Skip navigation
Share this page

3.0 ASSESSMENT OF POTENTIAL FOR ARCHEOLOGICAL RESOURCES AND RECOMMENDATIONS


3.1 POTENTIAL FOR PREHISTORIC ARCHEOLOGICAL RESOURCES

Research has shown that Native Americans lived throughout the Washington, D.C., area. In the Archaic period, settlements were usually on large river terraces or upland settings near streams or springs. Woodland villages were generally located on floodplains and the terraces of higher-order streams (Custer 1990; Wesler et al. 1981). A number of villages and quarries were found along the major rivers in the area (Proudfit 1889). The project area is located on a hilltop at the high end of a ridge that slopes to the southeast. It is near two small tributaries of Tiber Creek. It is not likely that this area was used for a village site, although it may have been used by Native Americans while hunting. The possibility exists that a point or other evidence of Native American presence could be found in the project area. Points and flakes have been found on three sites in the downtown area of Washington, D.C., in the project vicinity (see section 2.5 in this report); however, these were not in situ deposits. Given the amount of construction and development in the downtown area, and the episodes of construction and landscaping that have taken place in the Patent Office courtyard, it is not likely that Native American deposits would be found there. If a point or other artifact were found, it is not likely be in an in situ deposit and would not add significantly to our knowledge of Native American history in the District.

3.2 POTENTIAL FOR HISTORIC ARCHEOLOGICAL RESOURCES

The potential for historic period archeological deposits in the Patent Office courtyard is greater than that for prehistoric resources due to the much higher level of human activity on the site during the historic period. The types of archeological deposits that may be found include construction debris from the four episodes of construction of the four wings of the building. There may be evidence of the greenhouses and cold frame that were located behind the South Wing and may have extended into the courtyard in the 1840s. Evidence of previous landscaping may be present although some of that may have been obliterated by subsequent work such as re-setting of paving stones or digging of pipe trenches for the fountains. There will almost certainly be evidence of the 1877 fire, the reconstruction of the North and West Wings and renovation of the other wings in the wake of the fire, and the skylights that were broken in a 1913 storm. However, none of these deposits would be significant or would add important information about the Patent Office courtyard.

There are two instances about which interesting information might be gained: A pre-1800 house on the site and use of the Patent Office during the Civil War. An early book on Washington, D.C., claims that a Mr. Orr lived in an old frame house somewhere on the square that is occupied by the Patent Office Building (Hines 1866:31). This could add something to our knowledge of early life in Washington before L’Enfant’s plan was established. The chance of finding a trace of the house or of any outbuildings that may have been associated with it is very slim given that the footprint of the Patent Office Building and landscaping in the courtyard have probably obliterated much evidence.

The Patent Office Building was used during the Civil War as a hospital and as a barracks at different times. The intensity of this use may be evident in pits for disposal of medical waste or amputated limbs, privy pits, disposal of food waste, and encampment in the courtyard. This may add interesting information to knowledge of the Patent Office and may be significant if other sources of information on these types of sites are not available. Archeology could provide data not in documentary sources concerning the extent of the use of the Patent Office as a hospital or barracks.

Since significant resources are not likely to exist in the Patent Office courtyard, archeological excavation is not warranted. However, unanticipated resources may be encountered during construction excavations. Thus, JMA recommends that the Smithsonian Institution establish a plan to address unanticipated archeological discoveries. Archeological resources are most likely to be encountered in the upper 36 inches of soil. Discoveries that would warrant attention include human bones, undisturbed artifact concentrations, or articulated foundations. An unanticipated discovery plan generally includes instructions to construction supervisors (so they know what warrants attention and what does not) and provisions to call an archeologist to the site. On site, the archeologist examines the potential archeological resources, documents them, and may recommend recovery. These procedures will entail stopping work in the vicinity of the discovery while the archeologist works. Following documentation or recovery, the archeologist prepares a brief report of findings and delivers the documentation and artifacts to the Smithsonian Institution.