With trowels in hand, the volunteers reach down into the test pits, smoothing away layers of flood deposits to reveal the next fragment of ceramic, piece of earthenware pottery or perhaps a coin or button. The second archeology field camp at the White House is underway and already many clues have been discovered about the original Kauffman family who built the house in 1760.
In the first camp held in June 2012, an unusual rock formation was discovered at the southern corner of the dwelling so that test pit is reopened and excavated. Each day of work reveals more rocks until a round shape emerges, possibly the wall of the hand dug well. “This is a major feature that was constructed at the time the house was built,” Dr. Carole Nash, archeologist from James Madison University, reports. “If it is the well, it is big.”
Other rock work is uncovered at the base of two of the doorways including a rock walkway found by probing the ground and two very large limestone stepping stones that were added after the massive 1870 flood. Dr. Nash determined there is about a foot and a half of sediment deposited from that flood which is seen in the soil profile in the test pits. She says that originally, there would have been steps leading up into the house and now, through the successive years of flood deposition, the house sits flush on the surrounding ground.
Discovering artifacts in place helps to understand the complete picture of each item and where it fits in space and time, taking into account plow zones and floods. Archeology draws upon many disciplines to determine what occurred at an excavation site such as geology and soil science and how the soil profile changes over time. History and an understanding of trade routes gives clues as does architectural styles and immigration patterns. On average, each hour collecting artifacts in the field translates to three hours in the lab cataloguing the finds and researching their significance.
In all, 26 volunteers participated in the field camp sponsored by the Archeological Society of Virginia’s (ASV) Archaeological Technician Certification program. Almost everyone who attended is a member of the ASV representing four different chapters. Graduates worked alongside current students in a program that has been in existence for about 15 years..
Dr. Nash says 70 participants have graduated from the program, all volunteers, who have a love of archaeology and want to learn proper methods. Currently, she says, there are 110 students who work with archaeologists from all over the state on a variety of projects. She co-directs the Certification program, teach courses in it, and leads surveys and excavations like the one at White House. The certification program is demanding: 60 hours of survey; 60 hours of excavation; 60 hours of lab; 20 hours of public education; 11 courses; readings; site recordation; and two exams. The Virginia program is used as a model by Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Maryland, and Delaware. The commitment of the students is remarkable: many will take vacation days to participate (as did several of the workers at White House). We have a great time together, and the work done by trained students allows archaeologists to expand research into important areas.
We were glad to have local historians and collectors stop by during the week to discuss artifacts which had been passed down in their families or to share some of the items they themselves had found. Those who had recorded the date, location and any significant details about their finds receiving praise from Dr. Nash. We were excited to be visited by a 7th generation Brubaker who lives in Page County and is a descendent of the original Kauffman/Brubaker family.
Thanks to the work of the ASV we know a lot more about the White House, the families who lived there and what life was like on the frontier in the 1700s and earlier… but there are many more stories yet to be told.
Click here to read the excellent article which appeared in the Page News & Courier about the archeology field camp.
Here is an article on the dig published in the July, 2014 issue of Points, the monthly newsletter of the Massanutten Chapter of the Archeology Society of Virginia.