Who we are

The Lost Towns Project is a team of professional archaeologists and historians, working closely with the government of Anne Arundel County, Maryland to discover and explore the County's rich heritage. The team is committed to sharing the discovery process of this incredible heritage with the public through hands-on experiences, publications, lectures, and exhibits. In this blog, we will share some of our exciting discoveries, updates, and events. Check out our website at www.losttownsproject.org for much more, or to learn how to become a volunteer or intern! No experience is required to assist us in field investigations, laboratory studies, archival research, and interpretive programs. Join us to rediscover the History in your own backyards!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

A Geologist Amongst Archaeologists

Today's blog was written by Victor Perez, a recent Ohio State University grad who came to us seeking field and lab work experience. Victor was not an Anthropology major in school (most of our interns are social science majors), but rather he focused on geology and paleontology. He chose to undertake a 120 hour Archaeology internship with us and we developed a schedule where he would spent half his time in the field and half in the lab. As you can read below, he got a lot of the experience and we got a lithics type collection that will be of great use when we catalog artifacts from prehistoric sites like Pig Point. I'm so pleased he took the time to blog about his unique experience!  -Stephanie    
Victor assembled a lithics type collection in the lab

I recently completed an internship with the Lost Towns Project, however my background made my experience a little different than most others that participate in this internship program. Last spring I graduated from Ohio State University with an honors degree in Geological Sciences with a Mathematics minor. Having incurred difficulty in finding a job I set out to broaden my range of experience. This effort drove me to pursue the Lost Towns Project internship. Although my degree is in Earth Sciences, my particular interests are focused around paleontology; however I have always found myself interested in archaeology as well. In fact, I knew of the Lost Towns Project through volunteering while I was in high school.

At the very start of the internship every potential intern is told one very important thing: you will get out of this internship what you put in. This concept resonated in my mind and still does. This concept is true of anything you do; yet it seems to be often forgotten. With this motto ingrained in my mind I set out to make this internship as relevant as possible to my particular interests and with the help of the LTP staff, I did just that.

Despite the obvious differences between the anthropogenic-based field, archaeology, and the geologic oriented field, paleontology, there are numerous overlapping similarities. Such as, the excavation process or the incomplete record that we are faced to interpret. Focusing on these similarities made it easy to tailor my experience towards my own benefit. In the same manner that you begin a research project I began to ask: What do I want to gain from this? How can I implement my experience and apply it to this internship? And it didn’t take long to release that I was not the only one asking these questions. After a few weeks of working as an intern, Stephanie asked me if I would be interested in putting together a lithics type collection as a reference for other volunteers. This was an excellent way to develop my rock and mineral identification, while explaining some of the basic geologic principles that are involved in identification.

Now you may ask yourself, if you are interested in paleontology why is it important to have a strong background in lithic identification? The answer is two-fold. First of all, fossils are lithified remnants of past life and understanding how they are preserved can tell you a great deal about the organism and the environment in which it resided. Second, interpreting a geologic setting is largely based on what type of sediment and formations are present. For example, a conglomerate dominated unit is often indicative of running water, i.e. a river system. Similarly, sandy mounds may imply eolian (wind-driven) dunes. Many other factors may be used to support these ideas, but the most fundamental means of recognizing these geologic settings is oriented around rock and mineral identification.

Another extremely relevant experience gained from this internship was acquired through artifact preservation, specifically with human bones. These bones have yet to undergo the fossilization process and for that reason are far more susceptible to being damaged. Gaining experience in both mending and Rhoplexing these human remains was like an extra challenging version of maintaining fossilized material. 

Victor and volunteer, Cathy, hard at work at Pig Point

My true passion is in the field. Like most others I find it most rewarding to be able to uncover items thought to be lost through time, whether it’s cultural artifacts or fossilized remains. The detail-oriented approach to excavation put into affect by the Lost Towns Project gave me a great respect for their dedication to preserving history. To the untrained eye it may appear to be overkill, but there is a vast importance in provenance and artifact distribution. I have already begun to implement this in my work as a paleontologist. Having just returned from a paleontology dig in Texas I can say without a doubt that this internship has influenced my approach to excavation, specifically through mapping. I utilized the methods I acquired through profile mapping to do a cross-section mapping of the dig site in Texas. This map will likely be involved in a paper I will be working on shortly.

