by Elizabeth Paynter – CART Lab Director
Archaeology is the study of past human activity through the analysis of material culture. What exactly does “past” indicate? Typically, physical evidence of the human past that is 50 + to 75 + years can be deemed archaeological. Having said that, archaeologists’ interest tend to wane on anything less than 100 years old. Since everything will eventually become archaeological, active interest or not, having a handle on more recent history allows archaeologists to fully investigate an area.
As we have done in the previous blog posts, “A Virginia Time – Part I” and “Part II”, this timeline follows the periods set forth by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources. Being over the 100 year mark, both the Civil War and Reconstruction garner a lot of interest while the World Wars and newer are just beginning to grab attention.
Civil War 1861 – 1865 The Civil War is an often discussed period in U.S. history. It is difficult to miss evidence of the Civil War in Virginia since much of the war was fought on Virginia soil. Civil War battlefields, encampments, fortifications, earthworks, graffiti, cemeteries, roads and trails dot Virginia’s landscape. Fairfax County has many of these sites from battlefields to recently discovered corduroy roads which were constructed with sand covered logs placed perpendicular to the direction of the road. There are also many distinctive and common artifacts of the war including items such as military buttons and the Minié Ball, a muzzle loaded rifle bullet. Many sites have been altered or destroyed by those who seek to collect such individual items but do not know how to test, excavate or record the actual site.
Reconstruction and Growth 1866 – 1916 The Civil War left Virginia and much of the south financially devastated with a need to rebuild. During the Reconstruction, “cities struggled to emerge from the ruins of the Confederacy. The late nineteenth century in particular became a time of enormous growth as Virginians found new wealth in” resources such as coal, wood and tobacco. Freedmen only benefited from Reconstruction briefly before facing institutionalized racism. African Americans established many independent institutions. Unfortunately, the lack of equal access resulted in a lower degree of economic and political advancement. 
World War I to World War II 1917 – 1945 Many archaeologists are starting to pay attention to WWI, the great depression and WWII as it effects the material remains within the United States. During this time, much of country moved to urban and industrialized centers. Machined bottles, cars, and other factory items increased in popularity. The public work programs of the depression “improved highways and constructed public building, bridges and parks though-out the state.” 
The New Dominion 1946 to Present While the New Dominion can be archaeologically significant, few are cataloging the material from this period yet; however, some sites are being noticed and an attempt to record as well as preserve them is being made. In Fairfax, the growth of Washington DC has affected the county with plenty of housing, services, government contracted businesses and military resources and facilities. Some Nike sites of the Cold War are among the sites being noted for their historical import. Nike, named after the Greek Goddess of Victory, was the first surface-to-air missile defensive system developed. 
 Virginia Department of Historic Resources 2011 Guidelines for Conducting Historic Resources Survey In Virginia. The Virginia Department of Historic Resources. Richmond, Virginia.
 Beauchamp, Tanya Edwards 2006 Prize-Winning Heifer Ramey Meets Dr. Strangelove: The Impact of the Cold War on a Virginia Farming Community – Part I. Chronicler. Volume 26, Issue 6. Great Falls Historical Society. Great Falls, Virginia.
Other Links: DHR – New Dominion period architecture: http://www.dhr.virginia.gov/newdominion/newdomstylgdeapril2014version.pdf