Monthly Archives: April 2014

Archaeology In A Digital Age

Virtual ColchesterWhen people think about archaeology, they usually think of digging and processing artifacts. That’s part of it, but the Colchester Archaeological Research Team (CART) is more than field and lab. CART is a part of the Fairfax County Park Authority’s Cultural Resource Management and Protection Branch, and it’s CART that is investigating Old Colchester Park and Preserve, a marvelous piece of history on Mason Neck in southern Fairfax County.

Marion Constante is at the forefront of that investigation, and her tool is a geographic information system (GIS), a technology that combines hardware, software and data to make sense out of geographic information. GIS helps make maps and charts and reports and helps understand the relationships of the things in those maps and charts. The county’s Virtual Fairfax map is an example.

Since joining the CART team, Marion has taken our GIS from a tool used to record and analyze to a whole new level. We now have the ability to see the historic town of Colchester from a perspective that has not existed for over 200 years. The project is entirely data-based and without conjecture. Marion integrated historic and archaeological data to create “Virtual Colchester,” for which she won the “Best Cartographic Product” award from the Fairfax County GIS and Mapping Services Branch in November 2013.

Perhaps of equal importance was her application of a programming language to create 3D projections.  Marion wrote a script – a tool to automate processes and tasks – to more efficiently model 3D structures found at Colchester. Spatial data with information about the size and shape of the buildings was linked with the necessary tools to create a model.

We can apply this script to archaeological and historical data from other parks, and the things we learn will make the Park Authority better at teaching visitors about the changes in Fairfax County’s landscape across time. The next step will be equally, if not more, challenging: to create environments for all periods of human occupation at Old Colchester back to the Early Archaic Period, approximately 10,000 years ago.

Marion has taken the information from a database about where artifacts were found at Old Colchester and written scripts that can be used with other scripts to create maps that show where things were found. These artifact distribution maps (similar to the one shown below) help us see where concentrations of artifacts were found, and that gives us a visual aid in understanding what people were doing at the site. The brighter colors on the map are areas of higher artifacts concentrations. Marion can create these “heat maps” to show the distribution of any artifact type or time period, and that helps us target areas that are of the greatest research value and ability to teach us about Fairfax County’s rich cultural heritage.

The Friends of Fairfax Archaeology and Cultural Resources are hosting a free open house at Old Colchester Park on Saturday, May 3, 2014, from 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Visitors will be able to tour the park and see Native American and Colonial artifacts from the site. Tours of the Town of Old Colchester are scheduled for 10 a.m. and 12 noon. A one-hour hiking tour of the park begins at 1 p.m. Old Colchester Park is at 10605 Furnace Road in Lorton, VA. There will be a shuttle bus from the parking lot at Mason Neck West Park, 10418 Old Colchester Road in Lorton. Information at 703-534-3881.

Author Megan Veness is the Field Director of the Colchester Archaeological Research Team, and co-author Marion Constante is a GIS Specialist.

How to Tame Your Dragonfly

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Fawns are cute. Flies are irritating. Bees and snakes are sometimes startling. Turtles are fun. Fish are slimy. Ants are busy. Dragonflies are…


That’s from Kevin Munroe, the site manager at Huntley Meadows Park. Dragonflies don’t stir the suburbanite’s emotions as some wildlife does, but if you haven’t looked closely at them then you’ve missed some of the most electric colors in nature. Some of these guys could shame a rainbow.

And other than the Tasmanian devil, is there an animal out there with a cooler name? Snap a sharp picture of one of these fliers, and you’ve tamed a dragon.

Munroe has looked closely at dragonflies and has the website to prove it. After 10 years of piecing it together and with help from his webmaster, Huntley Meadows Assistant Naturalist PJ Dunn, Munroe has produced Dragonflies of Northern Virginia at It’s a website designed “to encourage appreciation and sustainable conservation of Northern Virginia’s dragonflies and their habitats.”

Munroe’s put together a website that will hold your hand and guide you step-by-step through learning about dragonflies. There are photos, many taken by Munroe and Huntley Meadows volunteers, from Huntley Meadows Park, Riverbend, Lake Fairfax, Sully Woodlands, Clifton Road Park and other places where dragonflies can be seen. Huntley Meadows Visitor Services Manager Karen Sheffield and Audubon Society volunteer Jim Waggener both contributed to a chart of flight times and dates that helps you discover when certain species take to the air and can be spotted. There are tips on where to look, when to look, and how to look for dragonflies. There are conservation tips and lists of public programs about them. And, of course, it includes a list of best places to find dragonflies.

Push your personal limits a bit further by taking on the website’s identification challenge, and keep an eye on the site. In 2015 there will be a series of additions, including lists of the most common suburban dragonflies, quick ID thumbnail photos for the dragonfly novice, and several new species recently sighted in the area.

The next time you visit a park, stroll along a county sidewalk or venture into your yard, keep an eye out for dragonflies and try to note their differences. Maybe create a list to track the species you see.

Remember that they’re another valued natural resource of Fairfax County.

“Dragonflies are incredible teaching tools,” says Munroe. “Almost every ecological principal can be illustrated with these guys. They are such excellent ambassadors and springboards into environmental education and conservation.”

Author Dave Ochs is the Manager of Stewardship Communications for the Fairfax County Park Authority’s Resource Management Division.

County Residents are Taking Back the Forest

Employees from REI (Recreation Equipment, Inc.) stores in Fairfax and Tysons joined Invasive Management Area (IMA) program site leaders and Fairfax County Park Authority staff at Nottoway Park on April 2, 2014, to mark the start of the Park Authority’s Take Back the Forest initiative.

Employees from REI (Recreation Equipment, Inc.) stores in Fairfax and Tysons joined Invasive Management Area (IMA) program site leaders and Fairfax County Park Authority staff at Nottoway Park on April 2, 2014, to mark the start of the Park Authority’s Take Back the Forest initiative.

Year three of Take Back the Forest is under way, and volunteers will be lending hands and hearts to the Invasive Management Area (IMA) program through the end of May.

Take Back the Forest, supported by the Fairfax County Park Authority and REI, Inc., leads the fight against invasive plants in Fairfax County parks. IMA Coordinator Erin Stockschlaeder kicked off the program with volunteers at Nottoway Park at the beginning of April.

A lot of those vines and shrubs with thorns that prevent you from exploring parts of the parks are invasive plants. And those invasives are more than just inconveniences. They have a major impact on wildlife and other plants.

The IMA program runs year-round, but county residents who volunteer to give a little time to the program during the Take Back the Forest promotion get a bonus.

Pulling invasive plants out of parks isn’t the only task of IMA. Something has to take their place. IMA makes sure those replacements are native plants.

More information about invasive plants and the IMA program is on the Park Authority’s website and available from Erin Stockschlaeder at 703-324-8681.

Written by Dave Ochs, stewardship communications manager, Fairfax County Park Authority