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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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Archaeology at Monticello, Home of Thomas Jefferson's posts

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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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Our archaeology team is currently working in the South Wing, gathering evidence that will inform its upcoming restoration and interpretation, as part of the Mountaintop Project.
We have discovered a portion of a flight of stairs attached to the outside of the South Pavilion that date to the 1770s. These stairs led from the original kitchen, located in the first level of the South Pavilion, up to the West Lawn. When Jefferson moved to Monticello in 1770, he occupied the upper room of the Pavilion, which was a free-standing building. The lower level was finished as a kitchen by 1772. After Jefferson moved out of the South Pavilion to the main house around 1778, the Pavilion still functioned as the kitchen, and the enslaved cooks used these steps to access the West Lawn and bring prepared food to the main house dining room.
The original kitchen floor lies under 3-feet of fill. Filling took place when construction of the South . Wing, which housed a dairy, smokehouse, three slave rooms, and a new kitchen, was completed around 1809.
While pipes from the 1940s and 1960s intrude, many steps were found in-situ and appear to continue down to the level of the original kitchen floor. The staircase is an important architectural trace of the First Monticello.
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1/13/17
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This fall, Monticello’s archaeology lab staff is focusing on cataloguing the artifacts collected from the summer 2016 Site 6 excavations. Located about a half mile from the mountain top, this site is an early-19th-century quarter for enslaved field laborers. We’re also digitizing all of the field records, measurements, and drawings recorded throughout the excavation. We will be able to incorporate this information into an updated report of the site that encompasses all of the archaeological data collected there over six excavation seasons. Here’s a little “show and tell” of some of the domestic artifacts found there, photographed by archaeology lab assistant Caitlin Hepner and Beth Sawyer. These artifacts give us a snapshot into lives of the individuals who occupied the site by showing us what types of items they would have owned and used.
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2016-10-19
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Congrats to our 2016 field school graduates! Meredith, Chris, Belle, Dana, Allison, Gabby, Emily, Paige, Jane, Erika, and Chelsea really "Nailed It!" This group knocked out 12 5x5 squares at Site 6, excavated thousands of early 19th-century artifacts, and found two features. We will post more photos on their discoveries in the upcoming weeks.
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2016-07-22
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The Monticello field school traveled out of Virginia’s Piedmont into to the Northern Neck to help with excavations at Coan Hall (44NB11), the 17th- and 18th-century home site of one of the first English settlers to the area, John Mottrom and his descendants. The site is being excavated by Dr. Barbara Heath, professor of Anthropology at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and a Monticello alumna. Students dug through the sandy plowzone and found a variety of 17th and early -18th century artifacts, including imported and locally-made clay pipes, delft tablewares, and coarse earthenware milkpans. Coan Hall’s soil and material culture are both radically different from what we are used to at Site 6 at Monticello. We had a great time!
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2016-07-09
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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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2016-06-17
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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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2016-06-07
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