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!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Third Season Closing of Pig Point

Written by Stephanie Sperling, LTP Archaeologist

Al digs through the deep, sandy soils looking for a stratigraphic change.
  Notice the dark Woodland period horizons above the sandy
Archaic levels below.

After a productive and exciting 2011 dig season, we wrapped up fieldwork at Pig Point for the year.  Even though temperatures are still rather mild, it is difficult to dig into the deep, sandy blocks under the best of circumstances.  And the freeze/thaw cycle is a killer on the unit walls, sometimes resulting in total collapse.  So after nearly six feet of excavation in the newest block, it was time to close up and backfill.

The block was located next to an ancient spring that was used by the Native peoples at Pig Point.  This area of the site was later heavily utilized by the 18th century town residents, and we found deep post holes and a possible privy in the vicinity.  Despite the historic period disturbance, we found relatively intact prehistoric strata from the Late Woodland through the Late Archaic periods (ranging from about A.D. 1300 – 3500 B.C.).  Interestingly, we did not find any good diagnostic artifacts or features underneath the Late Archaic horizons, which is different from other parts of the site.  The sandy soils kept getting deeper and we saw no stratigraphic changes.  It seems likely that the spring must have been faster flowing during the Early and Middle Archaic, eroding this portion of the hill.    

We have plenty of lab work to keep us busy for the winter months.  Keep checking the blog for artifact updates or stop by the lab and see for yourself what we found last season!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Learning the Lab Process

This week's blog comes to us from intern Dan Martinez.  Dan just completed his internship and discusses our lab procedures and the life of an artifact as he learned it.  

Archaeology Lab at London Town

The lab process is extremely regimented and there are specific steps that guide the artifacts from the field to the display case if that be their fate. The artifacts arrive from the site in bags labeled with their provenience. The provenience of an artifact is the horizontal and vertical location where it was found based on the grid system established. Each bag of artifacts is labeled with a lot number that is specifically assigned to that strat. Lot numbers can be searched in the lot list and are probably the most important thing assigned. That lot number can be used to locate the provenience card which has important information about the strat including numerical values, soil types, notes, summaries of artifacts found, and drawings of features on the back.

Cleaned artifacts waiting
to be sorted 

Once these artifacts come into the lab they are quickly checked in by the site that they came from. The information from the bag is logged including site name, lot number, coordinates, bag contents, and number of bags. The second step of this process is to wash the artifacts. This can be a time consuming tender process depending on the artifacts in the lot. Care must be taken when washing pottery, fragile bone, and anything else that might be damaged. Artifacts that have been separated from the main bag such as in a film canister must receive extra caution. After the artifacts are washed they are separated by type on a screen to dry for at least 24 hours keeping in mind that some artifacts take longer to dry especially if they are large. This separation process places similar artifacts in the same pile (bricks with bricks, glass with glass, pottery with pottery, etc). After washing and sorting, the artifacts must be re-bagged which involves placing them in acid-free bags according to their arrangement. A label must be placed in the bag printed on acid-free paper from the laser printed and labeled with acid-free ink. The acid will deteriorate the artifacts given enough time. Small holes must be punched in the baggies to allow air circulation as the artifacts may harbor mildew if not allowed to ‘breathe.’
Labeling is the next procedure in this process which involves printing labels on acid free paper bearing the site number and lot number. If the artifacts are too small to label with the full tag only the lot number may be used as this is more valuable overall.  Labeling in my opinion can be somewhat tedious and frustrating depending on the size of the artifacts. Small pieces of pottery, bone, and flakes can be challenging.
The last step in this process is cataloging in which the exact quantity and weight of artifacts are entered into a table to make an analysis of the site through each unit easier. Cataloging was not extremely difficult after referring to the binder that contained the abbreviations for each type.

Dan in the deep
Pig Point units

One final procedure I learned in the lab was water screening. This involves using a fine 1/16 inch window mesh to screen the soil for tiny artifacts that would be otherwise missed. Water is necessary to push the soil through this fine mesh and this process can be quite messy. After screening the soil through, the artifacts were dumped into clean mesh with a tag showing the site and lot number and tied up to dry. These may have some extra steps including picking through the pile of miniscule pebbles with tweezers looking for beads and small finds.

