City of Alexandria, VA
Page updated Dec 7, 2010 11:39 AM
Enlightened property owners aid preservation
June 9, 1994
By Pamela J. Cressey
Archaeologists are finding that we may not always be right about the future, but we are discovering and saving more information about the past through the management approach. An area can be systematically investigated before development occurs, with the goal of identifying locations of significant archaeological resources and selecting treatment options and priorities. This management approach is the antithesis of the stereotype of archaeologists running around at the last minute holding up development to save and esoteric cache of artifacts. by knowing how many resources, such as Civil War battlefields, we have remaining, it is possible to decide which ones should be protected, interpreted for public enjoyment, or developed.
These decisions are based upon the concept of resources "significance", which is evaluated within a "historic context." In other words, all resources are no equally important. The evaluation includes questions such as: Is the resource well preserved, with "integrity"? Does it represent an important person, event, group or process in American, regional or local history? Does it have the potential to contribute to future research?
The number of archaeological management projects is increasing. Due to either legislation or voluntary action, developers increasingly are hiring their own archaeologists to evaluate their land and develop management plans. The Walt Disney project planned for an area near Haymarket is undergoing this type of study now.
In Alexandria, a number of developers have carried out archaeological management. Recently the Mark Winkler Co. has completed the process of identification, evaluation and preservation of its resources on 62 acres of Mark Center properties. The archaeologist employed by the company, Bob Adams, has spent three years walking, digging and studying the Mark Center property. He credits the "owners progressive outlook" as the reason all this work was undertaken years before any planned development. All sites have now been archaeologically excavated, so any future development will not inadvertently damage Alexandria's heritage.
The first step in the Mark Center study was a walk-over to identify any resource clues on the surface. Next, Adams placed 437 shovel test excavations across the landscape to identify where artifacts may still be preserved in the prehistoric and historic soil stratigraphy.
This part of Alexandria has a hilly topography composed of gravel terraces bisected with drainage channels. This is the boundary between the Piedmont Uplands and Coastal Plain, as well as the boundary between the tidal and freshwater Potomac River. Thus American Indians would have had access to diverse natural resources. The prehistoric inhabitants of Alexandria had two different physical and riverine zones to use for hunting and gathering and fishing.
Pamela Cressey is the Alexandria City archaeologist.