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Archaeology in the District of Columbia

There are many archaeological sites in the District of Columbia. Because these places can contain important historical evidence, artifacts and features, they are part of the city’s cultural heritage. Archaeologists study these remains of human activity scientifically, in order to reconstruct and understand the lives of people in both historic and prehistoric times.

The District’s archaeological program identifies, records, and protects archaeological sites, just as it does buildings and other historic properties. The Historic Preservation Office maintains information on sites and their locations, and a library of reports on the information recovered from sites. This information is managed electronically using a Geographic Information System, or GIS. The office also consults with the owners of archaeological sites and conducts reviews of projects that may harm known or potential sites.

Many of the artifacts recovered from District government property are managed by the DC Archaeologist and are stored in several locations. Federal agencies may curate their own collections.

When archaeologists say “Save the Past for the Future!” they mean:

  • don’t dig sites unless there is real need to do so - even scientific excavation destroys information,
  • carefully record sites so that the information contained in them is not lost, and
  • curate the collections and information so that they are preserved for future use.

Archaeological sites on federal property are protected resources. Any investigations on federal lands require special archaeological permits from the appropriate federal agency.

If you think you know of a site that may not be recorded, please contact the DC Archaeologist, Dr. Ruth Trocolli, at (202) 442-8836, or ruth.trocolli@dc.gov.