What Lies Beneath? Dower House Dig

In a site as well preserved as Tudor Place, history and artifacts are not just all around, but underfoot. Archaeology offers unique insights into how past occupants used and occupied the land, which inform our understanding and interpretation of the estate today. A recent excavation near the 1867 Dower House on the property’s northern boundary uncovered not only relatively recent (19th-century) domestic artifacts and architectural debris, but also remnants of prehistoric tool-making.

Before any project that might disturb soil on the site, Tudor Place studies the substrata to preserve its hidden layers of history and material culture. An award-winning site-wide Phase I archaeological survey conducted in 2010 guides staff in targeting areas for investigation. The Dower House fieldwork, conducted from August 17 to 27 by Dovetail Cultural Resources Group under the supervision of Tudor Place Director of Preservation Jessica Zullinger, anticipates maintenance work to be undertaken around the building’s foundations.

The project completed the 2010 site survey by extending it to this lot on the site’s northern perimeter, which was by Tudor Place’s owner in 1866 and “bought back” by her grandson 95 years later. An initial grid of 13 circular, investigative “shovel test pits,” each about 12 inches (“shovel width”)  in diameter, helped determine where to dig eight three-foot-square “test units” providing an in-depth look at the foundation and yard. Because it abuts the fence separating the Dower House lot from the remainder of the property and was part of the original estate, this area was of high interest. Objects turned up included many small domestic artifacts, such as a shard of transfer print china showing indications of burn marks; fragments of blown and polished glass; a possible piece of a child’s toy; a metal object that might be part of a hinge; and an 1865 Indian Head penny. A piece of stoneware bearing a rare intact maker’s mark dates from a local 1820’s manufacturer in Alexandria, Virginia.

A surprising find, in one of the test units, was rare in-situ prehistoric flake tools – tools made by breaking pieces of stone. Finding prehistoric material in context in an urban setting like Washington, D.C., is rare, because city soils are so often disturbed by density, construction, and other landscape changes.

The excavation’s initial findings comport with the land’s 18th-century transition from wilderness to farmland, followed by its use as a home site from the late 1860s. As we continue to analyze data gleaned from the dig, the distribution of artifacts and the mapping of the soil layers that held them will help us better understand the early Capital City, Georgetown, and Tudor Place, possibly in ways yet to be discovered.

Tudor Place is grateful to a private foundation for the grant that enabled this project and to the many visitors, members, and donors whose support enables current and future archaeological investigations. An Annual Fund donation today of any amount helps Tudor Place continue learning and educating the public about the stories these grounds still hold.

Phase-II Archeaology Investigation: Tennis Lawn 2013

This 2013 project followed up on the 2010 survey evidence indicating the possible location of a former building. Historic maps show no structure in this area, but concentrations of domestic and architectural artifacts found there led to speculation that a slave quarter may have stood in what is now the Tennis Lawn. The Phase II testing further investigated if a building did exist in this portion of the property and, if so, what its function may have been, with exciting results: Two of the test units revealed characteristics of a large feature. Although its details remain undetermined, the likely feature’s size apparent configuration, and recovered artifacts suggest that a possible root cellar or sub-floor pit associated with a dwelling for enslaved African Americans and/or other servants.


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Possible Servant/Slave Domicile: Tennis Lawn Archaeology Investigation (2013)

This investigation was undertaken based on evidence from a 2010-2011 Phase-One survey that a building – possibly a slave quarter – may have stood in the North Garden east of the Center Walk. In March 2013, six test units were dug and features consistent with a possible dwelling were found in two of them. The features’ size, their apparent configuration, and recovered artifacts suggest it may have been a root cellar or sub-floor associated with a dwelling for enslaved workers or other servants.

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In Boxwood Knot Restoration, Opportunity to Excavate (2011)

· Archaeology ·

Undertaken in conjunction with the regrading and restoration of the North Garden’s Boxwood Knot rose garden, this October 2011 dig was commissioned during an 11-day window when the area was cleared of vegetation. From three test units and 10 shovel test pits, 893 artifacts were recovered. The knot garden’s southeast corner revealed a brick rubble layer identified as architectural debris from a past event containing handmade bricks with sparse fragments of burnt lime. In the garden’s northwest corner, a post hole was found – possibly part of a fence dating to the area’s use as a working yard or a post-in-ground outbuilding or arbor.

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Phase-I Archaeology Survey (2010-2011) of Tudor Place

· Archaeology ·

This 2010-2011 project for the first time surveyed all 5½ acres of Tudor Place. Performed by Dovetail Cultural Resource Group at the behest of Tudor Place, it entailed GPS mapping and the digging of 222 test pits, among other investigations, and recovered 874 artifacts. The study laid the groundwork for further study and excavation and was the subject of a 2012 D.C. Historic Preservation Award for Excellence in Archaeology conferred on Tudor Place.

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