Tagged with The Dig:

Volunteers Work Hard

April 21, 2006


Field workers take photos through a mapping grid used to help record detailed measured drawings of the church foundation. Another worker records excavation unit wall information as part of the final documentation of the site.



Key 2006 Goals

January 21, 2006

Key 2006 goals include completion of last year goals: (1) finishing Foundation Units’ Archaeological Measurements, (2) completing layout of new Archaeological Interpretative Sign, (3) determining the best all-weather enclosure design for Unit #14, and (4) begin converting the “dig site” into a Historic Park.


Site Closes for Another Winter

December 20, 2005

Weather delays precluded completion of final measurements of the dig site. The measurements will be completed in spring 2006.

On December 20, 2005, the Dig Site was closed.

By the end of 2005, a total of 54 excavation units were uncovered and artifacts removed for further processing.


Elk Run ‘Dig’ to Become Historic Park

October 12, 2005

A PARK: The site of Elk Run Anglican Church will become a historic park later this fall.

Fauquier Times Democrat – October 12, 2005 (reprinted with permission)

By Edward F. Dandar

The archaeological research project at Elk Run Anglican Church is nearing completion. The all-volunteer, community project has been underway since 1999.
Volunteers have worked on Saturdays, in good weather in spring, summer, and fall to help expose the foundation of the church and dig controlled excavation units for recovery of colonial artifacts and building materials.
On weekends during the winter months, they have work¬ed to clean and identify the artifacts recovered from the site.


Settlers first arrived in the Elk Run area between 1715 and 1719. By the time that Hamilton Parish was established in 1730, there were several hundred people living in the Elk Run vicinity of Virginia.
A wooden chapel is believed to have already existed by the 1740s, when Prince William Minute Books make note of road repairs being done in front of the “Elk Run Chapel.”
The chapel preceded the pre-Revolutionary brick cruci¬form structure that was built there in the late 1750s. The first rector of the Elk Run church was the Reverend James Keith, a native of Scotland, who from the 1740s until 1751. Rev. Keith was the grandfather of Chief Justice John Marshall, born not far away at Germantown.


To preserve the site for posterity, a preservation committee – led by St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Catlett, and in collaboration with St. James’ Church in Warrenton and ecumenically with other churches in the region – initiated the project.
The group has sought to raise funds through appeals to residents, organizations and businesses to support the research and the eventual development of the site as an historical park.
Neighbors and nearby residents, including members of the A. W. Patton family, have been especially helpful in these efforts.
Over the last five years, 54 controlled excavation units have been laid out and excavated under the supervision of our volunteer archaeologist, Dr. John Eddins.
A digital survey of key excavation unit points was accomplished in 2004 and final excavation unit measurements will be completed this fall. To date, found artifacts include handmade nails, ceramic dish fragments, 18th and 19th century coins, and Indian arrowheads dating back 4,000 years or more.


The transition of the “dig site” into an historic park will happen later this fall.
The park will have the original four foot wide foundation outlined on the surface with colonial bricks, to reflect the actual size of the church. A designated section of the
church foundation has been selected to be enclosed with a plexiglas-like material for year-round viewing once the site is converted into a historic park.
The accompanying overhead-view of the church foundation indicates how the surface may appear, once park landscaping is completed. This photograph was made possible by Virginia Dominion Power.
Over the next few months the volunteers will help finish up the excavations and detailed documentation of the remains of the church. We will also begin back-filling the site, preparing a report and historical tourism pamphlets, landscaping the site, and developing permanent historical displays.
Volunteers are welcome to assist, and financial donations and or materials for the historic park are greatly appreciated. For more information visit the Web site.

Edward F Dandar, of Nokesville, is the chairman of the Elk Run Church Site Preservation Committee.


