Currently viewing the category: "Digging into Archaeology"

My name is Craig Stevens. I recently graduated from American University with a degree in anthropology. Since high school I’ve been very interested in American history, specifically colonialism and its lasting effects. I watched a lot of history movies and documentaries and read biographies and historical fiction. I always had a keen awareness of the fact that history is not static; it’s an everlasting force that influences the present. Through curiosity and a bit of skepticism, I became very interested in how we learn history. Who discovered what my teachers have always stated as fact; and how did those researchers figure it all out?

Photo Courtesy of Montgomery Parks

As an anthropology student, my college professors directed me to archaeology, one of the subfields of anthropology. For historians interested in the colonial period, the last 600 years give or take, written materials are relatively prevalent in comparison to historians of the Bronze Age for example. Meaning that a lot of the history of the colonial period comes from personal accounts that people wrote down. Documents such as an explorer describing the environments in which he wanders or an auditor meticulously notating the conditions of an abandoned home make it into the historical record. Archaeology allows us an opportunity to enhance this knowledge of the past. In historical archaeology, we can compliment what we find from written sources with clues that we find in the ground.

As I continued to learn, I was struck by the ways in which mainstream portrayals of history favor the European colonizers. History isn’t all-encompassing. Certain narratives have legacies that become common knowledge; think Christopher Columbus’ sailing of the ocean blue. While others get relegated to the margins, like Maryland’s own Josiah Henson.

I believe this occurs because those in power are the people who historically have the privilege of telling the stories. Meaning that populations that are historically discriminated against, subjugated and oppressed are not offered the same opportunities to immortalize their life experiences.

One of the clearest examples of this historical disregard in American History can be examined through the portrayal of Black enslaved laborers. We often think of these people as unintelligent, work-driven individuals; victims of birth into the wrong society in the wrong era. They’re accurately portrayed as victims of systematic violence and coercion but often not much more than that. Where are the stories of their familial relationships, efforts to build solidarity with their peers, resistance or desire to improve their realities? Why are these tales not as common as Columbus’ famous voyage? Largely, as I mentioned earlier, these accounts were not written down and are thus much harder to reveal.

Thankfully there are other means of obtaining historical information that can help contextualize what we do know from written sources. I found that archaeology could help reveal the life experiences that I was craving to learn more about.

Photo Courtesy of Montgomery Parks

I personally had the privilege of joining an archaeological investigation on the plantation in which Josiah Henson, a formerly enslaved laborer who we happen to know a great deal about, lived for nearly three decades. Henson escaped from slavery to Ontario, Canada along with his family in 1830. About twenty years later, as a free man, he immortalized his life experiences when he published his autobiography, The Life of Josiah Henson, Formerly a Slave, Now an Inhabitant of Canada, as Narrated by Himself.

Photo Courtesy of Montgomery Parks

Henson’s incredible story was the initial guiding force of the archaeological investigations on the property. In his book he mentions the floors on which he slept, the patches of crops that he likely passed on a daily basis and the living conditions of the other enslaved workers on the plantation. These clues informed the archaeological decision process. With the autobiography as a guiding force, the archaeologists were motivated to excavate the modern kitchen in search of the dirt floor upon which Henson’s mother labored. This investigation taught us about how the house was built and the transformation that took place since Henson’s presence. The book also initiated the search for the “village of log huts” in which the enslaved laborers lived. From this the archaeologists found evidence of a domestic structure in the rear of the main house, which taught us much about life on this plantation during the 19th century.

Through the combination of archaeological, archival and literary research Montgomery Parks is now able to create a museum to honor Henson’s incredible life and disseminate information on the history of slavery in Maryland. And this information is not engaging in a lofty or broad representation of these topics, but instead it will offer detailed accounts of history yielded from thorough research efforts. This form of community engagement allows for the presentation of nuanced portrayals of the lives of enslaved workers and contributes to a deeper understanding of Black History. Montgomery Parks’ archaeological work at the Josiah Henson Special Park is just one of many great examples that exhibit the power of archaeology.


About the Author: Craig Stevens, a native of Virginia Beach, Virginia, graduated from American University’s anthropology department in 2017. As a graduate researcher he plans to investigate place-making, identity formation and modes of resistance in the African Diaspora. He will begin his graduate studies through the use of a Marshall Scholarship where he will study archaeology at University College London.  


This past November and December I conducted the Young Archaeologist Club through Archaeology in the Community. When sitting down and thinking about what I wanted to teach the students over the course of six weeks, I found that I had too many ideas. While my passion is Egyptian Archaeology, I didn’t want to solely focus on that. Throughout my college career I learned a lot about different ancient cultures from the Prehistoric to the modern African Diaspora located in the Americas. That’s when I came up with the idea of a time traveling archaeologist. Every week we changed subjects, proceeding in chronological order, for the most part, because some cultures were occurring at the same time.

I then had to think about how to make the lesson plans more focused on archaeology rather than history and culture. I brainstormed some general archaeological techniques, like conservation, excavation, languages, and museums. Then I matched each technique to a specific culture and thought about a hands on activity that the students could do. To make it even more fun, I made passports for every students, with a slot in the front to put a name tag. Every week at the beginning of the club we all wrote our name in a different language. Then at the end of class in exchange for three things they learned that class, I stamped their passports with custom stamps that I made.

I had never really designed a lesson plan before, so it took a couple edits to figure out what I was going to do for each class. I was afraid that the classes would go to long or be too short, but most of the extra time was filled with exciting questions from the students. Each class started out with a powerpoint presentation about the culture were were going to learn about as well as the archaeological technique. Sometimes we watched a video or took a snack break before starting our activity for the day. We would finally end when the parents arrived and the students enthusiastically told them what they learned.

Our first class was on prehistoric archaeology where we talked about megalithic structures such as Stonehenge and Ska Brae, both in the United Kingdom. First, since most prehistoric peoples did not have a written language, we created pictographs of ourselves. We went over what the students thought archaeologists did and some common tools we use. Then we used trowels and a Munsell soil book to compare the colors and textures of different soils. The day ended with a Stonehenge stamp.

