High Tech Archaeology

by Jonathan BrisendineField Archaeologist

So what do I mean by high tech archaeology? By this I am referring to the robotic arms we employ to dig units for us. Only kidding!! What I am referring to is the technology we use in order to make field notes presentablefor reports and allow us to map our findings. After digging a unit or finding a feature we make a detailed drawing on graph paper in the field. This drawing shows a plan view of the floor of a test unit as well as anything of note such as features, bricks, and stones that are visible in the unit (as seen below).

While detailed, this plan map drawing is only on graph paper and as such is not easily distributed or reproduced as a computer file. Using a program called AutoCAD, we scan the hand drawing and use the scan to recreate the drawing digitally. AutoCAD is for 2D and 3D computer aided design and drafting. Because it creates measured drawings and is compatible with other software, the advantages are endless. The many advantages include cleaning up lines, creating a style view ideal for reports, and making small details easier.


The true power of the program comes from such things as the ability to map small features in an entire site, combine drawings while retaining size in relation to one another, and it’s compatibility with ArcGIS. ArcGIS is a relational database and mapping system. It is a geographical information system that allows us to tie data to real world locations. Since ArcGIS is also compatible with our artifact database system, the combination is tremendous!

Overall using technology is a huge aspect in archaeology not only in this but many other facets of our daily work. Every day we learn new ways to make our results better either through new techniques or utilizing new technology.

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Gilmore Cabin – Montpelier Weekend (Part 3)

Last Saturday’s events at Montpelier ended with a special program and visitor.  The program took place at the Gilmore cabin.  First, Dr. Matthew Reeves, Director of Archaeology at Montpelier, spoke about the history of the cabin and the Gilmore family that built it.  The first Gilmore on the property was an emancipated slave. And, the first cabin was made from the remains of a Confederate officer’s hut.  The one now standing was the second cabin and was constructed in the 1870s.


Then there was a special guest visitor.  Joseph McGill, founder of the Slave Dwelling Project, spoke about his project and the importance of preserving structures to teach our history.  You can see the first part of his talk here or by clicking the photo below.  The weekend culminated with Mr. McGill and a small group of supporters spent the night in the cabin.  It was a powerful act that brought into perspective the role of archaeology in telling the story of us.  Great project Mr. McGill!!! We wish you much success!


Also, great job by James Madison’s Montpelier for the incredible weekend.  It was very impressive.  The excellent work done by Montpelier’s historians, preservationists, archaeologists, and entire staff cannot be overlooked.  The broad scope of your mission and commitment to it is a tribute to the best in preservation, research, and education.  Thank you!

@JMMontpelier, @slavedwelling, #digmontpelier

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Weekend Event!

Just a reminder that CART along with many other Fairfax County groups will be at the Annual Eagle Festival at Mason Neck State Park.  Hope to see you there.


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James Madison’s Montpelier and the Power of Community Archaeology (Part 2)


After the groundbreaking ceremony, attendees were led, in song, to Montpelier‘s South Yard Quarters excavation area.  The sound of the River Bank Choir really set the tone and highlighted the importance of the archaeology to the descendant community.  Though fragmentary, this video was an attempt to capture depth of emotion generated through the combination of the incredible voices, archaeological work, and people with such strong connections to the site.

For more information about the River Bank Choir, please contact Zann Nelson, at M16439@aol.com.

@JMMontpelier, #digmontpelier

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Community Archaeology at James Madison’s Montpelier


This weekend there were several fantastic events at James Madison’s Montpelier.  The first event was a ground breaking ceremony for the South Yard Slave Quarters.  The reconstructions are based on archaeology let by Dr. Matthew Reeves who conducted extensive investigations to inform the project.  Descendants of the slaves who lived there were consulted and even participated in the excavations.  Here, Margaret Jordan, Board member of the Montpelier Foundation and descendant of Paul Jennings (James Madison’s enslaved man servant), speaks about the archaeology and reconstructions.  This work shows the power of archaeology in understanding the places of slavery.  Montpelier does an incredible service telling not only the the story of a founding father, but also the stories of the slaves and slavery upon which the young was dependent.

@JMMontpelier, #digmonteplier

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CART Bi-Weekly Update

17 April 2015


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More Archaeology on the FCPA Blog!

Another article, one written by CART Field Director Megan Veness, has been posted on Our Stories and Perspectives, the official blog of the Fairfax County Park Authority.  The article discusses excavations of an eighteenth century structure that was likely depicted on Rochambeau’s map of Colchester.  Also discussed is CART’s 3-D, interactive Town of Colchester which can be linked to from the award-winning story map, A Cultural History Tour of Old Colchester Park and Preserve.  This story map contains lots of information about the work CART has done and about the people and cultures on this land across thousands of years. Have a look!

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