Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Mapping Buildings and Burials at Gloucester Town

Recent blog with the Fairfield Foundation:
Aerial view of Gloucester Point VIMS campus, with burial locations indicated

What happens to archaeological collections and associated documentation when the dig is over? Two weeks ago, fellow Colleen Betti wrote about her analysis of collections from the large slave quarter yards and midden at Fairfield (click here to read Colleen’s blog). Colleen’s research will culminate in a senior honor’s thesis at the College of William and Mary, which will be available to future researchers through Swem library. In a similar way, salvage and contract archaeology often concludes with a comprehensive technical report. In Virginia, these reports are available in the Department of Historical Resources (DHR) archives in Richmond. Archaeologists planning new field projects consult these site reports in order to get a glimpse of what other researchers learned and perhaps what they can expect from excavations. But what happens when numerous organizations and contract firms have excavated in the same area? It becomes much more difficult to piece together the history of a place and its residents unless all the various research has been synthesized.

Over the past year and a half, I have been working with the Fairfield Foundation to research the history and archaeology of Gloucester Point. In particular, we are interested in Gloucester Town, a thriving colonial port located on the York River and the present-day site of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS). Gloucester Town’s history of archaeological excavation extends back decades, primarily spurred by the expansion of the VIMS campus. These efforts led the placement of the Gloucester Point Archaeological District on the National Register of Historic Places in 1985. As a colonial port town, it has great comparative potential with sites like Colchester, recently excavated by Fairfax County archaeologists, and Yorktown, just across the river. Our goal is to add to the extensive body of research on Gloucester Point, writing “biographies” of Gloucester Town residents, overlaying historic plat maps on the landscape, and relocating previously-excavated archaeological features using GIS.

The high density of human burials is an endemic problem for archaeologists at Gloucester Point. While some contract firms elected to shift construction in order to preserve burials in situ, other firms fully excavated human remains, taking advantage of their research potential. Between 1983 and 2005, more than thirty burials were uncovered within the confines of historic Gloucester Town. My goal? Map each burial location – whether or not an individual is still interred on that site – in order to preserve extant human burials and determine known burial areas. The challenge? Mapping technology in the 1980s and 90s doesn’t come close to what we use today. I scanned site maps from the DHR, geo-referencing them (transforming them to a known coordinate system using a set of control points) in ArcGIS. I then digitized burial features, entering reference data in an associated table. The result? A clean map of burial locations on the VIMS campus, indicating key areas of historic burial concentrations. In particular, I note an area where seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Gloucester Town inhabitants were interred, a Revolutionary War era cemetery associated with Cornwallis’ siege of Yorktown and Gloucester Town, and a nineteenth-century burying ground postdating Gloucester Town. 

Beyond these goals, I have been researching the mortuary contexts and skeletal biology of individuals interred at Gloucester Point, contextualizing data using social history – a research model I take from Julie King and Douglas Ubelaker’s report at Patuxent Point, Maryland. I hope that this research – and the contributions of other Fairfield Foundation staff and volunteers – will add to the rich history of Gloucester and the Chesapeake region.

Friday, March 9, 2012

What to do

See our first wedding post here

Williamsburg is part of the Historic Triangle.  There are many things do between Williamsburg, Jamestown and Yorktown.  Here is a just a small list of places you may want to consider.  The NY Times also did a “36 hours in Williamsburg” article a few years ago.

Colonial Williamsburg: The main attraction of Williamsburg is the downtown Colonial area, which is a large scale living history museum set in 1774.  A variety of trades, shops, and history-themed events are available.  It doesn’t cost anything to walk around and look in the shops, but if you would like to go on tours or attend events, you will want to purchase a single or multi-day pass.   Information on ticket plans can be found here.

See also: Virtual tour of Colonial Williamsburg

Jamestown Island: This is the archaeological site of Jamestown, which is located on National Park Service land.  Excavations take place Monday-Friday and there is also a neat archaeology museum. Information on National Park passes can be found here.

Yorktown Battlefield:  This is the national historic park for the battle that took place in 1781.  Like Jamestown Island, it is on Park Service land.  There is a small museum as well as some monuments in the battlefield area.  Information on National Park passes can be found here.

Jamestown Settlement & Yorktown Victory Center: These locations tell the story of the English settlement at Jamestown and the battle of Yorktown.  They are fun, modern museums that would appeal to children more than the actual historic sites.  There is also a to-scale reproduction of James fort and an Algonquian village at Jamestown settlement, though we can’t guarantee the historical accuracy of the interpreters [end rant].

Yorktown Beach: This is a fun place to spend the afternoon or take a walk.  There are a few restaurants (we recommend the Carrot Tree) and there is a nice bit of beach that lines the York River.  It’s a lot calmer than the ocean and very pretty!

Busch Gardens/Water Country USA: This family friendly theme park has plenty of rides for all ages.  They also have a number of roller coasters for any thrill ride enthusiasts.  They also serve (expensive) beer.

Williamsburg Outlet Mall: Outlet shopping is offered on Richmond Rd outside of the main attractions of Williamsburg.

Note: Open up this map to take a look at the locations mentioned above!

