Objects

FAQs

What does the objects gallery represent?
What does the objects gallery represent? The objects presented in this e-museum were excavated from a trash-filled feature located to the south of the Mount Vernon Mansion and behind the kitchen. The majority of the refuse dates before the Revolutionary War and after Augustine Washington began construction of the house in 1735. The e-museum allows access to all objects excavated from the midden, which means different things for different types of artifacts. Archaeologists performed minimum vessel counts for the ceramics and table glass vessels. All of these vessels are available – some are represented by a single sherd, others by so many that the object is nearly complete. For all other artifact types, a representative sample was chosen in some cases and in others, the decision was made to include all of that artifact type. For example, we chose not to provide detailed catalogue and photographic documentation of all 1,201 straight pins. Access to these data is available at www.daacs.org. Instead, we chose pins of different sizes and manufacturing techniques to enable a discussion of the function of straight pins and how their manufacture changed over time. On the other hand, we included all cowrie shells found in the midden.
How many objects are available on the e-museum?
A total of 711 are presented in the objects gallery. All have images. More than half (410) have unique object summaries in addition to the catalogue details and links to explore related objects and to dig deeper into research themes and assemblage contexts. The rest (301) have catalogue details and links to explore related objects.
What is an object?
We use the term object, as opposed to artifact, because the data we present is a smaller subset of the nearly 300,000 artifacts collected during excavation. The objects and artifacts from the South Grove Midden are catalogued in DAACS (the Digital Archaeological Archive of Comparative Slavery) and available at www.daacs.org. The DAACS initiative provides researchers access to archaeological data catalogued in a systematic and standardized format, facilitating inter-site comparisons.
Why focus on objects?

The approach for this project was to forefront the object level data and was designed with two goals in mind: to make the midden data accessible and analytical. In other words, objects have properties (mainly, completeness) that appeal to larger audiences, but they also facilitate meaningful analysis beyond what sherd counts and broken bits of a whole buckle can tell us.

Because of the depositional history of the South Grove Midden, the ceramics and glass had a high degree of reconstructability, so performing a minimum vessel count for ceramic and table glass vessels was an important step in understanding foodways and consumer practices of the early Washington households. Additionally crossmending ceramics and glass and presenting photographs (for example, of this engraved glass decanter) allows for an entry point into the material culture of the Washingtons for a general audience.

What types of questions can objects answe?

On an analytical level, archaeologists and other material culture specialists can gain access to the individual minimum vessels through the search function. Among the 20 table glass vessels are sherds from the bowl of a wine glass with the same engraved tulip decoration seen on the decanter, suggesting that the two pieces were part of a matched set of wine-related drinking wares. We have evidence of matched sets of ceramics, as well. Only an object-level analysis reveals two sets of porcelain plates, and three sets of matching porcelain tea wares – indicative, we think, of gentry consumer practices.

Another example in the realm of foodways is the faunal remains themselves. Catalogued and photographed individually, sheep bones are perhaps difficult to appreciate. However, through the careful reconstruction of specific sheep joints, we can begin to explore cuts of meat and even specific period recipes, like the roast shoulder of mutton with garlic discussed in the object summary.
Who used and discarded these objects?
George Washington certainly ate from some of these plates and sat on chairs studded with brass tacks. However, many other individuals contributed to this dump of trash behind the kitchen including members of both Lawrence and George Washington’s households, enslaved individuals assigned to duties in the nearby outbuildings, and hired white laborers. Activities of earlier and later generations are also represented through the prehistoric artifacts and the refuse of modern visitors to the estate. Both the Phase and Date fields in the catalogue should help to determine who used and discarded the object and when.
How do the objects and the two documentary databases mesh?
The objects and artifacts that were excavated from the South Grove Midden are not one-to-one matches with the orders that George Washington placed for goods, found in the Invoices and Orders database. The objects and artifacts are also not one-to-one matches with what was sold in Alexander Henderson’s store in Colchester, Virginia, contained in the Scheme of Goods database. This website allows visitors the opportunity to explore consumerism from three complimentary but not compatible databases.
What should I do if I have a question about the objects?