Digging Into Digging: Differences of Opinion in Archaeology

July 2017

Although Robert Friedman’s “Digging Up the U.S.” (August/September) is generally a fine article, I was somewhat dismayed by his statement that in Virginia in the 1930s and 1940s, “Any excavating for artifacts had to be done at a prearranged distance from the site, and sometimes, as at Colonial Williamsburg, the two groups [archaeologists and architects] almost came to blows.” Having done the research for a book on the history of archaeology in Williamsburg, I can state without equivocation that in the years from 1931 to 1957 no explosive differences of opinion surfaced between Colonial Williamsburg’s architects and archaeologists. On the contrary, its archaeologists were architectural draftsmen on the senior architect’s own staff.

Differences of opinion had arisen between anthropologically trained and architecturally trained archaeologists at Jamestown, however; but they had nothing to do with Colonial Williamsburg. I am sure, too, that neither group would concede that they were “excavating for artifacts.” Both were digging for historical information, and then differed only in that some were more interested in one kind of artif actual data than were others. The allocation of digging areas did not preclude either group from the archaeological sites, as Mr. Friedman suggests. The division at Jamestown was, for a short time, between structures and adjacent areas, and in Williamsburg between architectural and garden archaeology. By the 1940s such distinctions no longer existed, and there is no evidence to indicate that any animosity clouded the work at either place.