The second class we learned about pottery and Mesopotamia. We wrote our names in ancient Akkadian, which proved very difficult and then learned about many of the different cultures that were founded in the Fertile Crescent. Next we pulled out some clay and we made pinch and coil pots, while we watched a video of people making pottery. We also looked at different types of wares and examples of pottery throughout history, and ended with a stamp of a vase.

My favorite class was the one on Ancient Egypt and languages. We wrote our names in hieroglyphics and learned about the Rosetta Stone and how it helped modern historians translate the ancient Egyptian text. We then created our own languages and let the parents translate their secret messages. One student enthusiastically described (almost word for word) the weighing of the heart in the Egyptian underworld to determine if they person was good while alive to receive a stamp of the pyramids.

We then condensed Ancient Greece and Rome together to learn about conservation in the field and the lab. First we wrote our names in Latin and emphasized the difference between the two empires as well as similarities and influences. My favorite activity of the whole club was the conservation method we did in this class. We set up some dirt and pretended that we found a broken pot that we wanted to keep intact and take to a lab. By wrapping the pot in gauze as we excavated, we not only kept the artifact stable but taught important excavating techniques like not to dig straight down with your trowel. After excavating the inside of the pot, the students received a stamp of the Colosseum in Rome.

On the fifth day of the camp, we went on a field trip to the National Museum of the American Indian. We wrote our names in Cherokee and then trekked around the museum with a scavenger hunt. Throughout the trip we talked both about the many different tribes in North America as well as the civilizations in South America. We also talked about how museums display artifacts and how both archaeologists, conservators, historians, and curators all work together to make a museum and an exhibit work together. The day ended with a look around the bazaar of Native American artisans and a teepee stamp in the passport.

The last class focused on historical archaeology with an emphasis on the African Diaspora in American and on artifacts. Because we were caught up with modern day languages we decided to make up cowboy names as it was part of the lesson for the day. We then learned about the only existing example of an African American owned saloon in the Wild West with emphasis on the different artifacts that they found and how they tell the story of the saloon. The students excavated to finish the class out and figured out what each artifact we found was. We ended with a reflection about the whole club and a stamp of a two trowels.

All in all, it was a very successful camp. Even though the camp was meant to teach the students, I ended up learning a lot too.I did find a challenge with keeping the students on topic and paying attention, but I learned to adapt my lesson plans to add fun videos, stories, and facts. I plan to design more lesson plans and expand on many of these cultures to teach to students in the upcoming summer months.


About the author: Melissa Thiringer has been an AITC intern since Summer 2017 after graduating from Hofstra University where she received a BA in Anthropology/Archaeology and Art History. She has conducted excavations in DC, Virginia, England, and Italy as well as internships at the Brooklyn Museum and Hofstra’s Center for Public Archaeology. She is taking a gap year before pursuing a career in Egyptian Archaeology as a MA or PhD.

Before I begin: there is a range of deafness, from mild hearing loss to profoundly deaf. I am on the “medium” range. I wear hearing aids, wore them since I was around two or three years old, and attended speech therapy classes throughout my youth. Basically, I am a (what a hearing person would call) “functioning” deaf person: I am able to hear, lip-read well, and use my voice to communicate. However, I do not practice the particular “skill” frequently, which means that my “skill” can be ineffective in a group setting when everyone is talking over each other and I would be unable to read anyone’s lips. I chose to not practice my “skill” “often” because I consider myself deaf. I grew up going to an all-deaf school and an university that mainly serve the deaf. I am very comfortable using my first language, American Sign Language, to communicate with people. Using an interpreter to convey my messages to hearing people is the best way for me to communicate because I am able to accurately represent my “voice” by signing and there would not be any misunderstanding from both sides of the conversation between me and a hearing person (or hearing people).

          Growing up, I knew I was one of those Deaf people who were fortunate enough to attend an all deaf school and an all deaf university. Also, growing up, I was cultured. I was aware of the world. I was addicted to the field of museum studies and archaeology, practically from my mother’s womb. I did not know any difference nor was I barricaded from pursuing my goal: to get a degree within the field.

Fast forward years later:

“It is too late”, those words shattered me to the very core, and plunged me into an abyss of depression. I was spinning out of control and it was only two weeks into an archaeological dig in Belize with an acclaimed program. Two weeks in the field, doing what I loved, and I wanted to be anywhere else. I couldn’t believe how I was feeling: I was starting to hate archaeology. But I kept reminding myself that it was not archaeology that was at fault, it was the barrier keeping me from my goal: the communication between myself and others. I was faced with such frustration that I have never had before: no accessibility to communicate.

Me and my interpreter, Chloe. I’m on the left with the backpack, watching Chloe interpret for me during a workshop

However, I could not help but think that this was partly my fault. I had been asked, weeks before the trip, whether I wanted to have American Sign Language interpreters (from my university) and because of my arrogant pride, I said no. My thinking at the time was, I am not disabled nor do I need help because I could hear and talk. I thought I would be just fine on my own. In reality, I did need help, and I (repeatedly, every night) wished I had help. My roommate at the dig knew how to sign (no offense to her because I was really, really grateful that she was willing to come to my aid) but was it enough for me to understand everything? Enough to be able to participate in group discussions, side conversations? No. When I sat there, amongst my archaeology peers in the audience watching Dr. Guderjan present about the Mayan ball court or any other interesting tidbit that would have had been vital for my knowledge, I did not understand a single thing.

This experience struck me harder in my life when I realized that I should embrace my disability and, also, educate others about my disability. I realized I needed to learn more about my own deaf culture, and to ensure that I get the accessibility that I deserve, and need. It also opened my eyes and led me to a field that was filled with extremely nice people but with US/Mexico border wall-sized communication barriers.

