City of Alexandria, VA
Page updated Jul 28, 2012 4:28 PM
Documentary Research & Historical Archaeology
Historical Archaeologists use all the tools at their disposal to learn about the past. The archaeologists must put their archaeological sites and finds within the context of known history. Alexandria Archaeology staff and volunteers, and Cultural Resource Management firms conducting archaeological research in Alexandria, have conducted a vast amount of documentary research over the years, looking at the broader context of Alexandria history as well as specific site-related history.
In keeping with contemporary archaeological standards, archaeological project areas are placed within a general context of their environmental, cultural, and historical surroundings. Archaeological site reports include a section on the property's history, establishing the land use and occupation of the property from prehistoric times to the present. The documentary studies include maps and primary and secondary source information. The ultimate goal of the research is to identify, as precisely as possible, the potential locations of archaeological resources that may be preserved within the project area, and to develop a historical context for the interpretation of these potential resources.
The research involved in these studies includes a search of deeds, plats, title documents, probate and other court records; tax and census records; published and unpublished manuscripts of first-hand accounts (such as letters, diaries, and county histories); historical maps; newspaper articles; previous archaeological research; pedological (soil), geological and topographic maps; modern maps, previous construction plans and photographs that can indicate locations of previous ground disturbance; and information on file with Alexandria Archaeology and the local history sections of public libraries in northern Virginia. Information on file at Alexandria Archaeology may include to-scale historical maps, site reports, secondary compilations and indexes, and existing research on primary sources.
Site Reports and Public Summaries, prepared in accordance with the Alexandria Archaeological Protection Ordinance, each contain sections on the history of the site. These are being posted online as time permits. A complete Bibliography is also available, and all reports can be found at the Alexandria Library, Local History/Special Collections, at the Virginia Department of Historic Resource in Richmond, or by appointment at the Alexandria Archaeology Museum. The following are some examples of documentary studies prepared as part of archaeological preservation projects.