Fairfax County teens and tweens with an interest in archaeology have a chance in August to spend a week side-by-side with a professional archaeologist excavating an historic site.
It’s an opportunity to get out in the field and do the real thing.
Two week-long archaeology programs for 12-to-18 year-olds are coming up at Ellanor C. Lawrence Park (ECLP) in Chantilly. Eric Malmgren of ECLP and Chris Sperling of the James Lee Center, home of the Fairfax County Park Authority’s archaeology offices, have prepared a small site for excavation, and it’s a site that almost certainly will produce multiple finds.
The chosen site is near a dairy complex that was established when the park was a family farm in the 1700s and 1800s. There probably will be broken pieces of equipment and pottery that were used around the dairy. ECLP Manager John Shafer thinks the potential for numerous discoveries is so likely that he says, “It’s going to be like they’re opening up a toy chest.” Anticipated discoveries would include artifacts that have not been seen in hundreds of years.
There’s a bonus. The site overlooks a clean spring, which means it’s an area that Native Americans may have frequented. That opens the possibility of finding artifacts that could be 8,000 years old.
Teens in the class will work with Megan Veness of the James Lee Center and learn about the entire process of archaeological work. They’ll take home some of the tools they’ll use, such as knee pads, a trowel and notebook. They’ll also gain an appreciation for applied science and cultural history through working as part of a professional team — and maybe even an appreciation for all those dishes washed and rooms cleaned at home. Washing and sorting artifacts is part of the job. The experience also includes learning multi-discipline skills such as GPS point and grid layout, excavating, documenting, cataloguing and proper preservation of the artifacts.
Instructors will explain the context and history of whatever is found and will make connections to the original people who lived at the site. The plan is to present the teens with an experience that could enhance college resumes and give them something to write about in their college essays. And it’s a hands-on chance to dig deep into a career possibility.