Recreation Management - Ideas and Solutions for Recreation, Sports & Fitness Facility Managers

Feature Story

March 2017


Volunteers Get Hands-On History Experience in Virginia

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By Dave Ramont

Some people are fascinated by digging up the past, in a most literal sense. And in Fairfax County, Va., anyone can join the corps of volunteers who work alongside historians and county archaeologists that comprise the Fairfax County Archaeological Research Team (CART). Volunteers can work in the lab researching and cataloging archaeological finds, or get their hands in the dirt working on archaeological digs in the field—all the while learning about their county's history.

Christopher Sperling is an archaeologist with the Park Authority, and Kayla Marciniszyn is an assistant lab director. They report that some volunteers like to work both inside and outside. "The lab has an increase of volunteers during the winter months, but if the weather is nice, a few of them will opt to be in the field. It gives them a chance to see the whole archaeological process."

Due to increased awareness, the volunteer program has enjoyed a surge in popularity lately, with most people discovering it by searching for volunteer opportunities on the county's website. According to Sperling and Marciniszyn, volunteers consist of students, retirees, and entry-level professionals. "We often work with high school and college student interns interested in or studying archaeology and/or anthropology, depending on the university program. A few of our staff members began working here as interns and were hired on as permanent staff," they added.

CART works at all types of sites, ranging from 19th century homesteads to Colonial sites such as Colchester, all the way back to sites created by hunter-gatherers that lived in the area more than 10,000 years ago. "Although we're in the Park Authority, we have a county-wide role and work throughout Fairfax. We work in support of park development projects, ensuring that it does not impact significant archaeological resources. We also conduct investigations as part of the park planning process to help preserve and interpret for the public. We've been called out to park and county projects that inadvertently discovered archaeological sites," said Sperling and Marciniszyn.

One example of this happened a few years ago near George Mason University, when utility and road work unearthed a corduroy road, which is a log road used commonly in the area during the Civil War. The CART team has also done extensive investigations at the Old Colchester Park and Preserve. The town of Colchester thrived from the mid-18th through early-19th centuries, and they've discovered several stone foundations and other features relating to the town's heyday. The team tells us that they also excavated a site recently outside the town. "We found a brick hearth and foundation, likely an 18th century plantation house, as well as evidence of a probable slave quarters. This site is considered highly significant on a national level."

Other finds include items such as clay tobacco pipes, glass from the late 17th century, door hinges and hand-wrought nails, an 18th century colonial padlock and pottery. A display at the entrance of their government center often highlights archaeological finds, and many of their parks feature site-specific displays.

Archaeology New Volunteer Orientation programs are offered for prospective volunteers. Those with experience are introduced to the department and their main projects, while beginners are taught basic archaeological methods.

Sperling and Marciniszyn and the CART team are committed to their role as stewards of history, adhering to strict conservation guidelines that require artifacts to be stabilized and stored in an appropriate manner. "Once we unearth the past, we are responsible for it, in perpetuity."

Information and updates on their work can be found at http://cartarchaeology.wordpress.com.