Archaeologists Digging at Northern Neck Site
Archeology isn’t just limited to ancient Egypt. Increasingly archeologists are carefully exploring the past at historic sites in Virginia. A two-week dig is underway at Menokin, in the Northern Neck.
The crew from DATA Investigations of Gloucester is literally up to its elbows in historic debris, as it painstakingly sifts through what was the foundation of Menokin. Menokin is probably best known to many as the venue for the annual Menokin Music Festival – the 7th annual festival is May 8th. But to history buffs it’s the home of Francis Lightfoot Lee, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. The home was abandoned in the 1960’s and much of it eventually collapsed into the cellar. The Menokin Foundation is working to explore the ruin with the aim of eventually restoring it. First, using a grant from the Roller-Bottimore Foundation in Richmond, they are combing through the piles of rubble for every scrap of material from the house. DATA Investigations’ Thane Harpole has the task of separating ordinary debris from historic debris, a task that can go quickly, or slowly. The focus at the moment is on a search for pieces of 18th century woodwork.
Harpole: I got here, we were working really quickly because there wasn’t a lot of large stones. And it wasn’t very high, so we just took it down very quickly and screened it, and then you get other areas which are more sensitive. Like here I’m finding, I think, part of a door panel, and so this really slows you down.
Huffman: How do you recognize that as a door panel?
Harpole: Well, in this case we were finding little pieces of painted trim and I wasn’t sure what they were. But here I have a larger section – you can actually see the edge here for a raised panel, the center part of a raised panel door, you have that cut edge, and there’s actually the edge of the piece, and the other edge is probably in here, so it’s much larger than any of the trim, any of the crown molding or chair rails.
The crew is extracting every bit of building materials – both exterior and interior – that it can find. So that it can be returned to the restored house at some point, every piece of debris – including stones – gets cataloged by Data Investigations’ Jen Osbourn.
Osbourn: What we’re doing is, all of the decorative stone here gets mapped in place, using a total fish which we have positioned up there, and once it is mapped, it gets a number. Every different rock has a particular number. Then it gets tagged and extracted from the building very carefully, and these are quite heavy. We are very careful about that. And then once they’re out here, they’re all grouped according to function, so these two pallets right here are all window stones. And we have other pallets over there that are belt course stones and coins.
The objective of all of this, of course, is to bring this home, now a ruin, back to life, to preserve it for its historical value, as well as for what it can teach today’s architects about 18th century building techniques.
Mark Huffman, WCVE News, Richmond County