What can home and business owners do when they encounter sinkholes or small circular depressions in their backyard? These backyard features may be the buried remains of historic wells or privies. As archaeologists, we want to protect and save them!
What can you as a steward of Alexandria’s history do if you find one of these in your backyard? This step-by-step guide shows how you can save history, fix your sinkhole, and become one of Alexandria’s Archaeology Protectors.
The buried history of Alexandria is like a book full of stories that have yet to be read. Help Alexandria Archaeology preserve each important page for future generations to enjoy, study and learn. If you are approached by a person asking to dig your yard who is not a City of Alexandria archaeologist, please call us at 703.746.4399. There are safety concerns about this kind of activity. Additionally, every time a well or privy is dug just to find and keep the bottles, we lose an important page in Alexandria’s history book.
Each old well and privy in Alexandria has the potential to answer all sorts of questions about previous residents all the way back to 1749. What did people eat? How did they decorate their homes? What were the lives of enslaved people like in early Alexandria? These kinds of questions about past people are best answered when studied by professional archaeologists.
Read Making archaeology accessible , Out of the Attic, Alexandria Times, August 11, 2022.
An Archaeology Protector’s Guide to Backyard Sinkholes
Printable Protector’s Guide to Backyard Sinkholes
Say your dog has discovered a circular depression in the back corner of your yard or you noticed a sinking spot in the paved area or alley behind your business. You may be the lucky caretaker of a piece of Alexandria’s buried history!
Step 1. You find a suspected sinkhole on your property. Call Alexandria Archaeology at 703.746.4399 or put in a 311 service request for “sinkhole on property.”
Step 2. City of Alexandria Archaeologists will ask for permission to come out for a visit and see the sinking area. Alternatively, you can provide photos and location information.
Step 3. City of Alexandria Archaeologists won’t disturb or dig the area. We want to record the information and advise that the best practice is to keep the possible well or privy in place for future generations.
Step 4. City of Alexandria Archaeologists will recommend the best way to fix the sinkhole problem while caring for your backyard history.
Step 5. Alexandria Archaeology will provide the owners with a brief history of their property, including maps and images that you can share with family and friends. You will also receive a certification of membership in Alexandria’s Archaeology Protector’s Society.
For more information preserving historic sinkholes, see this Letter to the Editor written to the Chair of the Archaeological Commission.