George Washington, Slavery, and Contemporary America

When I began this project, my only intention was to document the archaeological survey taking place at the slave cemetery at Mount Vernon. It sounded interesting, so I had planned on discussing their goals and methods, and the progress that had been made since the project began. Almost as soon as I started my research, though, I realized that my questions were really shallow and did not address the reasons why the project needed to be done in the first place.

I knew that George Washington owned captive people, but I was unaware of the magnitude of that choice. Of course, George Washington did not invent American slavery, but his active participation in it has had lasting consequences for this country and the way that we perceive race. As I dug deeper it became easier to see connections between slavery and racial inequalities throughout every time period in American history,  and I realized that this was the story that needed to be told. I still talk about the archaeological survey in terms of restorative justice and moving forward, but it became a much smaller part of my project than I had originally intended it to be.

Most of the dialog from the video is taken directly from my research paper. My biggest struggle was condensing it down into a reasonable amount of time while still getting my point across. I wanted to include a lot more, and it could have easily been twice as long, but I understand the value of conciseness.  I would encourage anyone who watches my video or is interested in learning more about the topic to take a look at my research paper, George Washington, Slavery, and Contemporary America. It provides a lot more context and detail, as well as a full bibliography that pertains to both my paper and my video.

Thanks for watching!


Studying Life Through Death

While it is true that cemeteries are places of death, they can also tell us a lot about how people lived. Through the examination of different elements of the grave markers at Calvary Cemetery (such as size, material, and decorative elements) I was able to better understand the people who were buried there and the times in which they lived.

I chose to do a seriation frequency on decorative motifs in Calvary Cemetery. Through this exercise I learned how decoration changed overtime and I was able to make inferences about the people who were buried there. It is clear that crosses have been a popular decorative element at Calvary Cemetery almost since its beginning, but they were most popular between 1925 and 1950. The importance of religion has remained constant over time, but perhaps increases during and after times of war.

 Spacing of graves can also tell us a lot about relationships and gender roles. For example, one set of graves that I recorded were all part of a family plot and were remarkably similar. They were all the same size, shape, and had virtually the same decoration and inscription, only differing to distinguish between “wife and mother” or “husband and father.” Alternatively, there were burials that suggested very different status for men and women. One example of this can be found in the St. Raphael section of Calvary Cemetery. One man’s gravestone is large, metal, and has an inscription that refers to his military service, as well as other religious decoration. Next to this is his wife’s grave, which consists of only a small, plain stone with her name, date of birth and death, and a small cross.

In addition to design difference, the number of burials every year can tell us a lot about what was going on in society at any given time. At Calvary Cemetery, burials increased after major wars, such as World War I and World War II. After WWII there was a decline in burials until the Vietnam War, when we see another, smaller spike.

In all, while it is true that a cemetery’s main function is to be a resting place for the dead and a place or remembrance for the living, they can also be a repository of information for those who want to learn more about the past.


The Pioneer Building

Located on the corner of 1st Avenue and James Street, the Pioneer Building has become one of the most iconic buildings in the city of Seattle. The captivating history of the Pioneer Building began before it was even constructed, when Henry Yesler built Seattle’s first sawmill on the spot in 1853.

Sketch of Henry Yesler’s first sawmill,



Producing low quality lumber (by Yesler’s own account) the mill operated 24 hours a day and sent lumber as far as Alaska and Hawaii ( Soon other, more technically advanced sawmills began to crop up in the area, expanding the Seattle lumber industry rapidly. The role that Yesler’s sawmill played in establishing the city of Seattle cannot be denied; it launched the lumber industry in Seattle which helped to create the city that we know today.

By the beginning of 1889, Yesler had hired architect Elmer H. Fisher to construct the Pioneer Building, and excavations began soon after. But, on June 6, 1889, the Great Seattle Fire swept through Seattle’s commercial district, razing it the ground. Remarkably, the excavation for the Pioneer Building along with Elmer Fisher’s drawings survived the fire, and construction was completed on the building in 1892 (

(Fisher’s drawings, University of Washington Digital Collections)

The Pioneer Building when it was Puget Sound National Bank in 1900, Pacific Coast Architecture Database

Some of the building’s first tenants included The Puget Sound National Bank of Seattle, the Union Trunk Line, and the King County Medical Society.



The Pioneer building during renovations in 1974






The Pioneer Building has been used for a number of purposes and housed a variety of different companies throughout its 125 years. Between 1897 and 1908 , amid the Klondike Gold Rush, it became a hub for mining companies, and it was “Seattle’s finest speakeasy” in the 1920s during Prohibition (Pacific Coast Architecture Database). The building began to fall into disrepair in the 1930s, continuing into the 1940s and 1950s. During the late 1950s, however, support mounted for renovation and rehabilitation of Pioneer Square, with the Pioneer Building being one of the main focuses. In 1970 it was added to the National Historic Places list, and saw significant renovation by 1980.

The Pioneer Building has changed hands three times since 2001. After being acquired by 600 Pioneer LLC in 2001, it was sold to Sun Capital Corporation in 2014 for $12.3 million. Finally, a Chicago-based real estate company, called Level Office, bought the building in 2015 for $20.5 million, and it now houses offices for small businesses.


During its 125 years of existence, the Pioneer Building has carved a place in Seattle history and created a legacy that will endure for years to come.


