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Archaeology at Monticello, Home of Thomas Jefferson
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Explore. Analyze. Discover. The archaeology of Thomas Jefferson's Monticello.
Explore. Analyze. Discover. The archaeology of Thomas Jefferson's Monticello.

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Dr. Barnet Pavao-Zuckerman from the University of Maryland visited the Monticello field school to give students a glimpse into zooarchaeology, or the study of animal bones from archaeological sites. She brought with her some great samples from her study collection. In current excavations, we aren't finding a lot of bone but have large amounts of bone from 18th- and 19th-century deposits along Mulberry Row that tell us about enslaved people's diet. Thanks to Dr. Pavao-Zuckerman for sharing her expertise!
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7/12/17
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Field school students completed their first five foot by five foot test squares several days ago. They dug these squares at Site 6, which is the spot of an early 19th-century quarter site for enslaved agricultural laborers. Data collected will help refine site boundaries and narrow down the potential location of a cabin. We're now excavating on the West Lawn, so keep an eye out for us there!
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7/2/17
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Field school traveled across the fall line to visit archaeological sites in Jamestowne and excavations at Robert Carter’s terraced gardens in Williamsburg. Thanks to our colleagues in the Coastal Plain for their hospitality!
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6/22/17
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Our field school students applied their new knowledge about shovel test pit survey at James Monroe's Highland where we worked with UVA PhD Candidate Kyle Edwards. Kyle is trying to locate Monroe-era structures in the fields surrounding Highland’s standing outbuildings. Students dug shovel test pits, or a circular hole one foot in diameter, every 20 feet. They found a variety of artifacts, including part of a cast iron stove, handmade brick fragments, factory-made slipware, and bottle glass shards. Despite these finds, it seems that structures were probably not located in this area during Monroe’s ownership of Highland - the the early 19th-century artifact density is much too low. What early artifacts we did find occurred were in fill sediments, jumbled with 20th-century artifacts like plastic. But for Kyle, that's useful information. As we learned in our lecture on modern approaches to archaeological survey: "Zeros are data". In other words, you cannot properly interpret the historical meaning of an artifact scatter's location unless you can accurately estimate the density of artifacts around it.
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6/19/17
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The UVA-Monticello field school began last week. Twelve undergraduates representing universities from around the country will learn about archaeology for the next six weeks. The field school sites will include Site 6, a field quarter site for enslaved African Americans dating to the first quarter of the 19th century, and near the South Pavilion on the West Lawn. We’re excited to see what we might find this summer! Check out photos from Week 1.
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6/14/17
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The archaeology team is currently working inside of the Workmen’s House/Textile Workshop. We’re digging in advance of restoration of the space as part of the Mountaintop Project. The structure was built around 1775/6 and originally housed free white workmen who were building Monticello mansion. Jefferson may have converted the space into a Textile Workshop around 1809. One significant find was relocating the stone partition dating to the 1770s which divided the building into two 17 foot by 17 foot square rooms confirming Jefferson’s architectural drawing from 1770 (N38).
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5/3/17
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We’re discovering one surprise after another in Monticello’s first Kitchen. Over the past two weeks, we uncovered the remains of a brick stew stove, the 18th-century equivalent of modern stove top or cooking range. The stove’s surface was about waist high. There were four “stew holes” in its surface. The cook placed burning charcoal on an iron grate in each hole. He then placed a trivet across the top of the hole and pan or pot on the trivet. We discovered the four compartments below each hole into which ash dropped, so that it could be easily removed. We even found ash from the last few times the stove was used over 200 years ago.

It is unclear what year Jefferson installed this stew stove at Monticello. One of Jefferson’s earliest sketches for the Kitchen from about 1771 did include a stew stove, in roughly the spot we found the masonry remains. Jefferson would have seen a stew stove in action at the Governor’s Palace in Williamsburg while a student in the 1760s and again as governor in the late 1770s. Certainly he saw stew stoves in France between 1784 and 1789 – stew stoves coevolved there with classic French cuisine in the households of the French aristocracy.

Whether built in the 1770’s or in 1790’s, the stew stove in Monticello’s first kitchen is one of the earliest in the British North America. Enslaved cook James Hemings, who trained France, used these stoves to cook French cuisine that Jefferson favored.
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3/2/17
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The archaeology team is hard at work trying to learn more about the layout of Jefferson’s first kitchen, which was located on the ground floor of the South Pavilion. This kitchen was used from 1770 to about 1808 when Jefferson's workmen deposited three feet of fill in it to make the floor level match the level of the adjacent South Wing, which was nearing completion at that time. The ground floor of the Pavilion then became a wash house.

In the 1940s, restoration architect Milton Grigg dug a couple of large craters into the Jefferson fill, hoping to find architectural evidence for the first kitchen. We have removed the fill in these holes and have encountered some exciting new architectural details about the original kitchen fireplace, which was located in the northwest corner. We found heavily burned bricks at the back of the fireplace and two iron gudgeons in the side wall. The gudgeons would have supported an iron crane from which pots were suspended over the fire. We also saw racking in the brickwork of the Pavilion's north wall, voids between bricks where the long-vanished chimney breast keyed into the existing wall. We also found a single remaining brick from the arch that formed the kitchen fireplace opening, bonded into the Pavilion wall. The racking leaves little doubt that this space was intended to be a kitchen when the building was initially constructed.

We found thousands of 18th- and 19th-century artifacts, including toothbrushes, copper alloy and shell buttons, ceramics, straight pins, and glass beads in the Grigg fill. This is a puzzle we are still trying to figure out. One option is that Grigg used sediment from the artifact-rich midden that we know extends across the Kitchen Yard to fill in his excavations. But why would Grigg not just fill his holes with the dirt that came out of them?

The second option is that the fill is a mix of the 1808 deposit and a post-Jefferson layer that accumulated above it above it that contained the later artifacts. This would make sense if the wash house had a leaky wooden floor -- or perhaps no floor at all. This would have offered a surface on which dropped artifacts could escape being cleaned up. Grigg "restored" the floor of the washhouse in brick and in the process removed any evidence for the original. We hope further excavation and analysis will help us decide what the wash house floor looked like.
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2/16/17
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Here is a taste of what the field crew has been finding in fill inside of the South Pavilion!
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1/30/17
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The field crew has moved inside the lower level of the South Pavilion to excavate in advance of the restoration and interpretation of the space. This brick building is the oldest standing structure on the Mountaintop and housed the original kitchen on the bottom story and the Jeffersons’ living quarters on the top floor. A Wash Room replaced the Kitchen by 1809 when it moved to the newly built South Wing. Filling took place when construction of the South Wing, which housed a dairy, smokehouse, three rooms for enslaved African Americans, and a new kitchen, was completed around 1809.

Based on construction work undertaken by architect Milton Grigg in the 1940s, we know that the original brick floor of the South Pavilion kitchen lies buried under three feet of fill displaced from the excavation of the South Wing. Pipes from bathroom installed in the 1960s lie beneath different historic fill. We’re unsure where this fill came from, but the fill is rich in 18th- and 19th-century artifacts. Construction workers in the 1960s may have used fill from the nearby Kitchen Yard as backfill, as there is a high quantity of faunal material. We’ve finished excavating the pipe trenches, and will remove the 3-feet of fill sealing the original brick floor of the kitchen.
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1/26/17
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