Historical Archaeology Field Institute

Students in an archaeology class

  May 2024; May 28June 1, 2019 | 3 credits


This institute is open to current and visiting GW undergraduate and graduate students.

Program Description

This two-week intensive field school offers hands-on experience in excavation and laboratory study of an archaeological site just across the Potomac River in Old Town Alexandria, Virginia. The city has several historic districts and developed the first community archaeology program in America. It is the perfect place to investigate the Shuter’s Hill plantation site and to learn about artifact identification and analysis at the Alexandria Archaeology Museum.

This summer’s institute focuses on the excavation and study of the plantation landscape and the work environment of enslaved African Americans. Working with the City of Alexandria’s Archaeologists, students will also discuss public heritage values and issues resulting in a public interpretive tour.


ANTH/AMST 3835.80 (Undergraduate)
CRN: 31974 (AMST 3835.80) or CRN: 31958 (ANTH 3835.80)

ANTH/AMST 6835.80 (Graduate)
CRN: 31976 (AMST 6835.80) or CRN: 31975 (ANTH 6835.80)

The ten-day course in field and laboratory methods is designed to introduce students to the archaeological process from research questions through data collection, analysis, and interpretation. The field school is taught by a team of archaeologists as a case study/mini-practicum, so that students gain an understanding of the overall process, concepts, and goals of an archaeological investigation while having experience in contemporary methods. Students learn about the site, the 18th- and 19th-century Shuter’s Hill Plantation, and results to date of the investigations of the African American laundry/home portion of the site. The changing use and meaning of the hill are discussed in relationship to preservation and shifting community values.

The excavation experience includes keeping a field log, recording data, and maintaining vertical and horizontal control. Students then work in the Alexandria Archaeology Museum to wash, sort, identify, and analyze the artifacts they excavated. Workshops on excavation methods, laboratory processing methods, curation/collection management issues, historic artifact identification, GIS & plantation landscapes. Students will participate in two capstone interpretive experiences: first a group discussion with the City’s archaeologists in which the data derived from the class activities are broadly interpreted; and second, a public tour of the site developed by the students.

The course has relevance to undergraduate and graduate students in American Studies, Anthropology, Archaeology, African American Studies, Africana Studies, History, Museum Studies & Education, Preservation, and Women’s Studies, and anyone who would enjoy a first-hand opportunity to participate in archaeological research. Shuter's Hill Site and Alexandria Archaeology Museum are accessible through the King Street Metro Station.

Learn more about Metro Transit this summer. 


Tuition (3 credit hours)

About the Institute Staff

Director: Pamela Cressey retired as City Archaeologist with the City of Alexandria, in 2012, after directing the Alexandria Archaeology program for 36 years. The program has been acknowledged as a pioneer in community and urban archaeology. A long-time adjunct GWU faculty member in the Anthropology and American Studies departments, she earned her BA in History at UCLA and MA and PhD degrees in Anthropology from the University of Iowa.

Instructional Staff: Eleanor Breen, City Archaeologist (PhD University of Tennessee, Knoxville). Garrett Fesler, Archaeologist (Ph.D. University of Virginia) and Benjamin Skolnik, Archaeologist (PhD candidate, University of Maryland) are field directors. Tatiana Niculescu, Archaeologist (PhD candidate, University of Illinois) directs collections management, curation, and laboratory training. Emma Richardson, Museum Education Specialist (MA/MS Morgan State University) discusses public outreach methods and supervises the interpretive tour.