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Archaeological Dig Unearths Slave History at Georgetown Estate

A dig at Tudor Place has unearthed artifacts associated with African-American slave dwellings.

Archaeologists at Tudor Place, an historic Georgetown estate with ties to George Washington, have unearthed artifacts that suggest the former existence of a dwelling for both enslaved and free workers on the site.

A team of archaeologists spent several days in the past week painstakingly digging and sifting through layers of soil in the northeast corner of the Tudor Place garden, in an area called the tennis lot.

"We’ve been wanting to know about slave patterns at Tudor Place," Jessica Zullinger, director of preservation at Tudor place, said in a phone interview with Patch.

In a 2011 study, they uncovered similar artifacts pointing to domestic life, and Tudor Place consulted an 1863 map that suggested the location of an outbuilding in the area. And so they started digging. The team of archaeologists from the Dovetail Cultural Research Group agreed to dig about six of these 3-foot-by-3-foot square pits in areas chosen based on previous research.

The staff has some knowledge of life behind the scenes of Tudor Place and offers a specialized tour about servant life at the historic home. But the new findings help inform and could change how they interpret the home and its grounds for the public.

Wednesday they discovered a pit that was full of domestic artifacts, like oyster shells, ceramics and pieces of brick, all of which suggest there used to be some sort of structure there, Zullinger said. Looking at the items found so far, Zullinger estimated that they date back to the early 19th century.

On Thursday, Zullinger told Patch, the archaeologists uncovered one of the more exciting finds so far: a large piece of Colonoware.

Colonoware "is a type of rough ceramic known to have been made by African Americans from the end of the 17th century through the Civil War, and found from the Chesapeake region into the southern states along the East Coast. This is an extremely rare find in the district, and even highly unusual on this side of the Potomac," Zullinger explained in an email to Patch.

"We are all, archaeologists included, extremely excited," she wrote.

While Zullinger said it is unlikely they will uncover intact pieces of whatever structure may have been there, she said it is not outside the realm of possibility.

And though the space is currently part of the gardens that adorn the historic home, depending on what they find, that could change.

"If the archaeologist can say to us, 'This is a building, all the evidence is there,' as an organization we have to talk about ... do we want to have it as part of our interprtation for the public?"

For now, she said, the dig is largely an academic exercise and will at least help inform interpretation of the site.

The dig is funded through a grant from the Marpat Foundation. To dig six holes with four archaeologists working in twos on each pit costs about $20,000.

Read more about the dig on the Tudor Place blog.

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Steve Dingledine March 15, 2013 at 11:40 AM
My class just visited Tudor Place as a part of our yearly program there. We got so lucky to be there and touring the gardens while the archeologists were working. They kindly agreed to talk with the students and share about some of the artifacts they were finding. The students really benefited from the experience and I'm wondering what they included in the nightly journal entry about it. Thanks again and again to Tudor Place for this program. Stoddert students have been going there multiple times per year for 5 years now. Talia and her staff (and everyone there) deserve a huge shoutout for their commitment to us!
Jessica Zullinger March 15, 2013 at 07:35 PM
Steve, we're so pleased that your students were on site to see this project in progress! We are still learning about the age and origin of many of the objects uncovered in the last few days, including the ceramics, and will continue to update our blog and facebook page as the archaeologists complete the dig and begin to analyze the findings.

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