Archaeology Field School at Stratford Hall

For five weeks in May and June, Stratford Hall is once again hosting a Field School in Archaeology in cooperation with the University of Mary Washington’s Department of Historic Preservation. Under the direction of Dr. Douglas W. Sanford, students learn to survey, excavate, document, and interpret the archaeological record of Stratford’s 18th century landscapes. Students are housed on the plantation, and in addition to field work they also participate in weekly class discussions of archaeological readings and take field trips to nearby historic properties and other archaeological sites in Virginia and Maryland.
The focus of this year’s dig is the Oval Site (ST92), a farming complex which dates from approximately 1740 to 1780, and is located about 800 feet south of the Great House on the western side of the Oval drive. The site was originally discovered in the 197os during a plantation-wide survey directed by Dr. Fraser Neiman. Beginning in 2001, the site has been investigated by 8 UMW field schools. At present, the site consists of what we suspect to be an overseer’s house featuring a full-height brick-lined basement, a large 20′ x 40′ post-in-ground barn, and a third structure, also post-in-ground, that was discovered last year in the western portion of the site. This structure is believed to have been either a kitchen or slave quarter.

The 2010 Field School is continuing to investigate and uncover portions of this possible kitchen or slave quarter. We are currently in our third week, and have already found a portion of what we hope is another posthole for the building, several other features, and numerous artifacts. The artifacts include both architectural debris and domestic refuse ranging from countless brick fragments, hand-wrought iron nails, and pieces of window glass to a wide variety of ceramics including coarse utilitarian earthenwares to fine porcelain tablewares. Brass tacks, white-clay pipe stems, table glass, gun flints, brass buckles, iron bridle bits, and even a prehistoric projectile point have been found as well.
By carefully digging 5′ x 5′ squares of dirt, layer by layer with shovels and trowels, in the area of the suspected third building, the students and crew continue to learn more about the size of this structure, what it was used for, and what was around it. The artifacts screened from those layers of dirt tell us when the site was occupied, what kinds of materials were used in the building’s construction, and what kind of activities were carried out by the occupants of the site. Learning more about this building and the enslaved African Americans and free white employees who likely worked and/or lived in this structure contributes to the understanding of Stratford’s complex 18th century communities and landscapes.

The Field School is onsite Monday through Friday from 8am to 4pm and runs until June 18th. We hope you’ll come and visit while we’re working and learn more about this site!