With his materials laid out on a rug, Nate Salzman, an educator and exhibition specialist from Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum, led a workshop last week at UMW’s Jefferson Square, using just his hands, dried wood, soft pieces of tree bark and bow-drills. A sand pit made the centerpiece for what was about to be a demonstration on how to start a fire.
“We’re going to be making pottery,” said UMW Assistant Professor of Historic Preservation Lauren McMillan. “We’re going to be starting fires in a way that would’ve been done a thousand years ago to live the lives of the people we study for a day.”
The workshop was organized in connection with the “Laboratory Methods in Archaeology” course, which teaches students how to analyze artifacts using procedures of identification, interpretation and qualitative analysis, and by articulating their significance.
“A lot of times we can rely on historical records, oral histories, [comparing artifacts with] the same [technologies] we use today,” McMillan said.
Each student – along with faculty and community members – was given a piece of tree bark to rub between their hands until it was broken down into tinder. Then, students broke up into groups of five to kindle their own fires, but they wouldn’t be using their phone apps for this one.
“[It’s important] to gain an understanding of how much time goes into making [these tools]. These objects didn’t just appear; you can’t just go buy them at the store,” McMillan said. “Putting your time and resources into something gives you an idea of what is important.”
The Center for Historic Preservation has sponsored workshops providing students with hands-on experiences, such as coil building and ceramic pinch pot making. Recently, students were given the opportunity to restore the wood siding of a highly acclaimed piece of architecture designed by famed American architect Frank Lloyd Wright, working alongside volunteers, staff and interns from the National Trust Foundation.
“Right now, we are trying to start a coal and get [the driftwood] hot,” said Abigail Phelps, a freshman attending her first historic preservation workshop. “We’ll see where it goes from there.”
Earlier that day students made stone tools and collected the leftover debitages to analyze the materials.
“The goal would be for them to understand the materials that we’re excavating and studying,” McMillan said, “and to understand how we find them.”