Category Archives: Archaeology

Archaeology at the Mill Progress Report – Pt. 3

Earlier this year, lead archaeologist, Dr. Mike Johnson, wrote up a progress report of the archaeological work that has been done at the Mill to date.  We’re excited to present  the final section of the paper, Part 3 of his “Thoroughfare Gap Archaeology News” below (Click HERE for Part 1 and Click HERE for Part 2).  


The rest of this newsletter will focus on the prehistoric aspects of Thoroughfare Gap archeology, which is Johnson’s research interest.  However, Johnson will continue to provide preliminary assessments of historic results as appropriate.

Currently, the excavation levels are below the historic artifact zone, with a possible exception of a disturbance in the northeast corner of Square 2 (N960E3476).  No evidence of a cellar or historic pits have been detected in the three test squares.  As a result it is likely that any prehistoric occupations have not been disturbed by historic period activity.

This is supported by a discovery on September 3 that what was originally thought to be evidence of a shallow relic stream bed from when Broad Run was running across the feature, many thousands of years ago, was actually a prehistoric artifact.  Figure 8 shows the large, water rolled boulder after it was cleaned off at the bottom of level 105 in Square 3.  The inset image shows that the boulder was discolored from burning and it has a battered area (arrow) that was from using it as an anvil stone, probably from splitting high quality stream cobbles.  Level 105 also produced the highest concentration of worked quartz artifacts yet recovered from any excavation level on the site.  Figure 9 shows a clear quartz biface fragment and a large quartz unifacial core fragment.  These artifacts located on the same level; in an isolated context, and in proximity to an “immovable” object, the anvil, strongly suggest that the excavation has encountered a relatively undisturbed surface.


Figure 8.  Plan view of Sq. 3, level 105 with large anvil stone.


Figure 9.  Clear quartz biface (1) and quartz unifacial quartz core fragment (2) from Sq. 3, level 105.

Recently, two possible Middle Archaic, Morrow Mountain-like points were recovered from the other two squares (Figure 10).  Both were laying relatively flat, indicating minor displacement, and were at approximately the same level.  Morrow Mountain points date to approximately 7,000 to 7,500 years ago (B.P).  It is possible that the two points could be Late Archaic (4,500-3,700 B.P.), Savannah River knife/saw-like tools.  However, the use of quartz in Savannah River points is rare.  On the other hand, hornfels was commonly used in the Savannah River period.  The unusually high number of meta-volcanic artifacts from both squares suggests the Morrow Mountain age.


Figure 10.  Hornfels Morrow Mountain-like point (1) from Sq. 1, Level 105, and quartz Morrow Mountain point (2) from Sq. 2, Level 104.

As stated above, the meta-volcanic stone occurring on this site probably comes from geological formations located south of the James River.  Major prehistoric meta-volcanic quarries occurred at Morrow Mountain in central North Carolina, where the stone was commonly used during that cultural period.  Unlike Savannah River artifacts, Morrow Mountain artifacts are uncommon in Northern Virginia, which makes the resolution of this question important to the major prehistoric research question about the use of water gaps as places where people came periodically from great distances to meet.

These are preliminary evaluations of recent data, only just uncovered in the last few weeks.  With the recent discoveries, especially of potentially minor disturbance to the prehistoric components, it is possible that the site has good stratigraphic integrity.  That would make the site’s prehistoric components extremely rare in an interior upland context.  Most stratified sites have been found along major waterways, such as rivers and estuaries, where large volumes of loose sediment/sand are available for both water and wind transport.


Archaeology at the Mill Progress Report – Pt. 2

Earlier this year, lead archaeologist, Dr. Mike Johnson, wrote up a progress report of the archaeological work that has been done at the Mill to date.  We’re excited to present  Part 2 of his “Thoroughfare Gap Archaeology News” below (Click HERE for Part 1).  Expect to see Part 3 of the September TGA news posted here in the near future.  


Based on that assessment, at the beginning of this year three, four-foot squares were laid out in that area.  Square 1 was placed adjacent to and outside the western wall of the historic foundation.  That was to identify a possible builder’s trench for a possible house and to avoid historic disturbance to the prehistoric stratigraphy, which might be higher inside the foundation.  Square 2 was placed just inside the foundation immediately east of Square 1 and Square 3 was placed in the center of the foundation immediately east of Square 2.

