Ft. Lee celebrates 10 years of digging up dirt
By Caitlin Davis
Oct 24, 2012, 15:12
photo by Caitin Davis Bryce Stanley, Archaeologist, demonstrates the use of ground penetrating radar. He said it provides an important glimpse of what lies in the dirt before digging.
The Fort Lee Regional Archaeological Curation Facility, home to 121 boxes containing over half a million artifacts, celebrated 10 years of digging the past on Tuesday.
Amy Wood, Cultural Resources Manager for the facility, said she was pleased to have a flourishing facility.
“We’re excited we’ve been here for 10 years,” Wood said. “And we’ve grown quite a bit in 10 years.”
The facility also houses collections from eight other depositors, including Langley Air Force Base, Fort Eustis, Fort Monroe, Quantico Marine Corps Base, Fort A.P. Hill, Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division, the Army Corps of Engineers, Fort McNair in Washington, D.C. and Petersburg National Battlefield.
“We seem to be getting more depositors each year,” Wood said. “I think that this time in another 10 years we will have double the number of depositors.”
Wood said the facility on base is almost one of a kind. She said not many facilities are dedicated to archaeology collections.
“Certainly not a lot of newly constructed facilities,” Wood said. “There is maybe one other that I can think of.”
Five years ago, the addition of movable, compact shelving added to the storage space available.
“It is more than 10 times our storage space essentially,” Wood said. “That’s been a real big benefit to the facility.”
The archaeological surveys that are completed on base are done in advance of military construction projects. Standing among the glass cases and peering at the collections, Wood said one of her favorite artifacts, a piece of a pipe, was found during the construction of Liberty Chapel in 2009. An entire case at the facility is filled with artifacts found during that excavation.
Jimmy Blankenship, Historian with Petersburg National Battlefield, told some of stories behind the items on display, including horse shoes, guns and bullets.
“You are finding it at the time it was left there,” Blankenship said of items discovered during archaeological excavations. “And it can tell you so much information.”
One of the oldest artifacts at the facility is a tool referred to as a Clovis Point, a stone projectile point dating back to 9200 to 8800 BCE.
The newest artifacts come from the days of World War II.
Blankenship said that archaeologists have found Native American items dating back 12,000 years, such as clay pipe bowls.
“Pottery is really very significant,” Blankenship said. “Certain pottery was made during certain times.”
For Blankenship, artifacts are not just objects found in the ground; they are items that tell a story.
“When you find bullets that are all messed up you think, ‘Did it wound this person, did this person die of an infection from the wound,’” Blankenship said. “Even smashed bullets can tell a story.”
photo by Caitlin Davis Jimmy Blankenship, Historian with Petersburg National Battlefield, stands among the 500,000 artifacts at Fort Lee Regional Archeological Curation Facility. The facility celebrated 10 years on Tuesday.
The open house celebrating the facility’s 10 year anniversary also included a demonstration of ground penetrating radar. Bryce Stanley, an archaeologist with the facility, gave the demonstration. He said even though the process can be boring, it creates a picture of what is in the dirt.
“We are collecting the profiles,” Stanley said. “Hopefully we can catch a glimpse of what is underground.”
Wood said that the digging process is destructive, since soil cannot be put back, but it is essential for piecing together history.
“One of the reasons we hold them and go through the trouble to excavate them so carefully is we want people to learn from that,” Wood said. “You want to learn about the people that came before you.”
Even with artifacts from thousands of years ago in the facility, Wood is thinking about the future and about using the tools of the 21st century to discover and catalogue artifacts of the past.
She wants to encourage people to use the facility as a research tool.
“We hope folks come in and use them,” she said.
Wood said the facility is also in the process of cataloging the collections at the facility.
“If folks can’t come here, at least we can get the items up on the web in a searchable format,” Wood said.