Monday, November 14, 2011

ACT Awards

Written by guest blogger and previous recipient of the Archaeology Volunteer Award, Barry Gay
The awards were presented on October 12, 2011 at the Galesville, Maryland Community Center.  The awards ceremony was chaired by Willard R. Munford, Chairman of the Anne Arundel Trust for Preservation, Inc.
This year, the Archaeology Volunteer Award was presented to Patricia Melville, a volunteer with the Lost Towns Project since 2010.  Before retiring, Pat was an archivist at the Maryland State Archives.

This year, a special achievement Award was presented to Jane McWilliams of Bay Ridge.  Jane is a professional historian, writer and lecturer who specializes in the history of Annapolis and Anne Arundel County.

This year, a Preservation Stewardship Award was presented to Myles Conway.  Myles purchased the historic “Friendship Parsonage’ building, in Friendship last year and was steadfast in working to rehabilitate the building into an antique store.

The 31st Marjorie Murray Bridgeman Award was presented to Ann Jensen.  Ann has been writing about history for more than 35 years.  Her books include Chesapeake Bay Schooners, a comprehensive history.  Ann does not write about history, she lives in it as caretaker of the Sands House, one of the city’s oldest homes, owned by her family since 1771.

The 36th Orlando Rideout prize honors the name of the Anne Arundel County native who served as first director of the Maryland Historical trust and continues to lead in preservation efforts  in the preservation of the architectural heritage of Anne Arundel County.  This year, the award is presented to the Galesville Community Center.
Some of the students that attended the school between 1929 and 1956

Unique Find at London Town

Earlier this month, a unique 3 cent coin was discovered at London Town.  Volunteer Erika Franz and her daughter were there for this find and later did some very thorough research on the coin.  Erika posted her research on her blog, "Brush Off the Dust!  History Now!"  Check it out here: http://erikafranz.wordpress.com/2011/11/02/the-discovery-of-mom-and-daughter-volunteer-archaeologists/

We love our volunteers!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Autumn at Pig Point

Written by Stephanie Sperling, LTP Archaeologist

We are in the process of wrapping up the 2011 Pig Point field season after a rough September.  Back to back hurricanes and over 23 inches (!) of rain caused serious damage to the site, resulting in slumped walls and major clean up time.  Before the floods, we excavated the new Upper Block units through 15 levels and finished nearly five feet below the ground surface.  We were FINALLY hitting non-cultural horizons about one foot beneath a hearth that radiocarbon dated to over 9,000 years old.  No diagnostic artifacts were found in these levels, but several pieces of debitage suggest that we may actually have intact Paleoindian horizons at the site.  We'll keep looking for those levels in 2012.

In the meantime, Shawn has been excavating four new Lower Block units.  He made it through the Woodland period midden and has recently been investigating thick Late Archaic horizons that are filled with projectile points.  This assemblage will make an interesting comparison with the Archaic triangles and Piscataways found during the 2009 season (check out Al, Jessie, and Shawn's paper about this topic here: http://www.losttownsproject.org/publications/articles/Triangle%20points%20-%20Luckenbach,%20Grow,%20and%20Sharpe.pdf).  Two weeks ago, he discovered several large quartz rocks set in a pit that may date to the Middle Archaic time period.  One of the stones weighed at least 25 lbs and was surrounded by hammerstones and quartz debitage.  Quartz cobbles like this can be found within a day's journey of Pig Point but not on the sandy bluff itself.  We think this might be local material hauled to Pig Point by the Middle Archaic residents to use as an on-site quartz quarry!  This could also partially explain the pounds and pounds of quartz debitage found in Middle Archaic horizons across the site. 

Quartz cobbles during excavation

Quartz cobbles partially exposed (we paused excavation between
arbitrary levels)

New excavation block showing prehistoric
and historic features

At the end of the season, we opened up a block of six new units near an ancient spring that was most likely used by the prehistoric residents of the site.  We found more of the Woodland period midden and several hearths and post hole features, along with large Townsend pot breaks, in the Late Woodland horizons.  This area of the site was also used by the colonial residents of Pig Point as their main thoroughfare to the Patuxent River.  Called Blue Shirt Road, this swale was used for nearly 200 years by people making their way to the bustling wharf and town in the lowlying area of the site.  Subsequently, we have found several historic period levels and a number of colonial artifacts near the edge of the road.  This is interesting because we have excavated relatively little left during the town period, which lasted from the early 18th century through the early 20th century.
Erin excavating Townsend pottery found in the new excavation block

Stop by the lab this winter and check out some of the amazing things we found in 2011.  We are up to over 250,000 artifacts after three field seasons! 

