By JASON DUNOVANT
The results of an archaeology project conducted last year at Booker T. Washington National Monument were revealed this past weekend.
Archaeologist Andrew Wilkins shared details from studying more than 9 acres in the southern area of the park near the Jack-O-Lantern Branch Heritage Trail last December. One of the main objectives was to find out more about some of the buildings that once stood there, as well as an old cemetery nearby.
Timothy Sims, senior park ranger, said research was done to find out more about a tobacco barn that was rumored to be in the area that could have also been used as slave quarters. Work was also done to find out more about the nearby cemetery, known as Sparks Cemetery, and the identities of the people who are buried there.
Wilkins and his team dug holes in that area, including around the rock outline that remains of the building’s foundation. Every 10 meters, holes were dug, and if something was discovered while sifting through the dirt, the crew dug more holes.
“It allowed us to hone in on certain areas,” Wilkins said.
Research pointed to the building being used exclusively as a tobacco barn, Wilkins said. He concluded that due to the lack of items found around the site. Unlike living quarters, he said, few items were kept in tobacco barns.
Nails used to build the tobacco barn were found around the site. Wilkins said the nails dated the tobacco barn’s construction to between 1840 and 1870 based on records and how the nails were made. It likely was built sometime after the Burroughs family purchased the plantation in 1830.
Wilkins said his team was unable to find any information on the nearby Sparks Cemetery. While no digging was done at the cemetery, the team conducted research into historical records on the grave markers. It’s possible, Wilkins said, that the cemetery contains remains of the property’s previous owners, before the Burroughs family, or people who worked on the property at the time.
One unexpected find were remains of a prehistoric campsite from 3,000 to 5,000 years ago. Stone tools and items used to create those tools were found, Wilkins said, although the site was likely not used for long since tribes at that time usually didn’t stay in one place. “It was probably just a temporary camp,” he said.
While there was no evidence of slave quarters found at the south end of the park, Wilkins said he was able to provide information on other places to look in the future. An area located west of the park’s visitor center and on the north end of the park near Virginia 122 are likely locations.
Sims said it is exciting to learn more information about the the park. “That is prior knowledge of the park that we did not have before,” he said.
More archaeological studies could be conducted in the future, Sims said, to learn more about the property during Washington’s time there.
“We try to learn as much as we can about his physical environment and how it influenced who he was later in life,” Sims said.