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Local students dig up Madison's past
Local students take part in field school at James Madison's Montpelier, working to find stables

 Ford Lautenschlager of Stafford and Emma Simpkins of Spotsylvania helped archaeologists at James Madison's Montpelier this summer try to find an old stable area.
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Date published: 7/27/2010

By Rob Hedelt

IT'S ONE THING to sit in a college classroom and hear a college professor describe archaeology.

It's another to get down in an excavation pit and peel back soil and time with a trowel to find where buildings stood centuries ago.

Emma Simpkins of Spotsylvania County and Ford Lautenschlager of Stafford County have gotten that sort of real-world experience this summer at a special archaeology field school at James Madison's Montpelier in Orange County.

The two James Madison University students were among college students from all over the country who, in separate month-long sessions, got to live at the historic home of the nation's fourth president.

Their charge: spending long days doing excavations to find and understand the layout of the lost Madison Stable Quarter, made up of the stables, a blacksmith's shop and slave quarters.

In their work, the students have found horseshoes, saddle frames and bits. By the end of the summer, Montpelier hopes to outline the exact location of the stable and all of its outbuildings.

"If you'd told me six months ago that I'd get excited seeing color patterns in a 5-by-5 hole in the ground it wouldn't have made sense to me," said Lautenschlager, a North Stafford High School grad majoring in history.

But that, said the rising college senior, is exactly what happened when long hours of scraping with a trowel revealed what may well have been a wall or foundation.

"It sounds silly, but as I began to see a pattern emerge, I was just hoping it wouldn't be something like a tree," Lautenschlager said. "I wanted it to be a feature that meant something."

Simpkins, a Riverbend High graduate and international affairs major, said she also enjoyed learning how a low-tech activity such as troweling can allow trained archaeologists to locate buildings and even understand how people lived in times long past.

The rising college junior said it was exciting finding artifacts, pieces of glass and ceramics in her test plots. She noted that the students also spent time in the lab at Montpelier cleaning and cataloging artifacts.

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