At Work in the Pine Allée

Surprise, surprise I’m back at James Madison’s Montpelier! This time I’m here for their month long field school which is focused on working in the Pine Allée (Pine Alley) for the fieldwork portion of the field school. In addition to the field work, we also have almost daily lectures on stratigraphy, artifact dating, artifact distribution, public archaeology, and about the history of Montpelier. We also get at least 3 lab days per group of students based on which unit they are working in.

field school water screening
Photo of my group water screening at James Madison’s Montpelier Archaeology Lab, Courtesy of @montpelier_arch on Instagram.

The Pine Allée is an interesting project, and admittedly not the most “sexy” of the many archaeological sites at Montpelier, but it is an important aspect to work with since The Montpelier Foundation is working to recreate the landscape from the Madison’s retirement period (mid 1800’s). To explain, the Pine Allée was a row of pine trees going from the north wing of the house leading down to Mr. Madison’s Temple that tapered downhill to create the illusion that the temple was further from the main house.

Montpelier landscape 1808-1840

Computer generated image of the layout of the mansion ground, 1808-1848. (Courtesy of the Institute for the Advancement of Technology in Humanities, UVa. and Savannah College of Architecture and Design). Taken from A Brief History of Montpelier Landscape by Matthew Reeves (2016).

My group is assigned to a unit that is hoping to contain a tree feature called “tree #9” down slope from the mansion and about mid way between it and the temple. Since we are only about a week and a half into field school at this point, we haven’t done too much work in our unit. In addition to field work and a few days of lab work, we are also having almost daily lectures about stratigraphy, artifact identification and dating, artifact distribution, and the history of Montpelier. The stratigraphy lecture was super interesting because we were able to look at a unit in the Pine Allée that had been excavated prior to the field school by archaeology staff members. The image below is of the unit we looked at for the stratigraphy lecture with graphics showing the various aspects of the feature. The units that all of the field school students are currently working in are hoping to find a similar feature, though there could be variations due to the slope of the hill and various disruptions in the soil from landscaping or construction on the property among other things.

Photo courtesy of Terry Brock, PhD, taken from Stratigraphy and The Pine Alley (2019).

To find out more about the Pine Alley project, visit Montpelier’s Digital Doorway to read Terry Brock’s articles Stratigraphy and the Pine Alley and “A Double Row of Beautiful White Pines”: Excavating Madison’s Pine Alley.


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