In a case of excavators not wanting to become the excavated, archeologists at the former Lumpkin's Jail site in Shockoe Bottom are proceeding cautiously at the west edge of the dig near the area that borders Interstate 95. Officials worry the dig at the notorious slave jail site, which starts this week, could weaken the hill supporting the highway.
Organizers of the Lumpkin's dig, planning to bring to light more of the history of the antebellum jail belonging to notorious Richmond slave trader Robert Lumpkin, realized within weeks of breaking ground that the dig may threaten the steep 20-or-so-foot embankment carrying I-95 across the Bottom.
Since recognizing the issue, City Council spokesman Steve Skinner says city officials have consulted with the Virginia Department of Transportation and with engineers to determine what - if any - measures will be needed to shore up the interstate slope. A portion of the Lumpkin's site is under I-95, but that area will not be part of the excavation, which will concentrate on an area approximately 160 feet by 80 feet.
"We're moving forward and working to make sure the western boundary of the site does not compromise the integrity of the I-95 corridor," Skinner says. "We're confident that plans we have in place will ensure that that is not an issue."
The dig - the second on the site - is scheduled to last about 16 weeks. Skinner says engineering to ensure the highway's integrity could increase the cost of the dig, but that it's unclear by how much.
Also in the works, according to City Councilwoman Dolores McQuinn, whose Slave Trail Commission seeks to preserve significant slavery sites such as Lumpkin's, is a proposal by Virginia Commonwealth University to set aside approximately 60 parking spaces across East Broad Street from the Lumpkin's dig to commemorate the black burial ground believed to be on that site. As with Lumpkin's, the majority of that area is believed to be under the interstate.
"I think the discussion is going to continue," McQuinn says of the burial ground conversations.