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Archaeologists using metal detectors to reveal lost parts of Montpelier

Published: Nov. 11, 2021 at 11:28 AM EST
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ORANGE COUNTY, Va. (WVIR) - A lot of James Madison’s Montpelier has yet to be discovered. Archaeologists and volunteers are currently using metal detectors to try to find old structures at the historic home.

“We’ve got a group of metal detectors here that have come up from all across the country to spend the week with us doing survey, locate the nails that would have been from a structure that was here. We’re trying to figure out not only the location, but from when it is dated, and also what it was used for,” Montpelier Director of Archeology Matthew Reeves said.

Metal detectors help to narrow down the site of a building, allowing the area to then be excavated.

“We found a lot of nails, which is to be expected. Like, 98% of the artifacts we find are nails. But we’ve also found a horseshoe,” Reeves said.

The artifacts they find enable them to determine what kind of building it was and get an estimate of what year it was built. The excavations can be unpredictable as there are no blueprints left to help guide the archaeologists.

“There’s no maps, there’s no documents that say where these structures are. In the 1850s, the Madison nieces and nephews burned all the plantation records. All the records of the contributions of enslaved Americans to this plantation went away,” the director said.

The goal is to replicate these structures so the public can better envision what life was like during Madison’s time.

“We get a better idea of living history, and can do better enactments for youth so they can understand what happened in the past because as we know those who forget history are bound to repeat it,” Michael King, a detectorist helping to survey the land, said.

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