What’s THAT Doing HERE? Unexpected Discoveries at the Strawberry Run Site in Alexandria, Virginia

By Joe Blondino

In June 2019, Dovetail conducted an archaeological survey of a project area located along Strawberry Run in Alexandria, Virginia. At first, the project area seemed like it might not have much to offer. Most of the project area was located along the banks of a stream, a narrow and frequently inundated floodplain, and steep slopes to the uplands—none of which make particularly good places to live. However, the ravine in which it was located lies between two Civil War forts: Fort Worth to the northwest and Fort Williams to the east. Largely because of the potential for the project area to contain Civil War artifacts, a Phase I archaeological survey was conducted and included use of metal detectors, which is a proven way to locate Civil War artifacts.

Initially, the metal detector survey located only modern trash. The shovel test pits, on the other hand, produced prehistoric artifacts, including a projectile point dating to the Middle Archaic period (circa 8,000–5,500 years ago). The biggest surprise came as the crew was crossing the stream to access the western part of the project area; they looked down into the streambed and saw a large edged cobble! This was a piece of quartzite that someone in the prehistoric period had chipped into a “preform”—a roughly shaped “blank” that could later be modified into a finished stone tool (Photo 1). We spent much of the remainder of the day scouring the banks of the stream and finding a considerable number of artifacts that represented prehistoric populations taking advantage of the cobbles eroding out of the banks of the stream and using them to produce preforms. These preforms would then be carried off to be made into finished tools elsewhere. We thought we might find Civil War artifacts, but had stumbled across an entirely different type of site! Because no other sites like this were known to be located nearby, we saw this as an opportunity to learn more about prehistoric quartzite “quarrying” and recommended additional archaeological work.

Photo 1: Quartzite Biface Recovered from Site 44AX0240.

The results of the Phase II study, which involved digging additional test pits, as well as a few larger test units, revealed that prehistoric activity at the site was mostly restricted to the streambed itself, with relatively little on the adjacent floodplain. But we also got another surprise. Several of the test pits produced fired Civil War bullets. Now we have Civil War stuff on our prehistoric site! So, we got the metal detector back out. In all, we recovered eight lead projectiles including a Civil War-era Minié ball, five round balls, and two pieces of buckshot, all of which had been fired and impacted (Photo 2). This was a bit of a mystery too, as no battles were fought in the vicinity of the site, and the projectiles were all recovered from the valley floor rather than the steep valley walls, as might be expected if the site was used as a firing range with the valley walls as a backstop. We believe that the projectiles may represent unloading of firearms, as they were all of types that would have been fired from muzzle-loading weapons. Once such a firearm is loaded, it can be unloaded only through extraction using a “worm,” a corkscrew-like tool that taps into the projectile so it can be pulled out of the muzzle (Photo 3), or through discharge of the weapon. It may be the case that soldiers from one or both of the nearby forts used the Strawberry Run valley as a convenient and safe place to unload weapons by discharging them into the valley floor, perhaps during changing of guardpost personnel or when loaded weapons required maintenance.

Photo 2: Minié Ball and Round Musket Balls Recovered from Site 44AX0240.

Photo 3: Example of a ‘Pulled’ Bullet Showing Hole Where it was ‘Wormed’.

Dovetail’s work at the Strawberry Run Site is an excellent example of the kinds of unexpected discoveries that are often made in archaeology and goes to show the importance of thorough examination of all parts of the landscape. You never know what you’re going to find!

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Making Stone Tools the Hardaway

Making Stone Tools the Hardaway: A Paleoindian Artifact from the Graceland Site, Randolph County, North Carolina

By Joe Blondino

It’s no surprise that archaeologists like old things. That’s why we get particularly excited when we find artifacts dating to the Paleoindian period, which spans from at least as early as 12,000 BC (Carr 2018, Carr and Adovasio 2002, Goodyear 2005) to approximately 8,000 BC (Ward and Davis 1999). This period represents the earliest occupation of North America, when people were settling into new environments that would ultimately shape the way their culture and technology evolved in different parts of the continent.

