Although the week of July 15th was met with a scorching hot sun and some of the warmest temperatures so far this summer, it did not stop 17 campers, 3 city archaeologists and a generous staff of volunteers from excavating with Alexandria Archaeology at Fort Ward Park. Prior to going out into the field for summer camp, the deed research of Alexandria Archaeology’s Robert Colton led archaeologists to a to a particular location off the main drive of the park. This site is believed to have been the of the Javins family residence during the early 20th century. Over the past few years, Alexandria Archaeology has successfully excavated a handful of sites in the area, and this year we hoped for similar success in uncovering artifacts that would prove of the presence of a family living on the lot following the Civil War. Thanks to the hard work of a diligent team, this year’s summer camp has contributed a great deal of new discoveries and articles to Alexandria Archaeology’s collection of “Fort” artifacts.
Day 1 of camp began with a detailed history of “The Fort.” Krystyn Moon, Associate Professor of History and Director of American Studies at the University of Mary Washington, shared her research about this African American community, including the story of the families, the properties, and the local and national events that shaped this area. The team took a short walk to visit the grave of William Javins, located on a property that was inherited by Florence Javins. By mid-day, campers were broken into small groups and assigned to 3×4 foot units around the site. After a brief discussion of archaeological methods and techniques, the five units broke the soil. Although Day 1 only brought most groups through the first layer of their units’, campers successfully excavated nails, glass, ceramic pieces, and even remnants of structural features. This was enough to confirm that our site was in fact the location of the Javins family residence.
Day 2 was dedicated to educating campers about the history of the area as both a Civil War fort and a memorial commemorating the Union’s victory over the Confederate Army. Campers spent the morning touring the Fort Ward Museum, the Officer’s Hut, and the reconstructed bastions, shelters, trenches and ditches that formed the structure of the fort almost 150 years ago. Susan Cumbey, Director of Fort Ward Museum, took time with the group explaining the layout of Fort Ward and its role during the Civil War as one of the larger forts constructed to defend Washington, D.C. During lunch, Alexandria Archaeology’s Catherine Cartwright spoke with campers about the history of the Javins family’s role in “the Fort” and as members of the Oakland Baptist Church. In the afternoon, campers returned to the dig site to continue unearthing artifacts that would provide evidence towards our knowledge of the Javins family.
Day 3 allowed campers to spend the most amount of time digging in their units, which was especially rewarding after having spent the past two days learning a great deal about the history of the Fort and the Javins family. Over the course of the morning, campers came upon features of what may have been the Javins’s house, personal items, and evidence that the residence may have caught fire. By this day, campers were able to recognize new layers, assist in taking elevations and creating profiles, and contribute their own ideas in identifying artifacts and determining what may have happened to the Javins residence. During the afternoon, we were visited by two descendants of the Javins family who generously answered questions and provided staff and campers with a personal account of the Javins household. Ms. Adrienne Terrell Washington and Ms. Frances Colbert Terrell discussed their memories of the area and commended the campers for the important work they were doing to further the understanding of the African American presence in Fort Ward Park. Terilee Edwards-Hewitt followed with a presentation on how to conduct an oral history and the value of this form of research.
On Day 4, campers met in the lab at the archaeology museum in Old Town in order to clean, sort, and interpret the artifacts from the Javins site. Not only was this a nice break out of the sun’s heat but, it was a great opportunity for campers to see what happens in archaeology after site excavation. With the help of archaeologist Paul Nasca, campers were able to analyze and better understand their Fort Ward community artifact assemblages.
Although the heat put up a difficult front throughout the week, by the time Friday’s Family Site Tour came around on Day 5, campers were still energized, excited and proud of the work they had completed over the course of the dig. Campers spent the morning continuing to open up new layers in their units, coming across even more artifacts to add to the Javins family’s collection. To finish up the week, families were invited to visit our site at Fort Ward as campers shared their findings, new knowledge and experience. The Alexandria Archaeology staff was happy to end the week with positive feedback from campers, as they thoroughly enjoyed both digging for artifacts and learning about the history of “the Fort.”
Check out some of our most significant finds from the week below!
In the NW corner of the Javins site, our Blue Team came across a feature in the SE corner of their unit, composed of bricks, cinderblock, and stone. In addition, they discovered a great deal of painted ceramic, glass, nails and large pieces of metal settled around the feature.
Just a few feet away, the Red Team came across a great deal of personal artifacts that may have belonged to the Javins family, including a gold plated ring and a bottle top that one or our archaeologists was able to date to the early 1900s. In the second unit they excavated on the other end of the site, the Red Team encountered a feature similar to that which was found by the Blue Team, along with an array of pieces of glass, ceramic, and metal.
The Green Team’s unit was located in the center of the site and their hard work led them to finding a post hole in the SE corner of their unit, suggesting the presence of some type of fence or property boundary. In addition, they discovered a large, thin metal structure that took up the greater part of the SW corner of their unit along with a coiled spring mechanism and a shot gun shell.
The Orange Team was proud to come across a large piece of a porcelain saucer that would have been treasured and valued by the Javins family during the early 20th century. In addition, they found a copper watch piece that may have belonged to Samuel Javins or one of his many sons.
The Purple Team had the most success digging in their second unit on the SW corner of the site. In this unit they came across a mostly intact medicine bottle, the glass casing of a lamp fixture and most interestingly, a line of metal links that may indicate the presence of a fence line along the Javins property.
Because camp was filled with such enthusiasm and success, we encourage our campers to stay involved in the field of archaeology, whether through the City of Alexandria, at our museum or through other outside programs. In fact, this Friday, July 26th, archaeologists around the world will celebrate the Day of Archaeology, an opportunity for those interested in the field to record and share their experiences out on the site or in the lab with their research. The Day of Archaeology hopes to shine the light on the importance of protecting the past and presenting history to the public. For more information, check out the link below!
Celebrate Archaeology this weekend at D.C. Day of Archaeology Festival on Saturday, July 27th. Take a look!
To all of those who volunteered their time to educate our campers about Fort Ward and the Javins family, Alexandria Archaeology expresses its appreciation and gratitude. Keeping 17 campers entertained while having them excavate for a week in extreme heat was no small task. This was achieved, in large part, by a stellar cast of Unit Buddies, composed of former campers, summer interns, and dedicated volunteers, including: Alex Karpa, Monica Bonilla, Ben Kirby, Anatoly Policastro, Julie Diewald, and Suzanne Schaubel. Each Unit Buddy worked with their assigned campers for the entire week, following them from the field, to the laboratory, where they processed their finds, then back into the field for the last day which included interpreting their units during a site tour for their families and friends.
As always, we thank intern Becca Siegal and staff archaeologists Garret Fesler, Francine Bromberg and Paul Nasca for their helpful input and support. And of course Ruth Reeder, our Museum Education Coordinator for making this year’s camp possible.
A unique component to this year’s camp occurred when Evan Welch offered to produce a Summer Camp 2013 documentary film. He was on site the entire week, filming daily and recording each activity and every discovery. We anxiously await the viewing of the final product!
Campers, thank you for a great week and we look forward to seeing your faces with us at camp next summer!