Digging without Shovels

by Jessica Filson Archaeological Collections Intern 2014

Metal House of Gourielli Lipstick Case Ca. 1940’s

Metal House of Gourielli Lipstick Case Ca. 1940’s found in the archaeological collections of the Cultural Resource Management and Protection Branch of Fairfax County, Virginia

I guess you could say I took a backwards route to archaeology.

Let me introduce myself first, my name is Jessica Filson and I am just finishing an internship with the Cultural Resource Management and Protection Branch.  I am in my last year of studies at New York University in the Museum Studies Master’s Program, and hope to stay in or near the DC area after graduation.

Originally I thought archaeology was the little brother of museums.  Or maybe the distant cousin.  Archaeology was a hit or miss deal–either you dug a hole on the perfect spot and found an enormous treasure of gold, or you didn’t.  What I learned over this semester working at the CRMP is that every hole is a hit.

Why, you ask?  Well, if there is something there in that hole, then you have a page to that chapter of history.  Or a word of that page.  Or maybe just one letter of one word.  But you’ve got a piece that will tell you something about the past.  If you dig a hole and there is nothing there, that nothingness is, in itself, a something.  Why isn’t there anything there?  That question could turn up many more pieces of the puzzle than an artifact would.

I’ve spent much of my time working with Fairfax’s archaeology collection inventory.  I open boxes, check the contents, count and record them, stabilize them if necessary, and update the collections database.  Each box tells me a story that begins even before I ever open the box.  Sometimes there is a layer of dust on the lid–then I know that I am the first person in a while that has opened the box.  Sometimes when I open it, I can tell that I might be the first person to view the contents since they were originally packed after they left the ground.  What will be inside?  Can I recognize any pieces?  What story will they tell me?

In museum work, the artifact stories are already revealed and typed on little tags for the visitors to read. At Fairfax County this semester, I got to help unearth—literally!–some of the stories behind the artifacts.

Pictured above is a House of Gourielli Lipstick Case Ca. 1940’s that is in the archaeological collections.

House of Gourielli started as a gentlemen’s skin care line by Helena Rubinstein in 1938 after her marriage to Prince Artchil Gourielli-Tchkonia of Georgia (Russia). Eventually it became a high end cosmetic line. The fabric and bow motif on this lipstick case was echoed on other House of Gourielli cosmetic products. Some woman, years ago, may have applied a fresh coat of lipstick, closed the lipstick case, and then accidentally missed her purse when she tried to put the case back.

The advertisement below depicts the lipstick case at the bottom near the writing “Princess Gourielli.”





About cartarchaeology

We are the County Archaeological Research Team, part of the Archaeology and Collections Branch, Resource Management Division, Fairfax County Park Authority. We are tasked with understanding and managing the cultural resources on Park land throughout Fairfax County.
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