It was the starting point of the many challenges I had to face in the field, some of which I overcame and some I did not. After attending Gallaudet University and living out in the “Real World”, I realized how sheltered I had been and how I was in such a bubble within the deaf community that did not have any access to archaeology and museums. I started to volunteer more, in person and virtually. I started doing website work for an archaeology organization in West Florida and contacted Dr. Juarez from Texas State University to see if she had any ledgers available for me to transcribe. When they both showed enthusiasm for my work, I realized that all I had to do was to ask and to show my interest. Working with Dr. Juarez led me to realize I needed a masters degree in order to advance within the field, and to prove to the hearing community that a deaf person is capable of doing the same d*** thing that they are doing.

Now, my eyes open, I am starting to see how much the art and culture fields are lacking in the deaf community. In both having deaf people within the field and the programs that cater to the community. Even though the issue of inclusivity within various fields of discipline has led to an increased awareness within the deaf and hearing community alike, many facilities are still inaccessible. Especially those in remote areas (such as North Central Washington, where I used to work as an AmeriCorps VISTA for a year, which is entirely another story).

There are no archaeology/museum summer day camps for deaf children, archaeology/museum workshops and/or tours for deaf adults however there are a FEW popping up now that are for the deaf people BY the deaf people, not the archaeology/museum community, and we call them: ASL GALLERY TALK. There are no outreach efforts from the archaeology/museum community (specifically: the hearing community) to the deaf schools across the United States.

To remedy this lack of accessibility, here are a few suggestions I can offer to the hearing community to be more inclusive: an archaeology directive could type up visual aids instructing community volunteers that are deaf the basics of excavation. An archaeology organization hosting an event at an university could get in touch with the disability services to request interpreters. An archaeology society chapter could ensure that the movie that they will be providing during a meeting will be captioned. These actions will help the members of the archaeological community which are deaf. 

We, deaf people, are sheltered because we do not have opportunities that are shared with us from the hearing community. The archaeology and museum community is already so small, which makes it harder for them to realize that there is an entire community (with their own, unique culture!) overlooked.

We must educate each other but do we, deaf people, have to always ask?


About the author: Amelia is an avid backcountry backpacker, novice fisherwoman, bouldering aficionado; she lives life in the fast lane and slows down when she is surrounded by archaeological endeavors. A Deaf museum-director-in-training, she hopes to bridge accessibility between the deaf and the hearing world in archaeology and the museum field.

Source: Auckland Castle Trust

One of the many highlights of my year abroad in England was the time I spent at Auckland Castle, in the northeast town of Bishop Auckland. As an intern, student, and volunteer, I was witness to the early stages of a truly remarkable regeneration project that focuses on cultural heritage to revitalize the economically-deprived, surrounding town. Whether I was assisting with a school visit in the Throne Room or excavating in the Walled Garden, I relished the chance to be part of such an ambitious project that preserves the heritage and archaeology of the Castle, using them as a catalyst for social change.

With over 900 years of history, Auckland Castle is the country home of the Prince Bishops of Durham. A title that, from its inception in 995 to when it was dissolved in 1832, carried with it the religious powers of a bishop and the secular powers of an earl. This combination of secular and religious power can be seen in the crest of the Bishop of Durham, which features a bishop’s mitre and a ducal coronet.


The Castle also features prominently in the mining heritage of Bishop Auckland and County Durham. From the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in the 1800’s to the closing of the mines in the 1990s, the mining industry defined the region, populations increased and small villages grew in to large colliery towns. Bishop Auckland expanded during this period, but later in the twentieth century, like much of the Northeast, it suffered as the coal reserves declined and the mines closed. Even today, no industry has been able to fill the void left by the closure of the mines. This unique history of the Prince Bishops of Durham and Bishop Auckland is at the center of an ambitious regeneration project, one which aims not only to preserve the structure of the castle, but also to revitalize the local community.

In the early 2000s, the Church of England began considerations to sell a set of paintings by Spanish artist Francisco de Zurbaran, a collection which was purchased by Bishop Trevor in the eighteenth century and remains an integral part of the Castle’s history. Justification for selling the paintings was that that sale itself would pay for ten priests, among many other church expenses. The announcement of the sale elicited a public outcry, with over 80 percent of locals opposing the proposed sale. Luckily for the castle and the Zurbaráns, Jonathan Ruffer, a private client fund manager, was so moved that he made an offer for the paintings. To him they were, and still are, “the only lamb the North East has got”(link article that says this). After tough negotiations, the Church Commissioners agreed to the sale of the paintings to Ruffer – but there was a catch. Ruffer could purchase the paintings and set up a charity for them, but he must also take the castle. Thus, Ruffer created the Auckland Castle Trust to manage and act as stewards for the castle and the paintings.

A “Heritage Hunter” gives a tour dressed as a Prince Bishop

With his purchase of the estate, Ruffer made it very clear that the heritage would serve the people. The Trust has included the residents of Bishop Auckland in every step of the project, and intends to include them further when the castle reopens in 2018. Efforts to engage with the local community include training and volunteering opportunities, apprenticeships and jobs, and providing possibilities for local business to take advantage of the future influx of visitors. This anticipated tourism boost, with thousands of additional visitors a year would funnel money into the local economy.

The “peachery”

I was lucky enough to have an internship at Auckland Castle while I was completing my master’s degree at Durham University. My internship was primarily with the Education Department where I assisted with school visits and tours, but I also participated in the archaeological excavation in the Walled Garden of the castle. Built in the 17th century, the walled gardens were home to crops, greenhouses, and other structures. The Trust plans to build a café/restaurant in the garden, so they hired archaeologists from Durham University Archaeological Services to investigate the existing and underground structures. The castle recruited volunteers from the surrounding area to assist with the dig, many of whom had participated in several digs in the region (such as Binchester Roman Fort). As a dig volunteer, I excavated a “peachery” where I found several sherds of glazed pottery, animal bones, and a few rusty nails. While I always enjoy excavating and finding exciting artifacts, my favorite part of the experience was getting to talk with the other volunteers and hear about why they decided to get involved. Many of the volunteers had already participated in Castle events and there were a few retirees who give their time to several organizations in the area. Even some of my friends at the university came out for a few days that summer to hone their excavation skills. While the excavation took place before the Castle closed for the two-year renovation project, I could already see how the local community was getting involved with the heritage of Auckland Castle. Not only were they able to learn about and visit the Castle – they were able to take part in the actual archaeological investigation into the Castle’s history.

