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Archeologists find artifacts at Fairfax County site that was a bustling port

County archeologist Aimee Wells said she and other archeologists have been performing archeology in Fairfax County for 30 years as part of the county's development process. Fairfax is among the few Virginia jurisdictions - including Alexandria, Richmond and Loudoun County - that employ archeological teams, Wells said.

Colchester, chartered in 1753, was one of the first towns in Fairfax County. The county was established 11 years earlier.

Colchester began to fail as a port when an alternate postal route over a new bridge upstream was laid in 1805, according to the historical marker at the site. Additionally, neighboring ports such as Alexandria and Baltimore took business away from Colchester. A fire in 1815 also contributed to the town's decline.

Since breaking ground in October, volunteers and county archeologists have found pieces of pottery, bricks and other remnants. "What I'm really interested in is the development of trade in this port during this time period," Sperling said.

From digging, archeologists and historians gain a perspective not included in written accounts of life 200 years ago, he said. All too often, the dominant voices are those of white men, leaving out those of women, blacks and Native Indians, Sperling said.

"We have this image of tobacco ports, with these ships coming in, with their masts and these men with grand clothes. But who's loading these ships? It's the slaves," he said.

Officials believe a storage cellar that is thought to be beneath a caved-in brick structure could contain clues about life during colonial times.

"I use this example of visiting someone's parlor," Sperling said. "It's nice, things are on display. It shows the best of things. But if you go through the trash, that's the real day-to-day life."

On Nov. 20, volunteers were finding history about a foot deep in the earth.

"There are a lot of artifacts out here. It's great," said Schweikart, who volunteers with the Archeological Society of Virginia's Northern Virginia chapter. "Some sites, you don't find stuff very often."

"This is just the beginning," Sperling said, adding that work at the site is heavily assisted by volunteers. "The big unveiling will be how we interpret the findings."

An open house will be from 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday at Old Colchester Park and Preserve. Visitors will be able to ask questions about the history of the area and get information about projects there. To join the dig, e-mail Sperling at For information, visit

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