Date of Award
Dr. James Jordan
Material culture is the domain of the archaeologist. Like any science, the methods used and the answers sought in archaeology have changed, and continue to change, constantly adapting to the world in which they operate. Every century has its own legacy to be uncovered. The twentieth and twenty-first centuries are no exception to this, but their archaeological resources are only just beginning to be investigated. Through this research I sought to examine and represent the home of the Gravely family as a case study in archaeology of the early twentieth century. I first studied the historical record of the family through deeds, newspaper articles, and family records that have been maintained at the Library of Virginia. I then compared this data with the physical remains of the structure that were excavated after the demolition of the home in 2005. Only a few hundred artifacts were uncovered on the site despite a century of occupation.
It is my thought that modern attitudes toward disposability will only increase the frequency of this type of occurrence. Emphasis is presently placed on expediently removing waste from peoples’ lives. Because of this, context as traditionally approached by archaeologists, is being destroyed. New construction and developments are being established, taking the place of twentieth century structures, and the information they had to offer is potentially lost. In the twentieth century, the technological advances made in America were enormous; the century began with homes still heated by coal and individuals who spent their lives working in factories. By the close of the century, many homes had personal computers and the job market had transitioned to office jobs with little emphasis on skilled labor. Such dramatic economic and cultural change warrants documentation. The stories of the people of twentieth century America deserve to be told and it has been my intention that this research argues that case.
I believe that the Gravely House represents the fate that will befall structures of the twentieth century with increasing frequency in the future. The archaeological value of such structures is questioned due to their recent use, but also because they are documented historically to varying degrees. Demolition is also problematic because of the shift in context that results from it. Once a building is destroyed, its contents are severely fragmented and their relation to each other in the ground is unrelated to the positions they occupied in the structure. Through historic preservation, I believe that these structures can be maintained as they are to supplement the historic record and archaeology will not be necessary. In instances of rapid demolition, however, any salvage archaeology that is allowed to happen will likely require a different approach from traditional archaeology, including, but not limited to, working with historic documents, interviewing local people, and considering outlying contexts such as landfills or material culture distributed through yard sales, and other dispersal processes.
Clark, Jessica L., "THE GRAVELY HOUSE: A Case Study in Twentieth Century Archaeology and Material Culture" (2015). Theses & Honors Papers. 6.