The immediate influence that this internship has had me is astounding and I’m certain that it will continue to influence me as I continue on in my career. I had a great time working with this amazing group of archaeologists, interns, and volunteers. And I will most definitely find my way back to the site to aid in future excavations as a volunteer.

With great appreciation,

Victor Perez

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

My Experience as a Historic Preservation Intern with the Lost Towns Project

Meredith Gorres, a historic preservation graduate student at the University of Maryland-College Park, did a great job this past summer as a preservation intern with the Lost Town's Project. She had a multifaceted experience with us, including architectural and historical research, mapping, architectural field survey - she even made it out to Pig Point to dig with us! Thank you, Meredith!

Meredith Gorres, Historic Preservation Intern, Summer 2013

This summer, I worked as a historic preservation intern at the Lost Towns Project. Although an email was sent out to all the historic preservation graduate students at the University of Maryland about the internship later on in the spring semester, I found out about the internship from Stacy Poulos at the end of the fall 2012 semester and promptly sent in my application materials over winter break.

I am quite pleased with my decision to intern at Lost Towns. Even though I had the opportunity to take a paid internship, I chose this one because I put doing what I love above getting paid. I am very satisfied with the projects I got to work on and the fact that I got to perform more professional work, rather than simply making copies for the employees. Reflecting back on my interests and what I got to do over the course of the internship, I realized that everything I did this summer for Lost Towns is everything I enjoy about the preservation field: GIS, deed research, archaeology, general historical research, and map research. I learned how preservation works in the real world, and got a refresher course in GIS and archaeology. I had the opportunity to brush up on and apply what I learned in my first year of graduate school.

Since I live closer to the northern half of Anne Arundel County and my fellow historic preservation intern Sam Young lived closer to the southern half, I chose to survey the twelve properties in the mostly rural North County, and he chose the twelve properties in South County. I was initially a little wary of going out into the field on my own to survey, but everything went perfectly fine, and I had a great time doing it. I got to meet some great people, see some beautiful rural architecture, and really get to know the lay of the land. I found it truly amazing what a range of reactions people can have to finding out that their house is considered historic. The friends of the owners of the first house I stopped at were thrilled that their friends’ house was considered important, and they started telling me about a tobacco shed that used to stand on the property that had to be removed due to storm damage. The owner of another property was worried that his house being listed on the inventory would negatively affect making changes to or selling his house. At the other end of the spectrum was an owner I ended up talking to for over an hour. He had lived in the area for a while and knew quite a bit about everything, or so it seemed. He was thrilled that his house was considered important and told me all the changes that had been made to it since he bought it.

The main reason for researching these properties was to fill in the gaps in their digital and physical files. Some were missing tax parcel information, most needed their chains of title done, most of them needed context maps, and all of them needed up-to-date images, which was the reason for the surveying. Writing up the MIHP forms for these twelve houses was a little intimidating at first, but it ended up being a great refresher and definitely not as difficult as I thought it would be. I was a little disappointed that I couldn’t find out more about the boarded-up service station-looking building in Laurel that I was assigned, especially since it is more likely to be demolished than renovated.

The second half of the internship involved doing historical research on the suburb of Brooklyn Park, which is located between Baltimore City and Glen Burnie. The main purpose for researching this area was to identify where historic district lines should be drawn. I had to help identify more vs. less compromised areas in an attempt to determine what should be included and what should be left out. I used ProQuest to look up historical newspaper articles about the developer, John K. Culver, and Brooklyn Park in general. I discovered many colorful and amusing ads from the Baltimore Sun from 1916 and on into the 1920’s. Culver appeared to be famous for advertising lots like a used car salesman. He held all kinds of events (picnics with music, etc.) to try to get people to come out. He mainly targeted men in his ads, especially those who were interested in real estate speculation. He promised a profit if they bought his land today and sold it tomorrow.
In addition to looking up newspaper articles, I also studied some early maps of the area. I looked up the two earliest Sanborn maps for Brooklyn Park, 1932 and the 1942 update, and color-coded them based on whether they were single or two-story homes in order to try to differentiate the foursquares from the bungalows and to make patterns more obvious. It was not a fool-proof way, as not all two-story houses are foursquares and not all single-story houses are bungalows, so there was a margin of error. I colored the lots yellow if there was a detached garage on the property in order to show how prevalent the old-fashioned carriage house mentality was. I also printed out the plat maps of Culver’s five subdivisions and pieced them together to see what sections of Brooklyn Park were developed earlier or later. We scanned the plat maps and colorized Sanborn maps onto the computer and inserted them as layers into GIS, overlaying the modern landscape in order to get a better picture of how things have changed (or stayed the same) through time.