-Steph (and our newest Lost Towns Project staff member, Sam!  He even has his own trowel!  Thanks, Erin)

Friday, September 9, 2011

Monocacy Battlefield and Best Farm field trip

Written by Suzanne Duvall, Lost Towns Project intern. 

During my internship, Lauren Schiszik, internship coordinator, organized two field trips. I was only able to go to one of them: Monocacy Battlefield in Frederick. After a tour of the battlefield we went to the Best Farm, and toured a slave village that is currently being excavated by archaeologists with the National Park Service.

I know that Monocacy Battlefield isn’t as famous as nearby Gettysburg or Antietam, but if not for this battle, the South may have risen and overcome the North during the Civil War. The Confederacy was trying to overtake Washington, D.C., approaching from north of Frederick, MD. Union troops intercepted at the Monocacy River outside of Frederick. The Confederate Army were able to push back the Northern troops and win the battle of Monocacy. But in the end, the North really won, because the Battle of Monocacy slowed the Confederate troops long enough to get enforcements to protect Washington, D.C., stopping the Confederacy’s plan to overtake the Capitol.
Interns Madelyn Santa (above) and Alex Zerphy (below) both try out being a young soldier in Monocacy's Visitor Center.

After we learned the history of the battle and driven around the battlefield, we took a tour of the Best Farm slave village. The National Park Service archaeologists at Monocacy Battlefield are finishing up another summer season excavating the site, and graciously gave us an in-depth tour of the slave village and the Best Farmhouse. Best Farm is located on what is now Monocacy Battlefield, though it predates the battlegrounds by over 100 years. It was interesting because it was very different from any other plantation built in the 1700s in Frederick.

Interns take a break on the front steps of the Best Farmhouse.

Best Farm is what remains of a much larger plantation owned by the Vincendière family, who had been sugar plantation owners in the Caribbean. During the late 1700’s there were slave riots in Haiti and they fled the country to protect themselves. When they arrived in Maryland they modeled their new plantation, L'Hermitage, off of their plantation in Haiti. The Manor House design was different from typical homes in this part of Maryland, because the family designed it to look like their home in Haiti. That meant that the Manor House had tall ceilings and big windows. Maryland, as we all know, has hot summers and cold winters, and the Vincendières design for the house did not protect them from the weather, but made winters very cold and summers very hot. 

Another difference from typical Maryland plantations was that the slave quarters were placed in front of the Manor House for all to see, along a road. Generally in Maryland in the 1700s, slave quarters were located behind the house, or by the fields. The Vincendières could view the slave quarters at all times from their house, making sure that their slaves knew they were being watched both by their owners. The Vincendières didn’t want their slaves to riots. Immigration records from that time indicate that plantation owners coming from the Caribbean couldn’t bring more than 10-12 slaves into America. Since slaves in the Caribbean were rioting, Americans didn’t want their slaves to get the same notions. So they controlled the immigration numbers, in hopes of controlling the slaves. The Vincendière family brought the maximum number of slaves into America with them.

However, the Vincendieres didn’t waste their time purchasing new slaves once they settled in Frederick. The plantation records show that there were around 100 slaves, yet there was no known commercial trade at the plantation. That means that the family really only needed 20-30 slaves to handle the crops grown on that plantation, not 100 slaves. The archaeologists are making discoveries that might explain the reason for the large amount of slaves owned by the family. However, what is known is that the slaves were treated horribly, based on written records. 

Kate Birmingham, NPS archaeologist, gives us a tour of the slave village. Note the overseer's house in the distance.
We were taken on a tour of the slave village, where we saw the remains of a few of the quarters, including the stone hearth of one of the five slave buildings. While the slave village was under direct watch of the Plantation owners, recent excavations show that the communal kitchen area was located behind the slave’s quarters, out of view from the Vincendières. This shows that the slaves were trying to take any piece of their lives back from their owners. This revelation was a glimpse into the lives of the slaves, and the lives they endured.
All in all it was a day full of exciting war stories, and an interesting history of the Best Farm. The battle at Monocacy changed the course of the Civil War, and the Vincendière’s are a mystery to archaeologists trying to uncover their life in the late 1700’s.

