FOR THE LOVE OF HIS­TORY

The Washington Times Daily - - Life - BY MICHAEL FELBERBAUM

IORANGE, VA. n the shadow of James Madi­son’s Mont­pe­lier, ar­chae­ol­o­gists and metal-de­tect­ing hob­by­ists are team­ing up to un­earth the his­tory that lies be­neath the 2,650-acre Vir­ginia es­tate. Armed with high-tech equip­ment and age-old tools, th­ese oft-ri­vals are re­dis­cov­er­ing land be­long­ing to the na­tion’s fourth pres­i­dent and us­ing his­tory to bridge the gap be­tween their com­mu­ni­ties.

“There’s al­ways been kind of a dis­par­ity. They think we’re grave rob­bers, we think they’re overe­d­u­cated,” said 52-year-old Ron Guinazzo, a fire­fighter from Chicago who has been metal-de­tect­ing for 30 years. “But to learn we have the same love of his­tory and to find a com­mon ground where we can work to try and re­trieve the ar­ti­facts from the ground and put them where they be­long, that’s the big thing.”

Mr. Guinazzo is one of about 40 peo­ple who have par­tic­i­pated in a pro­gram that be­gan last year that specif­i­cally wel­comes metal-de­tec­tor spe­cial­ists and hob­by­ists to help un­cover ar­eas of his­toric sig­nif­i­cance dat­ing to the 18th cen­tury. The Mont­pe­lier Foun­da­tion also in­vites mem­bers of the pub­lic to work side by side with its ar­chae­o­log­i­cal staff through a sep­a­rate pro­gram. For $750, par­tic­i­pants spend a week get­ting hands-on ex­pe­ri­ence dig­ging at ar­ti­fact-rich sites while stay­ing at an an­te­bel­lum plan­ta­tion house on the Orange County prop­erty.

“It’s the thing about dig­ging an item out of the ground and re­al­iz­ing the last per­son to touch that was 200, 500, 2,000 years ago. It’s crazy,” said Mr. Guinazzo, who has been fea­tured on a re­cent Travel Chan­nel show called “Dig Wars” and a spe­cial on Na­tional Ge­o­graphic Chan­nel. “It’s cool to see the big pic­ture.”

Amid the back­drop of the Blue Ridge Moun­tains, the pas­toral land­scape is marked with red and blue flags and tied with pink tape as square grids of land are sys­tem­at­i­cally checked us­ing metal de­tec­tors cost­ing up­ward of $23,000. Their blips and beeps iden­tify ar­ti­facts such as nails, bits of iron and slag from a black­smith. The de­tec­tors help re­veal the type of metal un­der the ground as well as its size and depth.

The items are then dug up through small holes called plugs that get re­placed, leav­ing lit­tle trace the ground had been re­moved. Later, in a lab, brushes are used to gen­tly clean off the re­vealed relics.

The use of metal de­tec­tors has as­sisted in un­cov­er­ing sev­eral his­toric sites at the plan­ta­tion, in­clud­ing elu­sive slave quar­ters, Civil War camps, a black­smith’s workshop and old to­bacco barns — of­ten found faster than tra­di­tional ar­chae­o­log­i­cal meth­ods. For ex­am­ple, iden­ti­fy­ing the area used to cure to­bacco would’ve nor­mally taken three years — it took three months us­ing metal de­tec­tors.

Madi­son, known as the Fa­ther of the Con­sti­tu­tion, spent his childhood at Mont­pe­lier and re­tired there with first lady Dol­ley Madi­son in 1817 un­til his death in 1836. The prop­erty changed hands af­ter Dol­ley Madi­son’s death in 1849. It was bought by the duPont fam­ily in 1901 and trans­ferred to the Na­tional Trust for His­toric Preser­va­tion in 1984. In 2000, the Mont­pe­lier Foun­da­tion be­came stew­ard of the site, and restora­tion and ar­chae­o­log­i­cal work con­tin­ues to­day.

Matt Reeves, di­rec­tor of ar­chae­ol­ogy and land­scape restora­tion at Mont­pe­lier, de­signed the pro­gram to help with sur­vey­ing the prop­erty and help fos­ter the idea at other his­toric sites world­wide.

Mr. Reeves said some ar­chae­ol­o­gists are op­posed to metal de­tec­tors work­ing along­side them — they worry the hob­by­ists will come back to the site and dig. But Mr. Reeves said he hopes to change the view of metal de­tec­tors and en­cour­age users and hob­by­ists to be­come ad­vo­cates for site preser­va­tion.

“They’re al­ready in­ter­ested in that, they just ap­proach it from the ar­ti­fact, whereas ar­chae­ol­o­gists ap­proach that whole in-the-ground busi­ness from the site,” Mr. Reeves said. “What we’re af­ter is not just the ar­ti­facts on the sites but the hu­man ac­tiv­ity that took place there.”

Those who have at­tended the pro­gram have found com­mon ground with their ar­chae­ol­o­gist coun­ter­parts, dis­cov­er­ing a mu­tual re­spect for their crafts.

“To re­ally come back here and be a part of his­tory is just a huge deal,” said Er­rol Belda, 26, of Bend, Ore., who runs a store sell­ing metal de­tec­tors af­ter in­her­it­ing the in­ter­est from his fa­ther. “Back home we get th­ese nails, and we just throw them aside. To be able to re­al­ize there’s his­tory be­hind that nail shows there’s more to it than just find­ing quar­ters on the beach.”

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