Jane thought originally that the houses in Brooklyn Park, mostly consisting of foursquares and bungalows, might be Wardway houses, as there was a Montgomery Ward warehouse and store across the river in Baltimore. However, I discovered that it did not open until 1925, so that was not too likely. I posted some pictures of some of the houses on the wall of the Sears Homes group I belong to on Facebook, and one of the members started picking out houses here and there that looked like plan houses. She identified a cluster of Standard Home Plans houses on 14th Street, which was farther south than we intended to place the southern historic district boundary. Whoever continues to work on this project will have to investigate the Standard Home Plans angle a little more, as I do not know much about that particular line of plan books. So I left my internship having suggested a southern boundary for the historic district, an eastern boundary (Governor Ritchie Highway), and a vague idea of where the north and west lines should be drawn. It was just the beginning of a very large project, so the final location of the boundaries will ultimately depend on whoever finishes it.

I hope that the contributions I made this summer will be a great help to those who continue what I started. It would make me very happy to know that even one building was saved because of the research I did this summer. Having worked with professional preservationists and getting to meet and talk to property owners, I feel much more prepared for my studio project this fall. I was impressed with how advanced Lost Towns is in the way of GIS. Uploading historical GIS layers is the wave of the future, and Lost Towns is blazing the trail. In conclusion, I had a great experience, and everyone I met and worked with was very friendly and accommodating. They welcomed me to come out and do some volunteer archaeology at Pig Point and to do some research for them if I ever need a paper topic. I would definitely recommend this organization to those looking for a fun yet productive and educational internship.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

My Story with the Lost Towns Project: An Intern's Perspective

Today's blog comes to us from Julia Hause, a summer intern out of Eckerd College in Florida.  Julia is a local girl who we first met last year working behind the counter at our lunch spot near Pig Point.  She decided to intern with us this summer, and we're so happy she took the time to blog about her 120 hour experience.  Thanks, Julia!   

Julia with a great find - a copper bead from Pig Point
My story with the Lost Towns Project starts with the small country deli up the street from Pig Point. If you have been to the site you may have had lunch there, which could possibly have been crafted by me! When I started at the deli last summer I told my boss how I just recently declared my undergrad Anthropology major, which was then followed up by the “What’s that?” question I get so frequently. As I was delving into the four subfields of Anthropology, archaeology came up as a topic and they briefly informed me of the dirty gang of people who show up every Tuesday and Friday for lunch ready to be fed. And just like they told me they would, the Anne Arundel County archaeologists showed up for lunch my first Friday shift. I didn’t know much about the Pig Point site at the time, but I was soon informed that the site was on family friend, Lisa and William Brown’s property. I had already gotten an internship and a job for that summer so I wasn’t able to get out to the site, but I anxiously waited for this summer to come around. So, the first week I was back from school this summer, I got in touch with the Browns and the Lost Towns Project volunteer coordinator, Jasmine, who directed me to the site that next Friday. Fortunately, my time with the project didn’t end with volunteering that day. Lost Towns has a rolling internship application and thanks to internship coordinator, Stephanie, I was able to concentrate my time into a wonderfully educational internship for the summer.

This was my first excavation field work experience and if I was to write all the things that I have learned over the past couple months, I don’t know if you’d ever leave this page. Having such a hands on experience in the field has allowed me not only to ask questions, learns skills and techniques, but to PRACTICE! All the troweling, feature excavating, plan view and profile mapping could not be taught only in a classroom. It takes getting out in the field and being exposed to all areas of archaeology more than once to get the practice to better skills and further knowledge and understanding of the site and archaeology as a whole.