Learn more about the excavations of the Best Farm Slave Village here.

The Lab Life of an Artifact

 Written by Sarah Woodling, Lost Towns Project intern

In most cases of archaeological work, the field gets the spotlight. After all, that is where the cool stuff is found. But what happens after that? Where does the cool stuff go? Off to the lab, of course! Lab work is a part of the process as much as fieldwork, though it hardly gets the attention it deserves. Without it, there would be cases upon cases upon cases of dirty pieces of rock that someone, somewhere found in a hole that one time, and none of it would be of use to anyone.

The laboratory work at London Town is a step-by-step process of washing, identifying, labeling and cataloging, and each step is equally important. When artifacts come in from the field, they are in labeled plastic bags. The labels contain information such as: the site number (for London Town: 18AN48, and Pig Point: 18AN50), the lot number, the unit or feature number, the stratum, the coordinates, and, in most cases, the date it came out of the ground. Each bag is checked in and set on the ‘to be washed’ shelf. And here we have the first step in lab work: washing. Using strainers and tubs in deep sinks, artifacts are carefully wet-brushed, which means they are scrubbed with a toothbrush or something similar to get the excess dirt off. Ensuring this first step is done well makes life far easier down the line. So now, we are left with clean artifacts but before anything else can be done with them, they have to sit out overnight and dry completely.

Step two is where the now clean and dry artifacts are sorted and re-bagged. Archaeologists take a look at each item that was collected from the field and decide if, first of all, it is actually an artifact. Sometimes ordinary pebbles and other non-cultural rocks end up in the trays to be sorted and they are thrown out. If the item is an actual artifact, we then sort it by type. Bones, shell, and other organic materials must be sorted from the quartz, quartzite, quartz conglomerate and other rocks, and in turn, each of those must be separated, until you have many different piles of similar artifacts. That includes, but is not limited to: fire cracked rock (FCR), chert, earthenware, stoneware, porcelain, flakes, shatters, rhyolite, brick, nails, and many other different things that we find at our dig sites. When each pile is placed into a new bag, every individual bag is given its own bag tag, and the provenience is written on the outside of the bag in permanent marker.

Labeling the artifacts themselves comes next. This third step is probably the most time-consuming, but it is very useful. Using a non-harmful adhesive, a tiny strip of paper with the site and lot number on it is glued to each artifact. This allows the artifacts to be removed from their bags and looked at, and helps immensely when it comes to putting them all away. It also serves as a safety measure, just in case the bag and bag tag are both lost or mixed up. This is important because an artifact, no matter how fascinating it may be, is only as important as the context in which it was found. Without that, artifacts are just nice to look at and don’t provide clues to what was happening in that time period. After the glue is applied, the artifacts must again sit out for several hours or overnight to allow time to dry.

The fourth and final step is cataloging. In order to make sure that all of the work that went into to washing, rebagging, and labeling the artifacts does not go to waste, the bags are cataloged. The boxes eventually go into storage and if they are not cataloged correctly, trying to retrieve them can be virtually impossible. This also provides a way to easily look at the broader spectrum of what was found in larger areas, as opposed to confined to what was found in one lot number. This gives more context and allows for hypotheses to be made about the area and the people who lived there.

Perhaps we should not give lab work the short end of the attention stick - that’s where half the important stuff happens!

Comparative Anatomy

Written by Rachelle Epstein, Lost Towns intern.

As a subfield of anthropology, archaeology uses several of the techniques of physical anthropology, the study of the physical development of the human species, to answer its many confounding questions. It is the same here at the Lost Towns Project! This summer, we have worked on the historic site of Rumney’s Tavern at London Town in addition to the prehistoric site at Pig Point, and in both of these sites we have come across fragmentary remains of animals past. If we are able to identify the remains of these animals, we may be able to determine what our ancestors here were hunting and eating. However, this is not quite as simple as it sounds. In an effort to figure out what animals these bones belong to, we must have similar remains to compare them with. So, here at the Lost Towns Project, we are using the methods of Comparative Anatomy to answer our questions.

