Even in a town that archaeologists have probed countless times since 1930, few places have been dug over as many times as the landmark compound that makes up the historic colonial campus at the College of William and Mary.
But that doesn’t mean the triangle of property that surrounds the late-1600s Sir Christopher Wren Building — which ranks as the nation’s oldest college structure — has been stripped of all its secrets.
Spurred by a small but unexpectedly substantial brick feature unearthed by college archaeologists in 2011, a Colonial Williamsburg team has uncovered surprise after surprise since mid-May, when they begin exposing the increasingly large footprint of a previously unknown structure hidden under the grass in the Wren’s south yard.
Lurking as much as 2 feet below the surface, the main part of the early-1700s building measures 20-by-18-feet in size, while a smaller addition on its south wall checks in at about 20-by-12 feet.
Evidence of a central fire pit may help identify the structure as the college’s busy 18th-century brew house — which provided the students and faculty with a drink far safer and more pleasant than water — while an unusually large trash deposit located outside its east wall may hold clues to life inside the Wren Building before it was gutted by a fierce 1705 fire.
“With as much archaeological work as we’ve done in the College Yard over the years, it’s astonishing to find something like this — and to find so much of it still intact,” says Louise Kale, who is retiring after nearly two decades as director of the college’s historic campus.
“I’ve seen at least a dozen digs here during my time here — and this is the most important. It’s a real gold mine.”
By Mark St. John Erickson
9:00 pm, July 23, 2014
Archaeologists from Colonial Williamsburg are exploring the remains of an unexpectedly substantial colonial-era building first uncovered under the ground on the south of the Wren Building. The dig has been going on since early summer and has uncovered a substantial masonry foundation as well as large numbers of artifacts and this may be a brewhouse building. Tour groups are greeted by staff members at the dig site.
10:42 am, July 22, 2014
Joe Fudge / Daily Press