“Have you found anything today?”: A Review of the 2021 Archaeological Excavation at Ferry Farm

“Have you found anything today?” was (and always is) the most-asked question posed by our daily visitors who stopped by our archaeological site at George Washington’s Ferry Farm this summer. Everyone wants to understand what is going on in the very large square hole we have made in the lawn.  “Yes, we find something every day,” our crew happily answered, while showing the visitors all the small bits of ceramics, glass, metals, and other artifacts sifted out of the dirt that day. Not only did we find hundreds of artifacts during the course of the summer dig, but we also hope we found a building!

This year’s archaeological dig at Ferry Farm began on June 7 and ended on August 21.  We opened twelve new 5-foot by 5-foot square units and reopened six previously excavated units just south of and adjacent to last year’s excavation site. Our site is located within the Washington house work yard, where activities such as food preparation and cooking, washing laundry, animal husbandry, dairying, household storage and wig maintenance took place.

The direction of this year’s dig was prompted by the discovery during last season’s excavation of two large rectangular postholes with similar alignments and measuring ten feet from each other.

Two postholes about 10-feet apart at the end of last year’s excavation.

Finding additional postholes of similar size and properly distanced from each other would enable us to determine if our postholes were part of a fence line or one side of a post-in-the-ground building.

After a lot of hard work, we uncovered two similar postholes on the same line as the first two. Unfortunately, we did not find a parallel line of postholes representing the opposite side of a building within the limits of our dig.

Four postholes in a line at the end of this year’s excavations.

The abundance of artifacts found on the north side of the posthole line, and the contrasting lack of artifacts to the south of them, indicates the presence of some physical barrier substantial enough to create a division preventing artifacts from passing. Our plan for next season is to hopefully expand the excavation block to the south and the west because that is where associated posts would be located. If there are no matching posthole features, we know we have a fence. If it is a building, we want to get the proper dimensions of that structure, which in turn will help determine its function on the landscape.

Now that this year’s dig is over, our staff and volunteers are busy in the lab washing and cataloging the artifacts we found this season. As usual, we collected artifacts ranging from present day plastics to thousand-year-old prehistoric tools. Although our total artifact count was not as numerous as in former dig years, we did manage to find some interesting items.

Our total wig curler count of over 200 continues to grow with the addition of seven wig curler fragments this year.  This may not necessarily sound like a lot, but the amount of curlers found this season alone surpasses the number most other domestic colonial sites have in Virginia.  Thirty wig curler fragments have been found within the 30-foot by 45-foot excavation block dug between from the years 2019 to 2021 in the work yard.

Approximate Ferry Farm work yard area excavated between 2019 and 2021.

Other artifacts of interest include a bone-handled toothbrush, children’s toys, a round rusty lock, delicate Chinese porcelain cup fragments, projectile points, buttons, and the rim of an alphabet plate.

The prettiest artifact prize goes to our blue paste gem button. Research has not yet started on this little gem, but we suspect it dates to the 18th century.

Blue paste gem button

For now, the excavation site is once again covered with tarp for protection against the winter elements until we open it again next year. Here on Lives & Legacies, we’ll keep you up-to-date about what we found this summer as we spend the next several months researching these 2021 artifacts in the lab.

Judy Jobrack, Archaeologist
Elyse Adams, Archaeologist
Co-Field Directors