Excavations on the three squares have been going on throughout the Spring and Summer of 2016.  As of this writing they are approximately 15 inches deep and several inches below the last historic evidence.  The historic part of the site was extremely interesting and produced a wealth of data.  The artifacts indicated that the feature was occupied throughout much of the 19th century.  Burned soil, charcoal and burned artifacts indicate that the site may have burned down, although not due to a fire of the intensity needed to melt glass.  Rock rubble within the foundation indicated that the house walls were stone part of the way up from the ground.  Artifacts also indicated that a female occupant possessed fine quality clothing as indicated by the quality of the female buttons.  The ceramics and glass also indicated some degree of affluence (Figure 5).

tga-1Figure 5.  Sample of historic artifacts from the 2016 test excavations.

Figure 5 shows: (1) a floral decorated brass button; (2) a floral decorated black glass button; (3) one side of a carved bone utensil handle; (4) an agateware doorknob sherd; (5) a cluster of in situ “ironstone” basal sherds; (6) a cut glass (jet ?) cross pendant; (7) a floral embossed tableware bowl sherd; (8) a brass, two piece, Civil War, eagle shield button (the only Civil War era artifact recovered from the excavation); (9) the bottom portion of an elaborately molded black glass bottle, and (10) several mended, hand painted floral and annular pearlware sherds.

Figure 6 shows the raised feature that is within the rectangular lines of large rocks that are the foundation walls.  One can see the drop-off to the screening area on the far side of the raised landform.  One of the large rocks that form the foundation edge can be seen exposed next to the water level to the left.  The closest test square (Square 1 – N960E3468) is just outside the west wall of the foundation.  Two foundation stones can be seen to the south (right) – one under the kneeling pad and the other behind the white spray bottle.  Unlike the other two squares, it produced very little construction rubble, indicating that whatever foundation stone that was above ground collapsed inward.  One can also see a slightly higher mound between the farthest square and the screen area.  It is likely chimney rubble.  The foundation has not been mapped but it paces off at approximately 20 feet east-west and 18 feet north south.

tga-2Figure 6.  Looking east toward the 2016 excavation area showing the raised landform of the foundation.

It is possible that the site is one of the two shown in the foreground of Figure 7 as it is located immediately before the bend to the north in the current railroad bed.  It appears that the collapsed chimney rubble on the archeological foundation is at the east end, like those in the photograph and the position and distance in relation to the mill and old railroad tracks are similar.  The alternative is that the archeological foundation is located from where the picture is being taken.  At some point it might be possible to approximate the distance from the mill to the nearest house by measuring known distances in the photo and relate them to dimensions of other features in the photo.

tga-3Figure 7.  Late 19th century (?) photograph of the mill and Thoroughfare Gap from the east.

Part 3 of this article coming soon!

Archaeology at the Mill Progress Report

Earlier this year, lead archaeologist, Dr. Mike Johnson, wrote up a progress report of the archaeological work that has been done at the Mill to date.  We’re excited to present his “Thoroughfare Gap Archaeology News” below.  Expect to see parts 2 and 3 of the September TGA news posted here in the near future.  


Hopefully, this will be the first of many updates on the progress of archeological investigations in Thoroughfare Gap by the Northern Virginia Chapter of the Archeological Society of Virginia, working in concert with Turn the Mill Around Foundation.  Prior to the current effort, archeological investigations in the gap have been sporadic with the current work being the first comprehensive investigations of any part of the gap area.

It began several years ago under the oversight and direction of Kay McCarrron, who was the previous Executive Director for Turn the Mill Around Campaign.  It continues under the oversight of Frances Allshouse and direction of Mike Johnson, Ph.D.  Its focus was on identifying potential archeological features and sites that may be impacted by a proposed trail system (Figures 1 and 2) to the east of the Chapman-Beverly Mill.  That was mainly so the significant features could be properly conserved.  Its main objective was to identify historic features that logically would have been associated with the mill and its owners.

figure-1Figure 1.  Preliminary master plan for development of the mill property.


firgure-2Figure 2.  Transect interval sample locations.


However, McCarron took the opportunity to expand the testing to cover areas of potential research interest beyond mere development related impact areas.

