We Get By With a Little Help From Our Friends

by Aimee Wells Staff Archaeologist/Collections Manager

Since 2010, the Friends of Fairfax County Archaeology and Cultural Resources (FoFA) has been working to support cultural resource activities throughout the county.  They show their support in many ways, including hosting symposia, providing funding to under-funded initiatives, volunteering at special events or in the field or lab, and even occasionally supplying sweet treats and coffee to fuel our work.

This year FoFA’s generosity has provided much needed supplies for our upcoming accreditation through the American Alliance of Museums (http://www.aam-us.org/).  Archival materials are often expensive, and with FoFA’s help, the AAM Team has been able to purchase supplies to upgrade old collections to current curation standards.

FoFA also recently staffed a tent at Pirate Fest in order to teach kids and their parents that the real treasure in Fairfax County has little to do with chests full of gold and silver, but instead is our shared history, whether it be under the ground or safely tucked away in a historic house museum, or perhaps even the house itself!  Through member’s generous donations of time and energy, along with a fun compass activity, over 200 visitors were able to learn a bit more about cultural resources in the county.

Planning is under way for a Fall symposium with an War of 1812 theme.  If past is prologue, the event will be sure to draw top-level scholars to share their research of the War, and will be a wonderful venue to learn more about our early post-colonial history.  Be sure to follow their website for more information- http://fofaweb.org.

The CRMPB is grateful for the support of our friends group, and looks forward to a long-lasting relationship with FoFA.  For more information, including how to join, see their website.

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Caring for Archaeological Collections

by Jennifer Torres* – Archaeological Collections Assistant 

Collections management is defined as the process to document and care for museum collections. Often, this includes documenting all objects, ensuring the preservation of such documentation for the future, housing objects in a proper storage environment, and conducting frequent inventories and environmental monitoring. For archaeological collections, maintaining the highest legal, ethical, and professional standards is necessary given the sometimes sensitive nature of such a collection. The Fairfax County Park Authority’s collection of archaeological objects has been undergoing many changes in the hopes of receiving accreditation by the American Alliance of Museums (AAM), an organization that develops and implements best practices for museums and similar institutions. The process of accreditation is a long-term project, but small changes can make for big improvements.

Conducting an inventory of a collection of objects not only documents the number and location of objects, but also identifies objects that require conservation or improved storage conditions and identifies objects with lacking or missing provenience that need to be further researched or documented. An inventory of the Fairfax County Park Authority's archaeological collection has begun in order to reconcile any problems with the storage and maintenance of the collection.

Collections Inventory

Conducting an inventory of a collection of objects not only documents the number and location of objects, but also identifies objects that require conservation or improved storage conditions and identifies objects with lacking or missing provenience that need to be further researched or documented. An inventory of the Fairfax County Park Authority’s archaeological collection has begun in order to reconcile any problems with the storage and maintenance of the collection.

Acid-free Archival Bag

Acid-free Archival Bag


Artifacts that have been not been stored in proper artifact bags have been upgraded in order to adhere to the best practices of storing archaeological collections. Relocating artifacts to a sturdy, acid-free artifact bag protects the artifacts from further damage or potential loss. All associated information is written on the outside of the bag.



Label on archival paper containing relevant provenience placed inside archival bag.

Label on archival paper containing relevant provenience placed inside archival bag.

Labels on archival paper containing relevant provenience have been placed within each artifact bag. These labels mitigate the loss of the associated provenience of each artifact and artifact bag, allowing for the preservation of such information.


*The author of this post, Jennifer Torres, was the CRMPB 2014 summer Archaeological Collections Intern and has recently joined our staff as an Archaeological Collections Assistant.
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Biweekly Update – 8 August 2014


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Not an Individual Project


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by Jonathan RossArchaeological Lab Intern

Archaeology is and always was a group activity. The Colchester Archaeological Research Team project is no exception. There are a number of people working on this project including volunteers, paid employees, and interns. Everyone’s work contributes to the whole of the project. Often that work is specialized in only one area. For example, we have someone that works on lithic artifacts almost exclusively, another on GIS, an architectural historian and so on. It is even structured so that there is one group of people who mostly do fieldwork and another that does the lab analysis. Even this blog has contributions from a variety of individuals on the project. But C.A.R.T is more than just another archaeological project, it is a good example of teamwork and bonding. The teamwork is even suggested by the project’s official name, The Colchester Archaeological Research Team. Whether it is the Lab Director or an Archaeological Lab Assistant, people are constantly helping each other. It is unsurprising considering the teamwork aspect of the project, that people here are friends, talk to one another during lunches, and celebrate each other’s birthdays. During my internship, there was even a going away event for one of the staff members, Chip Marshall. Chip has left to teach English in Japan. It is clear he will be missed. C.A.R.T has to be a group effort; no one could simply do it all themselves. Archaeology in general must be a group effort.

CART in the Field

CART in the Field


See Chip Marshall’s post on data management in archaeology.

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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. http://archeobotany.com  Accessed July 31, 2014


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Biweekly Update – 25 July 2014

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

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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

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