Archaeology is a family affair during Archaeology Month
October 6, 1994
By Pamela J. Cressey
Family members enjoying the discovery of artifacts during a Public Dig Day in 1992 on the Sugar House Site, currently under construction on North Columbus and Cameron streets.
How true this statement is! Because the excavations are so visible and technical, the dirt part of archaeology is usually the predominant image. In fact, archaeology can even be conducted with modern day trash collected from contemporary homes. There is much more to archaeology than digging, but the excavation methods and strategies usually produce the information which leads to an understanding of the past.
When you look at an archaeological site, you may see nothing on the ground surface except strings which lay out a grid. Just like city blocks, the squares define the locational coordinates of the site. Rather than an address such as 717 Queen Street, an excavation square is referred to by two compass directions and measurements from a central datum on the site.
For instance, squares under excavation at the Carlyle House now have names such as South 20/West 20 and South 20/West 25. Using the Southwest corner of each square as its name, we can tell that the square is 20 feet south of the datum and 20 or 25 feet west of the datum.
During Archaeology Month, my column will take you week by week through each of the steps of archaeological study on one of Alexandria's sites. While our eyes only saw a parking lot when we looked at the corner of North Columbus and Cameron streets, we found over five years that incredible clues to Alexandria's national leadership role were still preserved under the asphalt.
I hope you will visit the Alexandria Archaeology Museum in the Torpedo Factory Art Center, 105 North Union Street, to see archaeology in action. Call 703-838-4399 for times and dates of special hands-on programs for the whole family.
And on Saturdays in October, you can visit the Carlyle House excavation on North Fairfax Street across from Market Square. You will also see families working with the Alexandria Archaeology volunteers and city archaeologists in our popular Public Dig Days.
To see Fairfax County's rich archaeology, call 703-237-4881 to reserve your place in a tour of an American Indian site that is 8500 years old. Call the same number for information about the Wednesday lunch lecture series by the Fairfax County archaeologists. If you visit Waterford during its annual fair, October 7,8,9 don't miss the excavation of an African American site in this historic Quaker community.
Pamela Cressey is the Alexandria City Archaeologist.