What I’ve Found: The Prehistoric Landscape at Fairfield Plantation

My goal was to gain a better sense of the prehistoric landscape at Fairfield Plantation.  This project was especially important to me because of the nature of Fairfield Plantation as an historic site.  As a site with a well-established historic occupation, it is easy to overlook the prehistoric landscape that existed long before Europeans first settled in Tidewater Virginia.  However, Virginia Indian communities have inhabited this area for far longer than European settlements have existed.  As such, the prehistory of Virginia is an integral part of its history and should not be ignored.

Fairfield was built in 1694 by Lewis Burwell II, a member of one of the most influential families in colonial Virginia.  Incorporating elements of Jacobean and Georgian architectural styles, the Fairfield manor house was an impressive structure that dominated the surrounding landscape until it was destroyed by fire in 1897.

Built in 1694 for Lewis Burwell II, this distinctive manor house boasts elements of both Georgian and Jacobean architecture.

Built in 1694 for Lewis Burwell II, this distinctive manor house dominated the surrounding landscape until its destruction in 1897.

However, the Burwells were not the first people to adapt and change this landscape.  Archaeological surveys were conducted at Fairfield almost a decade ago by Sarah Heinsman.  Heinsman analyzed the native ceramic found at Fairfield to indicate a “small-scale, perhaps seasonal occupation, lasting from the Archaic into the Late Woodland period” (Heinsman 3).  Similar excavations throughout Tidewater Virginia point towards a substantial native presence in the area including at Powhatan’s capital of Werowocomoco.

For my project, I decided to focus on lithic analysis instead of ceramics.  Lithic analysis, the study of stone artifacts, is an underrepresented field in Virginia.  As such, I was forced to teach myself the finer points of lithic analysis.  I spent several weeks reading about lithic production and classification.  Additionally, I compiled an illustrated glossary of definitions related to lithics as a reference to aid me in classifying lithic types.  With these tools, I began classifying and cataloging the lithic materials found in my study area, a large space northeast of the manor house. After classifying the lithic materials by source rock and artifact type, I used the data I had gathered to create digital maps to track the trends my data presented.

This map of Fairfield Plantation and its surrounding landscape shows my area of study denoted by the blue cross-hatching.

This map of Fairfield Plantation and its surrounding landscape shows my area of study denoted by the blue cross-hatching.

My results showed that primary and secondary flakes were concentrated in the center of the study area as well as in the north.  There were smaller concentrations in the south, but these were relatively insignificant compared to the other sections of the study area.  Interestingly, the map of fire-cracked rock (FCR), while equally broad, shows key concentrations to the south away from areas with higher densities of primary and secondary flakes.  There was little overall correlation between material type and lithic type.  However, the spread of tools and projectile points closely imitates that of the two flake maps, especially the map of secondary flakes.

Concentration maps from left to right: Primary flakes, Fire-cracked rock, and secondary flakes.  The black squares represent test units that I surveyed.

Concentration maps from left to right: Primary flakes, Fire-cracked rock, and secondary flakes. The black squares represent test units that I surveyed. The distribution of lithic tools and projectile points are demonstrated in the center map.

The concentrations of primary/secondary flakes and fire-cracked rock indicate that areas of lithic manufacture and cooking areas were kept separate to a degree.  However, the degree of overlap between these three maps shows that this separation may not have been rigid.  Additionally, the spread of stone tools and projectiles reinforces the hypothesis that the center of the study area was a significant place for lithic manufacture.  Unfortunately, the projectile points excavated in the study area have yet to be dated.  However, they will likely correspond to the broad timeline established by Heinsman’s earlier work.

Sources

Heinsman, Sarah. “The Prehistoric Archaeology of Fairfield Plantation.” (2006): Print.