Finding historic, mill related features was no surprise.  The big surprise was the discovery of unusual prehistoric stone artifacts.  Prehistoric artifacts could be expected.  However, many of the artifacts were made of non-local stone, indicating that they were either brought or traded over many miles by people whose only means of transportation was on foot.  That discovery brought former Fairfax County Senior Archeologist, Mike Johnson into the project.  He was involved in research on water gaps, like Thoroughfare Gap, as focal points for very early (20,000-10,000 B.P.) prehistoric trade centers, large interaction camps and transportation bottlenecks.

Over time he took on more and more of the field oversight.  His participation has involved supervising recovery of both the mill related historic and gap related prehistoric archeological information.  The initial field strategy devised by McCarron and Becky Garber was to test the trail impact areas, using controlled shovel test pits spaced at tight intervals across the landscape to the east of the mill.

This strategy was consistent with that used by Johnson in Fairfax County and was ideal for the recovery of the highest quality historic and prehistoric data.  The method is similar to a “Phase I survey,” designed in government archeology to locate sites in areas that have not been previously surveyed.  However, Chapman’s Mill and its complex of supporting features was a recorded site.  Its state registry number is 44FQ271, which means it is the 271st archeological site recorded in Fauquier County (FQ) Virginia (44).

Since the tight interval transect interval sample was being employed on a known site it was considered part of the next phase, Phase II, which is the first part of an assessment of a site’s significance.  Johnson calls this a Phase IIA.

The fieldwork was completed several years ago, with the recovery of enormous quantities of historic and a lesser amount of prehistoric artifacts.  Fieldwork was suspended for more than a year and a half to permit laboratory processing and cataloguing artifacts.  This was necessary prior to determining where to do more intensive test excavations, designed to assess the significance of potential features.

Johnson agreed to assist with the understanding that his contribution would be consistent with his research interest in prehistoric use of water gaps. He did not feel competent enough to do justice to a complex industrial site like Chapman’s Mill.  Although Johnson has basic competence in historical archeology, his advice is to get a qualified industrial archeologist with specific skill and experience in dealing with mill complexes.

The results of that lab work indicated that several areas held a high potential for prehistoric activity areas consistent with Johnson’s research interest.  The distributions of two of the more important exotic stone artifacts (jasper and meta-volcanic) are shown in Figures 3 and 4.  Both stone types are not common on most sites east of the Blue Ridge.  Jasper sources have been identified south of Front Royal, at Point of Rocks on the Potomac and between Fredericksburg and Culpeper.  Meta-volcanic sources have yet to be found north of the James River.


figure-3Figure 3.  Phase IIA jasper distribution.


figure-4Figure 4.  Meta-volcanic distribution.


One of the largest and most intense jasper artifact areas was found to be co-located with the most intense and largest meta-volcanic area as shown in Figures 3 and 4.  Interestingly, this area also is where the Phase IIA testing identified a large stone foundation.  It is also the highest landform, relative to Broad Run, located east of the immediate mill area and south of the railroad tracks.  The higher elevation and distance from Broad Run suggests that it would possibly contain the earliest prehistoric camps.  Relative safety from flooding also is likely the same reason it was used for an historic house.

Part 2 of this article coming soon!

Finding Meaning in Pipe Stems

Archaeology volunteer, Paul Antsen, using a quarter inch mesh to find artifacts.

Archaeology volunteer, Paul Antsen, using a quarter inch mesh to find artifacts.

With the Chapman – Beverley Mill’s crew of archaeologists back in the field, there are all sorts of interesting things being unearthed at the site.  Several buttons and bone fragments have already been uncovered and we’re only on level two!  One of today’s finds was a pipe stem.  In the lab, the pipe stem will be catalogued and analyzed and may even be useful in determining the date of the site.  How?  Here’s an excerpt from the National Parks Service:

Pipe stem dating
The clay pipe industry expanded rapidly as tobacco smoking gained popularity in both England and America. Historical archeologists excavating English colonial sites often find pieces of white clay smoking pipes on their sites. In the 1950s J. C. Harrington studied the thousands of pipe stems excavated at Jamestown and other colonial Virginia sites, noticing a definite relationship between the diameter of the pipe stem bore—or hole—and the age of the pipe of which it had been part. The earliest pipes, dating to about 1600, had stems with 9/64-inch diameter bores. By 1800 this diameter had decreased to 4/64 of an inch. This change in diameter may have occurred because pipe stems became longer through time, requiring a smaller bore. Louis Binford later devised a mathematical formula to refine Harrington’s method (Deetz 1996:27). This dating technique only applies to pipe stems manufactured in England between approximately 1590 and 1800.