Elk Run Dig Nears Completion

May 9, 2005


The Historiographer of the National Episcopal Historians and Archivists and The Historical Society of the Episcopal Church (reprinted with permission)
May 2005 – Vol. XLIII No. 2

Diocese of Virginia

What began as an attempt to clear brush uncovered the remains of what is believed to be the first brick church in the mid-18th century frontier of Fauquier County, Virginia. The Elk Run Anglican Church was built sometime in the late 1750s. It served as the mother church for Hamilton Parish, and its first rector was the Rev. James Keith. Today, the Preservation Committee, let by members of St. Stephen’s, Catlett, in collaboration with St. James’, Warrenton, is leading the archaeological effort to preserve the site.

Ned Browning, a descendant of Pastor Keith whose family acquired the church site in the 20th century, donated the land with the ruins of the church to St. Stephen’s. After his death in 1999, Edward F. Dandar, Jr., a retired Army colonel and St. Stephen’s historian, took charge of the excavation.

Over the past five years, 54 controlled excavation unites have been laid out and excavated under the supervision of volunteer archaeologist, Dr. John Eddins. Units #53 and #54 will be completed this summer. A digital survey of key excavation unit points was accomplished in 2004 and final excavation unit measurements will also be completed this summer. To date, found artifacts include handmade nails, ceramic dish fragments, 18th- and 19th-century coins, and Indian arrowheads dating back 4,000 years or more.

The all-volunteer archaeological team has confirmed that Elk Run Church was a rare Greek cross structure with roughly equal-sized extensions on all sides. The transition of the dig site into a historic park will happen later this fall. The original four food-wide foundation of the church will be outlined with Colonial bricks to reflect the actual size of the church. A designated section of the foundation has been selected to be enclosed with a Plexiglas-like material for year-round viewing once the site is converted into a park.

The Preservation Committee needs community volunteers this summer to complete the archaeological work. The site offers a unique opportunity not only to participate in “digging up some history,” but also to learn some fundamentals of archaeological work. Local citizens, church youth groups, Boy and Girl Scouts, 4H Club members are invited to participate in the project. The volunteers meet every Saturday during summer and fall, weather permitting.

For more information about this work, check out the Web site.


Reopening the Site in 2005

May 7, 2005


On May 7, 2005, the Church Dig Site was reopened.

Key goals for 2005, include: (1) finishing Foundation Units’ Archaeological Measurements, (2) completing excavation of Units #53 and #54, (3) taking top-down photo of entire site for Archaeological Interpretative Sign, (4) finalizing all-weather enclosure design for Unit #14 so contract can be initiated so that year-round viewing can occur, and (5) and begin converting “dig site” into a Historic Park.

Elk Run Volunteers clean and prepare excavation units for final measurements.



At Fauquier Church Site, Unearthing a Colony’s Past

August 9, 2004


The Washington Post – Monday, August 9, 2004 (reprinted with permission)

By Lila Arzua

Working smoothly and systematically, a dozen volunteers carefully unearthed the remains of an 18th-century church in Fauquier County. Several knelt on the ground and used sharpened trowels to expose the stone foundation. Others collected the loosened dirt and sifted it in search of artifacts, using a special high-powered magnet to separate out earth-encrusted relics.
Finds were methodically placed in plastic bags and labeled with the precise location of each discover.

Despite its regimented approach, the team of excavators at the Elk Run Anglican Church site is an unusual one. Only one member is a professional archaeologist; the rest are passionate amateurs.

“You might find something no one else has and change something everybody else thought,” said 12-year-old-Melanie Fuechsel, a seventh-grader who hopes to become an archaeologist. As she sifted through loose dirt, she spotted what she thought might be a piece of quarts. Upon further inspection, the object turned out to be a fragment of a small coin – a Spanish real, minted in Seville in the 1730s.

Every Saturday during the summer, anyone who wants to can comb through the remains of Elk Run Anglican Church and participates in archaeological study usually reserved for experts.

“All the bits and pieces, the nails and the pottery, rubble and glass tell us the history about Colonial Virginia church life,” said Brenda Branscome, a former history teacher who says her interest in archaeology began years ago in the sandbox. She has spent three seasons digging at the site.

