D.C. Historic Preservation Office takes on Hot and Humid 2016 Day of Archaeology Festival!

by Christine Ames
Capital City Fellow

Greetings and Happy Day of Archaeology (#DAYOFARCH)! The D.C. Historic Preservation Office (D.C. HPO) is proud to have co-sponsored and participated in D.C.’s Day of Archaeology Festival on July 16th!  This year marked the 5th Annual Day of Archaeology Festival, organized by the local non-profit Archaeology in the Community, and was held at historic Dumbarton House in Georgetown for the 2nd year in a row.  About 30 cultural resource-based agencies, firms, departments, and organizations participated, and over 500 visitors attended!  It was a huge success, and the D.C. HPO is thrilled to have reached out to so many eager children and adults, who now know more about their city’s archaeological past.

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It was all-hands-on-deck for D.C. HPO staff, interns, and volunteers- providing no less than four engaging archaeological activities and two archaeological displays. Activities included our staple ‘What is This?’ artifact guessing game, which has since grown to include prehistoric, historic, and faunal artifact categories of materials typically found in the mid-Atlantic region, and specifically from archaeological sites in D.C.

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We brought along our ‘Mend Me’ historic ceramic mending exercise, where visitors tried their hand at refitting ceramic sherds. We have since added to the mending exercise, creating puzzles with whole images of ceramic vessels.  These have proved a great alternative for those unable to handle the actual ceramic sherds.

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We also dusted off our Pinch Pot activity, and brought along quick-dry clay for visitors to make their own pots to take away.  Visitors could decorate their pots similarly to prehistoric Woodland Period pottery, using replica tools including sharks teeth, and cordage wrapped paddles. And, thanks to current District Leadership Program Intern Julianna Jackson, we added a new activity this year- Make Your Own Cordage!  Visitors were able to twine fibers into cordage or string, and then use it to create a personal bracelet.  In doing so, visitors got a better idea of how prehistoric peoples made their own personal adornments but also how they would create cordage suitable for so many important purposes like fishing lines, snares, etc.

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Finally, the D.C. HPO had two archaeological displays.  The first was our Woodland Period pottery display, featuring artifacts from the Barney Circle archaeological project.  Various types of prehistoric pottery sherds were on display, and to give the visitor a sense of what an unbroken prehistoric pottery vessel might look like, we also provided a complete replica Woodland Period pottery vessel, courtesy of the Jefferson Patterson Museum Maryland Traveling Trunk and a 3-D printed scan of one by our colleague Dr. Bernard K. Means of the VCU Virtual Curation Laboratory. In this way, the display tied in nicely to the pinch pot making activity. In addition, the D.C. HPO also displayed a variety of replica containers, also from the Maryland Teaching Trunk, made from organic materials such as gourd, birch bark, reed basketry, and wood. These were commonly used prehistorically, but examples are rarely found in our local archaeological deposits and so we know little about them in comparison to the more durable pottery vessels.

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Our second archaeological display contained a variety of artifacts from the 2015 Yarrow Mamout Archaeology Project.  The D.C. HPO conducted a community-oriented archaeology project on the former property of Yarrow Mamout, a freed slave who purchased a lot in upper Georgetown in the early 19th century.  The 17,000+ artifacts are still being processed, and while we cannot definitively say yet if any are directly associated with Yarrow Mamout’s occupation, there are many artifacts that are datable to his period of ownership.  Much of the assemblage represents the households of the families that lived on the property following Yarrow Mamout, throughout the remainder of the 19th and into the 20th century.  Artifacts included personal items such as religious pendants, crosses, and buttons, including potential U.S. Navy and Union Civil War-era buttons, and a possible German Imperial WWI-era button.  A D.C. dog tag from the year 1922-1923, porcelain doll parts, a plastic toy soldier, possible gaming pieces, and quite a few marbles made up a rich and relatable exhibit to all.  In addition, a beautiful and complete agate pottery doorknob, a heavily corroded door bolt (identified via x-ray scanning from the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Lab), Chestnut Farms Dairy milk bottle, and Parke-Davis pharmaceutical bottle were also a part of the display.

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In all, the D.C. HPO could not have pulled off such a successful Day of Archaeology Festival without its hard-working and amazing volunteer team.  Seven people gave up their Saturday to help us set-up, exhibit, and break-down our booths on a day when temperatures were 99 degrees Fahrenheit with 99% humidity!  Our volunteers have shown nothing but love and support to our archaeology program, and we could not effectively do this type of public outreach without them. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

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The DC HPO Volunteers:

Lois Berkowitz

Mia Carey

Hali Thurber

Justin Uehlein

George Riseling

Becca Peixotto

Lauryl Zenobi

Photos courtesy of AITC and D.C. HPO

The DC HPO staff team:

Christine Ames, Capital City Fellow

Julianna Jackson, District Leadership Program Intern

Chardé Reid, Assistant District Archaeologist

Dr. Ruth Trocolli, District Archaeologist