Two high school seniors from Ohio were working at an archaeological excavation in Virginia as part of a school trip when they came across what looked like a big potato stuck in their sifting screen.
Upon closer investigation, the team realized their find wasn’t a spud after all, but rather the stone head of a 6,000-year-old Native American axe that is helping to broaden our understanding of the greater history of the former home of America’s first president.
George Washington’s sprawling estate, Mount Vernon, in Virginia, occupies around 172 hectares (425 acres), but its history goes back much further than the spark of the US. A survey of the estate has found more than 100 archaeological sites over the course of 4,000 years of habitation. Most recently, the tool was found along a ridgeline home to an African American cemetery oral history suggests was used for enslaved people and possibly their freed descendants.
Before then, the land was used by Virginia’s indigenous people as much as 80 millennia ago.
The owner of this particular tool would have probably held it in high regard. Likely made of a “green stone” from the nearby Potomac River, the axe’s maker would have been a skilled craftsman during this time. It was first chipped away with a hammering stone to form the general shape and create an edge along the face of the axe. Then, the maker would have hammered it with a harder stone to smooth out the face before one final smoothening with a grinding stone. A small groove in the back of the axe would have been where a wooden handle was inserted, allowing the tool to be used to cutting or splitting wood.
“The axe provides a window onto the lives of individuals who lived here nearly 6,000 years ago,” said Mount Vernon’s archaeological curator Sean Devlin in a statement. “Artifacts, such as this, are a vital resource for helping us learn about the diverse communities who shaped this landscape throughout its long history.”
Devlin told the Washington Post other archaeological evidence suggests the site was occupied for several thousand years not as a village, but as a temporary stopping point for communities who traveled along the Potomac River. After being cataloged, Mount Vernon’s archaeological team will add its information to an electronic database before cleaning, preserving, and storing it at a facility onsite currently home to more than 50,000 artifacts.
[H/T: Washington Post]