Archaeology and Collections

Fairfax County, Virginia

CONTACT INFORMATION:

703-534-3881
TTY 711

2855 Annandale Road
Falls Church, VA 22042

Elizabeth A. Crowell, Ph.D.,
Archaeology and Collections Branch Manager

Archaeology and Collections

Archaeology and Museum Collections

The Archaeology and Collections Branch (ACB) identifies, preserves, and interprets the material culture of Fairfax County to promote shared stewardship of cultural resources, nurture a deeper understanding of the past, and inspire future generations. The County Archaeological Research Team (CART) is the research and outreach arm of the ACB. CART conducts archaeological investigations on parkland throughout the county.

Due to ongoing, intensive collections care activities, there is currently a moratorium on loans of archaeological collections. In addition, as per the Archaeological Collections Policy, those collections undergoing curatorial remediation and rehabilitation will be inaccessible to researchers until the remediation process is complete. For more information, please contact Elizabeth Paynter, Archaeology Lab and Collections Manager at Elizabeth.Paynter@FairfaxCounty.gov.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is archaeology?

Archaeology is the anthropological study of past human cultures through systematic recovery and documentation of the things they left behind such as buildings, tools, and pottery. 

What does the Archaeology and Collections Branch do?

The ACB is entrusted with the maintenance, preservation, and protection of over 12,000 years of Fairfax County heritage. Archaeological and historical resources on county-owned and county-controlled lands are the direct responsibility of the ACB. This includes the county’s parks, many of which were set aside for resource protection. 

In addition, the ACB assists private landowners and developers as they move through the zoning or permitting process for activities that trigger archaeological review during permitting or zoning such as:

  • Activities in Historic Overlay Districts:(Historic Overlay District Design Guidelines | Planning Development (fairfaxcounty.gov))
  • Activities that trigger Fairfax County Comprehensive Plan’s Policy Plan 2017 Edition of the Policy Plan - Heritage Resources (fairfaxcounty.gov)
  • Or activities that trigger Section 106 of Federal National Historic Preservation Act 106.pdf (nps.gov)
     

Why preserve archaeological sites?

Archaeological sites consist of much more than the artifacts. The placement of artifacts in relation to other artifacts and environmental features in a site provides clues as to their function, method of manufacture, and use. This information is known as the context of an archaeological site and it provides more information about past human behavior than the individual artifacts themselves, but it is also more fragile. When artifacts are moved, or the site disrupted, the context is destroyed. Unlike a pot that can be glued back together, when context is destroyed it can never be recreated. Archaeologists record a huge amount of information about a site during excavation, using incredibly accurate survey equipment, field notes, maps, drawings and photographs to document the site's context. This information is used to enhance our knowledge of the past, and fill in gaps in the historical record.

What do I do if I see damage or looting of archaeological sites?

If you see looting or damage of archaeological sites, notify the landowner or local law enforcement. If it is on county-owned or controlled land, contact the Archaeology and Collections Branch at FCPA-archaeology@fairfaxcounty.gov. If human remains are involved, see the next question.

What do I do if I see disturbance of unmarked human remains?

First of all, do not remove anything. Disinterring (removing from a grave) or displacing part or all of any buried human remains is a Class 4 felony under Virginia law (§18.2-126). Conviction is punishable by two to 10 years in prison and up to $100,000 in fines. This law applies to all human burials, whether prehistoric, historic or modern.

If you disturb or remove human remains you might also compromise a crime scene. Exposed bones may be associated with criminal activity (homicide, grave vandalism, etc.) or may otherwise require the attention of trained law enforcement personnel. If you find human bones (or even bones that appear to be human) you should leave them in place and report your find to the local or state police (www.vsp.state.va.us) immediately. The police should also be contacted if you know of graves, gravestones, cemetery fences, etc., that are being damaged or desecrated. Willful or malicious damage to cemeteries is against the law, and is punishable by one to five years in prison and up to $25,000 in fines (§18.2-127). Take photographs if you can and contact your local law enforcement agency or Commonwealth’s Attorney to report possible vandalism to a cemetery.

For more assistance, please reach out to us at FCPA-Archaeology@fairfaxcounty.gov.
 

What if I find an artifact?

If possible, leave it where it is, take a photo (with a scale like a coin or another easily identifiable object if a ruler isn’t handy) and let us know what you found and where (with GPS coordinates and/or a map if possible). Do not remove artifacts from public property, or from private property without the landowner’s permission.

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