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.
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.
Take a look at the current efforts aimed at investigating and illuminating the history of Poplar Forest.
Explore the stories of the men, women, and children of Poplar Forest's enslaved communities as revealed by archaeological research.
Wing of Offices
Excavations on Jefferson's Wing of Offices played a vital role in our understanding of the building's appearance, function, and use by enslaved people.
The department is uncovering and restoring evidence of Jefferson’s original landscape design, as well as the changing plantings, fields, and buildings that comprised the broader plantation.
Read up on our team’s most recent discoveries in the field, lab, and archives.
Ask the Experts
Have a question for a member of the Poplar Forest archaeological staff? We’ll do our best to give you an answer.
Articles & Publications
Explore some of the books, articles, technical reports, and conference papers developed and delivered by Poplar Forest’s archaeological staff.
"No occupation is so delightful to me as
the culture of the earth,
and no culture comparable
to that of a garden..."