Raccoon skeleton used for comparing with new bones that we find.

Comparative anatomy was first established by Georges Cuvier in France in 1800. Today, archaeologists and physical anthropologists alike use this method to study physical features among animal species. These shared or different characteristics among animals are used to reconstruct a fossil species from usually incomplete remains. We have found many of these remains at both of our active sites this summer, and in an effort to figure out who these little mammals are, we are working hard in the lab to assemble the remains of many small mammals for comparison. The picture shown is of a recently deceased raccoon, who we have reassembled and labeled so that we can compare the sizes and shapes of his bones to those we found this summer, and those we find in the future!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Baltimore Sun features Pig Point

The Baltimore Sun published another article about Pig Point on Sunday, August 14, explaining some of our recent discoveries about the site. Check it out! If you haven't been to the site in a while, come out for a visit when we're out there. Contact Jessie to get the schedule.

Exciting News from Pig Point!

This summer at Pig Point, LTP intern Elizabeth Fuhr worked in the Upper Block and got to spend some time digging a feature that is the source of some incredibly exciting news! Liz authored the post below:

In July, a small feature at Pig Point (18AN50) was excavated. This feature, now known as Feature 178, was found intruding into Stratum 12 in Unit 70. It was found to contain ash and charcoal. The charcoal was sent to a lab to be carbon dated and we recently received the results. The charcoal dates back to BC 7340 - 7070, over 9000 years ago! This dates this feature back to the Early Archaic.
Radiocarbon dating is a technique utilized by many archaeologists. This technique involves measuring the loss of the isotope Carbon-14. This isotope accumulates during the life of organisms. At death, the isotope will decay at a constant rate; in which the half life is 5730 years. By measuring the amount of the isotope left within the organism, the age of the organism can be found.

Elizabeth Fuhr holds a projectile point that she found
on site! 

This is not only the oldest date from good context we have from Pig Point, but it is also the oldest date from good context in the state of Maryland. The difference between a good and bad context is determined by the location in which the material is located. A good location has direct cultural connections: the carbonized material is found in an intact feature and the feature hasn't been disturbed by animals or other similar things. Older carbon-14 dates exist in Maryland, but not with direct cultural associations like Feature 178.

A Kirk Palmer point was found about 15 feet away from the feature, and temporally coincides very well with Feature 178. This point was found on top of heavy gravel while Feature 178 intruded into the gravel.

This new date is wonderful news for Pig Point, the Lost Towns Project, and archaeology in Maryland!

Friday, July 29, 2011

Interns Blog: Piscataway Drill

For this blog, intern Stephanie Baldwin writes about an artifact that caught her eye in the field...

Piscataway Drill (rose quartz) – Late Archaic Period

Drill modified from a Piscataway point.
I chose to write about the Piscataway Drill that was found July 12, 2011 at Pig Point (18AN50) in Feature 11 Stratum G of Unit 51. Although I was working in Unit 80, not the feature that this point was found, the beauty of this point found at the same site sparked my interest in Late Archaic projectile points. This drill is made of a beautiful rose quartz. At the bottom of the drill there is a darker hue of rose/pink, and it gradually lightens into a light rose/pink at the tip.

This drill/knife could have possibly been made as a projectile point and re-sharpened into a drill or had been originally made as a drill. Although the tip of the drill/knife is broken off, it is evident to see that it has a drill shape to it. The term Piscataway [Stemmed] Points was coined by Stephenson, et al. in 1963. In the book Material Culture from Prehistoric Virginia, Wm Jack Hranicky explains the basic description of the Piscataway Points: “Stemmed; it is a small-to-medium, long and narrow point with contracting and pointed stems. Bases are usually pointed but rounded bases do occur” (614). This points date to the Late Archaic Period (3500 B.C. – 1000 B.C.).

A recent paper written by Al Luckenbach, Jessie Grow, and Shawn Sharpe explains some very interesting findings associated with Piscataway [Stemmed] Points. This paper describes the stratigraphy and chronology of the Pig Point site and discusses the regional implications of the results obtained for Piscataway and triangular points (Luckenbach et al.: 3). While triangle points are commonly associated with the Late Woodland period (A.D. 900 – A.D. 1650), triangle points at Pig Point are being found in situ and associated with Piscataway points from the Archaic period. This indicates that triangle points were used in at least two different periods of prehistory.    

