Highlights from the Collection: Prehistoric Artifacts

Native American artifacts that have been found in various places around Alexandria can be dated as early as 13,200 years ago and as late as 1,600 AD, during which time various groups used the area as a fishing camp.

Page updated on Mar 8, 2020 at 10:41 AM

Prehistoric Artifacts

Just upriver from Alexandria, the river tumbles over a series of cataracts known as Great Falls, its last obstacle to the Chesapeake Bay. These falls form a barrier to fish traveling upstream to spawn each year, which in turn makes the area just downstream a good fishing ground for local people.

Learn more about Native American life in Alexandria.

Clovis Point - Paleoindian Period

Clovis Point The Clovis Point Drawing by Andrew Flora

Clovis Point, quartzite. Paleoindian Period.
Catalogue number AX179-532-M-461. Drawing by Andrew Flora.

The Clovis Point is the oldest artifact found in Alexandria. The Alexandria Clovis Point, made of quartzite, was broken during manufacture, as the knapper was attempting to remove a small lump of stone near the tip. Clovis, named for a site in New Mexico, is identified by its ground, concave base, bifacial blade, and the fluted channel, which allowed the point to be hafted or attached to a spear. Clovis points have been found in neighboring Fairfax County, and over 1,000 have been found throughout Virginia. Clovis points are found all across the country, and were all made within a short time period of about 200 years.

The Clovis Point was made in the Paleoindian Period (13,000-10,000 years ago). During this period, small bands of Native Americans moved frequently through the area, hunting and collecting plant resources. The Clovis Point, discovered in 2007, is the first evidence of their presence in Alexandria.

The Clovis Point was found at the Freedmen’s Cemetery Site. This major prehistoric site, on a bluff overlooking Hunting Creek, was periodically visited by different groups of native peoples for thousands of years. Paleoindians left the Clovis point there 13,000 years ago. In the Archaic period, 10,000-3,000 years ago, several stone tools and thousands of quartz and quartzite flakes from the tool-making process were left on the site. A few Woodland period artifacts were also found, from 3,000-400 years ago. During the Civil War, the graves of the Freedmen’s Cemetery were dug through the prehistoric site. The site was excavated as part of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge project and is being developed as the Contraband and Freedmen's Cemetery Memorial.

Kirk Point - Archaic Period Kirk Point

Kirk Point, Middle Archaic Period.
Catalogue number AX185-3-3879.

The Kirk Point is the second oldest artifact found in Alexandria. One of the characteristics of this quartzite point is its serrated edges.

The Kirk Point is from the Archaic Period, 10,000-3,000 years ago. This period saw the continuation of the hunting and foraging lifestyle of the earlier Paleoindians. They lived in seasonal camps while fishing and gathering shellfish. The Archaic Period also brought about the development of new tools such as ground stone axes, mortar and pestles, and weighted spear-throwers called atlatls.

The Kirk Point was found at the Jones Point Site, on the banks of Hunting Creek. While Jones Point was inhabited in the Archaic period, Woodland Period artifacts (3,000 to 400 years ago) were more prevalent. Jones Point Park, owned by the National Park Service, and the nearby Freedmen’s Cemetery Site were both excavated as part of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge project.

Potomac Creek Pottery - Woodland Period Potomac Creek Pottery

Potomac Creek Pottery, Cord impressed. Late Woodland Period.
Catalogue number AX175-C-1930-0001.

Potomac Creek Pottery was manufactured some time between 1300 AD and the arrival of Europeans in the 17th century. This fragment is the rim of a vessel with a round base. It is cord-impressed, with the texture made by wrapping a rope around the wet clay pot.

The Woodland Period, 3,100-400 years ago, brought about the beginnings of agriculture, with Native Americans cultivating corn, squash and beans. In this period, they began manufacturing pottery, and some groups established more permanent camps or villages on the shores of larger rivers.

In the 1930s, a neighborhood boy found this potsherd and other prehistoric artifacts in a creek bed at the Shuter’s Hill Site. Alexandria Archaeology has been excavating this site, on the grounds of the George Washington Masonic Memorial, for a number of years, concentrating on an 18th and 19th century plantation. Archaeologists have found a prehistoric hand-axe and several other stone tools amidst the historic artifacts of the plantation site.