The blog of the County Archaeological Research Team, part of the Archaeology and Collections Branch of the Fairfax County Park Authority, conducting ongoing archaeological investigations on Park land across Fairfax County.
This post is first in a series about the staff of the County Archaeology Research Team. It seems only fitting to begin with the archaeologist with the longest current tenure at the Park Authority, John Rutherford. John, or JR as he is known to some, has more than 35 years experience as an archaeologist in the eastern and southwestern United States. His research specialties include prehistoric stone tool replication and refitting of lithic artifact assemblages. His responsibilities have included the direction, design and implementation of large and small scale archaeological projects; field and laboratory supervision, research, artifact analysis, photography, cartography, report writing and public outreach. Below, John answered a few questions about himself and archaeology for the blog:
Educational Background: Undergraduate and some graduate work, all at Arizona State University.
What made you want to study archaeology and choose it as a career? My mom was a history teacher, and in the 1960s, collected funds from school children for the National Geographic Society to help with the removal and reconstruction of Abu Simbel prior to the construction of the Aswan Dam. They sent her literature which started my fascination with archaeology.
How long have you been with Fairfax County? 20 years in January!
What are some of your most favorite projects that you’ve worked on? Mount Air in Fairfax County. Other projects include Hickory Bluff, a Native American site in Dover Delaware, a number Native American sites found as a result of the Whitehurst Freeway and Barney Circle projects for DCDOT in Washington DC, the Kettle Creek Native American site in West Branch Susquehanna, PA, and the Las Canopas Hohokam Village site in Tempe, Arizona.
Who is your favorite archaeologist (real or fictional, living or dead) and why? Dennis Knepper, the most science based, knowledgeable and spiritually powerful pro I have ever met or heard about.
What’s your favorite historical site, city, national park etc. that you’ve visited? London, England
What do you think the work of archaeology adds to the world? The study of the past can, hopefully, help later people learn from earlier peoples mistakes.
When you’re not working, what do you enjoy doing? Playing harmonica, guitar, photography, and listening to vinyl records.
John has extensive experience in computerized mapping programs such as Surfer and GIS. Since joining the Fairfax County Park Authority twenty years ago he has been involved in building and maintaining GIS databases and maps of all cultural resources in the county. He has been the cultural resource representative on many park master plan teams, including large scale projects such as Laurel Hill and Sully Woodlands. He is a major author of the Cultural Resources Management Plan and its first year implementation plan. In addition, he developed and participated in a team to georeference all of the digital historic aerial photographs of the county, from 1937, 1943 and 1954 for use in GIS. He has participated in regional and national archaeological conferences, and been published in the GSA News Bulletin and Smithsonian websites and publications.
For just 75 days in the winter and spring of 1918, officers and enlisted men of Companies C, D, and F of the Second Battalion 304th Engineers Brigade 79th Division called the farmland surrounding Mt. Air home. Mrs. George Kernan, the widowed owner of the property allowed the soldiers to camp on her sprawling farm while they built a railroad spur from Accotink Station to Fort A.A. Humphreys- today’s Fort Belvoir, and it was for her the camp was given its nickname- “Camp Merry Widow.”
At Mt. Air the companies set up Sibley stoves, kitchens, stables, and tents as well as boardwalks over the seemingly bottomless mud. Tents were arranged in three “streets” one for each company headed by the tent of their company commander. There were a further two rows of tents for officers and headquarters.
Mt. Air’s location, about midway between Accotink Station and the Village of Accotink (which the soldiers playfully nicknamed “Acco-stink” and “Hinky-Dink”) was a pleasant one. It contained gently sloping land bordered on one side by a creek and the surrounded by fields. From the officer’s tents, the stately Mt. Air mansion could be viewed. While some soldiers called the camp “Camp Merry Widow” in honor of Mrs. Kernan’s kind loan of her property, others gave it the grittier moniker of “Camp Mud.”
The work of building the railroad spur commenced with the clearing of trees, the building of trestles, filling of steep ravines and grading steep slopes. It was soon clear that the heavy work of building the railroad would also require that the muddy, lightly traveled farm roads in the area be repaired and improved for supplies and men to be sent to and from Camp Humphrey.
