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Urban Archaeology

Washington Underground: Archaeology in Downtown Washington, DC, a walking and metro guide to the past...

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DC Archaeology
Tour Contents

Locator Map
Archaeology in DC
Urban Archaeology
A-Rare Achievement
B-Self Medication
D-Crowded Housing
E-Pardon Our Dust
F-Safe Water
H-Path of History
I-2nd Hand Economy
J-Oldest Profession
Making Do
Other Sites
For More Information

Urban Archaeology

(see additional informational links below)

In addition to the individual people and households that archaeologists study, the entire city can be seen as one large archaeological site. Most excavations in Washington were conducted prior to construction of a building, highway, or other venture. Individually, these excavations tell us about the lives of ordinary people, from Native Americans to early European settlers to the growing population of the new capital. Together, these sites tell us how the city as a whole developed from an idea to a cosmopolitan capital city.

The landscape of Washington today bears little resemblance to the lay of the land when LíEnfant first developed his plan for the capital city. Since its founding, Washington has seen extensive changes to its landscape: hills were cut down, streams were diverted and buried, canals were dug then later filled in, and the continual march of construction moved beyond the original bounds of LíEnfantís design (Boundary Street is now Florida Avenue) to the edges of the diamond-shaped District of Columbia.

People often are surprised that artifacts and archaeological sites still exist beneath a modern city. But wells, cisterns, sewer pipes, house foundations, former backlots, and old streetcar lines can all be found preserved here

Each time archaeologists have a chance to excavate in downtown Washington, we learn more about these changes, how people responded to them, and the lives they led. Each discovery tells us more about our nation, our capital city, and ourselves.

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Washington Underground:
Archaeology in Downtown Washington, DC,
a walking and metro guide to the past...
was produced cooperatively by the National Park Service, National Center for Cultural Resources, Archeology and Ethnography Program; the District of Columbia Office of Planning, Historic Preservation Office; the Center for Heritage Resource Studies, University of Maryland, College Park; and the Society for American Archaeology.


Additional Links


Archaeology Magazine
Archaeology on the Net

Pierre Charles L'Enfant

Short Biography
Long Biography

L'Enfant Plan of Washington

From an Exhibit of America's Treasures, Library of Congress
Plan of the City of Washington (from the Washington Map Society)

L'Enfant and McMillan Plans of Washington (National Park Service)

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