The community regeneration project at Auckland Castle shows how heritage, archaeology, and museums can facilitate greater social and economic change. By involving the local community in the history and archaeology of the castle, as well as providing employment, training, and business opportunities, Auckland Castle is rightly putting the focus of heritage in the community.

Auckland Castle is surrounded by a medieval deer park which the Prince Bishops used as their own private hunting ground.

For more information about Auckland Castle and the exciting projects going on, please visit


About the author: Sophie Lange is an intern at AITC and a recent graduate of Durham University where she received a MA in International Cultural Heritage Management. Sophie currently works for a government contractor on an immigration project, and occasionally works for a CRM firm in Montgomery County.


At the beginning of archaeology club season, the glaring question in my mind whilst writing and constructing the lessons was: how do you make archaeology fun?? How do you clothe it with a light-hearted and kid-friendly tone, while also staying true to its scientific and academic core? Now that my 6 month stint as an intern for Archaeology in the Community’s education department is coming to a close, this question unexpectedly changed—it is, in fact, not at all challenging to make archaeology fun. Archaeology is one of the few fields of study that inspires  a uniquely childlike curiosity and fascination, as I’m sure any of you professional archaeologists reading this would attest. Combining history, a connection to the natural world, teamwork, discovery, and discussion is exactly the kind of school subject that would make elementary-age students forget the clock exists. So, the question I ended up having to contemplate turned into: how do you teach the value of archaeology?

I was directed towards AITC by DC city archaeologist Dr. Ruth Trocolli (to whom I am more than grateful) after emailing her asking if the National Park Service had any education programs implementing applied archaeology that would be suitable for an intern. At a time when most of my college anthropology peers were recklessly searching for Smithsonian internships and CRM office jobs, I was drawn to the lesser developed field of community-based archaeology, so it was no surprise that AITC was a perfect fit for my interests and strengths.

That being said, as a sophomore archaeology major with a lifelong inclination towards it, this question of “the value of archaeology” often went neglected; for me, and I would assume for some of those who have dedicated their life to the discipline, it was second-nature. Archaeology is a discipline that will always be relevant—we will always have things, we will always manifest our ideas, beliefs, and the whole fabric of our cultural existence in material objects. It’s not just valuable because it’s interesting and fun, it is inherently valuable because we need it to understand our past and present. This is the sort of mentality that is drilled into you once you enter the field, or you adopt it yourself and cultivate a passion, or both happen simultaneously. It is also what keeps you in the field, at least in my opinion, and the significance of preservation work and cultural resource management only becomes more and more evident in the changing technological and innovative landscape that is our future.

Now back to the kids. The biggest issue I identified with this “teaching the value of archaeology” dilemma is the lack of foundational understanding (probably even popular understanding) of archaeology as a practical career. I myself did not know what an archaeologist’s life was supposed to look like or could look like until I was well into my freshmen year in college. Archaeology is rarely  taught as a school subject; most of the humanities-based topics millennial children learn about in elementary, middle, and high school education are condensed and oversimplified to fit in the “social studies” realm—they are grossly denied the experience of being directly and actively involved with the discovery, preservation, and recording of the past. I would go as far as to argue that frankly, this model of teaching history perhaps shields students from getting this “second-nature-understanding” of something like archaeology’s value. Sure, most of the kids I have encountered in the AITC spring club and other museum education programs etc. have expressed understandable interest in a career in archaeology because of our old friend, the tokenized Indiana Jones. Yes, archaeology is exciting and adventurous, but it’s not all that lofty either. Basically all I’m saying is, it’s 2017, and I think it’s about time kids get a sense of the practical value of preservation, archaeology, and other adjacent careers from somewhere other than the Lost Ark.

Archaeology in the Community is rectifying this dilemma. The after school club space sets up the perfect backdrop for students like the ones we had this spring to implement what they have been learning in those social studies textbooks and inquire further. Although most of my lesson plans covered broad subject matter, some of which included ‘an introduction to underwater archaeology’ or the general ‘how-to’s of faunal remains and their analysis,’ I tried to stay grounded in the themes of how and why archaeology is valuable. All this really takes is a conscious effort to treat the content of the lesson plan as if it were indeed a practical and valuable tool for the students. Rather than fantasizing the ruins of Egypt as some mystical lost civilization, educators should teach students about the importance of grave goods and how archaeologists need to study them in order to interpret what the passage of life meant to that culture—and what more, let the students discuss what kind of grave goods they would have taken with them in their journey to the afterlife, and voila! They are fully integrating the past and the present, actively engaging with history, and recognizing/learning the value of archaeology.

From an intern’s perspective, it is enlightening to observe this happen, and for me personally, it reinforced my interest in taking the applied/communal-based approach towards archaeology. Younger people have a place in archaeology; they have innovative minds and an endless thirst for new information. More often than not, I found myself pleasantly perplexed at some of the questions they would ask during the lessons—it wasn’t that they were goofy or nonsensical, they were just genuinely insightful and difficult for me or Dr. Jones to answer.

Here’s to kids and archaeology. I am sad to be at the tail end of my internship, but I am incredibly grateful for the experience, laughs, challenges, crafts, leadership, and loads of opportunities it has given me. Looking forward to next year’s club.

