College of William and Mary Digs for History at Naval Weapons Station Yorktown

Story Number: NNS150707-14Release Date: 7/7/2015 2:53:00 PM
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By Mark O. Piggott, Naval Weapons Station Yorktown

YORKTOWN, Va. (NNS) -- Naval Weapons Station (WPNSTA) Yorktown hosted the College of William and Mary archeological field study to investigate possible sites of the Kiskiak Indian tribe. The class worked throughout the month of June along Mason Row housing aboard the installation.

According to Dr. Martin Gallivan, associate professor at William and Mary, the study is helping them learn more about the Kiskiak, a tribe that was once part of the powerful Powhatan Nation that lived in this area more than 500 years before the first colonists arrived.

"It was a dispersed community, located on-and-around Indian Field Creek, and we're finding evidence of a large mix of habitations that, thanks to radio carbon dating, were occupied from the 13th to the 17th century," Gallivan said. "There was a Chief here, not as powerful as Powhatan, but a Chief nonetheless."

According to Bruce Larson, Cultural Resources director for Naval Facilities Engineering Command (NAVFAC), the Kiskiak chose this location due it proximity to the York River and its tributaries and its access to an abundance of resources. This is verifiable through artifacts discovered in the field study as well as historical documentation.

The journals of Captain John Smith recorded his early exploration of the York River, including spending Christmas with Indians in 1608, putting him in the Kiskiak village.

"This area typifies a really efficient place to live," Larson added. The evidence of a robust life for the Kiskiak was found in "midden" or garbage pits. These include oyster and clam shells, deer bones, turtle shells as well as evidence of corn being grown as a regular crop.

A survey and evaluation of WPNSTA Yorktown in 2001-2002 laid out the potential hot spots for further archeological study on the installation. It also provided the command with vital information on where not to build for future construction projects.

"What the Navy is doing is complying with the National Historic Preservation Act by trying to get ahead of the curve to identify and evaluate all cultural resources and what we have to do to protect them," Larson explained. "Once we know what we have, we can work with Public Works on the installation to move development around these significant archeological resources."

"The whole weapons station has a series of sites that are remarkably well preserved," Gallivan added. "So we began working in 2010 on the Southeast side of Indian Field Creek with our first field study and have progressed to where we are today"

During the monthlong field study, the team found an assortment of artifacts: including arrowheads, pottery shards, the remnants of a tobacco pipe and even the remains of a charred log from a fire pit. However, the biggest discovery was the post stains where the houses once stood.

The post stains, about 10-15 centimeter in diameter, are discolorations in the earth where posts were drilled into the ground to support a house-like structure. According to Gallivan, the varied rows of post stains discovered indicated that the Kiskiak moved their houses around, from time to time.

"This is like a living laboratory," Larson said. "The state of preservation here is almost unparalleled in the Commonwealth."

The field study is part of a five-year plan that began in 2010 in cooperation between the Navy and the College of William and Mary. Larson confirmed that the agreement between them will extend another five years to allow for further study.

For more news from Naval Weapons Station Yorktown, visit

Dr. Martin Gallivan, left, an associate professor at the College of William and Mary, shows artifacts found during a field study at Naval Weapons Station Yorktown to Capt. Paul Haebler,.
150615-N-PK884-001 YORKTOWN, Va. (June 15, 2015) Dr. Martin Gallivan, left, an associate professor at the College of William and Mary, shows artifacts found during a field study at Naval Weapons Station Yorktown to Capt. Paul Haebler, commanding officer of Naval Weapons Station Yorktown, and Cmdr. Steven Fichter, Naval Weapons Station Yorktown public works officer. The field study is being conducted through the university as part of an ongoing cooperative agreement with Naval Facilities Engineering Command to survey historical sites aboard the installation. (U.S. Navy photo by Mark Piggott)
July 6, 2015
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