By April, the railroad was nearing completion and the men rejoiced as spring overtook what had been an especially harsh winter. “They made a pretty sight, those tents, viewed from the top of the hill. In the sunlight, the six rows of white pyramids gleamed against the green of the fields and trees; and at night the lamps and candles shining through gave them a glow of cheer. With the returning sun, the mud commenced to dry. With the return of spring came everywhere- green! O, how green!” (Foltz, 1920)
The Engineer’s time at “Camp Merry Widow” was over on April 14, 1918 and they were sent back to their headquarters at Camp Meade in Maryland. After further training there, the 304th was sent to France in July 1918.
It was the job of the 304th to maintain roads, repair railways, and create safe passage for soldiers and all of their associated artillery, supplies, and equipment. They were expected to do this through barbed wire, over trenches, and into a no-mans land of woods that had been denuded and devastated by heavy shelling, and while under enemy fire.
They took part in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive- the largest and deadliest campaign in American history, resulting in 26,000 soldiers being killed in action and 120,000 total casualties. More than 14,000 of these soldiers lay buried at the American military cemetery in Romagne.
Though an armistice was agreed to in November of 1918, the 304th remained in France for another year repairing roads, bridges, and railroads between towns that had seen heavy shelling and repeated occupation throughout the war. Finally, in 1919, the 304th was sent home.
The railroad near Mt. Air has since been added to the Virginia Landmark’s Register in recognition of its service in providing support for military readiness during WWI and beyond. Today, in acknowledgement of Veteran’s Day, we recognize the service of the 304th Engineers 79th Division and all of those who have served.
In 2010, the Colchester Archaeological Research Team (CART) formed and began work conducting archaeological excavations at the Old Colchester Park and Preserve (OCPP). The approximately 140-acre park contains numerous sites spanning approximately 10,000 years of history. The CART began field work by investigating the Town of Colchester as well as a large Native American site. The picture above dates to that first week in October. The Colonial town of Colchester was situated on the Occoquan River where a ferry crossed. The ferry first began operating in 1684. In 1753, Colchester was established as a town. It enjoyed moderate prosperity as a port town with tobacco warehouses where tobacco was inspected for quality and awaited export to Britain.
Eventually, the archaeological research team expanded its scope, and now works throughout the Fairax park system investigating, protecting, and preserving this county’s rich history. The CART then became the County Archaeological Research Team.
Virginia archaeology lost Jack Hranicky on August 4, 2020. In addition to his military service, and his career with the Departments of State and Defense, Jack is best known for his passion: Paleo-Indian archaeology in the Mid-Atlantic and Eastern United States. Jack received his undergraduate degree from Virginia Commonwealth University and did graduate work at University of Oklahoma. He would later teach anthropology at Northern Virginia Community College and St. John’s College High School in Washington, DC.
Jack participated in nearly fifty excavations (Hranicky 2020) over forty years. He was principal investigator for six of the sites excavated, including the Tanner soapstone site in Brunswick County (VA). He published twenty-five books, mostly on the topics of the material culture, lithic artifacts, and prehistoric tool technology of the Paleo era (Amazon 2020). He also published more than two-hundred papers, ten of which are currently available on Research Gate (2020) and include the titles Bifaces as Knives, Toolmaking Technology, and Artifact Caches. He was also the editor and publisher of the original monthly magazine Popular Archaeology (Terping et al 1974).
During his career Jack served on the boards and committees of the Archeological Society of Virginia (ASV) and the Archaeological Society of Maryland (ASM). He served as President of the Eastern States Archaeological Federation (ESAF) from 2004 to 2006, was ESAF’s Bulletin editor from 1986 to 1993, and was the foundation’s Web Master until 2005 (ESAF 2017). He was also a member of the Council of Virginia Archaeologists (COVA) and the Society for American Archaeology (SAA) (Hranicky 2020). Jack also ran the Virginia Rock Art Survey (rockart.va.org 2020) and the former Ben C. McCary Virginia Fluted Point Survey (PIDBA 2020).
