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Archaeology at Monticello, Home of Thomas Jefferson
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The field school took a trip to Virginia’s Coastal Plain last week. The outing included visits to excavations at Jamestown and Colonial Williamsburg. Thanks to our colleagues at both for their hospitality!
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Archaeologist Ben Ford from Rivanna Archaeological Services and Executive Director Sara Bon-Harper (a former Monticello Archaeology Research Manager) show us the stone foundation and wing believed to be the original home of James Monroe at Highland.
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After sampling a large area using a stratified random sample, we returned to the location where we found the greatest density of early-19th-century artifacts and dug the majority of our squares. You can see that area in the center of this shot. We were on the hunt for any evidence of architectural features that dug into the subsoil, such as posts for a building.
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Overglaze Chinese porcelain rim, likely from a plate. We found this piece in plowzone during excavations on the north side of the Mountaintop. while we have other similar pieces at Monticello, this piece has the best preserved colors.
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Over the past couple of weeks, our crew has been hard at work uncovering a cellar in order to identify the structure’s size and information about its construction which will aid in dating and determining the building’s function. To figure out dimensions of the building, we exposed three of its corners, revealing that it measures 11’x11’ square. The walls are built with worked greenstone cobbles and are bonded together with a soft mortar. Portland cement is not present in this mortar, which means the walls predate the late 19th century. The purpose of the structure remains unknown, although we do have several hypotheses. The most probable hypothesis is that it served as a grain silo where silage would be left to cure during the winter months. Square silos were common between 1870 and 1900 and were rarely built thereafter. The round silo gained popularity due to its lack of interior corners which made it difficult to remove silage. This fits our working hypothesis that the cellar was likely constructed sometime between the 1870s and the turn of the century when the Levy family owned Monticello. Close examination of the mortar removed from the cellar walls will help to better define the structure’s date of construction. This structure reminds us of the changes the Levy family made to Monticello once the plantation was sold after Jefferson’s death.
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The 2016 UVA-Monticello Field School has begun! Check out some of the photos from Day 1. Students listened to Director of Archaeology Fraser Neiman talk about archaeology at Monticello, and they visited Site 6, an early 19th-century quarter site in the woods where they’ll be digging this summer.
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Congratulations to our colleagues at James Monroe’s Highland on their new discoveries! Check out the excitement for yourself: http://highland.org/science-rewrites-history-at-the-home-of-president-james-monroe/
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The field crew returned to the Mulberry Row side of the Mountaintop about a month ago to excavate between the Stone Stable and the reconstructed Hemings cabin, building t. We’re searching for fence posts from either of Jefferson’s two paling fence lines that date to 1796 and 1809. This fence line separated Mulberry Row from the vegetable garden which Jefferson wanted enclosed “as not to let even a young hare in.” We’re looking for two sets of different sediment color changes. One is a large round intrusion that represents the hole dug for the post, or the post hole. This encircles a smaller, dark, circular deposit which is the post mold where the post would been placed. Archaeology in the 1980s identified some of these fence posts, and so far we found four new posts. We expect to find three more based on the ten foot interval between posts we’ve identified. What’s really cool is that this ten foot interval is about the spacing that Jefferson specified in one of his letters.
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Our final site photos show the entire spatial extent of our fieldwork along the north side of the mountaintop. We enlisted the help of quadcoptors, or drones, to capture the whole area. Thanks to the guys from Aerial Video & Imagery for their help! While we haven't found any features indicating there was a building here, the large amounts of early 19th-century artifacts in the plowzone layer suggest this area may have had an early 19th-century domestic component to it. Stay tuned as we turn to cataloging and analyzing artifacts recovered from the site.
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Since early November, the field crew has been excavating on the north side of the house on the mountaintop. While the area looks to be plowzone, we’ve hit a spot with a surprisingly large amount of early 19th-century artifacts.  We’re unsure whether this was a dump site for early 19th-century domestic refuse or if we’re on the edge of a domestic site. We’ll continue to brave these chilly temperatures to find out more!
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October is Virginia Archaeology Month! 
Monticello’s Archaeology Department hosts its annual open house on October 24th from 10am to 4pm. We will host walking tours of the vanished Monticello Plantation landscape and feature our new interactive dig for archaeologists-in-training. While all the events are free, reservations for the interactive dig are required. Come see our recent discoveries from both the field and the lab!
For more information, please visit
https://www.monticello.org/…/…/events/archaeology-open-house
Visit · Jefferson · House & Gardens · Plantation & Slavery · Research & Collections · Families & Teachers · Online Community · Shop · Donate · The Trail at Monticello is Central Virginia's most popular park · Always wanted to go upstairs? The Mountaintop Project: Revealing Jefferson's Monticello ...
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The field crew has been busy uncovering a trench feature which parallels the edge of a 20th-century stone retaining wall at the Stone Stables along Mulberry Row. Excavation efforts aim to better understand the purpose of the feature. We originally thought the trench was a builder’s trench for the construction of the retaining wall or a Jefferson-era stable wall. However, we found wire nails (ca. 1890) and bits of plastic and rubber in the fill of the trench, proving that theory wrong. Further, the rocks in the trench are not laid like a foundation. The retaining wall itself exhibits at least two phases of construction. The first phase is the initial construction of the retaining wall on top an earlier c.1808 wall. The second phase of construction appears to be a repair, where smaller stones were used and bonded together with higher quality cement. We know that the stone retaining wall was constructed shortly after a storm which struck Monticello in 1927. Our new working hypothesis is that masons unearthed the older c. 1808 wall after the storm and reused it as a retaining wall. Later masons then dug a trench to repair that part of the wall that collapsed some time in the 20th century. They discarded the rocks from the collapsed wall into the trench dug for the repair. Further excavations along and possibly beneath the two walls may yield the best insight into their construction history and the function of the earlier wall. Stay tuned as we continue to dig!
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People
In their circles
21 people
Have them in circles
87 people
sasan rad's profile photo
ashraf khan's profile photo
Elizabeth Bollwerk's profile photo
South East European Archaeological Summer School's profile photo
David Bruce Smith Publications's profile photo
Matthew Collins's profile photo
Hayden Bassett's profile photo
J. M. Asher's profile photo
Visit Knossos's profile photo
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Explore. Analyze. Discover. The archaeology of Thomas Jefferson's Monticello.
Introduction
The Department of Archaeology is dedicated to studying and preserving Monticello's archaeological record, and to deciphering its meaning through comparative research. Historical topics of special focus in the Department's fieldwork include landscape history and slavery, both at Monticello and in the Chesapeake region. The Department is home to the Digital Archaeological Archive of Comparative Slavery, an Internet-based initiative designed to foster collaborative research and data sharing among archaeologists. The Department also houses extensive artifact collections from past and on-going archaeological fieldwork at Monticello.