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Budget Cuts Imperil Gunston Hall Archeology Program

Expecting a reduction of funding provided by the Commonwealth this year and next, Gunston Hall is suspending its archeological excavation and research program at George Mason’s home and grounds.

"We anticipate losing $133,000 of state funds for this fiscal year, which ends next June 30, and a similar cut for the following year," said Tom Lainhoff, director of Gunston Hall Plantation. "Our Board of Regents decided to apply the cuts to just one program, rather than impose budget reductions across the board. Since our archeological resources aren’t going any where, we thought cutting the archeology program was the most sensible alternative."

Lainhoff explained that the plantation receives money for daily operations from the state, private donations, and interest income from investments. The recent bear stock market has eaten into their investment income, so the pending cut in state funding is particularly painful.

"Our goals are to find the key elements of Mr. Mason’s garden, find the remains of slave quarters and burying grounds, and gain a broad understanding of our archeological resources," said Lainhoff. Former archeology director Dr. David Veech and his assistant, David Shonyo, organized the first exploratory excavations in 1997. The current director of the archeology department, Chris Jirikowic, Shonyo, and field technician Myra Lau, expect to lose their jobs as a result of the budget cuts. Lainhoff, however, hopes he can find donors who might help underwrite the program

GUNSTON HALL established a cooperative arrangement first with the University of Virginia, and now with George Mason University, in which archeology students attend a field school at the plantation for four weeks. Lainhoff expects that program will suffer, as well.

Volunteers are an important part of the archeology program, supplementing the three paid members of the department. Volunteer coordinator Myra Lau laments the suspension of the excavations and analysis. "It will be a great loss to the volunteers," said Lau, a Waynewood resident. "They help us dig in the dirt to find out more about George Mason and his family and they take pride in our efforts and discoveries."

Last summer a construction crew digging the foundation for a new house on property adjacent to Gunston Hall land that was previously part of Mason's property, discovered the remains of an African-American woman. That find, which might be the earthly remnants of one of Mason's slaves, energized the Gunston Hall archeology staff. But now, faced with pending budget cuts, the staff cannot leverage the discovery into further excavations.