- Associated Press - Sunday, June 14, 2015

MIDDLESEX, Va. (AP) - A toothbrush, plastic tub, strainer and water - not sophisticated tools but just the right ones to wash hundred-year-old artifacts, according to David Brown.

“Today we are going very standard, very old school but still very same school,” said Brown, an archaeologist and co-founder of the Fairfield Foundation in Gloucester.

It’s a much gentler process, Brown said as he prepared a group of volunteers at the Middlesex County museum to wash hundreds of small artifacts unearthed from a site called Sandwich in the Town of Urbanna.

The artifacts were discovered during a dig last summer at the location of the Old Customs House, which was home to Andrew Jackson Montague, Virginia’s 44th governor. Most of the artifacts consisted of small brick, bottle, ceramic, pipe and shell pieces excavated during multiple shovel tests at the site.

“We want to engage the public and let them know that history is not just something you look at. History is something you live, breathe and do, and by doing this, this is giving people the opportunity to get in on the ground floor and to actually dig history,” said Patti Sobieski, a member of the board of directors for both the museum and foundation. “Archaeology, you know, you got to dig it.”

Volunteers were asked to scrub, rinse and catalog the artifacts on trays depending on where on the property they were found so they can be tagged.

Brown said each piece tells a story and similar pieces found in the same location tell a larger story.

“For archaeologists, everything is about context. It’s not just about finding a piece of ware from the 18th century, it’s knowing what you found in association with it and knowing what’s its location was, all of that together allows us to compare like things against each other,” he said.

For volunteer Jim Rice the cleaning process was a learning experience.

“I do a little metal detecting and things like that. I have a few artifacts of my own and it’s always nice to see professional ways of cleaning things,” Rice said.

For Susan Appel the artifact wash day was a way to experience history firsthand.

“I seem to have more spare time on my hands than I used to and I finally decided to actually get in and get my hands dirty instead of just sitting there and reading about it,” she said.

After the artifacts are cleaned, Sobieski said the team of archaeologists will take them back to the lab and catalog all of the findings to tell an inventory of what each layer was and where the pieces were found.

Those results may help them map the site and conclude what types of buildings were there or what they were used for.

Volunteers are still on-site at Sandwich working larger digs, including a group of students from Middlesex County.

The museum itself, at 777 General Puller Highway, showcases a variety of items from the Montague family, including dresses owned by the governor’s wife and boots and a riding saddle belonging to Montague himself.

The Fairfield Foundation periodically hosts artifact wash days in Gloucester, Mathews and Middlesex counties. Sobieski said on Tuesdays the foundation hosts lab nights and the public is invited to participate in a variety of activities including washing, sorting, and identifying artifacts, labeling and mending artifacts, or helping with other small projects. The lab nights are hosted at the CAPE, which is the historic Edgehill Service Station at the corner of Main Street and Route 14 in Gloucester courthouse that now serves as the foundations headquarters.

“We want to bring an awareness,” Sobieski said. “Allow people to put their hands on history and get excited about it.”

For more information visit fairfieldfoundation.org or middlesexmuseum.com.


Information from: Daily Press, https://www.dailypress.com/

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