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Digging less than 6 inches down, he started hitting old brick and mortar laden with bits of oyster shell, then the U-shaped outline of a massive fireplace measuring more than 10 feet long.
That was followed by a second, equally immense firebox that butted back against the first and faced the other direction.
"What you see is an extraordinarily large, H-shaped chimney base," says archaeologist Nick Luccketti, head of the James River Institute for Archaeology, which was called in to study and document the unexpected find.
"This was a very substantial building. It probably combined the function of a kitchen with that of a laundry or a brewery. And it dates back to the late 1600s or early 1700s, when Arthur Allen II was reshaping the landscape here to reflect his status as one of the most powerful men in Virginia."