Update E: Soils and Rock Shelters, Oh My!

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Members of the Virginia Association of Professional Soil Scientists ready to tour the Jeffrey Preserve.
Members of the Virginia Association of Professional Soil Scientists ready to tour the Jeffrey Preserve.

TAC East Field Update

Cooler autumn air makes this time of year excellent for checking on the Conservancy’s Preserves, and we were grateful for beautiful weather on October 23rd when the Conservancy’s Eastern Office met over 30 soil scientists at its Jeffrey Village and Rock Shelter Archaeological Preserve in Northern Virginia for a guided tour.

The Jeffrey Harris Rock Shelter and Village Preserve is located along the Potomac River in Northern Virginia. Archaeological research at the site has produced evidence of human activity dating back to over 10,000 years, with the main occupation dating to the Late Woodland Period. (A.D. 900-1400). The site was first investigated by the Archaeological Society of Virginia in the 1960s and 70s. At the time much of the site was surface collected and excavations were undertaken on the rock shelter component of the site. This testing produced evidence of hearths and post molds, as well as soapstone vessels, ceramics, projectile points, and bone.

The Archaeological Conservancy was made aware of the site after additional testing was undertaken in 2006 by Thunderbird Archaeology, a Cultural Resources firm. This testing was done to delineate the site as the owners were pursuing development of the parcel. Graciously, the owners donated the land containing the site to the Archaeological Conservancy for permanent protection. Given that the rock shelter underwent limited excavations and that the village portion of the site was subject only to surface collection, there is significant potential for future research.

Jeffrey Village and Rock Shelter toward river
Location of the Jeffrey Village, looking towards the Potomac River.

One factor that makes the Jeffrey site particularly interesting is that it is likely part of a larger settlement or complex of sites in the area, as there is evidence of native occupation on the opposite side of the river and to the north. The people living in this complex could have controlled access to the resource-rich and heavily-traveled Potomac River, and the villages could have served as centers for ritual, trade, and provisioning.

The rock outcroppings and landscape of the property are visible in these images from winter.
The rock outcroppings and landscape of the property are visible in these images from winter.

Jeffrey Village and Rock Shelter rockoutcrop2

In addition to being the location of significant Native American sites the property is a unique geological landscape, which prompted the Virginia Association of Professional Soil Scientists (VAPSS) to contact the Conservancy’s Eastern Office and arrange for a visit to the site. This visit was part of their Annual Meeting themed “Triassic World-The Strange Soils and Geology of the Western Culpeper Basin of Loudoun County, Virginia.” In particular, the group was interested in the karst landscape in the area, which is a topography formed by the disintegration of soluble rocks like limestone. It is possible that the strange landscape at the Jeffrey Site was formed when the onslaught of water from melting glaciers flooded and stripped the land as it flowed toward the Potomac River, revealing the underlying karst landscape of rock outcrops, caves, and sinkholes.

Eastern Regional Director Andy Stout explains the excavations that took place in the Rock Shelter seen in the left of the photo.
Eastern Regional Director Andy Stout explains the excavations that took place in the Rock Shelter seen in the left of the photo.
Soil scientists explore the Jeffrey Rock Shelter.
Soil scientists explore the Jeffrey Rock Shelter.

This visit was an excellent opportunity to share our understanding of the archaeological history of the area, while learning more details about the formation of the landscape and its geology. Many thanks to the VAPPS members for coming out to the preserve and sharing your knowledge!

Kelley Berliner, Eastern Office Field Representative

Learn about another Geologically significant and Archaeologically Important Site we preserve in Virginia:Prince Edward Soapstone Quarry (Virginia)

Explore More about another amazing Rock Shelter across the country in our Western Region:Amazing Oregon Preserves

Learn more about Soil Science in the online exhibit ‘Dig It! The Secrets of Soils’ http://forces.si.edu/soils/ 

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