Archaeologists play a major role in our understanding of Poplar Forest. Through the years, the house and landscape at Poplar Forest have changed from Jefferson’s time. Archaeological discovery and research is conducted to uncover new knowledge about Thomas Jefferson and the community at Poplar Forest, to understand how to authentically restore the house, to share new insights with the public, and to develop plans for restoring Jefferson’s landscape.
Archaeology is ongoing at Poplar Forest. Why? Jefferson’s notes and correspondence present an incomplete picture. Many of the elements of the Poplar Forest landscape are referenced in letters, but no documents record their exact locations. Archaeology can also provide information about the materials used in buildings, how long they stood, and what went on within them, as well as the arrangement and longevity of plants in the grounds.
Even when documents do exist, Jefferson’s designs were not always executed as planned, and some decisions were changed on-site. Archaeology can provide clues to challenge or flesh out the “official” record. This is especially true when studying slavery, where the perspectives of the enslaved are often absent from documents.
As the investigation continues, the full story of Poplar Forest will be revealed.