A group of students last month was involved with the discovery of a stone artefact nearly 6000 years old while on a school trip to Mount Vernon, and officials are characterising the find as particularly noteworthy. The item, a stone axe head approximately 17.8cm long and 7.6cm wide, is believed to be work of a skilled Native American craftsman.
Officials announced the discovery of the axe on Wednesday. The Washington Post reported this week that two 17-year-old students from Archbishop Hoban High School in Ohio found it in sifting screens during the group's archaeological dig at George Washington's estate.
The students alerted nearby archaeologists about the item, which Mount Vernon officials say offers an important window into the lives of people who lived at the site several millennia ago.
"Artefacts, such as this, are a vital resource for helping us learn about the diverse communities who shaped this landscape throughout its long history," Sean Devlin, Mount Vernon's curator of archaeological collections, said in a statement. He told the Post that the tool would have been prized, adding that it "definitely isn't something that was just sort of pitched by the side, just by happenstance."
The tool was discovered at a site believed to be a cemetery for Mount Vernon's enslaved African Americans and some of their freed descendants. The Post reported that the group of 14 students was helping to map the site's dimensions.
According to a press release about the discovery, the axe was created by a skilled craftsperson who worked to chip its cutting edges with a hammerstone. Archaeologists say its crafter appears to have then used a grinding stone to further smooth its surfaces before creating grooves where a wooden handle would have been attached.
This valuable tool, they think, would have likely been used for wood cutting.
The group's archaeology teacher Jason Anderson, whose son was one of the two students who found the axe, told the Post that students from Archbishop Hoban High School have been involved with archaeology work at Mount Vernon for six years.
"The neatest thing is: The whole purpose we do any of this stuff is to get students interested in archaeology," he said, adding that he was thankful it was the students rather than adults who made the discovery of the artefact.
The axe is among more than 50,000 artefacts discovered and catalogued at the site, but Devlin told the Post the 6000-year-old axe "might be one of the coolest things we found out here."