The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation’s new Colin G. and Nancy N. Campbell Archaeology Center archaeology center opens in 2025
The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation’s new Colin G. and Nancy N. Campbell Archaeology Center archaeology center will be completed in 2025 and will be open to the public seven days a week, offering guests an interactive window into the Foundation’s current archaeological projects as well as the 60 million artifacts that currently make up the archaeological collection.
“Research is the backbone of our public education programming, and archaeology has played a key role in that research for nearly 100 years,” said Cliff Fleet, president and CEO of the Foundation.“ By making our globally renowned collection more accessible to the public, The Campbell Archaeology Center will give visitors the opportunity to play a leading role in their own exploration of history.”
Colonial Williamsburg is the birthplace of historical archaeology, a subfield of archaeology which uses material culture to understand the development of the modern world. Decades of archaeological work in the Historic Area have resulted in one of the world’s largest archaeological collections of 17th-through-early-19th-century artifacts from colonial America. In addition to providing expanded storage facilities to properly steward this collection, the Campbell Archaeology Center will include classrooms, exhibition space and a public archaeology teaching lab with room for visitors and community members to physically engage with artifacts.
“Most people don’t realize how much work happens in the lab,” said Jack Gary, Colonial Williamsburg’s director of archaeology. “Only 40 percent of a project takes place at the excavation site. The other 60 percent happens in the lab. Right now, our visitors engage with us in the field, but there’s no way for them to follow these projects to completion because we don’t have a facility that can accommodate them. This new archaeology center will change all of that.”
The Campbell Archaeology Center is one of the Foundation’s signature projects leading up to the commemoration of America’s 250th anniversary in 2026. The building, designed by the architecture firm of Clark Nexsen, will join several new sites on Nassau Street to help create what will become a major visitor corridor to the Historic Area. The Williamsburg Bray School is slated to open in September 2024. First Baptist Church and the Custis Square gardens will follow in the fall of 2026.
Additional funding is needed to complete the construction of the building and to create an endowment for building maintenance and the Foundation’s archaeology staff. For additional information about the project, including impactful naming and support opportunities within the center, visit colonialwilliamsburg.org/cac.
Evolution of archaeology at The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation
Colonial Williamsburg’s approach to historical archaeology has continued to evolve in response to advances in technology and broader social trends which inform not only the types of questions being asked but also who is asking them.
“Modern archaeology is publicly engaged archaeology,” said Gary. This approach can be seen in current projects such as the First Baptist Church excavation and the Williamsburg Bray School restoration in which the descendant communities have played key roles in guiding and defining the work. Gary predicts that the community’s role in publicly engaged historical archaeology will continue to grow in the coming years. “I think we’ll see an increase in community engagement. The questions about our collective history will come from the communities in which we live and work. And that’s exciting. That’s where they need to come from in order for archaeology to remain relevant.”
There is no shortage of work for the community to engage with at the Foundation. Despite nearly 100 years of excavations, 80 percent of the Historic Area has yet to be examined using modern archaeological techniques. The Colin G. and Nancy N. Campbell Archaeology Center will ensure that archaeology continues to thrive at the Foundation for generations to come. More information colonialwilliamsburg.org/cac.