Cornelius' Corner:

"Interview with an Archaeologist"

Cornelius’ Corner: “Interview with an Archaeologist”

Keith at work

Hi friends- Cornelius here. Thanks for coming back to read another one of my blogs. Today my post features an interview with Keith Doms, Newlin Grist Mill’s resident archaeologist. Keith leads the park’s regular archaeological excavations and can often be found leading mill tours for visitors and working on various projects in the park’s buildings.

Before we get into the Q & A, here’s a little background. Our archaeology program started in 2010 as a way to learn more about the history of the park, its buildings, and the people who have lived and worked here over time. Sometimes our excavations start because we have a specific question about how a building or other location was constructed or used. Other times we conduct excavations because repairs or restoration work gives us access to areas that haven’t been investigated before. Each excavation helps us build a more complete picture of the site and its history, as well as how best to protect it and educate visitors about its importance.

Cornelius: How did you become an archaeologist?

Keith: I became interested in archaeology when I was about 10 years old and saw a National Geographic program about Dr. Lewis Leakey. My grandmother then gave me a copy of the book Gods, Graves, and Scholars, an introductory book in the history of archaeology. I took an archaeology course in high school and then went to the University of Delaware for my degree in anthropology/archaeology. I love finding out how typical people (the ones that don’t make it into the history books) lived in the past.

Cornelius: What’s your favorite type of event within the archaeology program?

Keith talks to visitors about archaeology

Keith: I like the monthly excavations the most as I can concentrate on the excavation more and have a more personal interaction with the public. The Archaeology Festival is enjoyable as we get to explore archaeology-related activities like artifact assembly and prehistoric tools.

Cornelius: What’s the significance of the archaeology program at the Grist Mill?

Keith: The Newlin Grist Mill Public Archaeological Program is the only ongoing archaeology program that is open to the public. We have been running the program for the past 11 years. We’ve made discoveries about almost every building on site. For example – we have learned that the archive building was once used as housing for mill workers in the late 1800s and wasn’t always a general store. During excavations we uncovered toys; clothing from men, women, and children; household furnishings; and food remains that show that the building was home for a family and not just somebody’s workplace. We even found a bunch of bone-handled toothbrushes!

A recently-excavated bevel gear


Cornelius: What sorts of artifacts have you found in the last year (2021)?

Keith: This past year saw limited excavations due to flood recovery and COVID concerns. Recently however we have uncovered a 40 pound, 15 inch-diameter cast iron bevel gear (a gear with an angled face) while conducting flood-related repairs in our archive building. This gear was common in the last half of the 1800s, and was used to change the direction of rotation in machinery. It was most likely surplus equipment from the mill that was stored next door and got buried over the years. It is similar in size and structure to additional gears and fragments we found buried behind the building, and shows that the people that owned the mill still owned/operated the archive at that time.

Cornelius: How can visitors of the Grist Mill get involved with archaeology?


Volunteers helping screen soil

Keith: Visitors can get involved by coming to one of our monthly Public Archaeology Day Saturday programs. A teacher or group leader can contact the office to arrange an archaeology program for their class or group. We also have volunteers help with lab work like cleaning, sorting, and counting the artifacts after they have been excavated.

Cornelius: What typically takes place during archaeology demonstrations?

Keith: Visitors and volunteers participate in real ongoing archaeological investigations here at the park. There is a trained archaeologist excavating (doing the actual digging). The archaeologist will take notes, draw maps and plans, and take photographs. The soil from the excavation is put in a screen to separate the stones and artifacts, and volunteers help to identify and bag any finds. Volunteers also help with drawing maps and soil profiles, and recording the excavations. Our most experienced volunteers even assist with the digging itself. Occasionally we will set up a mock excavation for younger children that is safe and easier for them.


Excited to explore archaeology for yourself? Be sure to stop by one of our Public Archaeology Days, which typically are held on the third Saturday of the month from March through October (this year we are starting on March 12th). Interested in the behind-the-scenes aspects of cleaning and cataloging artifacts? Contact our volunteer coordinator Jessica at

When you are on site, make sure you drop in at the Visitor Center to say hi to a certain snake in the front room (me!)

– Cornelius

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Additional Note


There will be no weekday Grist Mill tours offered during the month of January in order to allow time for staff development and project work.

Thank you for your understanding!