Every research excavation has that moment when you must decide whether to keep digging, or focus your energies on the inside work- whether it’s the artifact washing, cataloging, and report writing that accompanies any archaeology project, or potentially pulling together exhibits, lectures, and other outreach to the public. We say “research excavation” because often archaeologists are salvaging sites or mitigating impacts before road construction or other projects and have limited time to complete the work (although many of these sites have substantial research completed on them). At New Quarter Park we don’t have these pressures, so it is up to us and our project partners to decide when to stop excavations. At New Quarter Park, and specifically site 44YO0025, we’ve enjoyed tremendous success excavating and finding amazing things, partnering with several community organizations, and sharing our discoveries with an engaged public through hands-on dig and lab experiences and through social media. But we must move beyond this to reach a broader audience, to share more with the community, and to learn more from this remarkable site.
Our most recent excavations at New Quarter Park in September recovered more information about artifact layers first encountered in 2013 and early 2014. We also broadened the testing areas and helped us better understand which parts of the site were once plowed and which areas remain untouched by this somewhat destructive agricultural practice. The first of five test units during this session brought us across the road, sampling a previously untested area of the site where shovel testing and artifacts recovered from tree falls suggested human activity in the 18th century. Two other test units focused on a brick anomaly identified during probing, while another sampled the western portion of the site. Finally, our last unit tested the nature of an unusual berm running across the middle of the site that appears to coincide with the location of an old road and the edge of the plowed field. Each unit addressed specific research questions and helped inform our interpretation of the site. This work is starting to shape our understanding of both the chronology and layout of the site, as well as how later processes such as plowing, timbering, road construction, and erosion have worked to impact or preserve different components. There are certainly many more questions that we could address, and we should debate at which point preservation of the site becomes more important than public outreach and answering research questions, but for now we look to what we know and how we can best share this knowledge at this stage.
Public outreach is never far from our minds and we’re big fans of finding new and creative ways to share our discoveries. The excavations at New Quarter Park earlier in 2014 included the production of a short video that dramatically communicates this moment of discovery to the public. Produced by Dan Hamilton, with the assistance of many of our team members, including the York County Historical Museum, Tidewater Virginia Historical Society, New Quarter Park staff, and the Middle Peninsula Branch of the Archeological Society of Virginia, “The Joy of Discovery” also focuses on the various partner organizations as much as the individual site, highlighting the value of collaboration in archaeology.
Complimenting this effort was our recent exhibit (sponsored by the Tidewater Virginia Historical Society) at the Williamsburg Regional Library. Highlighting the extensive public involvement at nearly every stage, it reviewed our progress to date and included artifacts recovered from the site. It also discussed the identification of a 17th-century component and how the artifacts recovered suggest a potentially higher status household, putting into question the initial interpretation of the site as a slave quarter. While not dismissing this interpretation, our hope is to encourage a discussion about the artifacts, the significance of the site, and the need for preservation.
We are excited to return to the New Quarter Park site in 2015, but are equally interested in how we can team with our partners to create new and interesting exhibits and events for engaging the public. We hope to soon announce excavation days in the spring and fall, artifact washing days, and posters as well as more traditional exhibits that draw on the discoveries made to date (and ones we hope to make this coming year). We must also plan, though, for the conservation and curation of what we excavate, the long-term housing of these collections where they will be accessible to future researchers, and the maintenance of a sustainable model for public research excavations. Site 44YO0025 is one of many archaeological sites at New Quarter Park that have a multitude of stories to tell about our past. The challenges ahead of us extend beyond this individual site and its study and preservation, and we look forward to working further with our partners to help protect and learn from these precious cultural resources.