Colonial Williamsburg Uncovered

Decades of archaeology have revealed many details about Virginia’s former capital.

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Field school students screen excavated dirt in search of eighteenth-century artifacts. Photo Credit: COLONIAL WILLIAMSBURG FOUNDATION
Field school students screen excavated dirt in search of eighteenth-century artifacts. Photo Credit: COLONIAL WILLIAMSBURG FOUNDATION

Fall 2018: By Paula Neely.

Peering down into the corner of a dig site in Williamsburg, the eighteenth-century capital of Virginia, archaeologist Mark Kostro watched a field school student scrape away dark gray soil from a layer of yellowish-orange clay beneath it. “That’s encouraging,” he said. “That might possibly be topping a trash pit.” On a hot, humid day last June, students from the College of William & Mary were excavating an area next to a brick outbuilding behind the Carter House, which was built in 1727 by Robert “King” Carter, one of the wealthiest men in colonial Virginia.  Kostro was hopeful that the dig would uncover a trash pit containing clues that would explain how the building was used and when it was built.

“It’s very curious,” he said. Most outbuildings in the town were made from inferior materials, and a brick outbuilding would have been an unusual outlay of money. It may have been a laundry, an office, a slave quarters, or a household member may have lived there, he speculated. Kitchens were among the most common outbuildings, but this building’s hearth was unusually small, which suggested that it served a different purpose. Usually, kitchens, dairies, smokehouses, stables, and other outbuildings, were located in the backyards of homes. In the middle of Carter’s backyard, however, archaeologists have instead found evidence of pathways and planting beds that may have been part of a terraced garden.

The field school is part of ongoing archaeological research conducted by the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation that began in 1928 after the Reverend W.A.R. Goodwin of Bruton Parish recognized that much of the historic town had survived and he convinced philanthropist John D. Rockefeller, Jr. to restore and reconstruct the entire city. Now known as Colonial Williamsburg, the 301-acre restored area encompasses eighty-five percent of the historic town and includes eighty-eight original, and more than 300 reconstructed, buildings.

Excerpt, Read More in our Fall 2018 Issue of American Archaeology, Vol. 22 No. 2. Browse Contents : FALL 2018.

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