Archaeology at Washington and Lee University

Washington and Lee University maintains an active research program in anthropological archaeology. Every spring term we run one of two courses--Field Methods or Laboratory Methods in Archaeology (SOAN 210 and 211), which are typically taught in alternating years. Faculty, students, alumni, and researchers from outside the university study artifacts and records in our collection year round at the Laboratory of Anthropogy. We also collaborate with students on active research projects through the Federal Work Study Program and the Leyburn Scholars Program in Anthropology

Students have been participating in field schools with university faculty since 1974, beginning with excavations at the site of Liberty Hall Academy, the predecessor of Washington and Lee University, which operated there from 1782 until January of 1803. 

Starting 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 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 with the goal of investigating the period after 1803 when the landscape shifted from an Academy to one of plantation slavery. 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 one of the main objectives of our research, with plans for long-term research investigating and preserving our important archaeological resources and collections.

Since 2018, we have run a Leading Edge Program in Archaeology every year for incoming first-year students. This weeklong pre-orientation program introduces a small group of students to the basics of archaeological fieldwork and the early history of the university though field excavation at Liberty Hall and field trips to archaeological sites around Virginia.

Additionaly, since 2019 we have run an AIM Program in Archaeology entitled: Enslavement at Liberty Hall: Uncovering the Archaeology and Forgotton History of W&L's Iconic Back Campus

W&L Archaeology 50th Anniversary and Reunion

Mark your calendars to join us April 12-13, 2024. We recommend that you secure hotel reservations now, no code or block is required. Online booking sites such as Expedia and Travelocity are excellent, real-time resources. Here is a link to local lodging options.

Register Here!

Friday, April 12

6:00 – 9:00 p.m. Welcome Reception, Hotchkiss Alumni House
Welcome back to campus! Sip, savor, and socialize over heavy hors d'oeuvres and cocktails. Greetings and reflections from Dean Kimber.

Saturday, April 13

All-day W&L Back Campus Trails
Immerse yourself in the beauty of the Back Campus. With several new trails to explore, and lots of beauty to be discovered! Send us your pictures when you reach the Gazebo! View the trail map.
9:30 – 11:00 a.m. Timeless Connections: Alumni and Student Mixer, Mason Taylor New Room, Payne Hall
Current students and alumni are invited to drop in and talk with each other about their experiences and interests in archaeology. Alumni from "The Dig" have gone on to many careers including archaeology, healthcare, and business. This is a good opportunity for students to meet alumni and for alumni to learn more about current students' research and aspirations.
Noon – 3:00 p.m. Lunch and Learn, Liberty Hall Ruins
Enjoy reminiscing with alumni, faculty, staff, and friends over lunch over lunch in a tent on the Liberty Hall campus. Visit the Steward's House (Structure 9) restoration and receive updates on recent archaeology. There will be a series of timed visits of 2 or 3 groups depending on the number of attendees.
6:30 – 8:30 p.m. Celebration Dinner, Evans Hall
Gather for dinner and remarks by John McDaniel, Professor Emeritus of Anthropology and Archaeology. Through a series of guest speakers, we'll navigate through the last 50 years and explore the origins, impact, and future of archaeology at W&L. Opening remarks by Provost Lena Hill.