Tucked away in the corner of the third floor of the Torpedo Factory Arts Center is one of the most interesting places to visit in Alexandria: the Alexandria Archeology Museum. A visit to this museum and laboratory is not quite like being on an Indiana Jones dig, but the items that have been discovered throughout our city are fascinating. Sometimes the pieces were happened upon. Other times digging and sifting occurred in spots such as a privy. In one excavation of a privy, or hidden site in Old Town, archeologists found a fully intact, loaded 19th-century Wickan musket.
Workers in the combination lab/museum are archeologists and volunteers who are enthusiastic about learning more about the 13,000 years that are part of Alexandrias history. There are many artifacts on display including the musket from the privy, china and pottery from Gadsbys Tavern, and a 13,000-year-old Clovis spear point recovered from the Freedmens Cemetery.
For the students, scouts, youth groups or anyone else with a scheduled visit, the Archeology Museum has something special awaiting them. In addition to explaining how a dig works, visitors will get to practice the science of stratigraphy, which is the study of layers of dirt in order to determine information about the time period of items that are discovered. In looking at various items that have been found in Alexandria, children are even given a chance to examine and identify bits and pieces of artifacts found in the Gadsbys Tavern courtyard. Perhaps George Washington himself ate from the plate or drank out of the glass that the child is handling and analyzing.
On a recent field trip, some Lyles-Crouch third-graders were completely captivated as educator Ruth Reeder explained how an archeological dig works. The students were focused as they heard about what can be learned not only from the items found, but the location of where the artifacts are discovered in relation to other pieces.
Marya Fitzgerald, a retired teacher and volunteer for the past five years, said, This is the perfect place to teach because it is great for the kids and the teachers. She continued, I love volunteering here because I am interested in archeology. I wanted to be an archeologist when I grew up, but life intervened.
The Alexandria Archeology Museum is just one of nine highlighted Passport to Old Town History sites, and all are well-worth visiting for tourists and residents alike. The other sites include: The Carlyle House, Gadsbys Tavern Museum, the Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum, the Friendship Firehouse Museum, the Alexandria Lyceum, Historic Christ Church, the George Washington Masonic National Memorial and the Alexandria Black History Museum.
For more information on programs and Family Dig Days go to: www.alexandriaarcheology.org or call 703-838-4399. The museum is open Tuesday-Friday from 10 a.m. 3 p.m., Saturdays from 10 a.m.- 5 p.m. and Sundays from 1 p.m. 5 p.m.