D.C. Archaeologist Shares Findings with Library Patrons

Georgetown Neighborhood Library Hosts Dr. Ruth Trocolli

The Georgetown Neighborhood Library’s Peabody Room is known for housing some of its community’s historic information. Now, the room has included a new aspect to its collection-archaeology not related just to Georgetown, but to the entire city.

Ruth Trocolli, a D.C. archeologist, and her assistant Chardé Reid presented their recent archaeological findings in the District to an overflow crowd in the library’s Peabody Room.  Trocolli explained why archaeology is as important as textbooks.

 “Archaeology is one of the ways that we can tell about the history, the unwritten history, of people that wouldn’t normally have kept their own documents or written records,” Trocolli said.

 The Peabody Room is the source of much you need to know about Georgetown. From photographs to books, the Peabody Room more than likely houses it. The entire collection came dangerously close to being lost in 2007, when a fire erupted in the library. Water damaged some historical artifacts, but firefighters saved a majority of the Special Collection.

Jerry McCoy, the special collections librarian, said he remembered breaking down and crying when the fire broke out. Now, he is enthusiastic about the new activities that the Peabody Room launched since its full restoration in late 2010. They include the archeological presentation on a recent Saturday.

 Archaeology has a range of site-types including prehistoric, historic and underwater. They all hold their own identifiable artifacts. Whether it be post-European settlements at the historic sites or shipwrecks in those underwater, Trocolli discussed a bit about all of them in her presentation. She shared information about how written records, such as textbooks and historical documents, can take on the bias of the researcher. Archaeology, therefore, is not just discovering the artifacts, but through the mission of the D.C. State Preservation Office, it is to evaluate, protect and enhance findings that are discovered.

“Archaeology is a compliment to the documentary record,” said Trocolli. “It is another parallel view of the past.”

Visitors asked about the types of skeletons found, especially those uncovered on the grounds of existing homes. Some visitors raised concerns about particular archeological sites in Georgetown because of the potential findings that have yet to be discovered. There was information that everyone could take away, including lots about African American bodies that were found, but not identified as the bodies of free or enslaved people. The bodies were buried the same way and many of the discoveries date back to the 19th century.

“Although the event had dull moments, I found the presentation was interesting,” said attendee Jailyn Anderson. “It’s interesting to know there is undiscovered history throughout D.C.”

At the end of the presentation, visitors perused some of the findings. There were pottery, bones and crafts adorned on display throughout the room. Wall maps highlighted the different archaeological sites, including digs in Georgetown, Rock Creek Park, and the Potomac River. Findings at these sites included a ceramic “Rockingham” glazed spittoon and instruments that looked like smoking pipes. Also on display were photographs of special burial grounds around the District and a bottle glass, which is a commonly found artifact.