Can you dig it? Yes, there are events throughout the year where you can dig with archaeologists at a local site. For the majority of the time, you dig using your imagination at the Alexandria Archaeology Museum. The museum is housed on the third floor of the Torpedo Factory Art Center. While the museum is quite small, it’s a journey of the history and people in the City of Alexandria.
When you enter the museum you are walking in to a working laboratory. You may see staff or volunteers washing, sorting and cataloguing recently excavated artifacts. Archaeologists review all construction in the City of Alexandria to inspect and preserve sites that may hold valuable information about the City’s past.
Pick up a brochure and go on an artifact hunt through the museum or see an example of what a dig site looks like. Look for the Clovis point dating back 13,000 years ago and see a case full of other Native American tools. Kids will get a kick out of the Civil War Peeps display. Also on view is a diorama of a Crimean Oven, which was used to heat hospital tents in camp during the war. Children’s toys became common in the second half of the 19th century. Here you can see examples of toys and other items used by children like a glass baby bottle, child’s mug, slate pencil, a porcelain doll’s head, clay marbles and a bone domino. Uncover the mystery of the museum’s mascot Zark. Is he a dinosaur or another kind of animal? You will have to come to the museum to find out! Learn how archaeologists are reconstructing history piece by piece. The hands-on activity of plates is like a jigsaw puzzle. The object is to connect the broken pieces of the plates back together. Other than that, there are no hands-on activities unless you attend a special event.
All ages come through the museum, but it is geared towards ages 5 and up. Sign up for the Alexandria Adventure Lessons which uses hands-on group activities using artifacts from the Alexandria Archaeology collection. Teens can participate in a weeklong summer camp or volunteer to go on an excavation site and assist archaeologists with washing artifacts. Annual events include the Alexandria Archaeology Family Dig Day, Time Travelers History Scavenger Hunt, and a Christmas Ornament Making Workshop. Some events require registration and a fee, while other events are free. How cool is this, the museum can even host birthday parties!
While there are examples of stoneware, belt buckles, remains of a hairbrush and shoe, behind glass there is a Wickham Musket weapon on display in plain view.
The museum is open Tuesday to Friday 10am to 3pm, Saturday 10am to 5pm and Sunday 1 to 5pm. They are closed on Mondays as well as New Year’s Day, Easter, 4th of July, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. Admission to both the Alexandria Archaeological Museum and Torpedo Factory are free.
After you visit the museum, stroll through the studios at the Torpedo Factory. They offer free tours every Friday at 1pm. There are some quirky works of art with a focus on animals like a speckled elephant, colorful fish and butterflies, and a giant panda made out of tires. My child was interested in rolling pins with painted faces, a giant weaving loom, and the sculpted staircase in the factory. Doodle on the giant chalk board and see replicas of two Navy torpedoes and the original Bay Scale.
The small gift shop has logic puzzles, Picasso art stickers, Floating Oragami, jewelry making crafts, magnetic finger puppets and more. Restrooms and water fountains are on every level. While the building is stroller friendly, there are no baby changing stations. The Bread and Chocolate cafe has a small seating area and serves beverages, prepared sandwiches, fruit and baked goods. There is also a vending machine in the back of the main level. The Alexandria Archaeological Museum is located along the Waterfront where you will always see ducks looking for food and watch the boats past by. Parking garages are nearby and the free trolley makes rounds from the King Street Metro station to the waterfront.
Photos by Kathleen Molloy.