Virginia Commonwealth University archaeology students will help the folks at the Germanna Foundation uncover its long-sought-after 1714 Fort Germanna and Enchanted Castle site in Locust Grove.
According to Germanna Foundation chief operating officer Steve Hein, VCU has agreed to conduct a field school — a short academic session typically during the summer months — for students at the Germanna site.
“Students will learn excavation techniques and help us in our search for the 1714 Fort,” exclaimed Germanna Foundation president Marc Wheat.
The 62-acre tract of Fort Germanna — created by British-appointed Lt. Gov. Alexander Spotswood — included an Enchanted Castle, a town, ancient Native American sites, two prominent buildings thought to be a church and possibly a courthouse or jail.
Spotswood also brought German immigrants to the site as rangers to use their labor to mine for silver and iron, according to historians.
VCU students will work alongside Germanna Foundation archaeologist Eric Larsen to search for the boundaries of Fort Germanna.
“Working with VCU students in a field school environment is very exciting for our new archaeology program,” said Larsen. “There’s a lot to do to get ready.”
The search has gone on for decades. About 35 years ago, world-renowned chief Jamestown archaeologist William Kelso conducted a survey for Fort Germanna and found an intact ruin of the palatial Enchanted Castle.
“It’s very interesting to see if [the site] can ever be revealed enough to be able to compare that to Jamestown,” Kelso, who spent about 15 years conducting research at the first permanent English colony in North America, told the Star–Exponent in 2007 while in the area for a Germanna reunion. “We want to see the story unfold. I will be a cheerleader for Germanna because I want to see what’s there. I'd be interested to see how the Germans were able to build in the wilderness and how they were able to cope with the environment as compared to the English a hundred years earlier.”
Excavations in the 1980s and ’90s involved University of Mary Washington professors Douglas Sanford, historic preservation chair; and Carter Hudgins, former chair of the history department. UMW uncovered a 10 to 12-foot long trench with soil markings indicating the five-sided fort’s wooden wall as well as the remains of Spotswood’s Enchanted Castle.
But by 1995, the research ended because of lack of funding.
Nearly 10 years ago, this project was estimated at about $12 million, according to Kelso. But Hein said Thursday that the foundation will spend about $65,000 a year toward the field schools.
VCU instructor of anthropology Bernard K. Means, who will bring eight to 10 VCU students to the field school in Locust Grove, said he’ll pick up the search where previous archeologists left off.
“Field schools are critical for the educational experience if you want to go into archaeology. While you can get quite a bit of instruction through the classroom and some stuff through internships, you really don’t know how to do archaeology unless you do it,” explained Means. “Since our resources are limited at VCU, I like to partner with someone when doing a field school. This is going to be a spectacular place for my students to learn about archaeology. And not only learn archaeology, but also to solve a mystery.”
Means added that students can land archaeology jobs straight out of field school, thanks to the hands-on experience.
The five-week summer session lasts from June 27 until July 28.
Since acquiring the tract in 2013 with a historic preservation easement to protect it, the Germanna Foundation has hired Larsen, stabilized the castle remains, conducted new topographic survey and mapping work, and started to collect data using ground penetrating radar.
“Ground-truthing and limited excavation work is planned for later in the spring and through the summer in an effort to uncover more of the fort’s footprint,” said Hein.
According to Hein, individual donations support the foundation’s archaeology program. The foundation also invites additional financial support through its Sponsor and Archaeology Explorer Grid program. To donate, call the foundation at 540/423-17000, or visit germanna.org/get-involved/become-a-donor/.