November 23, 2013 - The past week, Montpelier Archaeology completed its investigations in the North Yard of the mansion. They spent the last three months looking for traces of the Madison-era fenceline as it approaches the Temple and planting holes for the Pine Allee. Our archaeologists succeeded in both accounts and made many more interesting discoveries along the way!
August 25, 2013 - The Montpelier Archaeology Department has completed excavations at the quarter for field slaves and has moved to a new surveyed at the mansion. We will be excavating at the area of the Temple Allee....read more!
July 31, 2013 - This past month has resulted in some exciting finds at the site of the quarter for field slaves. After almost a year of excavating the site to find evidence for structures, we have finally identified two features that provide clues to the location for the homes of the field slaves that worked Madison’s farm in the early 19th century.
In Tolkien's famous trilogy, Lord of the Rings, the tormented Bilbo Baggins finds a form of catharsis in the transcription of the tale of his adventures in his book, "There and Back Again." When sitting down to write this 'blog post, the title of that book just wouldn't leave my mind. I realized that in its own way, the archaeological interpretations of the Tobacco Barn Quarter and have been "There and Back Again," too. Perhaps not quite the epic tale of Bilbo, and certainly involved less giant spiders (though some of our field school students and volunteers would disagree with that!), the story presented by archaeological and documentary research is no less interesting in the insights they give into the daily lives of the Montpelier's enslaved field laborers, and the choices that Madison makes as farmer and natural scientist to ensure the economic success of Montpelier.
As with all stories, we start somewhere near the beginning...
We have all heard the phrase, so how does it apply to archaeology? While often used in derogatory fashion, in reference to the archaeological investigations of the "Tobacco Barn Quarter" it really refers to the comprehensive survey and excavation techniques employed to explore the homes of Madison's enslaved field laborers.
Although the Montpelier Archaeology Department has recently back-filled the two sites that were the focus of the research this year, the work continues—we're still processing samples and cataloging finds both small and large in the archaeology laboratory. If you get the time don't hesitate to walk down the hill from the mansion and come and visit. We're open every day that Montpelier is open, whether you just want to visit or you want to get involved by volunteering.
Continuing my professional journey at this historic place, the home of James Madison, is a tremendous honor. Madison restored himself on these lands before returning to the Herculean task of creating a new nation. I, too, feel restored in returning home to Virginia, to the rolling Piedmont hills, and to the red earth of Orange County.
During the 2012 season, the Montpelier Archaeology Department has been excavating a set of quarters for field slaves within a larger late 18th/early 19th century farm complex site. These excavations are part of a larger research project funded by NEH to examine three different sets of slave quarters at James Madison’s plantation dating to the early 19th century.