Archaeology at Washington and Lee University

Washington and Lee University maintains an active research program in archaeology. We conduct field work every year, with two courses--Field and Laboratory Methods in Archaeology (SOAN 210 and 211)--taught in alternating spring terms. Faculty, students, alumni, and researchers from outside the university study artifacts and records in our collection year round at the Anthropology Laboratory.

Students have been participating in field schools with university faculty since 1974, beginning with excavations at the site of Liberty Hall, a late 18th-century predecessor of Washington and Lee that operated as a slave plantation after the academy schoolhouse burned down over Christmas break in 1803.. 

In the 1980s, W&L archaeologists engaged in research programs called the High Hollows Project and Early Industries in the Valley of Virginia, which investigated a series of domestic sites and pottery kilns. Beginning in the 1990s and early 2000s, our work focused on sites at the Longdale Mining Community in Alleghany County, Virginia. Later efforts included excavation at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello on the Edmund Bacon Site and at Morven Farm near Charlottesville, Virginia.

More recently, W&L archaeologists and students conducted research on the Washington and Lee University front-campus site of Graham Hall, a dorm/academic building (c. 1804-1835), which was replaced by Chavis Hall (built in 1841). Other recent research includes archaeological testing of domestic and commercial structures at Jordan’s Point in Lexington, and research on the McDowell Cemetery near Fairfield, Virginia.

Starting in 2014, we returned to Liberty Hall. The University began developement plans for upper-division housing on back campus, a stone's throw from the iconic Liberty Hall ruins. The Laboratory of Anthropology began historical research and archaeological fieldwork to investigate areas impacted by that development. This preliminary work quickly developed into the main focus of our work, with plans for a long-term research plan of investigating and preserving our important archaeological resources and collections.