Written by Ashton Snyder on
 June 15, 2024

Archaeologists Discover 35 18th-Century Bottles at Mount Vernon

An astonishing collection of 35 intact glass bottles from the 18th century has been unearthed at George Washington’s Mount Vernon.

According to Mountvernon.org, the discovery, part of a $40 million restoration project, includes perfectly preserved cherries and berries in most of the bottles.

Archaeologists uncovered the collection in five storage pits in the Mansion cellar. Out of the 35 glass bottles, 29 are now revealed to hold perfectly preserved cherries and berries, possibly gooseberries or currants. The unexpected find emerged from the ongoing Mansion Revitalization Project, meant to fortify the historic site for its 250th anniversary in 2026. “Never in our wildest dreams did we imagine this spectacular archaeological discovery,” said Doug Bradburn, Mount Vernon President and CEO.

Excavation and Initial Analysis of the Bottles

Last month, two intact European-manufactured 18th-century bottles were found containing liquid, cherries, and pits. This latest find, however, substantially surpasses previous discoveries. “Now we know those bottles were just the beginning,” Bradburn added. Analyses have already begun on the newly discovered artifacts. The bottles' contents have been removed and refrigerated for scientific examination. Conservation measures ensure the preservation and stability of these artifacts.

Upon further inspection, 54 cherry pits and 23 stems suggest these bottles were once filled predominantly with cherries. A deeper analysis by the USDA's Agricultural Research Service (ARS) is underway, and there is a possibility of analyzing the pits for viability in germination.

Microscopy indicates that the cherries may have been clipped with shears, leaving the stems attached on purpose. Given the exceptional preservation, Principal Archaeologist Jason Boroughs remarked on the significance of this discovery in contributing to understanding 18th-century foodways, environments, and early American cuisine.

The Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association (MVLA) has managed the site’s meticulous restoration since 1860. Current Project phases include structural repairs, new HVAC systems, and improved drainage to address wear and tear from extensive visitor traffic. Bradburn highlighted the appropriateness of the timing of this revelation, saying, “These artifacts likely haven’t seen the light of day since before the American Revolution.” The fact that the bottles have been unearthed so close to the nation’s 250th anniversary is seen as an auspicious event.

Mount Vernon's Mansion Revitalization Project

Bradburn emphasized the rarity of such a comprehensive find in North American archaeology. He expressed excitement about the prospective insights into early American life, made possible by this extraordinary discovery. The Mansion Revitalization Project is a privately funded $40 million initiative aimed at addressing the structural and environmental conditions at Mount Vernon. It's expected to ensure that the Mansion withstands another century of visitation and historical significance.

The project, unfolding in four phases and due for completion by 2026, includes extensive research in rarely accessible areas. It also aims to provide an enriched understanding of Mount Vernon’s historical context, supported by modern scientific methods.

Boroughs attributed the success of the project to the skilled teams involved in preservation and archaeological work. He paid homage to the skills of the enslaved individuals who managed food preservation, particularly mentioning Doll, a cook brought to Mount Vernon by Martha Washington in 1759.

Conclusion

Photographs and video excerpts showcasing the glass bottles have been made available, with credits to the MVLA. This transparency allows the public a glimpse into this spectacular find while maintaining the utmost care in artifact handling.

Summarizing the significance of the project and discovery, Bradburn viewed this initiative as a ceremonial gift to the nation. “This historic preservation project is Mount Vernon’s birthday gift to America,” he noted proudly.

Through the collaborative efforts of archaeologists and scientists, these preserved fruits from over two centuries ago are expected to offer invaluable insights into the early American era. The findings highlight the blending of history, biology, and national heritage in an unprecedented manner.

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About Ashton Snyder

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