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The Community’s Archeologist

Professor Brings History Back to Life

A group of children huddled around the ankles of David T. Clark, the community’s archeologist, Wednesday, July 4.

Clark, a professor of archeology and anthropology at Catholic University in Washington, D.C., and Northern Virginia Community College in Sterling, led a community dig outside of the 200-year-old Lanesville House at Claude Moore Park in Sterling. He chipped away and sifted through dirt to unveil pieces of pottery, old forks and knives and other utensils.

"This must have been a trash pit of some sort," he said. "Families used to keep their kitchen separate from their house because they were afraid of fire."

Asa Gervais, 5, helped Clark and his team dust off pieces of pottery with a dry paintbrush. Then, he moved over to a bucket of water, where he washed the artifacts with a toothbrush.

"Maybe there are dinosaur bones in there!" he said.

Throughout the day, Clark and his team took the time to explain how the artifacts they brought to surface explain Loudoun’s rural past.

"Kids want to see an old house, an old school, believe it or not," he said. "That’s their connection to this place. It’s everybody’s history."

WITH THE HELP of his student, former member of the General Assembly Tom Hyland, Clark set up the Loudoun Archaeological Foundation, in an effort to spread history through the county.

The purpose of the foundation is to promote a "whole community" approach to archaeological public education, as well as the identification, preservation, conservation and protection of the cultural and natural resources of Loudoun.

A significant factor leading to the creation of the nonprofit organization, Clark said, was that while Loudoun has more than a 1,000 historical and archaeological sites, very few have been professionally investigated, documented and reported on.

"We want to raise awareness of our own heritage before it is all bulldozed over," Clark said. "We are stakeholders in this."

Hyland enrolled in one of Clark’s archeology classes at Northern Virginia Community College last summer. After listening to Clark’s ideas about community archeology projects in class one day, he approached him at break and said "I can get you money for something like this."

So, Clark and Hyland approached Sen. Mark Herring (D-33) and Del. Joe May (R-33) with the idea to start a nonprofit organization to raise awareness about Loudoun’s history.

"I just wrote up ideas I had for years," Clark said.

As a result, the professor received $37,500 to start the foundation and the digging.

ON WEDNESDAY, Hyland dumped buckets of dirt onto an elevated, flat screen. Then he shook it. As dirt fell through the screen, Hyland unveiled pieces of pottery to 5, 6 and 7 year olds.

"History is all around us," Hyland said. "It’s right under our feet. It’s the buried truth."

The children picked up the broken artifacts, dusted them off and examined them under the beating sunlight.

"This really is the best time I’ve had in my life," Hyland said. "I can’t wait to take my granddaughter out here."

The Loudoun Archaeological Foundation, in partnership with the county’s 250th anniversary committee, will conduct field activities, including observing excavations, screening artifacts and washing and classifying artifacts, throughout the summer.

"This is not lip service, this is action," Clark said.

THE DIG SITES have been determined by Clark through research projects he assigns to his students.

"This didn’t happen by accident," Clark said. "There’s a process."

When Alexandra Fernandez was in Clark’s archeology class at Northern Virginia Community College, the former history teacher and mother of three was assigned a research project on pottery.

"There was a real need for information about potters in Loudoun," she said.

After combing through censuses, Fernandez found a potter by the name of Fredrick Shafer who ran a shop in Leesburg in the 1700s. She researched Shafer, his family and his shop, which was located in the back of his home. She even met with his great-grandson.

"They came to life for me," she said.

Clark plans to conduct a "big dig" outside the Shafer home in Leesburg, in hopes to find some pottery and unveil another aspect of Loudoun’s history.

"Dr. Clark really is the best teacher," she said. "I haven’t had this much fun in a long time."