welcome to join us most Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.

For an internship with the Fairfax County Park Authority, visit the FCPA county website for internship opportunities and apply online. To intern with our branch, choose one of the archaeological options or cultural resource management. Send us an email as well so we can look for your application.

Work study programs are done through individual programs. We work with a school or program in order to fulfill the parameters of the work study.

We hope to see you soon!

Related:  Day of Archaeology – Interns and Work Study from CART

Posted in CART, Interns, Volunteers | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Computers & Data Management in Archaeology

by Gregory “Chip” Marshall – Database Programming & Archaeological Lab Assistant

Data management is an important and potentially tedious task that computers are making easier including within archaeology and heritage resources. Previously, most data management was done in a physical format and stored and organized in filing cabinets. Now, computers are making these things much easier. Data can be broken down into three categories; they are stored, organized, and displayed/used.

With data being digitized and stored on servers, it is less susceptible to destruction or damage from environmental causes, such as fire, flood, or mold. Data can also easily be duplicated, reorganized, or manipulated. A prime example for data manipulation is querying. In a database, an inquiry is “run” in order to retrieve information. A query can isolate a subset of desired data from ‘all’ of the data. For example, perhaps someone wants to know where and at what stratigraphic level all the tableware that has transfer printed decoration was found? – No problem!

Transfer Printed Table Wares from the Type Collection for OCPP in NoVA

Transfer Printed Table Wares from the Type Collection at JLC

This ease of data organization also allows programs to interact with each other to make using and displaying data easier, faster, and more powerful. Now that all the data on the transfer print tableware is isolated, Geographic Information Systems (GIS) programs can use that data to accurately plot the locations on a map—creating a visual aid for analytical purposes and to more easily disseminate results.

A Simple Query in Access 2010 isolating Transfer Printed Refined Earthenwares for OCPP

A Simple Query in Access 2010 isolating Transfer Printed Refined Earthenwares

While isolating the transfer print, it is also possible to run another query that calculates the total for each test unit. GIS can use the information to show where concentrations of that decoration type are. Based on the period of use for the decorated ceramic found within a site, yet a further query may provide the time period for a unit or an entire site.

Computer software will continue to be developed that will make managing data easier and even more impactful.


For more information on Geographical Information Systems at the Old Colchester Park & Preserve, read the Cartography of Colchester

Posted in Archaeology, GIS | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Biweekly Update – 11 July 2014


Image | Posted on by | Tagged | Leave a comment

Day of Archaeology

Day of Archaeology

Find out what archaeologists really do!

Today is the Day of Archaeology when those involved in archaeology take to the Day of Archaeology website to explain their day as it goes along. CART staff, volunteers and interns are participating once again. You can see our posts at



Posted in Archaeology | Tagged , | Leave a comment