Archaeology’s catching on; Alexandrians really dig it!

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Archaeology’s catching on; Alexandrians really dig it!

July 6, 1995
By Pamela Cressey

Shuter's Hill SiteAll kids seem to love the dirt – digging it, sifting it, shaping it. Yet in the past few years, I have noticed a definite increase in the number of parents calling the Alexandria Archaeology Museum to ask about archaeological experiences for their under-10 children. They often say, “My children just can’t get enough archaeology, and they really want to see it and do it.”

What does a city archaeologist say in response? On one hand, I want to encourage everyone to participate in the discovery and preservation of our collective past. I am constrained, however, by both common sense (can you imagine supervising dozens of 5-year-olds in a scientific excavation?) and professional ethics. It takes years of apprenticeship and education to know how to excavate and what to do with artifacts so they “speak” about the past. After grappling with this dilemma for some time, the city staff, with the volunteers and the Friends of Alexandria Archaeology came upon a solution to satisfy all needs – Family Dig Days. Every year the city archaeologists offer specific Saturdays for people of all ages to come to the current excavation site and participate by screening the dirt after its excavated.

This year everyone is invited to the site at the George Washington Masonic National Memorial. No, we aren’t excavating under the memorial! The land to the north and east of the memorial has been cared for so carefully by the Masons that it still contains important archaeological evidence.

Go to the top of the memorial with the special tour. You will see to the northwest the vegetation pattern in the grass that outlines Fort Ellsworth, erected by Union forces during the Civil War. Look to your west and you will see two reservoirs. One of them was built in 1850 for the city’s first water company.

Now look to the north and you will see the city’s archaeological excavation fences, where we are searching for historical mansion foundations and Civil War barracks.

Reservations already are filled for all Family Dig Days through September. If you want to participate with or without children, telephone 838-4399 soon to reserve places for October Saturdays.

We will be celebrating Virginia Archaeology Month during October and throughout the fall by also offering Saturday workshops for children and adults through the Alexandria Department of Recreation, Parks and cultural Activities. The booklet will arrive in Alexandrians’ mailboxes in September. Call Ruth Reeder at 838-4399 for information.

Just love history and want to research, teach children, be a docent, or do administrative or library work with great people? Call Reeder and she will direct you to volunteer opportunities at Alexandria’s historic places.

Pamela Cressey is the Alexandria City Archaeologist.

Photo Caption: 

The City of Alexandria Family Dig Days offer a chance for people of all ages to touch the past at the George Washington Masonic National Memorial. Photo/courtesy Alexandria Archaeology