Archaeological Alliances

I was excited to attend the second workshop in the Preserving the Past Together series last Thursday. I thoroughly enjoyed the first workshop and was eager to build on that experience. Also, I was excited to hear Chip Colwell-Chanthaphonh speak. I have read some of his work and discussed his concepts in several classes, so I was curious to see what he was like in person. As a student, the authors that we read can sometimes appear intimidating and inaccessible, so I was thrilled to confirm that Dr. Colwell-Chanthaphonh is a normal human being. One point that he brought up was that collaboration between archaeologists and Indigenous peoples is not always going to look the same; it can take multiple forms and can vary over space and time. The important thing is that the needs of the archaeologist do not trump the needs of the tribe, and that the tribe sets the terms of engagement. The archaeologist’s goal should not be to extract knowledge from the tribe, but to generate knowledge together.

Another aspect of the seminar that I really enjoyed was the interactive component. During the workshop we separated into smaller groups and had the opportunity to share our thoughts and hear from multiple people. My group consisted of UW faculty members and an individual who works at a local museum. We discussed how to address colonialism in archaeology and came up with several useful approaches. For one, developing reciprocal relationships is extremely important; historically, relationships between archaeologists and Indigenous peoples have been hierarchical which has proven to be harmful. Another solution is to confront colonialism head-on and put it at the center of archaeological projects rather than skirting the issue.

Although some participants appeared to be less optimistic than others, I think it is important that we as students immerse ourselves in these kinds of discussions. If we learn to approach archaeology from a collaborative standpoint and focus on developing reciprocal relationships rather than exploitative ones, we can change how archaeology is done in the future.


The Mystery of the Melted Bottle

Despite their age, most of the bottles that I worked with this week were largely whole and undamaged; I was able to observe their color, feel the seams, and discern maker’s marks with only a moderate amount of difficulty. I was finally gaining confidence in my bottle-identification skills, when I came to the last bottle in my assemblage, catalog number 45KI765/M-4. It was a heavily damaged bottle, its original shape, color and label barely discernible.



I hardly knew where to begin. Normally I would identify the finish, bottle shape and use type first, but the neck and finish were missing, the shape had been completely distorted, and any decoration or label that once existed was obscured by an unidentified dried substance. I decided to try and find any feature on the bottle that might make it stand out, and the only possibility that I came up with was to somehow identify the embossed label. I tried a few different techniques; I felt the letters with my fingers and held it up to the light at different angles; I photographed it on my phone and adjusted the color and contrast; and I used a piece of paper and a pencil to try to create a stencil. Finally, after much effort, I put together “ZAREMB” on the top of the label, “SPR” in the middle, and “SEATTLE WA” on the bottom. Armed with the little information I gleaned from the label, I resorted to the best archaeological tool I could think of to solve this mystery: the internet.

After reading about various different people named Zaremba (there was an opera singer, a Russian composer, and a family of Polish nobility) I finally found the right combination of letters and was able to determine that the bottle came from Zarembo Mineral Springs Company. It once contained mineral water from the Alaskan island of Zarembo and was marketed as a health drink from 1900-1920. Presumably, it was dumped at the site by an individual who was perhaps hoping to improve their health by consuming the magical healing waters of Alaska (or maybe they were just thirsty).
                          (The Pacific Monthly, Volume 14 1905:611)

While this was all very fascinating, I was a little bit disappointed that this mysterious bottle and all of my effort hadn’t let me to something more interesting, a sinister poison perhaps, or an illicit concoction. Oh well, there’s always next time.





Raiders of the Lost Trash

While it is true that I cannot resist a good Indiana Jones pun, the connection between archaeology and trash goes much deeper than my bad joke. The truth is – although most of us would undoubtedly prefer to be stealing golden idols and fighting off Nazis – archaeologists are essentially in the trash business (old trash usually, but trash nonetheless). Fortunately for us, trash can tell us a lot more about human behavior than Nazis can!

The study of garbology uses archaeological techniques to study modern waste habits to learn about human behavior. When most people throw something away they rarely think about it again. Even if you were to ask them about it a couple hours later it would be unlikely that they could recall much about the quantity, composition, or price of the object that they had thrown away. The creation and deposition of garbage is such a normal part of our everyday lives that most people cannot even fathom the secrets that their trash is likely to reveal.

While examining the trash log of one of my colleagues I sadly did not find any clandestine refuse, but I was able to identify their general habits, hobbies, and preferences. I was also able to make an assumption about the area that they live in based on to-go coffee cups, and even had a rough idea of how many cats they live with. This study provided me with a brief window into the lives of one of my colleagues; when studied on a larger scale, garbology can open the door to the mysterious aspects of human behavior.

Tessa O. Bio


Hello, my name is Tessa. I am a senior archaeology student here at UW, having transferred from Peninsula College in Port Angeles in the fall of 2015. I grew up in Oceanside, CA and joined the United States Coast Guard right out of high school. My adventures in the Coast Guard took me all over Alaska, from the Bering Sea to the Arctic Ocean, to Hawaii and New York City. After completing my time in the Coast Guard as an Operations Specialist I moved to Port Angeles, WA to begin my studies and decided that my next great adventure would be archaeology!

Some of my hobbies include reading, traveling and going on hikes with my rescue dog Patch. I have not settled on a specific area of study in archaeology (I know, I should probably get on that), but I have always been politically active and am interested in the effects of colonialism on marginalized peoples.