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Akron Students Make Archaeological Find At Washington’s Mt. Vernon Estate

The 7-inch axe head contains a notch where it could be tied to a handle. [Mt. Vernon]
The 7-inch-long axe head is believed to be 6,000 years old

An Akron high school class has made a rare find at George and Martha Washington’s estate.  

For the last six years an archaeology class at Archbishop Hoban High School in Akron has been doing digs at Mount Vernon in Virginia. 

Three weeks ago Hoban teacher Jason Anderson took students to help on digs around a slave cemetery there, “trying to help them locate grave shafts so they can update and get a very good, or a better sense, of the record of how many of the enslaved community are actually buried there on the estate.”


The excavation site before the axe was found.  Jason Anderson (in hat) and Joe Downer.  [Tom Hottinger] 

The students don’t disturb the graves, merely digging about 10 inches deep and looking for changes in the dirt color that indicates a grave shaft is below.

“They have found 70-plus grave shafts so far and we’ve had a hand in helping them find a couple of those which is pretty fulfilling,” said Anderson.  

But while sifting through topsoil on the site,  Anderson’s son Dominic and fellow student Jared Phillips picked up a 7-inch-long rock and took it to the staff. 

It turned out to be a 6,000-year-old axe head.

“They were so excited about it, they really got the kids fired up about it,” said Anderson, the head of the social studies department at Hoban.

“Almost everyone from the archaeology lab came down to the slave cemetery to look at it,” Anderson said. “Joe Downer, who we work with, who’s the head of the site we were working on, told the kids this is the coolest thing they’ve found there in a long, long, long time.”

The Hoban archeology class at Jamestown before moving on to work at Mount Vernon. [Jason Anderson]

Anderson said they were on a ridgeline that had never been excavated, south of George Washington’s tomb.  

“So you might picture a prehistoric Indian sitting on this ridge knapping at stones to make tools and those little flakes – we’re finding a lot of those flakes —that are indicating that these people were using this ridge to make tools and have fires and things like that on this very location.” 

The stone axe contained notches on one end where it could be tied to a handle.

The axe shortly after being discovered. [Tom Hottinger] 

Back in Akron, the archaeology class uses a video connection to stay in contact with the staff of Mount Vernon during the semester. 

The class was also invited to help in field digs at the national historic site in Jamestown, Virginia, the first permanent English settlement in America.

Anderson is not sure whether the notable find will affect the students’ grades.