View Things to do in Williamsburg in a larger map

Thursday, March 8, 2012


See our first wedding post here

Williamsburg is a tourist town.  There is about every chain restaurant to satisfy one’s imagination on Richmond Road.  Duke of Gloucester Street in Colonial Williamsburg contains a number of Taverns (and other nice restaurants), which would be considered fine dining for the area.  The following are local places that we would recommend for a casual bite to eat.

The Green Leafe Cafe: The Leafe has the best beer selection in town.  It is located around the corner from the Hospitality House.  The menu is mostly Pub Grub/American Food. 765 Scotland Street, Williamsburg, VA

Paul’s Deli: The deli is next door to the Green Leafe.  The menu is mostly delicious greasy sandwiches and other assorted Pub Grub.  765 Scotland Street, Williamsburg, VA

The Cheese Shop: The Cheese Shop is located on Duke of Gloucester Street as one enters Colonial Williamsburg.  They specialize in southern style deli sandwiches on good bread.  410 West Duke of Gloucester Street Williamsburg, VA

Aromas: The cozy coffee shop and cafĂ© is has a variety of salad and sandwich choices.  It is close to Colonial Williamsburg. 431 Prince George Street Williamsburg, VA

Retro’s: The restaurant offers the experience of a 50’s style burger joint.  The food is good and it is family friendly.  The location is near Colonial Williamsburg. 435 Prince George St Williamsburg, VA

Sal’s By Victor: Great Italian food is not what one would expect to find in Williamsburg.  Sal’s By Victor is a run-of-the-mill Italian restaurant that is family friendly.  The menu has a variety of choices at fairly reasonable prices.  1242 Richmond Road Williamsburg, VA

Tuesday, March 6, 2012


See our first wedding post here

St. Bede Chapel is located at 10 Harrison Avenue, Williamsburg, VA.  The Reception will be at the William and Mary Alumni House located at 500 Richmond Road, Williamsburg, VA.  The two building are next door to each other.

Driving Directions to St. Bede Chapel

(From the North)
Take I-95 Southbound to Exit 84A (I-295 S).  Take I-295 S until Exit 28A (I-64 E).  Take I-64 E until Exit 238 (VA-143).  Make a slight right onto VA-143 E (Merrimac Trail).  Turn Right onto VA-132 S.  Turn right onto Lafayette St.  Make a left onto Harrison Avenue.  The Chapel will be across the intersection with Richmond Road.

(From the South)
Take I-95 Northbound until Exit 46 (I-295 N).  Take I-295 N until Exit 28A (I-64 E).  Take I-64 E until Exit 238 (VA-143).  Make a slight right onto VA-143 E (Merrimac Trail).  Turn Right onto VA-132 S.  Turn right onto Lafayette St.  Make a left onto Harrison Avenue.  The Chapel will be across the intersection with Richmond Road.

(From the West)
Take I-64 E until Exit 238 (VA-143).  Make a slight right onto VA-143 E (Merrimac Trail).  Turn Right onto VA-132 S.  Turn right onto Lafayette St.  Make a left onto Harrison Avenue.  The Chapel will be across the intersection with Richmond Road.

Alternate Roads

US-1: This roughly mirrors I-95 from Washington, DC through Richmond.  While the speed limit is lower and the road has stoplights, it’s a viable alternative to I-95.

US-60: This mirrors I-64 from Richmond through Williamsburg.  It’s a good alternative if I-64 is congested.  The road has a country driving experience and generally allows for decent travel speeds.

US-301: The road runs from Delaware to Richmond.  It can be used as an alternative to I-95.  If taken from Delaware, one travels down the DelMarVa peninsula and across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge.  The tolls are lower than on I-95.  The road can also be accessed from I-495 outside Washington, DC and eventually leads to I-295.  The route is slower, but scenic.  From Delaware, add about an hour to travel time.  From DC, add 40 minutes to travel time.


Beyond the great American Road trip, our guests may be interested in the following options:

Williamsburg Amtrak Station: The station is about ½ mile from the Church.  The Northeast Region line services the station.  Taxi service is available at the station.

Richmond International Airport: The airport services a number of airlines and is approximately an hour drive to the Church.

Newport News International Airport: The airport is smaller than Richmond, but is a thirty minute drive to the Church.

Note: Open up the map below to get directions and estimate travel times from your location!

View Laura and Paul's Wedding 5-19-2012 in a larger map

Monday, March 5, 2012

Just around the bend

The wedding is coming up, just around the (river)bend at T-minus seventy-five days.  After more than thirteen months of planning, it's really starting to feel close!  Paul and I have prepared several wedding-related posts, which you can access through the 'Wedding' tab under 'TOPICS' on the right margin.  These are primarily centered around travel to Williamsburg, hotels, places to eat, and things to do if you plan on spending more time in town.  I have also prepared several maps so you can orient yourselves with Williamsburg before you arrive.  We are looking forward to spending our special day with you all!