Some things I didn’t expect to learn from my time in the field:
- Bags. Never have I seen so many plastic Ziploc bags in one concentrated area (but only because I’ve never been to a landfill). There are artifact BAGS, and BAGS for the artifact tags, and more BAGS depending on how the soil is screened and what is being found. There is a lot of plastic involved, but they are necessary to the process and I have noticed and participated in a significant amount of bag reusing and recycling which makes it more tolerable.

Many, many buckets of dirt from Pig Point units
- I saved money on a gym membership! Just imagine the workout you can get from working outside in the sun all day long, hauling buckets of dirt back and forth, lifting and dumping buckets, shoveling piles of dirt out AND back into the units...it’s exhausting! But it sure does make it feel worthwhile being so active and involved in a fascinating project.

- Lab work. I wasn’t too sure about lab work when I first started, simply because I love being outside and it was hard to fathom sitting indoors when we could be elbows-deep in a unit somewhere. But, I must say that I have enjoyed my time in the lab a lot! It’s really exciting to see the artifacts found in the field and then washing, rebagging and labeling them and knowing exactly where they were found on site and remembering what I learned that day about them.

- Short cleanup time. I love love love that everything stays relatively dusty and dirty. It makes cleanup so much faster! Which means more time spent in the field. I have learned something about myself by working at a restaurant and at the dig site simultaneously. I dislike excessive cleaning. Unlike a the deli, I don’t have to wash and sterilize every piece of equipment I use because it is most likely going to get even dirtier the next day. 

The beautiful Patuxent River marsh in summer
- My favorite and what I least expected was learning so much about the place where I grew up. There is an incredible amount of history, knowledge, and mystery that goes along with the Pig Point site and the area that surrounds it. One of the coolest things for me is the realization that the Native people who lived here thousands of years ago utilized the Patuxent River with its perfect location and fruitful biodiversity. Discovering and trying to understand their life here has made me appreciate where I live so much more. 

And now, it being the end of my internship, I just want to thank all the staff members of the project, all the interns and volunteers I met, and the Browns for all they have taken the time to teach me throughout this summer. Hope to be back soon!!

Monday, July 29, 2013

Notable Moments from the 2013 Field Season: As of July 15

Thank goodness our dedicated intern, Pepper Mankey, decided to blog again! We love her. Here she describes a few notable experiences that have happened during her internship.  Thanks, Pepper!!!  Keep 'em coming. -Stephanie

For me, as an intern new to fieldwork, there have been many notable moments so far in the 2013 field season for the Lost Towns project. Here, straight from my journal, are a few of my favorites.
Bloggess, Pepper Mankey, excavating a pot break at the Wilson site in Galesville
Obviously, my favorites will include my very first day, on May 3. I was told to waterscreen, and shown how to do it by a fantastic long-term volunteer named Tom. Having only studied theory and analysis in my classes, I had absolutely no earthly idea what I was doing, but I was game to try! Tom and Stephanie showed me how to haul the buckets up, pour tons of water through the several pounds of mud, and get rid of all the dirt. Once all the dirt was gone, we pour the resulting pile of gravel, bits of bone, and other stuff into a mesh; called “kitty litter”; the name is apropos. This mesh gets sent to the lab, where, I later learned, some beleaguered (and eventually) cross-eyed intern has to sort through the tiny bits of stuff and try to make some sense of it all for sorting. I was soon teamed up with volunteer Carlee, a fellow California transplant and delightfully fun to chat with lady. Being entirely too fascinated with poking through things, we were admittedly slow at the process. But it was so unbearably fascinating! The Lower Block, for which we were waterscreening, is a midden pile for what can be guessed was a rather large gathering of Indians over many years. So there is a lot to find, both in artifacts as well as faunal remains. Carlee and I wanted to carefully poke through every single bucket’s contents like mad kids at a treasure hunt. I found my first human-made artifact; an incised piece of pipe, which just about made me explode with archaeological joy. I also found several teeth and a few mandibles from smaller mammals, as well as some long bones. After a while, the Lower Block washed their hands of our slowness and sent us to go annoy someone else…I mean, learn to fill out paperwork. What can I say? Waterscreening for the newbie is too fascinating to zip through it. Okay, I have since learned to get the job done without nitpicking over it. But that first day was eye opening, exhilarating, and amazing.