About the Author:

Ruthie is an undergraduate anthropology major at Catholic University with a passion for applied archaeology.  After her experience in a pre-Inca field school in Cusco, Peru, she realized what a significant endeavor it is to have hands on access to our history, as well integrating it into our education system.  Before her fortunate discovery of Archaeology in the Community, she interned with the San Diego Museum of Man  in their childhood education department where she created lesson plans themed by the exhibits of the museum. She plans on continuing her education in the field of anthropology and archaeology, perhaps focusing on cross cultural education and community based archaeology projects. 

The details of the stories and histories of the first American colonies may or may not be familiar depending on how much American history you have consumed since high school. It is well known that the Pilgrims settled Plymouth Colony after arriving on the Mayflower and that the Puritans came to Massachusetts for religious freedom. The real intrigue of Colonial America lies in the mysterious fate of the settlers of Roanoke Colony who disappeared in 1590. How much do we know from historical accounts? In history and in archaeology, how do you begin to search for something that is lost? What evidence do we need to determine the fate of those that disappeared over 400 years ago?

An artist’s depiction of John White discovering the word “Croatoan” carved at Roanoke’s fort palisade.

Even for historical time periods, examination of relevant archaeological evidence can confirm or call into question certain events. Textbooks give the impression that history is decided fact but historical records are often written from a certain perspective that can gloss over details or ignore certain groups. An ongoing conversation between historians, archaeologists, and the public is vital to a holistic understanding of the American past. Archaeology can be a valuable learning tool and offer new perspectives of the past in both formal and informal education.  In addition to participating in the conversation, interested members of the public can also gain first hand experience in uncovering American history by helping with the excavation process. Both The Lost Colony Center and The First Colony Foundation utilize volunteers at the Cape Creek site and Site X respectively, which as we will see, are two potential sites for the Roanoke resettlement.

What we do know is that in 1587, on orders from Queen Elizabeth I, Sir Walter Raleigh set out for Chesapeake Bay but was forced to disembark on Roanoke Island, off the present day coast of North Carolina. Two previous groups had explored the island and the second was driven out by local Native Americans, such as the Secotan tribe, angry by colonists’ intention to use the land and resources. After John White was appointed governor of Roanoke by Raleigh he returned to England for much needed relief supplies. The colonists had arrived to the island to find less than friendly locals and research now indicates the area was in the middle of a severe drought. After the Spanish Armada delayed his journey back to Roanoke, White finally returned on August 18, 1590 and found the settlement completely abandoned. Approximately 115 men, women and children had disappeared. The Roanoke Colony settlers left behind the word “Croatoan” carved on a prominent post and the letters “Cro” etched into a tree. Since then, theories abound as to the fate of the settlers. Many believe they left due to starvation,disease or even violence, but why and where did they go? 

Historical archaeology is the archaeology that concerns the time periods or societies for which we do have something of a written record. In historical archaeology, the written record can contextualize the material culture found from excavation.In the case of Roanoke, it can tell us where to dig. There is not a historical evidence when it comes to the lost colony but what there is lends itself to, as of now, two possibilities for the fate of colonists. The obvious historical clue is the word “Croatoan”, carved into the post at the site of abandonment. Croatoan is the name of a small tribe of Native Americans that lived in the Carolinas at the time. White initially had plans to sail south to Croatoan (now Hatteras) Island when he first discovered Roanoke abandoned but a storm delayed the voyage and then the privateers he was traveling with insisted on returning to England. Cape Creek on Hatteras Island (also off the coast of North Carolina) is a confirmed site of a major town and trade hub of the Croatoan, and is only 50 miles southeast of Roanoke. Excavations on Hatteras Island have yielded both Native American and European artifacts, which some archaeologists see as evidence of Roanoke settler presence. So far excavations have turned up deer and turtle bones, pieces of European iron, Native American pottery, a slate writing tablet, parts of a 16th century gun, and even a gold signet ring probably worn by an English nobleman. Some of these European artifacts, like a writing tablet, are not valuable trade items and may be evidence of cohabitation, however, some of the goods date to the mid 17th century, about 50 years after the lost colonists would have presumably resettled.

If this new archaeological evidence is an indication of the Roanoke colonists’ presence at Hatteras Island it is unlikely that they all relocated with the Croatoan. If their number was nearly 115 (assuming not a significant amount died from lack of  resources or other fates before attempted resettlement), a procedure established by previous groups in the colonies dictated that they split up – it is highly unlikely that other settlements could support an additional 115 people. Once again, historical evidence tells us about a possible location for resettlement. 

“La Virginea Pars,” drawn by Roanoke Governor John White (1583-1593). Photo credit: the British Museum

This new clue was discovered in 2012 on a forgotten map that John White had drawn of the settlement area, “La Virginea Pars”, covering the east coast of North America from Chesapeake Bay to Cape Lookout. A reexamination of the map by scientists at the British Museum yielded a tiny red and blue symbol that had been patched over. The symbol could have indicated a secret fort or emergency location. According to Eric Klingelhofer, an historical archaeologist at Mercer University, it is feasible that part of Sir Walter Raleigh’s expedition in America was a state secret so covering up part of the map might have been a way to keep certain information private. This site is inland in eastern North Carolina, near the head of Albemarle Sound. Since 2013, the First Colony Foundation has been excavating at the location from White’s map, which they have named Site X. The team has found artifacts they believe to be evidence of settlers from Roanoke instead of later English settlers including fragments of jars that were specifically used for sea voyages at the time. Based on the discovery of table wares they argue that the European presence at Site X differed in nature and duration compared to the pre-1587 English exploration. Archaeologists have also identified a nearby Native American site, the small town of Mettaquem, which may have belonged to a sympathetic tribe that adopted the Roanoke settlers.

New evidence from this inland site has also come from ground penetrating radar (GPR). GPR is a technology employed by archaeologists to visualize and map possible objects below ground. It sends radio waves into the ground and measures the echo from the signal that bounces off buried objects. For example, GPR has been used to identify coffins since the coffins contain voids with poorer conductive properties and different densities than the soil around them. When testing this possible Roanoke settler site, researchers at Elizabeth City State University in North Carolina found a pattern that may indicate structures, possibly those made of wood, about 3 feet down. While the GPR evidence may indicate a colonial presence at the site, these results are complicated by the fact that there are known English settlements in the area through the 1700s. Right now, it is impossible to know whether the buried structure belonged to the Roanoke settlers or a later group.