Find out more and test your skills at analyzing pipe stem findings HERE.

Upcoming Mill Events

Over the next couple months there will be plenty of ways to support the Mill.  We hope to see you at some of these fun upcoming events!

P. Buckley Moss Print Signing
November 14
10AM – 4PM

In September, P. Buckley Moss, a renowned Virginia-based artist who takes her inspiration largely from images of the Shenandoah Valley, announced the completion of three new works depicting historic places throughout Fauquier County.  The three sites Ms. Moss selected are the Warrenton Rail Depot, the Waterloo Bridge and the Chapman – Beverley Mill.

On November 14, the artist will hold a print signing of her newly-released pieces. The signing will take place at Framecraft (64 Main St. Warrenton, VA).  Prints will be available at $55 each and there will be a raffle to win a beautifully framed print of the Mill.  All raffle proceeds will benefit the continued conservation and interpretation of the historic Mill site!

Stocking Stuffer Saturday
November 28
11AM – 3PM

Join us at the Mill Saturday, November 28 to pick out the perfect holiday gift for your loved ones!  We’ll have a wide variety of merchandise for you to peruse including tee shirts, hoodies, hats, tea towels, aprons, mill stone magnets and more.  And while you’re on site, don’t forget to pick out one of the Mill’s many stones to adopt!


Chapman’s Mill and the Secrets of Thoroughfare Gap
December 3
4 – 6PM

Join us at Turn the Mill Around Campaign’s office (4250 Loudoun Ave. The Plains, VA) for a fun afternoon of wine and light refreshments as we celebrate the completion of the cataloging phase of the Mill’s archaeological shovel test pit survey.  Get a sneak preview of some of our favorite finds! Archaeology team leader, Mike Johnson, will be on hand to discuss the progress that has been made, the prehistoric items discovered and what the future holds for the program.  Mr. Johnson will also demonstrate some of the stone knapping techniques early Virginia Indians used to create tools and weapons!

Archaeology Update: Cataloguing Complete!


Mike Johnson sorts a tray of archaeological material from Chapman’s Mill

Today, after about two years of cataloguing, our amazing crew of volunteer archaeologists, most of whom are members of the Northern Virginia Chapter of the Archaeological Society of Virginia, documented the final item yielded from our shovel test pit survey.  Out of 230 STP’s we estimate that the crew has documented over 15,000 items.  With cataloguing now complete, we move toward analyzing our finds.  Over the next several weeks, we will be looking at prehistoric artifacts, mapping their locations, and determining if there are any patterns to where they were found.

We’re excited to begin this new phase of work and look forward to discovering Thoroughfare Gap’s prehistory.

To learn more about our archaeological work be sure to check out these previous MillingMinutes blogs:

Archaeology at Chapman’s Mill

Archaeology Map

Or check out this recent Northern Virginia Times article:

Digging Up History

Preserving Our Archaeological Resources

Backhoe Test at Edge of Current Road

Backhoe Test at Edge of Current Road

Over the last few weeks we have received several questions about the impact that our upcoming site work will have on the archaeology at the Mill.  Moving bulldozers into an area with potentially significant prehistoric and historic artifacts yet to be unearthed is a frightening proposition, but TTMAC has been careful to make plans that will have the least possible impact on the Mill’s archaeological resources.  Here are two great examples of how the Campaign is working to preserve the site.

Bulldozing will only take place on the current road bed.  TTMAC will remove most of the current asphalt road before constructing its new parking and bus turnaround area.  Tests have been conducted along the sides of the road and have shown that the soil there has been previously disrupted, leaving no archaeological material.  

All-purpose trails will be installed by adding material to the ground level rather than digging down.  The result will be that artifacts that may exist just below the surface will be essentially encapsulated and available for later study.

We’re excited to see our Master Plan take shape this summer, but we’re equally excited to know that we’re preserving this invaluable historic resource for future generations!

