Historic Land Use

  • volunteer with shellfish

    Volunteers finding artifacts during a family dig day event.

  • volunteers excavate plot

    Volunteers at a family dig day event

  • volunteers excavate plot

    Archaeologist Jim Gibb gets everyone excited about history.

Research Labs

Before it belonged to the Smithsonian, the land at SERC was home to Native Americans, settlers, slaves and various kinds of farmers. Today scientists seek to understand how these generations of people lived, and how they impacted the land and waters, both intentionally and unintentionally. What environmental footprints did our ancestors leave on the landscape?

At SERC, much of this research falls under the domain of the Archaeology Lab. Unlike other labs at SERC, the Archaeology Lab consists almost entirely of volunteer citizen scientists. Citizen scientists of all ages come out for an afternoon, a semester or longer to help explore the plantation, farm, slave quarter and tenant farmer sites within SERC’s 2650-acre campus.

From the 1660s to the end of the 1800s, SERC’s main campus was divided into two neighboring plantations. They planted corn and wheat, but their main crop was tobacco, a cash crop that quickly drained the soil of nutrients and caused heavy erosion, which is visible today in the gently rolling hills where soil eroded off the landscape. They left behind tools, ceramics and animal bones that offer glimpses of how the families worked, lived and ate—and what (if anything) they hunted. The remains around some foundations even offer clues about the lives of tenant farmers and slaves.

To learn more about their discoveries, click on one of the projects below. To learn how you can join the Archaeology Lab, visit our citizen science page.