Naturally, there cannot be mention of notable moments without mentioning the first time I was allowed to trowel. Nervously clutching my virgin trowel, I was convinced I was going to screw it all up. And, okay, I made a lot of mistakes. But with the patient and even-mannered *cough* instruction by our field director, I eventually began to feel like I was making some progress. When I found my first real artifact… an honest-to-god flake! Whoopeeee! I got a round of ironic applause from several much-more-experienced volunteers. Yes, I was likely way too excited over a flake; but I will admit, I still feel a certain sentimental fondness for that unit. *grins*

Pig Point Point
Then there was the day I was digging in Pit 3 [one of the mortuary pits at Pig Point] and I found an intact stone point, retooled into a knife. That was an amazing find. I really would like to hear more about the analysis on that point, since it was really beautiful. At this point, I know little about it, but I do know that the excavation of it was thrilling.

Pot Break Excavated by Pepper (note the awesome, personalized trowel)
Of course, we mustn’t forget the possible chamber pot that was excavated at Wilson, a historical site that dates to the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. That has not yet been mended, so its form is yet to be seen. However, the maker’s mark on the bottom DOES say “Toiletware”. I’ll keep you posted.

But really, what makes this internship so notable is not just the small moments, but the overall picture. For one thing, this is a really fun, fantastic, and scarily intelligent group of people. Every single member of the long-term team, both in staff and in the returning volunteers, has gifts to bring to the cohesive whole. I can’t imagine this group with any one person missing, since each and every person has their own passions and knowledge to bring in. It’s like the cast of the original Star Trek: I mean, can you imagine the bridge without Sulu? Engineering without Scotty? This team has that same “wholeness”. And I love being a part of it. (Yes, that was a geek reference. Go ahead, laugh. I won’t mind.)

I am learning about both historic and prehistoric archaeology as well as the local history of the area. I am gaining a better understanding and learning in greater depth about the archaeology done in my area, as well as the comparison and contrast between the sites in Anne Arundel county as compared to other areas in the Chesapeake region. The site reports uploaded online are a fascinating read, and give a thorough background as to where the Lost Towns Project has been before, and I have even enjoyed reading those. In my view, this is the best internship I could have chosen, because I do get the best of all these worlds, as well as just having a messy, filthy, sunburned good time.

Monday, July 15, 2013

A Summer 2013 Intern Experience (So Far!)

Hi All! It's been almost a year since we last blogged, but I asked the 2013 summer interns if anyone would like to write a post about their experiences. Pepper Mankey submitted this entry about her internship (so far). Pepper is about to graduate with her B.A. in Anthropology from University of Maryland and is getting 6 field school credits with this internship.  This requires her to put in over two months of time with us, but as you can read below, she's getting a lot out of our program!  -Stephanie

What I have learned (so far) from interning at Lost Towns:
  • Don’t step on the edge of the unit.
  • If there is a cool artifact lurking an inch under the surface, [field director] Shawn’s spidey sense will alert him, and he’ll magically take over in a “teaching moment” and be the one to find it.
  • Mapping is a laborious process, but a year later when you’re trying to sort out the paperwork, it is a lifesaver.
  • Did I mention not to step on the edge of the unit?
  • The thrill the first time you discover something in the water screen, the dry screen, or the dirt you’re troweling through cannot be described.  It’s amazing.
  • The kinds of people who sort their M&M’s by color before eating them would love doing lab time, sorting and rebagging the artifacts.
  • Fieldwork creates some of the most interesting tan lines.
  • Seriously.  Don’t step on the edge of the unit.
In my internship (so far!) at the Lost Towns project, I have acquired sunburns, blisters, aching muscles, stained-beyond-redemption clothes, new calluses, aching joints, and nicely toned arms. I have also gotten to spend time with one of the most amazing groups of people I’ve ever had the privilege to learn from and spend many happy hours in idle conversation with. I’ve learned how to draw a planview, (but not yet a profile), how to map a unit, and (theoretically) how they dig shovel test pits. I’ve also learned to use dryer sheets, of all things, to repel mosquitoes and that my trowel needs to be sharpened regularly. Of course, I’ve learned how to trowel in clay and in sand, two very different mediums that require some pretty knack-y techniques, and how to excavate a feature as opposed to a strata, and the difference between an “arbitrary” level (excavated in tenths of feet) and a “natural” stratum (following the soil colors). I have gotten my eyeballs up on how to actually look at soil colors, something I never really thought about before in practice, having only learned the theoretical applications in school (and it’s a whooooole different ballgame in the field.)

