LEXINGTON, Va. (AP) — A team led by a Washington and Lee University archaeology professor has unearthed thousands of early 19th-century artifacts at a campus construction site.
Alison Bell found the first of the items on the surface on June 12 when she dropped by to check on the restoration of Robinson Hall, an 1840 building that houses the math department, the university said in a news release. As chair of W&L's Historic Preservation and Archaeological Conservation Advisory Committee, Bell routinely visits campus construction projects as they get underway to determine if there are any preservation issues.
Bell said she doubted she would find much at Robinson but quickly learned otherwise.
"There was a dense scatter of artifacts from the early 1800s — not at all what I had expected," she said.
Bell and some helpers returned a couple of days later and began digging in earnest. They worked three 10-hour days and recovered thousands of items buried only two inches under the surface.
Bell believes what they've uncovered is the construction site of Graham Hall, a combination classroom and dormitory which was built in 1804 and demolished in 1835.
"The time frame is perfect," Bell said. "Most of the artifacts are from the early 1800s up until about 1840, although there are some later objects that date to the Civil War."
Among the items that have been recovered are a pocketknife, bone toothbrushes, medicine vials, nibs for pens, ammunition of varying kinds, a jaw harp, buckles and buttons. Bell said some of the most interesting objects are those that show the academic experience, including pieces of beakers, thermometers and glass stir rods that are believed to be from science labs.
"There are so many things to be excited about regarding this site," Bell aid. "Not only do we have the evidence of the construction of Graham Hall with bricks left from that, but then we can see so much of the daily lives of the students by looking at all that we're finding."
While most of the material dates between 1805 and 1840, there are some outliers. One such find is a tobacco pipe of white ball clay.
"A pipe like this would have been more common in the mid- to late-18th century," said W&L staff archaeologist Donald Gaylord. "This could be a pipe that a student had kept for some time. Or it could be something that pre-dates the building of Graham Hall, back to the time when this site was a farm."
Bell believes three days of digging has uncovered only about one-third of the site.