For September we will look at a Paleoindian artifact that continues our series highlighting materials recovered from the Asheboro Bypass Project in Randolph County, North Carolina. Among the sites identified during this project was the Graceland site (31RD1568). Dovetail Cultural Resource Group conducted excavations at this site on behalf of the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT), guided by the Scope of Work authored by NCDOT (Overton 2015) and coordination between Dovetail, NCDOT, and the North Carolina Office of State Archaeology. The majority of the 3,661 artifacts recovered from the site date to the Morrow Mountain and Guilford phases of the Middle Archaic period, spanning a date range from approximately 5,000 to 3,000 BC (Blondino and Proper 2018). However, a Hardaway side-notched point dating to the late Paleoindian period indicates that the site was being used much earlier. Excavations at the Slade site in southeastern Virginia suggest a date range of 8,250–8,050 BC for the Hardaway phase (McAvoy and McAvoy 1997), making these points approximately 10,000 years old!

Hardaway side-notch point photo

Hardaway side-notched point from the Graceland site.

The Hardaway point from the Graceland site is made of a metavolcanic rock common to this part of North Carolina and quarried by the prehistoric occupants of the site as a material from which to make projectile points and other stone tools. The site itself is located on a slight slope near a natural drainage which channels surface water during heavy rain. As a result, there is more erosion here than in nearby areas, exposing the bedrock and making it easier to get to. The distribution of artifacts across the site suggests that people were obtaining stone from near the drainage, where it could be found closer to the surface, and then taking it up to the flatter land above to work it into tools. Prehistoric people would visit sites like this when their stone toolkit was in need of rejuvenation. Stone tools like projectile points and knives can be re-sharpened, but this process removes material, and eventually the tool is too small to be used and simply must be replaced. It is likely that this was the case with the Graceland Hardaway point. You might notice from the photograph that the point is a little lopsided- if you look at the tip of the point, it is not directly above the center of the base. This often happens because the point has been re-sharpened more on one side than on the other, perhaps because it was being used more as a knife than as a projectile point. When its owner visited the Graceland site during the late Paleoindian period, they may have made themselves a new point (or a few of them), and simply discarded this one, only to have Dovetail archaeologists find it again 10,000 years later. Now that’s doing things the Hardaway!

Graceland Excavation Site - Image

Excavations at the Graceland site. The Hardaway point was recovered from the excavation unit under the canopy on the right.



Any distributions of blog content, including text or images, should reference this blog in full citation. Data contained herein is the property of Dovetail Cultural Resource Group and its affiliates.


Blondino, Joseph R. and Earl E. Proper
2018    Addendum: Archaeological Survey and Testing of Newly Defined Areas of Potential Effects for the Asheboro Bypass, Randolph County, North Carolina. Dovetail Cultural Resource Group, Fredericksburg, Virginia.

Carr, Kurt
2018    Peopling of the Middle Atlantic: A Review of Paleoindian Research. In Middle Atlantic Prehistory: Foundations and Practice, edited by Heather A. Wholey, and Carole L. Nash, pp. 219–260. Rowman & Littlefield, Lanham, Maryland.

Carr, K.W., and J.M. Adovasio
2002    Paleoindians in Pennsylvania. In Ice Age Peoples of Pennsylvania, edited by Kurt Carr and James Adovasio, pp. 1–50. Recent Research in Pennsylvania Archaeology, No. 2. Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

Goodyear, Albert C.
2005    Evidence of Pre-Clovis Sites in the Eastern United States. In Paleoamerican Origins: Beyond Clovis, pp. 103–112. Center for the Study of the First Americans, Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas.

McAvoy, Joseph M. and Lynn D. McAvoy
1997    Archaeological Investigations of Site 44SX202, Cactus Hill, Sussex County. Virginia Department of Historic Resources Research Report Series n. 8, Richmond, Virginia.

Overton, Brian
2015    Request for Proposal: Intensive Archaeological Survey and Evaluation, Asheboro U.S. 64 Bypass. North Carolina Department of Transportation, Human Environment Section, Raleigh, North Carolina.

Ward, H. Trawick, and R.P. Stephen Davis Jr.
1999    Time Before History: The Archaeology of North Carolina. The University of North Caroloina Press, Chapel Hill, North Carolina.