A number of the volunteers, in fact, are still in elementary school. On a recent Saturday, Richard Loving of Catlett brought a troop of Scouts, including his sons – Bailey, 9, and Marshall, 7 – and promised them a fishing trip after a morning of digging.
With his father’s help, Marshall concentrated on brushing the dust off a half-buried brick. Bailey, who had helped at the site before, chose his favorite task – pushing buckets’ worth of soil through the sifter.

“I get to play in the dirt,” bragged Bailey, pulling his arms from the mound of earth he was coaxing through a large square sieve. He proudly showed off a piece of glazed brick.

Elk Run Anglican Church was one of the earliest churches in the Piedmont area of Virginia. It was built during the 1750s, replacing a wooden chapel on the site. The first rector was the Rev. James Keith, who was the maternal grandfather of John Marshall, chief justice of the United States.

Ned Browning, a descendant of Pastor Keith’s whose family came to own the church site in the 20th century, donated the land and the ruins of the church to St. Stephen’s, an Episcopal church about 10 miles north in Catlett. Browning died of cancer in 1999. Edward F. Dandar Jr., a returned Army colonel and the historian of St Stephen’s, has been in charge of the excavation since.

Starting in late spring, Dandar dedicates nearly every weekend to managing the dig, taking off the waterproof tarpaulin that protects the site during the week, coordinating the corps of volunteers and cataloguing the finds, which have included pottery shards, 3000-year-old arrowheads and pieces of a German 18th-century porcelain jug. In the winter, volunteers pack the site with hay until the next digging season and concentrate on cleaning and identifying artifacts.

Since 2000, archaeologist John Eddins, 52, has donated his expertise to the excavation.

Eddins said that inviting volunteers from the community to help dig is becoming an increasingly popular way to pursue projects that don’t have funding. The trick, he said, is to make sure that the helpers, both young and old, are properly trained and monitored.

For example, at first it was difficult to discern what was foundation and what was the ruble around it. Volunteers were taught to use a specialized probe to gently tap away dirt and rocks to expose the original wall without destroying it.

“A lot of times, folks go out there and just dig, and the information isn’t recorded properly and then lost” at unsupervised digs, Eddins said.

While further study is necessary to determine the height and appearance of the church, Eddins and others speculate that is somewhat resembled Aquia Church in Stafford, another brick cruciform church that was build in the 1750s and remains open as an Episcopal church.

The group’s goal is to finish digging by October and then to get the permits necessary to uncover the graves in the adjacent cemetery and conduct DNA tests on some of the remains. The plan is eventually to build a historic park where church services might be held. Dandar envisions the outline of the foundation protected with a layer of Colonial bricks, with a corner section enclosed in Plexiglas-like material for the public to examine.

“It’s provided us with a living expression of faith that was here long before the Episcopal church,” said the Rev. Roma W. Maycock, who had been the rector of St. Stephen’s for 19 years. Working in gardening gloves and khakis, she has found her share of glass shards in the soil.

Maycock said that while the endeavor has strengthened an appreciation for the past among newcomers and longtime residents, sustaing the congregation’s interest – and drawing others to the project – has become a challenge as the years go by.
“We want things so fast in our society, it’s hard to have the patience required for thorough, diligent archaeology,” she said.


The Digging Continues

August 8, 2004


The Church Dig Site was reopened on May 8, 2004.

Key goals for this year include finishing Units #47 through #50 and completing documentation and photographing of all 50-excavation units.

Digging in excavation units, #46-#50, and screening for artifacts continued during June, July and August 2004.



1730s Spanish Coin Found

July 24, 2004


On July 24, 2004 community volunteers working at the Elk Run Dig under the direction of Archeologist, Dr. John Eddins, discover a piece of a 1730s Spanish coin.


Unit #14 Selected

January 21, 2004


In October 2003, Unit #14 was selected as part of the site excavation that would have an all-weather enclosure to provide for year-round viewing after all 50 excavations are completed and the site converted into a Historic Park.

An all-weather enclosure design for Unit #14  is determined in 2004, so that year-round viewing can occur when the site is converted into a Historic Park.