Excavation and non-invasive techniques like GPR are only part of the archaeological process. It is vital to contextualize what we find or do not find in the ground. Brett Riggs, an archaeologist at University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill cautions against equating European artifacts with European presence. He notes that Native Americans often scavenged anything left by Europeans. Additionally there are issues with dating some of these artifacts precisely and 50 years either way could rule out the possibility of Roanoke settlers, if any Europeans were indeed living on Hatteras Island or at Site X. Stylistic changes are not uniform over time or space so it is difficult to date things like pottery reliably and radiocarbon dating is not precise enough for decade by decade measurements.  

Excavation at Site X (2015). Photo credit: First Colony Foundation website

It is possible that we may never completely solve the mystery of Roanoke’s disappearing settlers. However, by pairing historical evidence with archaeological investigation that includes new technologies like GPR we can better examine that contentious time in American history. Archaeologists associated with both projects note that there is still more to dig, and more to discover. 

Even for historical time periods, examination of relevant archaeological evidence can confirm or call into question certain events. Textbooks give the impression that history is decided fact but historical records are often written from a certain perspective that can gloss over details or ignore certain groups. An ongoing conversation between historians, archaeologists, and the public is vital to a holistic understanding of the American past. Archaeology can be a valuable learning tool and offer new perspectives of the past in both formal and informal education.  In addition to participating in the conversation, interested members of the public can also gain first hand experience in uncovering American history by helping with the excavation process. Both The Lost Colony Center and The First Colony Foundation utilize volunteers at the Cape Creek site and Site X respectively.

In 2007, The Lost Colony Center launched another project that highlights the importance of advanced techniques in archaeology and community outreach. They are attempting to use DNA to find genetic links between living descendants and colonists and local Native Americans like the Hatteras. Using historical sources researchers at the center compiled a list of ‘most wanted’ last names to sample in the hopes of matching DNA from skeletal remains to living ancestors. The project is still ongoing, with a goal collection of 500 samples before sequencing DNA from the archaeological remains begins. If you are interested in volunteering or learning more about archaeological projects investigating colonial America, you can visit the websites of The Lost Colony Center and The First Colony Foundation, listed below.


Basu, T. (8 December 2013). Have We Found the Lost Colony of Roanoke Island? “National Geographic.”

First Colony Foundation. (10 August 2015). Testing Continues at Site X. 

Lawler, A. (7 August 2015). We Finally Have Clues to How the Lost Roanoke Colony Vanished. “National Geographic.”

Morrison, J. In Search of the Lost Colony. American Archaeology, 10(4), 2006-2007.

Stahle, D. W., Cleaveland, M. K., Blanton, D. B., Therrell, M. D., & Gay, D. A. (1998). The lost colony and Jamestown droughts. Science, 280(5363), 564-567.


About the author: Emily Brennan has her M.A. in anthropology, emphasis in archaeology and biological anthropology, and has participated in excavations in Romania and the UK. She currently works in biomedical research support and her passion for science education led to the creation of the blog Grave Thoughts (


As a recent archaeology grad stuck in the never ending search for my first job, I’ve been on a mission to refine my resume by volunteering with local archaeology projects. I came across the Herring Run Archaeology Project on Facebook a few weeks ago and jumped at the opportunity to get involved. I am so glad that I did.

Lisa Kraus and Jason Shellenhamer started the Herring Run Archaeology Project in 2014, with the mission of connecting people with the past through archaeological discovery. Over the last three years, they have been working with groups of volunteers and students in Herring Run Park in Northeast Baltimore, 

excavating the remains of the Eutaw Manor House and Farm, a residence of the Smith and Hall families in the 18th and 19th centuries. Last year, they also identified the likely residence of John Broad, a former indentured servant and one of the earliest European residents of the Baltimore area. This site dates from about 1680 to 1740, and is the oldest historical site in the city.

The project offers volunteer opportunities for their ten-day field season each spring, and lab work in the fall, winter, and spring. The project is open to people with all levels of experience.

While they only needed volunteers to label artifacts excavated last spring (before they begin this year’s excavation), I and the other volunteers were able to see the variety of artifacts uncovered at Herring Run. As we labeled pot sherds, bits of brick, and broken glass, we also discussed each of our backgrounds and why we chose to volunteer with the project. From PhD

and master’s students to archaeology enthusiasts, we all came to volunteer because we care about our local history and want to be involved with is discovery and preservation. We were a group of strangers who, because of our shared interest in archaeology, came together to learn from one another.

The project is small, and runs entirely on volunteer efforts, but has already started to change the way people think about both the park and the community, and about the importance of Baltimore’s archaeological heritage. The city’s parks likely contain hundreds of important sites like the Eutaw Manor House and Farm, or John Broad’s early colonial settlement, but there has been no serious effort, to date, to explore and document those resources. The Herring Run Archaeology project hopes to foster an interest in the study and protection of all of Baltimore’s archaeological resources, and to involve the public in the study of the past.

For more information about the Herring Run Archaeology Project and how to volunteer, please visit or contact




About the author: Sophie Lange is an intern at AITC and a recent graduate of Durham University where she received a MA in International Cultural Heritage Management. Sophie currently works for a government contractor on an immigration project, but she tries to get involved with as many local archaeology projects as possible. That way, she can keep her archaeology skills as sharp as her Marshalltown trowel.


Archaeologists and historic preservation specialists work together to preserve, share, and protect our nation’s cultural resources. Although associated most with historic buildings and sites, historic preservationists also strive to preserve and interpret structures or districts which reflect elements of archaeological history. In the following entry, Ms. Christy presents the site and its history, why we preserve and interpret, and how this relates to archaeology.