Archaeology Map

Mill Site Map with Shovel Test Pits

Mill Site Map with Shovel Test Pits

Since our archaeological program began in earnest around 2010, our crew of talented volunteers has dug dozens of shovel test pits (STP’s) and logged an estimated 10,000 artifacts.  The site has produced a wealth of items dating from the prehistoric period through the late 20th Century.  In fact, the Mill has proved to be so artifact-rich our crew is still hard at work cataloging pieces excavated in the 2013 dig season!

In advance of our plans to install walking trails this Summer, we compiled the above map which illustrates the positions of the archaeological STP’s (marked by the red dots) in relation to other features.  Eventually, we hope to fill in the rest of the map by digging STP’s on a ten foot grid across the entire site.  Areas of interest identified by this initial study can be opened for further study and in-depth analysis.

To see some of the items we’ve uncovered, watch our video or follow us on Facebook!

Chapman-Beverley Mill Master Plan

Master Plan for the Mill

Master Plan for the Mill

Since TTMAC received the Chapman – Beverley Mill property shortly after the 1998 arson that nearly destroyed the structure, the campaign has striven to both preserve the Mill and make it accessible to the public.  Our first order of business was to stabilize the Mill structure (Look out for a blog post on stabilization techniques soon!).  With stabilization completed in the mid-2000’s, we looked to discover more about the site through archaeology.  Now, with our archaeological study underway, we seek to share all that we’ve learnt with the public!

Beginning in the spring or summer of 2015, TTMAC will start improving the Mill site — adding walking paths, informational signage and hopefully increasing hours of access.  The image that accompanies this post is an early rendering of TTMAC’s master plan for the site.  The plan has changed slightly since this drawing was created, but we hope you’ll take a minute to examine it.  It gives a great sneak peak at some of the developments you can expect to see when you visit the Mill in the coming months.  And once you’ve taken a look, let us know what you think!  Leave a comment below or shoot us an email at

Happy 2015 everyone!

Archaeology at Chapman’s Mill

Chris Raimey & Martha Wallace catalog artifacts at the TTMAC office.

Chris Raimey & Martha Wallace catalog artifacts at the TTMAC office.

Archaeological survey work has been conducted at Chapman’s Mill by members of the Archaeological Society of Virginia /Northern Virginia Chapter (NVC) volunteers over the past several years.   The Gap, through which Broad Run flows at the Bull Run Mountains, has been and continues to be an important east-west passage between the ocean and the mountains which people have used for thousands of years.

The first preliminary excavations were conducted by archaeologist Patrick O’Neill and a handful of NVC volunteers.  As time passed, our volunteer crew, led at the time by archaeologist Dr. Kay McCarron, has managed to excavate and record nearly 200 shovel test pits, some of which were expanded to mini-test units as necessary.  When the Turn the Mill Around Campaign, the non-profit custodian of the mill, announced that plans for pedestrian pathways, etc. were delayed, we decided in the spring of 2014 that it was time to halt the excavations so we could  systematically categorize, catalog, and bag/box the artifacts excavated thus far.

The artifacts we have catalogued to this point are already reflecting the site’s history from Archaic  lithics through an industrial and residential site dating to the 18th and 19th century, as well as a Civil War battle.   We continue to be optimistic that this area of the Broad Run terraces has the potential of an earlier prehistoric component.

John Kelsey & Janet Martin sort and tag archaeological material.

John Kelsey & Janet Martin sort and tag archaeological material.

We normally meet on Tuesdays at our lab located in The Plains (west of Haymarket) and usually have a dedicated crew of 10-12 volunteers each session.  The project director, Frances Allshouse, with the support of project archaeologist Dr. Mike Johnson, welcomes volunteers who are willing to help with the lab work.

Frances and Mike hope that, informed by our lab work, we will be caught up by spring of 2015 so further survey and excavation in the field may follow.  If you have been to the Mill, you know it is a wonderful site with a rich history.

Current lab work provides an excellent opportunity for certification candidates as well as others to become familiar with a wide range of artifacts.  We can use your help regardless of your level of experience, and Frances is also looking for volunteers willing to help with historical research.  If you are interested in volunteering or would just like to learn more about the project, please contact Frances at

** This article provided by archaeology volunteer and NVC member Jackie Cuyler.  To learn more about the NVC, click HERE. **