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New exhibit peels back the layers of history on one block in Old Town

Alexandria Archeology Museum (image via City of Alexandria)

A new exhibit in the Alexandria Archaeology Museum (on the third floor of the Torpedo Factory, 105 N. Union Street) highlights a “microcosm of the city” on Lee Street.

The new exhibit dives through the layers of history at one site in Old Town, along with glimpses at a few other waterfront sites.

The origins of the exhibit go back to 1997 when a permit to construct an underground garage at the corner of North Lee and Queen Streets opened the floodgates for city archeologists.

“The staff immediately recognized that the project afforded a unique opportunity to study the development of one block within the context of the history of the City and its waterfront,” a staff report from 1999 said.

The report said the excavation became a tourist attraction in its own right.

“Archeological excavations… caught the attention of thousands of people for a six week period in August and September 1997,” the report said. “Long forgotten by most people, very tangible ruins and artifacts were revealed through a systemic archeological excavation as backhoes, shovels and trowels peeled back layers of soil and layers of time. The town’s history was literally unearthed before people’s eyes.”

The new exhibit puts the artifacts discovered by the expedition on permanent display. According to a release from the Office of Historic Alexandria:

On June 9th the Alexandria Archaeology Museum opened a new permanent archaeology exhibit called A Community Digs its Past: The Lee Street Site. Cases and panels display artifacts and reveal the archaeological process and the history of Alexandria as seen through the lens of the Lee Street Site (archaeological site number 44AX180) and several other waterfront sites. The exhibit answers questions like: what is urban archaeology; what did Alexandria look like in the past; and what do archaeologists do? The exhibition was made possible by a grant from Historic Alexandria Foundation and is the cornerstone of the museum.

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