Site History and Background:

Front view of George Walton’s home, aka ‘Meadow Garden’

Meadow Garden, a quaint farmhouse sitting incongruously in the middle of downtown Augusta, Georgia, was once the home of George Walton, a man who served his country in a variety of capacities ranging from Revolutionary War patriot to senator, governor, and signer of the Declaration of Independence. The home of Walton was purchased and turned into a museum by the Georgia State Society Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) in 1901, as they recognized the cultural significance of the property. The fate of this place could have been just another disappointment in a long line of historic properties neglected or demolished, but thanks to the DAR and the good work of historic preservation specialists, the house remains a valuable part of the community.

Why Preserve and Interpret?

But why preserve a building, a landscape, or archaeological site? How does the preservation of cultural heritage enhance lives? What are we actually preserving, but an old building? These are questions many visitors ask, and by taking a look at Meadow Garden (which to many is just an old building), we can show the public why we preserve and interpret the site..

Parlor room or ‘best’ room—first room when you enter front door, where guests would have been received in

When the DAR decided to buy Meadow Garden they did more than preserve a building. They saved the story of a man who fought for American independence. As a result, visitors are able to walk through a historic landscape- the yard Walton worked in, the room he slept in— spaces which are somehow imbued with a living, breathing memory of their own. They are able to step outside of themselves and into the the physical manifestation of private imaginings of the past, an experience that which cannot be replicated in any other way except to be there and immerse oneself.

The preservation and interpretation of Meadow Garden not only engenders the imaginings of Walton’s life, but also the time period as a whole. This is done through the use of guided tours, which take visitors through the landscape and the house, where period-appropriate furniture and objects are on display. It is this combination of the landscape, house, and objects, as well as the the story-telling abilities of interpreters, that provoke feelings of understanding about the past and transports visitors back to the Revolutionary period. We would not know George Walton as a man, statesman, soldier, patriot, without the preservation of his house and the surrounding grounds.


Preservation and Interpretation in Archaeology

Tree in the center of the 1-acre property

Archaeologists also strive to preserve and interpret their findings for the education and enjoyment of the greater public. Similar to buildings, objects found in excavations tell us a story about the past and the people who used them. For instance, what is believed to be a plow harness was found in an excavation at Meadow Garden. This plow harness provides insight into the day to day lives of those at Meadow Garden and presents other questions as well. What role did the farm play in the political, social, and economic life of George Walton? And it is not just artifacts that bring the past to life, but also the structures and landscapes. Take for instance the Roman Forum, which through various interpretive methods provokes a feeling of actually being in Ancient Rome, even though it is only falling columns and other dilapidated structural elements which remain. The same is true for Meadow Garden, which evokes its own sense of the colonial period by being uniquely placed in downtown Augusta. It is an isolated one acre property right in the middle of an industrial block of buildings, so it inevitably causes people to ask “What is a farm-house doing in the middle of downtown?” This is such a good starting point to get people interested in historic preservation.

Objects found in an excavation (part of a larger landscaping project) conducted on Meadow Garden property last year.

The first thing I tell people who visit the house is the fact that the city developed around the house, not the other way around, and without its preservation (through the work of archaeologists, curators, and other preservation-minded individuals ), we wouldn’t have this neat little place for people to find out about George Walton, his history, the history of the state of Georgia, and U.S. history during the Revolutionary War period.

Although further excavations at Meadow Garden will no doubt uncover more stories and shed further light onto the use of the property in general, a voice has already been given to those whose stories would otherwise have been left untold. As a result, Meadow Garden remains a hidden gem of the past, sparking the imagination of the public and engendering a spirit of conservation. And it is this spirit that we need in a world where historic preservation remains an unknown to the majority, where properties are neglected and mismanaged, and the stories of the past turn to dust.


The Georgia State Society—National Society Daughters of the American Revolution (NSDAR) currently own the Meadow Garden and have, in one form or another, owned the property since 1901. For more information on Meadow Garden and Georgia State Society NSDAR, please check out, our Meadow Garden page on Facebook, or the Georgia State Society-NSDAR Facebook page.


Maranda Christy on front porch, standing beside the National Park Service commemoration, received in 1982

About the author: Maranda Christy, a graduate of the University College London (UCL) with a Master’s degree in Cultural Heritage and Museum Studies, works as the director and lead historic preservation specialist at Meadow Garden.





A student discovers a pottery sherd in the "Archaeology Site-in-a-Can" activity

A student discovers a pottery sherd in the “Archaeology Site-in-a-Can” activity

“Look at what I found!” the girl beamed, holding her artifact up high for the picture.  She discovered the small redware sherd in the dirt as she excavated in the “Archaeology Site-in-a-Can” activity during the Maryland Emancipation Day Celebration at Oakley Cabin African American Museum and Park.

“What do you think that artifact was used for?  Who might have used an artifact like that?” prompted Montgomery Parks’ Archaeology Volunteer, Valerie Hall.

Greg McKee, an Archaeology Volunteer, talks about tin smithing

Greg McKee, an Archaeology Volunteer, talks about tin smithing

Next to the “Archaeology Site-in-a-Can” a mother helped her daughter steady her nail so she could tap a heart design into a piece of tin.   Greg McKee, another Archaeology Volunteer, described how people used pierced tin for keeping the bugs out before they had window screens.  Archaeologists have found pie-safe tin fragments in 19th century archaeological sites in the area.  Archaeology Volunteer Carole Fontenrose talks with a girl about how the children who lived at Oakley Cabin played with clay marbles just like the ones the girl just made.

Inside, a small display of 19th artifacts found during excavations at Oakley Cabin complements the children’s activities.  Visitors contemplate the bones, shells, tobacco pipes, ceramic sherds and nails, drawn by the glimpses these objects provide into the past.

