Archaeology & Landscape Restoration

The stories of the past are hidden beneath the surface all around Poplar Forest. Alterations to buildings, accumulation of soil, and lack of documentation can obscure the people and places in the historic plantation, but careful study of available evidence – from a marble to a mound – can help us understand how Poplar Forest looked and worked. Our archaeologists’ job is to use tools of the present to locate these clues of the past.

Uncovering History

Archaeologists use several tools and sources to help them study the past. At Poplar Forest, our team examines historic documents, artifacts, and oral histories for evidence of past people, places, and activities. Using an array of available tools and technology, they then identify, analyze, and connect larger sites. While they use historic letters, journals, and maps, our findings may support or challenge written documents. 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 community are often absent from documents. Archaeology plays a central role in studying these different sources and putting together a more complete picture of the past.

Since its formal founding in 1989, Poplar Forest’s Department of Archaeology and Landscapes has a rich history of research, education, and publication. Our archaeologists have completed several large archaeology and landscape restoration projects from the new parkway to the retreat house itself. The department also works closely with our other departments, including Architectural Restoration and Education & Interpretation, to translate findings into new exhibits and educational opportunities for visitors. Our archaeology field schools and internships have provided training for dozens of young scholars. In addition to publishing works for popular and professional audiences, the department shares its findings through local lectures and tours to international archaeology conferences.

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Discover the internship opportunities available at Poplar Forest

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With your generous support, we can more fully explore Poplar Forest's landscape, to reveal the history of Jefferson's time in even greater detail.

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