Colonial Williamsburg will break ground on its new Colin G. and Nancy N. Campbell Archaeology Center on April 21, 2023. The center will be open to the public seven days a week and will offer 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.
Funding for the Colin G. and Nancy N. Campbell Archaeology Center has been provided in part by a lead gift from the late Forrest E. Mars. Jr, former Colonial Williamsburg trustee and long-time donor, who chose the name in honor of the Campbells’ service to the institution. Colin Campbell, a chairman emeritus of The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, served as the organization’s president and CEO from 2000 to 2014, during which time he expanded the Foundation’s educational programs and increased its endowment. Nancy Nash Campbell is chair emerita of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Together, the couple received The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation’s prestigious Churchill Bell Award in 2014. Gifts from other generous donors are advancing the project.
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. “We want to share our work with the public and invite them to participate in it. The Campbell Archaeology Center will be a place where people can learn about the past and see how archaeology is used to make history come alive.”
The center will also be a place where students and researchers can collaborate on new projects and share their findings with the world.
“We believe that archaeology is a powerful tool for understanding the past and building a better future,” said Fleet. “The Campbell Archaeology Center will be a place where people from all walks of life can come together to learn about our shared history and create a more just and equitable world.”