Archeology Collections

The Museum Resource Center (MRCE) houses over 1.7 million archeological objects from 34 park units of the National Capital Region (NCR) of the National Park Service. Archeological collections curated at MRCE include:

  • Prehistoric artifacts dating back 13,000 years, representing the first evidence of human settlement in the Potomac River Valley;
  • Historic objects from colonial frontier sites, farmsteads, plantations, slave quarters, tenant homes, industrial sites, historic amusement parks, and urban sites, including the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site, Petersen House, and Arlington House;
  • Civil War artifacts from famous battlefields managed by NCR including Antietam National Battlefield, Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, Manassas National Battlefield Park, and Monocacy National Battlefield;
  • Artifacts associated with WWII training grounds at Prince William Forest Park, operated by the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), America’s first intelligence agency between 1942 and 1945, and WWII prisoner of war interrogation facilities at Fort Hunt (part of the George Washington Memorial Parkway).
Prehistoric artifacts
Prehistoric blades and points (NPS Collection)

Prehistoric artifacts include a wide variety of stone tools, such a spearpoints or dartpoints for hunting, tools for woodworking, such as axes, adzes and mauls, food processing tools for seed grinding and nut-cracking, specialized tools for fishing and animal processing and hundreds of thousands of waste flakes, a by-product of stone tool manufacturing. Some stone tools were made from glassy, flint-like stones called chert or jasper. These types of stone are common in the mountains, both in outcrops and in the cobble beds of the rivers. Later in time, locally available stone, such as quartz, quartzite and rhyolite, were commonly used.

Other prehistoric objects in the archeological collections include bowls made out of steatite or soapstone, a wide variety of prehistoric clay pottery, decorative items such as gorgets and beads, food remnants such as seeds and bones, and fire-cracked rock.

Ceramics from Monocacy National Battlefield
Ceramics recovered at Monocacy National Battlefield

Historic artifacts housed in the MRCE collections include a wide variety of earthenware, stoneware and porcelain ceramics, glass bottles and containers, architectural materials, such a brick, mortar, window glass and nails, metal hardware, food remains like seeds, nuts and bone, toys, and clothing items like buttons, buckles and shoes. All of these items help shed light on everyday life of those who lived and worked in this area before the land was acquired by the National Park Service.

Artifacts dating to the Civil War period include many types of small arms ammunition, artillery fragments and whole shells, friction primers and percussion caps, uniform/clothing remnants such as brass scales, buckles, buttons, shoe/heel plates, military accoutrements such as haversack hardware, cartridge box plates, bayonet finials and unit insignia, and the personal effects of soldiers, such as religious items, leisure objects like dominoes and chess pieces (many hand carved from lead bullets), and eating utensils.

The responsibility of cataloging, curating, and preserving these significant archeological collections, representing our Nation’s Heritage, falls to the Archeological Collections staff at MRCE.

Last updated: February 4, 2015