Image: George Washington’s Mount Vernon

A group of students last month was involved with the discovery of a stone artifact nearly 6,000 years old while on a school trip to Mount Vernon, and officials are characterizing the find as particularly noteworthy. The item, a stone ax head approximately seven inches long and three inches wide, is believed to be work of a skilled Native American craftsman.

Officials announced the discovery of the ax 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.

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“Artifacts, 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 ax was created by a skilled craftsperson who worked to chip its cutting edges with a hammerstone. Archeologists say its crafter appears to have then used a grinding stone to further smoothe 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.

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The group’s archaeology teacher Jason Anderson, whose son was one of the two students who found the ax, 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 artifact.

The ax is among more than 50,000 artifacts discovered and cataloged at the site, but Devlin told the Post the 6,000-year-old ax “might be one of the coolest things we found out here.”

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[Mount Vernon via Washington Post]