The small trowel made a soft scratching sound as it scraped along the vertical wall, shaving a delicate pile of soil to the bottom of the test pit.
Dr. Carole Nash listened intently to the way the wall sounded, finally taking the tip of the metal blade and marking horizontal lines to mark where plow zones started and flood depositions ended.
Who would have thought listening to soil was a part of archaeology! During the third archeology field camp at the White House Farm in Luray, Virginia, a vast array of knowledge from many disciplines was drawn upon to better understand life on the frontier that was the Shenandoah Valley in the 1700s.
Members of the Archeology Society of Virginia (ASV) focused research on test pits opened in 2012 and 2014 as well as several new study areas around the historic house.
Built in 1760, the White House is one of the oldest remaining structures in Page County and one of the seven original “fort dwellings” constructed in the Massanutten Settlement, the oldest European settlement along the South Fork of the Shenandoah River.
The term ‘White House’ goes back to the 1827 tax records, and refers to the mortar covering the limestone of the exterior walls.
The field school volunteers come from all over Virginia, with “pit leaders” who have years, sometimes decades, of experience, guiding those who are in the process of obtaining their archeological technician certification. This rigorous program, with curriculum developed and co-directed by Dr. Nash, consists of required readings, technical training in both the field and laboratory and participation in rotational lectures and workshops.
Dr. Carole Nash, president of the Massanutten Chapter of the ASV and professor at James Madison University, coordinated the many aspects of the excavation. Throughout the nine days of the dig, she flowed amongst the volunteers, moving from test pits to the field lab, interpreting finds and providing guidance, keeping everyone motivated and on schedule.
The author of over 100 technical research reports and with over 30 years of experience in cultural resource management with the National Park Service, National Forest Service, Commonwealth of Virginia and with numerous private firms, Dr. Nash is able to quickly analyze tiny fragments of ceramic, pottery, metal and other finds and put them into context with the previous discoveries at the White House and many other archeological sites across the Commonwealth.
This year, we were very pleased to partner with the Archaeological Society of Virginia as 2015 marks the organization’s 75th anniversary. Braving high summer temperatures, the ASV volunteers demonstrated incredible dedication and enthusiasm for archeology.
The value of the efforts of the 29 volunteers for the 2015 field school totaled more than $21,000. The total for the three years of research at the White House Farm Foundation equals more than $55,000. We appreciate the fact that the volunteers take time off from their professional positions – this year taking 33 vacation days – and also contribute their own gas, food and lodging to the local economy to participate in the White House Farm field school.
In addition to the field work, countless hours of preparation time go into organizing the field school and ensuring that it is an enjoyable, safe and educational experience for all involved. The artifacts discovered in the excavations are currently stored at James Madison University, awaiting further research and cataloguing.
“It is amazing to hold an object in your hand that no other human has touched for hundreds, maybe thousands of years,” says Laura Wedin, a volunteer from Blacksburg, Virginia, summing up the tantalizing quest of archeology to rediscover the objects left behind by our ancestors and forebears.
We are honored to have this partnership with James Madison University and the Archeology Society of Virginia and look forward to the knowledge which will be gained from fully cataloging the three years of field school artifacts found at the historic White House Farm.
White House Farm Foundation