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Archaeology in DC

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


Archaeology in DC:
Urban Archaeology in Our Own Backyard

(see additional informational links below)

Archaeology is the study of people’s lives through things they left behind. Although it’s not likely to be the first thing on the minds of most visitors to Washington, archaeologists have been active here for over a century. William Henry Holmes (1846-1933), curator of the U.S. National Museum (now the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History), profoundly influenced the scientific development of modern archaeology. In the DC area, Holmes conducted an extensive archaeological survey along the shores of the Potomac River, discovering numerous sites of the region’s earliest inhabitants.

Interest in the ancient history of local American Indians has remained high since Holmes’ time. Archaeology of the development of the the city itself, or urban archaeology, got its start much more recently. In February of 1981, archaeologists spent several cold weeks inaugurating a new era of archaeology in DC, conducting excavations prior to construction of the old Civic Center at 9th and H Streets, NW. Since then, numerous archaeological excavations have been conducted in downtown Washington.

Explore the locations of some of the archaeological findings in Washington’s historic commercial hub and learn about the things that lie under some of Washington’s oldest and newest buildings.

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Additional Links

William Henry Holmes (1846-1933)

Biography (from the Smithsonian Institution)

Obituary (originally published in American Anthropologist 35: 752-764 [1933])

Artist’s View: William Henry Holmes (from Historia de la arqueologia de Mexico, 1979)

National Museum of Natural History

Museum website


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