Friday, September 7, 2018

Archaeology Expedition

In early August I participated in Excavate: Archaeology Expedition, a weeklong immersive archaeology program at Montpelier in Orange County, Virginia, the home of James Madison, fourth president of the United States.

During the archaeology expedition, I worked side-by-side with professional archaeologists in the field and in the lab, where artifacts are cleaned, analyzed, preserved, and cataloged.

Artifacts found at Montpelier during my trip in early August.
I have always loved studying American history, and archaeology lets you touch history. I was moved by the reality that many of the artifacts we found -- nails, glass, pieces of pottery -- were probably last touched by enslaved people.

One morning, we went to Monticello, home of Thomas Jefferson, third president of the United States. Both Madison and Jefferson are "Founding Fathers." They penned the documents that define what it means to be an American in a democracy. Yet, both men enslaved hundreds of black people.

As we worked in the heat of the day a stone's throw from the domestic slave quarters, more than one person commented that they could not imagine being forced to work under such miserable conditions. We could take breaks whenever we wanted, or we could quit for the day if the work became too hard.

And we could go home to our families.

I was impressed with how the tours and exhibits at both Montpelier and Monticello explored these contradictions and blended the narratives of the lives of the Madison and Jefferson families and the families they enslaved.

It is one story.

Top photo: My husband and my nephew at the site. Above: The site is under the white tents to the right of the mansion. We were searching for the locations of trees that were once in a grove at that location. The trees will be replanted as part of the effort to recreate a particular era of the plantation. All photos by Michele N. Johnson.

The domestic slave quarters in the South Yard.  

We stayed in the historic Arlington House, which was used as a hospital during the Civil War.