Visitors mingled around the cabin sipping hot cider, sampling corn bread made on an open hearth by Parks Interpreter Lisa Berray and listening to the blues strummed and sung by Rick Franklin & Friends.  The highlight was the reading of Maryland’s November 1st, 1864 Emancipation Proclamation by Ben Hawley, a re-enactor of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment B Company.

Lisa Berray demonstrates open hearth cooking

Lisa Berray demonstrates open hearth cooking

For twenty years, Montgomery Park historians, interpreters and archaeologists have come together at Oakley Cabin in Brookeville, Maryland the first weekend of each November to celebrate Maryland’s Emancipation Day.  Many Marylanders have come to know their state’s history in recent years due to the on-going efforts of Parks Museum Manager Shirl Spicer and the persistent advocacy of a small grass roots community.

Recognizing that many of Maryland’s citizens thought its enslaved people were emancipated in President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, the community set out to educate and set the record straight.  This small grass roots community consisting of the Friends of Oakley Cabin and the Underground Railroad, began a letter writing campaign to Governor O’Malley in 2008, asking for November 1st to be recognized as the official day of celebration of the freeing of the slaves by the state of Maryland.

The group wanted to recognize Maryland’s unique history.  The group’s letter writing campaign was followed by an appeal to the delegates for the Montgomery County District where Oakley Cabin is located– which did result in a sponsored bill.  Unfortunately, that bill ultimately died in committee.

Not one to give up, Ben Hawley sparked State Senator Karen Montgomery’s interest and she sponsored a bill that was accepted and then made into law in 2013 just in time for Maryland’s Emancipation Proclamation’s 150th Anniversary (the Sesquicentennial).[1]  The effort took longer than the actual Civil War!

Valerie Hall talks to students about excavating

Valerie Hall talks to students about excavating

Archaeologists have long recognized the importance of using archaeology to educate students and the public about our shared heritage.  The Society for American Archaeology’s Principles of Archaeological Ethics encourage all archaeologists to undertake public education and outreach while the Society for Historical Archaeology states that archaeologists have a duty to encourage education about archaeology.[2]

We know that archaeological education provides touchstones to the past—

Teresa Moyer, in “Reaching Out,” describes reaching out with maps, documents, artifacts and other objects to ‘hook’ students by transforming the tangible resources into stories that hold and capture them.  Archaeological interpreters use concepts such as tangibles, intangibles, universals and opportunities. Ceramics, tin and clay marbles can come alive with imagination. In the process, such programs can create a “safe place” for talking about issues with roots in the past that students face today”[3]

This year’s Maryland Emancipation Day at Oakley Cabin brought the past to the present—Visitors smelled and tasted the open-hearth cooking, heard the guitars plucking and listened to the words of the a Capello spirituals sung while hearing the …



WE, the people of the State of Maryland, grateful to Almighty-
God for our civil and religious liberty, and taking into our
serious consideration the best means of establishing a good
Constitution in this State for the sure foundation and more
permanent security thereof, declare:

ARTICLE 1. That we hold it to be self evident, that all men
are created equally free, that they are endowed” by their
Creator with certain unalienable rights, among which are life,
liberty, the enjoyment of the proceeds of their own labor, and
the pursuit of happiness.[4]

The Lower Eastern Shore Community College A Capella Singers performing at the event

The Lower Eastern Shore Community College A Capella Singers

Rick Franklin and Friends Band performing at the event

Rick Franklin and Friends Band








For more about Montgomery Parks Archaeology:

For more about Oakley Cabin Events:


Written by: Heather Bouslog

About the author: Heather Bouslog is the Co-Lead of Montgomery Parks Archaeology Program. She is the senior archaeologist who leads the archaeology camp, volunteer program and  public education program for Montgomery Parks Archaeology.


[1] Maryland Emancipation Proclamation Backstory courtesy of Susan Soderberg 2016

[2] Society for American Archaeology,; Society for Historical Archaeology,;

[3] Teresa Moyer 2007 “Reaching Out: Archaeological Interpretation for Education” in Archaeology for

Interpreters: A Guide to Knowledge of the Resource. Archaeology Program by Heather A. Hembrey and Barbara J. Little, National Park Service, Washington, D.C,

[4] Archives of Maryland On-Line, Proceedings and Debates of the 1864 Constitutional Convention


On the 1st of October, in the pouring autumn rain, a group of local residents, farmers and landowners from the village of Bagendon, in the Cotswolds UK, teamed up with archaeologists from Durham University working on a project called Resituating Europe’s First Town’s (REFIT). The aim of the project is to explore how different types of stakeholders (farmers, residents, local business people etc.) use and understand their local landscapes through interviews and engagement events. For this particular event, with help from Past Environment expert Mike Allen, the group investigated the stories about past land use and environmental change that are hidden in Bagendon’s soil. Using hand augers, everyone had a go a taking and analyzing soil cores and learnt just how much information we can glean about the past from changes in soil type to even the tiniest snail shell or burnt seed remains.

Mike Allen explains the principles of augering

Mike Allen explains the principles of augering













It was a great opportunity for people with different interests and knowledge related to the landscape, both past and present, to meet and share their views on the ways in which human and environmental action can change the shape and quality of the land beneath our feet. To learn more about the event and how it changed participants perceptions of the local landscape, please check out the video below:

The workshop built on positive responses to the REFIT project’s ‘Love your Landscape’ event which was held at Greystones Farm (Salmonsbury oppidum) earlier in the year, in which visitors were able to take part in varied events from Iron Age cooking to exploring a modern robotic milking machine in order to better understand similarities and differences in land use over time. The REFIT project hopes to offer more events like this in the future as a novel way of engaging people with the time-depth and changing nature of their local landscapes.

Children have a go at taking their own soil cores

Children have a go at taking their own soil cores











Written by: Dr Gemma Tully
About the author: Principal Tutor MA Museum and Artifact Studies and Post-Doctoral Research Associate, REFIT Project in the Department of Archaeology at Durham University. Please take a look at the REFIT website for more information and all the latest news. Dr. Tully can be reach via phone at 01913 341566 or via email at