Archaeology at Manassas

Archaeology (or archeology) is the study of what people were like in the past by looking at what they left behind.

Archaeology is very important to the study of history, because it fills in the gaps of what isn’t written down. Many people didn’t know how to write, and some people didn’t get the chance to write down their stories. Other stories may have been lost or be written in a language that no one knows how to read.

To fill in the gaps of history, archaeologists look underneath their own feet! They look in the ground to find objects, called artifacts, that people left behind.

When an archaeologist digs in the ground to look for artifacts, it is called an excavation. Teams of people work together on an excavation, which can last from a few days to a few years! A site can only be excavated once, so archaeologists are very careful. They take their time and make sure to do everything right They take detailed notes of what they find. At Manassas National Battlefield Park, the site of the First and Second Battles of Manassas (or Bull Run) during the Civil War, there have been multiple excavations.

One important excavation was of the ruins of the Robinson House. James Robinson was a very successful free African American man that lived on the land through the Civil War. His house survived both battles and stood until it was burned down in 1993. While looking through the remains of the house, investigators found dozens of family papers like letters, bills, and records. Some of them were from the 1830s, before the Civil War! These papers provide important evidence of how free African Americans lived and did business.

Two men doing archaeological work dig in a trench.

Another important excavation took place in 2015 after the discovery of pieces of human bone from the Civil War. Archaeologists unearthed a surgeon’s pit with the skeletons of two Union soldiers and the bones of 11 limbs. This pit was where the doctors buried amputated limbs and the bodies of soldiers that died of their wounds. This site was the first and only Civil War surgeon’s pit to be excavated.

Archaeologists learned a lot about how doctors worked at the Second Battle of Manassas. They also were able to learn about the two soldiers buried there. One was a 20-25-year-old soldier that died of a shot to his upper leg. The other was 30-34 years old and was hit with multiple bullets in the arm, leg, and pelvis. The two soldiers were laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery to honor their memory and sacrifice.

Archaeologists use all of the information that they learn from their excavations to solve the puzzle of what life was like for people of the past. Just like a jigsaw puzzle, their job gets a lot harder if they don’t have all the pieces. Sometimes people take artifacts from archaeological sites. This is called collecting or looting. It is like taking some of the puzzle pieces out of the puzzle. If you are ever at a National Park or anywhere else that might have artifacts, and you find something that looks important, like a shard of pottery or a bullet, don’t pick it up! Leave it right where it is, take a picture, and go tell a park ranger or other adult. You might help archaeologists uncover a whole new piece of history.


What is an excavation? What do archaeologists learn from excavations?  

Who was James Robinson? What was found in the ruins of his home?  

What site was excavated in 2015? Why was it important?  

If you find something that seems historic at a National Park or somewhere else that might have artifacts, what should you do?  

Last updated: June 23, 2021

Park footer

Contact Info

Mailing Address:

12521 Lee Highway
Manassas, VA 20109


703 361-1339 x0

Contact Us