In case he ever found himself with nothing to do, Jack was an active member of the Alexandria Radio Club – handle K50TZ – and served as Club President in 2009 and 2010. He served as the Chairman of the club’s Field Day events for several years. He was also a Range Safety Officer at the Arlington-Fairfax Chapter of the Isaac Walton League in Centreville (W4HFH.ARC 2020).
Jack Hranicky was scheduled to speak at the 85th Annual Meeting of the SAA in Austin, Texas this past April. He was prepared to deliver a paper on the Reexamination of the Paleo Site in Virginia (SAA 2020), but due to the pandemic the meeting was cancelled. He was hospitalized for an intestinal infection the beginning of August and died at the age of 79. Jack is survived by his wife, Juliet. His knowledge of material culture and contributions will greatly be missed by the archaeology community.
Have you ever taken a look at the Fairfax Parks Instagram? If not, we recommend that you do. At times, you can even spot photos of artifacts from our archaeology collection. The three photos below were recently featured. For more information on each photo, go to https://www.instagram.com/fairfaxparks/ or click on one of the images.
Take a look at the two photographs. Can you spot some differences? One photograph depicts two projectile points, a biface fragment, prehistoric ceramic sherds, and quartz and quartzite flakes from making stone tools. The other photograph shows a brick fragment, a pearlware ceramic sherd, a bottle glass fragment, and probable pieces of corroded nails. The significant difference in these photographs is not how exciting the finds are, but instead, the time periods from which they were created. Would it surprise you to know that these artifacts came from the same site? While from vastly different time periods, these artifacts did come from the same location. When this occurs on a site, archaeologists call the site a multicomponent site. This shows how, despite differing cultural lifeways and changing environment, people across time found certain locations favorable for habitation.
As we continue to work from home due to the Covid-19 pandemic, we find that we miss our volunteers more each passing week. Knowing that we currently cannot accept the help they so willingly offer – and that it is likely to be a long while before we can – we have decided to continue sharing the stories of the wonderfully talented volunteers that lend their time and efforts to the Archaeology and Collections Branch (ACB). Our volunteer in the spotlight this month is Aidan Morse.
Aidan is an Archaeological Volunteer Assistant. He has been assisting the County Archaeological Research Team (CART) since June of 2015. He has assisted staff both in the field and in the lab and has donated more than 1,180 hours of his time in just the past two years. Aidan has often volunteered two to three days a week. His work recovering and processing thousands of archaeological artifacts will aid CART in the interpretation and preservation of Fairfax County’s history.
We asked Aidan what sparked his interest in archaeology. He stated that “reading novels about archaeology in high school” fueled his curiosity. “I like that I get to be outside and search for clues to the past.” When volunteering in the field, Aidan assisted the crew with excavation and screening for artifacts.
Aidan describes the tasks in the lab that he was most often asked to do as “washing, weighing, and rebagging artifacts.” He was also tasked with adding artifact weights to the catalog. We asked what his favorite part of volunteering was, and he replied that he “most enjoyed talking to the others in the lab.” We appreciate and miss these intellectual – and often entertaining – conversations, too! We found that we often learned as much from our knowledgeable volunteers as they did from us. He noted that he has “learned that, where I volunteer, most of the artifacts are nails.” He never fails to make us smile. (Thanks for weighing the nails, Aidan!)
We asked Aidan what makes volunteering with FCPA rewarding for him. He replied, “It gives me a sense of purpose greater than myself.” This is the selflessness we see in all our volunteers. We greatly appreciate their time, energy, and talents and admire their dedication to CART’s mission. Thank you, Aidan.
Aidan says he does not volunteer anywhere else, which makes us even more grateful that he chooses to spend his time with us. Since that cannot happen right now – and most likely not until next year – we were curious as to what he has done to keep himself busy. Like many of us stuck in our homes, he feels that he has “struggled and failed to do so.” We are sorry to hear this but want him to know that when it is finally time to return to the lab, we will have plenty of nails (and other artifacts) for him to weigh!
Although it may be quite some time before we see our volunteers and even longer until we have a volunteer slot available, if you are interested in being added to a wait list to apply to our volunteer program please contact us at: firstname.lastname@example.org. We will be happy to send you an invitation when orientations resume.