Congrats to W&M, Ranked 75th Worldwide

Out of thousands of universities in the world, the College of William and Mary ranks 75th best, according to Times Higher Education.

I think they’ve gotten smarter since I was there.

Two Continuing Education Opportunities

Two lifelong learning opportunities are very popular with Williamsburg’s locals: Williamsburg Area Learning Tree (WALT) and the Christopher Wren Association (CWA).

The new Fall 2010 WALT catalogue of courses will appear in the Virginia Gazette on Saturday, September 11th. [Read more...]

New Quarter Park, Williamsburg, VA

Williamsburg’s edible plants were the focus of a “Walk and Talk” by Vickie Shufer on Saturday morning at New Quarter Park. Experts lead a group of outdoor enthusiasts on a tour of the park on the first Saturday each month, covering a variety of topics. This is the only one I’ve experienced where we got to eat the nature that we were observing! I brought home three small Paw Paws to share with my husband. [Read more...]

Williamsburg Charities

Williamsburg citizens are generous with their time, talent, and resources. Every time I pick up the local newspaper, I’m pleased to see so many individuals, clubs, civic groups, and churches reaching out directly to people in need, or working with local nonprofits to strengthen our community.

A case in point is the upcoming 31st Annual Williamsburg Kiwanis Shrimp Feast, September 11, 2010, 3-6 p.m. It’s a much-anticipated family event that raises money for these local charities: CASA, Bacon Street, Community Action Agency. See you there! [Read more...]

More on Freedom Park

Little did I know when I began my day with a hike at Freedom Park, that I would end my day with the person who discovered the reason for its existence! At an evening Bible study, I told my friend Martha McCartney, a respected historian, how much I’d enjoyed learning about that chapter of African-American history in our community. She said, “well, you know, don’t you, that I’m the one who discovered why it was located there? [Read more...]

Freedom Park

This was my first visit to Freedom Park, but it won’t be my last. I’d gotten into the habit of going to Waller Mill Park, because it opened when I was a kid and it became a family tradition. Now I have good reason to expand that tradition! Freedom park is at the intersection of Longhill and Centerville Roads. I was impressed with the size of the park and complexity of its trails. [Read more...]

Princeton Review’s 2011 Best Colleges List Ranks W&M Highly

Congratulations to the College of William and Mary for maintaining its very high standards during this era of shrinking state financial support. (Full disclosure: I am a graduate of W&M.) The Princeton Review’s List of Best Colleges says, [Read more...]

Pre-1960 Photos Illustrate African American Community in Williamsburg

Colonial Williamsburg issued a press release yesterday announcing the addition of several photo albums from the estate of Albert Durant to its special collections library: [Read more...]

Register for Fall 2010 Classes at W&M’s Christopher Wren Association

The fall schedule of classes begins Sept. 13, 2010. You can see the catalog on William & Mary’s web site. Note that some courses in this popular program for retirees who want to continue learning are already full, so don’t wait.

In the Trenches, Literally

If you hate standing behind ropes and peering over shoulders at “do not touch” exhibits, then this hands-on, close-up-and-personal, in-the-trenches tour of Jamestown Fort is for you! “In the Trenches” is offered at 10:00 a.m. on the 1st and 3rd Mondays of the month April through October, with the exception of August 3. You can sign up online at the Historic Jamestowne web site. Usually led by Dr. William Kelso, who is doing research in London, today’s tour was ably conducted by Senior Staff Archaeologist Danny Schmidt. The tour costs $30 and is worth every dollar.

Senior Staff Archaeologist Dany Schmidt gathers his tour group near the old church tower. Senior Staff Archaeologist gathers his tour group near the old church tower on Jamestown Island.

Our small group met by the old church tower. As I learned at last month’s lecture, Danny has been working on the James Fort Rediscovery project for 16 years. “Groundbreaking research” is not just a pun at Jamestown. The phrase “rewriting history” is no exaggeration. The work Danny and his colleagues are doing continues to make international news and is redefining our understanding of the origins of the United States. More than 2 million artifacts have been found during this historical treasure hunt.

Explaining the plowzone layer. Identifying a posthole.

First, Danny explained the history of island and how it has survived for this important work today. Jamestowne was the settled in 1607. It is the first permanent English colony in North America. When the capital of Virginia moved to Williamsburg after the Jamestown Statehouse burned in 1698, the island slowly reverted to agricultural use. In the photos above, Danny showed us what the plowzone looks like. This is the layer where farmers’ plows mixed bits of brick, morter, artifacts, and red clay into the topsoil. Archaeologists are most interested in the layers of earth below the plowzone, since they are less likely to have been disturbed. As distructive as the plowzone was, it was much better for the island to remain farmland than to be developed into a city, for then the history would have been lost.

In the late 19th Century, a group of forward-thinking citizens formed the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities (now called Historic Jamestowne) and that group raised funds to purchase 22 acres of land surrounding the old church tower. Believing the old Jamestown fort to have been lost to erosion from the river, saving the church tower was their priority. They built a seawall to prevent further erosion of the island. Thanks to their efforts more than 100 years ago, we are now rediscovering history through the patient, skillful digging of this small team of archaeologists, curators, and historians. If you’re inspired by the foresight and dedication of those early preservationists, please consider a donation to support this remarkable work. Danny explained that the project receives no public funds; all of the work has been accomplished through private gifts.

You can see a map of the current progress on the Historic Jamestowne site; they update the site frequently with the latest finds, so check it out.

But, there’s nothing like being there, so I hope you’ll plan a visit soon! Danny could have told stories for several hours, but he was respectful of our time and kept the tour to about an hour. I probably kept him too long and most likely annoyed my fellow tour members by asking too many questions, but I was fascinated by the experience (and grateful I wasn’t the one on my hands and needs in the summer heat doing the digging!) Still, the thrill of unearthing so many 17th century items, in the place where our country was born, must make it one of the most satisfying careers imaginable.

I wasn’t lucky enough to see any pieces of armor, or pewter mugs, or pistols excavated, but be sure to visit the Archearium to see those items and so much more, explained in exhibits that bring the objects to life and give real understanding of what life was like for the settlers.

Here are some more photos I took today, including artifacts that they were finding as we watched!

Unearthing a musketball An Indian arrowhead recentlyh found on the site

The musketball was peeking out of the dirt at us. An arrowhead was found in this location in the last few days, as well as an iron nail, and shards of pottery. We got to meet Mary Douglas, who was screening for artifacts and let us handle items as she picked them out of the slag. Danny had a tray with examples of clay pipes and metal objects that had not yet been treated in the lab. He explained that they will xray the metal objects first, to see what the object is and to plan its treatment.

Iron nail excavated at Jamestown ceramic shard Mary Douglas screening slag for artifacts Danny Schmidt showing recent finds

After the tour I had a nice lunch in the riverside cafe, then spent another 2 hours in the Archearium. On Danny’s recommendation, I picked up a copy of Jamestown: the Buried Truth, by William Kelso. The story simply can’t be contained in a one-hour tour, so I look forward to reading the details of more than a decade’s worth of digging and sleuthing.