A few details...
Date: Saturday, May 19, 2012
Location: Williamsburg, Virginia
Ceremony: St. Bede Chapel, 2pm
Reception: William and Mary Alumni House, immediately following the wedding Mass (about 3:30)
Brunch: For all wedding guests, Sunday, May 20, Williamsburg Hospitality House, Papillon Dining Room, 9:30am-1pm
Registry: We are registered at Amazon.com and we also have a small registry at Target for in-store purchases

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Fukushima and Disasters of Centuries Past

In today's Washington Post, there is an article about the large-scale abandonment of areas surrounding the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant that occurred after March's nuclear accident.  The article focuses on the disaster's effect on the region's cattle industry, but also mentions how the sudden human abandonment left the area "frozen in time."  Because of health risks associated with exposure to radiation, an area of about 12 miles surrounding the plant will probably have to remain abandoned for decades.

It's sad to see how many lives have been ruined by the earthquake-precipitated accident.  I can't imagine how difficult it must be to be removed from a place that is your home, and lose your business to boot.  However, the situation did make me recall several archaeological examples of large-scale abandonment.  Probably the best known example is Pompeii, buried under a thick layer of ash from an AD 79 volcanic eruption.  A similar example from Ceren, El Salvador, reveals the wealth of information that can be gleaned from rapid abandonment and preservation due to volcanic eruption.  The Makah village of Ozette in northwest Washington, buried under a mudslide in about 1700, was also well-preserved and and a fruitful project for investigating continuities in Makah cultural identity.

Plaza area at Aguateca
Yet some examples of abandonment are not linked to an obvious natural disaster.  For example, the Maya site of Aguateca in Guatemala was burned (probably due to warfare) and abandoned at some point during the late classic period (AD 600-830), its residents leaving household materials in the process of use.  This example is especially poignant when compared to the area surrounding the Fukuskima Daiichi nuclear power plant.  Both are examples of how cultural as well as natural disasters can lead to sudden regional abandonment, but also provide a unique glimpse at household practices.  While advanced technology like nuclear power - a cultural adaptation - fuels a complex, inter-connected world, it does not remove our vulnerability to natural and culturally-precipitated disasters.


Inomata, Takeshi and Laura R. Stiver. 1998.  Floor Assemblages from Burned Structures at Aguateca, Guatemala: A Study of Classic Maya Households. Journal of Field Archaeology 25(4):431-452.

McKee, Brian R. 2002. Household archaeology and cultural formation processes: Examples from the Ceren site, El Salvador. In The Archaeology of Household Activities, Ed. Penelope M. Allison, 30-42. London: Routledge.

Wessen, Gary. 1990. Prehistory of the Ocean Coast of Washington. In Handbook of American Indians, vol. 7: Northwest Coast, ed. Wayne Suttles, 412-421. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Honoring the Dead

I'm back!  The past three months have been a whirlwind - moving (back) to Williamsburg, starting graduate school, and wedding planning - and somewhere along the way blogging got left in the dust.  Yet my mind has been brimming with thoughts and ideas, so here we go --

Recently, I've spent a lot of time thinking about my academic specialty and career in general.  While I have always loved being in school, life as a graduate student has certainly made me question my desire to get a PhD and pursue an academic career.  I suppose it's easy to idealize working or being in school from the other side of the fence - I certainly did when I was working full time.  This semester has been full of frustrations - fear of failure (or fear of just adequacy), a struggle to fit into an academic environment as a grad student, and efforts to maintain balance between "work" and "home".  All the same, I've at least reached an understanding of some academic interests (those pidgenholed "research interests" on a CV...) and tentitve ideas for my thesis.

Archaeological discovery of a human burial
As some of my readers will remember, I spent much of my "year off" working in repatriation, the return of human remains and objects to claimant Native American Tribes.  When I returned to William and Mary for graduate school this fall, I decided to take a class in human skeletal biology.  The inordinate amount of excitement I had for this class - which consisted of learning to identify and analyze in basic ways the bones of the human body - started the turning of the gears... 

In contemporary archaeology, you generally don't want to find burials.  Human bones mean paperwork, politics, and controversy, especially if they turn out to be the remains of Native Americans.  But I've realized over the past few months that sometimes the best way to mitigate controversies is to understand them, to be well versed in mortuary practices and skeletal biology so that when issues arise - whether in museum repatriation, construction projects, or academic archaeology - you are prepared to reach a compromise between the prerogatives of different communities.

From Written in Bone
Let's face it: we (Americans) don't like to talk about death.  It's the unknown, the uncertain (and in the case of zombies, the seriously frightening).  In some cultures, talking about death is taboo.  Yet for others - the Hispanic celebration of the Day of the Dead, for example - family members revisit the graves of the dead as a way of remembering their lives.  As Americans, we see great importance in honoring those who have gone before us, especially those who died tragically or in military conflicts, as revealed in recent controversies about Arlington Cemetery, the Air Force (and this), and the placement of the remains of 9-11 victims in a public memorial museum.  But it's important to remember that culturally, we understand death, burial, and memory in very different ways - hence the reason why the remains of early Euro-American settlers can be displayed in a museum while it would be unacceptable (today) to display Native American remains in a similar way.

I see the study of the dead as an important way to honor those who have come before us, by remembering their lives.  Just think about it.

Remembering those who died on 9-11