Potomac River

Student Group Discovers 6,000-Year-Old Ax at Mount Vernon

The site of the discovery was used by indigenous communities as far back as the fourth millennia BCE

Six millennia after a stone ax was carved, it was rediscovered by a pair of Ohio teens on an archaeological dig at George Washington's Mount Vernon estate.

The students from Archbishop Hoban High School in Akron, Ohio, were on an archaeology field trip to George Washington’s historic home on Oct. 12 when they helped to discover a 6,000-year-old stone ax head at the site of Mount Vernon’s African American cemetery, Mount Vernon spokeswoman Melissa Wood said.

The ax, which is about seven inches long and three inches wide, is similar to axes dating back to the Archaic period of Virginia’s history, or roughly 4,500 to 8,000 years ago.

"The axe provides a window onto the lives of individuals who lived here nearly 6,000 years ago," Sean Devlin, Mount Vernon’s curator of archaeological collections, said in a statement. "Artifacts, such as this, are a vital resource for helping us learn about the diverse communities who shaped this landscape throughout its long history.”

The site of the discovery, the African American cemetery, was used by Virginia Indians as far back as 8,000 years ago and used continuously as a stopping point for communities that traveled along the Potomac River or collected resources from the area, according to archaeological research.

In Washington's time, it was possibly used as a site for enslaved and freed descendants to be buried. Excavations of the area began in 2014 and 80 graves have been found as of October, Wood said. 

The ax apparently shows "the skill and craftsmanship" of whoever made it, since the crafter would have to chip away at river cobble stone with a hammer stone to create a sharper, cutting edge for the face of the ax.

The craftsman would then hammer the tool with a harder stone to create an even smoother, cutting surface and then smoothed the surface with a hard grinding stone before a groove was poked into the back half of the head for a wooden handle to be inserted.

The artifact is now one of more than 50,000 artifacts found on the Mount Vernon estate.

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