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Penny from 1796 found during Colonial Williamsburg dig

Created on Wednesday, 16 December 2015 11:28
Last Updated on Wednesday, 16 December 2015 11:31

A 1796 Pence was found during the excavation of a site near
Wetherburn Tavern on DoG Street in Colonial Williamsburg. (Fred Blystone /
Colonial Williamsburg)

Archaeologist Mark Kostro stood in the center of an excavation site next to Wetherburn Tavern Friday morning, talking to a group of Colonial Williamsburg tourists about the work being done there.

"What are these holes?" a New York woman asked Kostro, pointing at a trio of deep, round circles etched deep into the ground of the waist-high site.

The holes were from 20th century light posts. The archeologist described the excavation site as a mix of the past and recent present; stacks of bricks that held up a 17th century porch were a step away from items like electrical wiring and pipes for water and oil heating.

During the dig, archaeologists recovered a penny from 1796 that's in such good condition that you can make out the flowing hair and face of a woman and the word "Liberty," and "1796," on its face. Coins like it can be worth anywhere from $2,000 to $17,000 on eBay and other coin collector websites.


Kostro and Colonial Williamsburg's other staff archaeologists, Andy Edwards and Meredith Poole, started this dig in mid-November.

"It's a fairly rare find because just like today, people don't like to lose money," Kostro said. During the dig, local archaeologists are looking for ceramics, glass, food remains and anything else that tells them more about 16th and 17th century life.

The dig site sits between Wetherburn Tavern and the Charlton House on Duke of Gloucester Street. Historians believe its where a set of tenement houses used to stand. A tailor, James Slate, lived and ran his business there during the Revolutionary War. The archaeological team hopes to find a stray button from a suit Slate repaired, the needle he used, a heavy thread or other tools from his trade.

"We're trying to piece together his story from the fragments of what we find," Kostro said. "It would also be great to learn about how the other tenants lived."

Members of Colonial Williamsburg's archaeological team are taking their turn at digging in a site that was last excavated in 1965. The Colonial Williamsburg team who worked there 50 years ago left a marker — a plastic sheet — which shows where they stopped.

The current team is going deeper, all the way down to a subsoil level that pre-dates human occupation of the area, Kostro said.

A group of children from an elementary school in New Jersey stood at the site's barrier, counting the different layers of soil visible from where large machines dug out the trench, opening it for the archeological team's work.

Diana Jankins and her husband, Jeremy, visiting from Iowa, asked Kostro about his work sketched out on graph paper being held by what looked like a large clipboard.

Kostro said he and the team were mapping out different parts of the site to get a better idea of where things were in past centuries. Since starting the dig, Kostro and the others working there stop to chat with Colonial Williamsburg visitors and describe their work.

"It's nice to tell people what we're doing, and why it's important," Kostro said. Talking with the archaeologists also helps guests understand how Colonial Williamsburg keeps the Duke of Gloucester Street's attractions true to the area's history, he added.

Every item taken from the site will be cleaned, studied and inventoried at a Colonial Williamsburg lab. The current dig is looking at the area explored in 1965, but will expand both horizontally and vertically, looking at larger area, Kostro said. The dig will continue until Spring 2016, he added.

"We're going to learn a lot more about what was here," Kostro said. "It will help us determine what other kinds of buildings we could reconstruct here."



Courtesy: The Virginia Gazette