This has been one of the greatest experiences of my archaeology-student career. Having spent many, many hours in labs doing sorting, labeling, cataloging, data entry, and analyzing, I was starting to get pretty bored with the whole lab-only aspect. However, interning at Lost Towns has been my first field-work experience and I was astonished at how much I have fallen completely in love with it from the very first day! Every artifact discovered has been a visceral thrill, and every mistake made (and I have made plenty) has been a learning experience.

I can’t say that I have a favorite moment. What I do have, however, is a favorite artifact: the first one that I ever touched. It was my first day on the dig at Pig Point, and I was waterscreening. Whilst pounding gallons of water through thick black dirt, I came upon an incised potsherd. It was absolutely beautiful. Incised with lines and dots, I was astonished at the pure beauty of this piece, despite being only a small portion of the pot. At that moment, pulling this bit of pottery out of the dirt in the screen, I knew I had found where I wanted to be….. reclaiming this knowledge, history, and humanity from the depths of the earth. I knew I had discovered the reason I had spent all those hours in classes. It was to bring the past back into the present and make it relevant.

I was told later that it was a portion of carved pipe. That fascinates me, to think of some prehistoric person smoking on this pipe, just as many people do today, and to ponder what they thought about, prayed for, yearned for while this pipe was smoked. What did they dream about? What did they smoke for; pleasure, or ceremony? The mind boggles at the million possibilities.

And that’s why I love it.

Pepper's Carved Pipe Fragment from Pig Point

Pepper Hard at Work

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

"Oh my gosh, your Gorget!"

Wow, it's been a while since we've posted a blog!  We've been working like crazy this summer with our summer interns and volunteers at Pig Point and London Town discovering all sorts of new information about our local history.  At London Town, we're working on finding out as much as we can about the footprint of Rumney's Tavern while also looking for the associated out buildings (like the kitchen or stables).  London Town plans to re-construct Rumney's once the Carpenter's Shop is finished, which will be really exciting! 

Pig Point continues to amaze us with it's artifacts and features.  Just yesterday, our staffer Stacy found a beautiful (and complete!) banded slate gorget or pendent!  The material most likely comes from Ohio, which demonstrates the connections between Pig Point and the Ohio River valley that must have been in place about 2,000 years ago. 

In case you're itching to get your hands dirty with history, we'll be having our last Public Dig Day of the summer at London Town on Saturday, August 4th from 9am until 2pm.  It's a free, all ages event!  Hope you can make it!

Stay Cool!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Lost Towns family volunteer programs featured in local magazine!

The Lost Towns Project's family archaeology opportunities are currently featured in April's issue of the Chesapeake Family Magazine.  The article, Digging into Maryland's past, highlights the ways that parents can help get their kids into history--by getting their hands dirty! 

Lost Towns archaeologist, Jessie Grow, is also featured in the article because her interest in her chosen career was fueled by experiences featured in the article.  Specifically, such experiences include the upcoming Dig Day that Lost Towns will be hosting at London Town and Gardens.

The article in this month comes in time for Maryland's Archaeology Month.  The opportunities that are featured extend beyond the month of April and include contact information.

If you are interested in bringing in your family to volunteer, we have more information at our website: http://losttownsproject.org/signupvolunteer.htm.  You can contact Jessie, also the volunteer coordinator, by e-mail (volunteers@losttownsprojects.org) or phone (410-222-1318).

Internships are also available for high school students and university students.