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VCU Archaeology

Wigging Out in 3D Style at George Washington’s Ferry Farm

by Victoria Valentine

Courtney and I met up in front of the World Studies building last Friday morning at 7:40am to begin our trip to Ferry Farm.  Besides waking up at dawn and the fact that the box that covers the scanning might have been a little too large to fit into my backseat, the trip was a success. We arrived at the George Washington foundation and met up with Dr. Means. The small finds lab where we set up was really cool and I especially liked the window facing the exhibits where we could watch young guests marvel at the artifacts found around Ferry Farm.  Everyone was interested in the wig curlers, but I will get to that later.

Along with Sir-Scans-A-Lot we brought along our new Dino-Light magnifier (“Dino”).      While Courtney was setting up the scanner, Dr. Means and I played around with Dino and took images of the magnified corners of a projectile point.

I bring my Canon Rebel on every road trip in order to document our project’s progress. Today, I felt like taking a few unconventional photos.  I placed my camera on black-and-white mode and took a few shots of Courtney and Dr. Means. They turned out well and we might use them in the future (click here to view a few of them).

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After Courtney started scanning a artifact in high definition, we took a trip around the grounds at Ferry Farm.  It was particularly windy and cold that day (but not represented by Dr. Means lack of a coat – it was cold!) but it was also sunny and clear and the view from the top of Ferry Farm down onto the river and beyond was beautiful. We were able to walk down the hill (it was under construction the last time the Virtual Curation Unit visited) and I got some shots.  Courtney and I engaged in an uphill run (and I won!) before heading back inside where it was warm.

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After a light lunch it was back to the small finds lab. Courtney started scanning wig curlers found at the Ferry Farm site. I learned from Laura Galke that close to 100 curlers were found there.  This is very unusual because that number of wig curlers is rare at a domestic site.

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Wig curlers were used by men (and some women back then, but mostly men) in George Washington’s time to curl their iconic powdered wigs. The curlers were made of white clay that was heated to hold the curl.  Ferry Farm archaeologist Laura Galke told us the curlers were placed into the hair and dough was mashed around the entire wig with the curlers inside and then put into the oven to bake.  Once the dough had risen it was crumbled away and the curls were set. White powder was patted on the wig to give it the signature “powdered” look and any powder left on the shoulder of the gentleman was left there to show that they were members of high society.

We also had the pleasure to sit and watch first-person interpreters work on their theater performances for children that highlighted parts of George Washington’s life, as well as a funny skit about the famous painting of Washington crossing the Delaware. I was lucky enough to be a volunteer in one of the skits and had a great time.

The time for us to pack up and head back to Richmond came too fast. But was an awesome experience for me to see and listen to Laura Galke and Dr. Means.  It was also fun hanging out with Courtney and her awesome antique dress.  I hope I will get another chance to head up to Ferry Farm again soon, maybe for one of their awesome events (click here for the link to their events page!).

Thank you to Ferry Farm archaeologists Laura Galke and David Muraca for allowing us to scan these artifacts, and for Ferry Farm’s Lab Supervisor Melanie Marquis for facilitating a loan of artifacts for us to scan back in our own lab. Thanks also to Alma Withers for letting me try out my acting skills!

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