Originally the beauty of this point caught my eye, but now the history behind this point makes it so much more fascinating! It proves what archaeologists' say, “It’s not what you find, but what you find out.”

Friday, July 15, 2011

Two new Patch Articles

Photo of Pat Melville taken by David Pecor
for the Volunteer Q&A article.
The Edgewater-Davidsonville Patch published two more articles about Pig Point and the Lost Towns Project this week. Part III is about lab work and volunteer and internship opportunities. The final article is a Q&A with our volunteer Pat Melville. Both are fantastic and you can check them out below!  


Friday, July 8, 2011

Death of a Digloo

Shawn and Erin take a break from excavating to help take down the Digloo frame.
 Written by Lauren Schiszik, LTP Staff

It's the end of an era at London Town. Yesterday, the Rumney's Tavern Digloo (translation: igloo that we dig in) was dismantled. After more than a decade of sheltering the earthen cellar-hole of Rumney's Tavern, it was taken down in preparation for bigger and better things. The Rumney/West Tavern will be reconstructed in the same manner as the Lord Mayor's Tenement and the Carpenter's Shop at London Town.  Before we do that, however, we need to excavate more postholes to figure out what exactly the footprint of the building should be. Some of the postholes were inaccessible because the digloo frame was on top of them! Now that it's gone, we can excavate and analyze the postholes and determine the chronology of building constructions, additions, and demolitions related to Rumney's. It's going to be a busy field season at London Town - and it doesn't look quite the same. Come check it out! 

Friday, July 1, 2011

A Day out in the Field

This summer, we are having our interns write blogs about their experiences doing archaeology. I am posting this one a bit belatedly - sorry Patrick!
- Lauren

Written by Patrick Collins, Lost Towns Project Intern

From left to right: Interns Patrick Collins and Jillie Drutz help
Steph fill out paperwork at Pig Point. 
Today, Thursday, June 16, 2011, was an interesting day out in the field at Londontown. I learned more about digging into a feature, which is where a post was most likely placed in the past when people such as American Indians or British settlers were constructing things such as wigwams or houses. I also learned once more about how exactness, in terms of things such as measurements, is crucial when it comes to excavating. I also learned how an area that has been dug into, such as a feature, cannot be dated solely by an artifact that has been found within it. An archaeologist that I was working with mentioned how a coin that could say 1700 on it could be found in a stratum or layer in the ground that is from a time much later than 1700.
Later on I then continued waterscreening, which is something that I am very familiar with now. Waterscreening involves basically a net and a hose, and it is used for separating dirt from artifacts by spraying dirt away from the artifacts until the dirt filters through the net and only pieces of gravel and artifacts remain above the net. Today was an interesting day for waterscreening because I found some interesting artifacts such as pieces of plates that were most likely used by the colonial settlers at Londontown. I also found a piece of pottery, which I believe may have come from American Indian origin, and I found a bunch of bones from another pile of dirt that I waterscreened as well. 

Part II of Pig Point article

Hi folks -

Here's the link to the second part of the Edgewater-Davidsonville Patch article on Pig Point.


Check out the photo gallery too - there are some great shots. Happy reading and enjoy the Fourth of July weekend! 

- Lauren

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Article about Pig Point in the Edgewater Patch!

Hello lovely blog followers! Our excavations at Pig Point have been featured in an article in the Edgewater Patch, an online news source. It's a two-parter, and we'll post the second part tomorrow! 



Thursday, June 16, 2011

Archaeology through the Eyes of an Intern

Written by Jillie Drutz, Lost Towns Intern

I’ve been studying it for two years, never having picked up a trowel and itching to finally get out in the field and really learn the art of archaeology. My love and fright of anthropology propelled me to do this internship with the Lost Towns Project. After spending two days in the field at Pig Point and one day at the archaeology lab in Londontown, I found out that it was nothing like what I expected. Nonetheless, it was still amazing and I was right about one thing: the history came alive.

At Pig Point, the wonderful archaeologists and volunteers patiently taught me the basics. I learned how to dry and water screen for artifacts, excavate a unit, and fill out a provenience card by measuring and recording elevation, and analyzing artifact content and soil. In the world of archaeology, the most important thing is context (location, location, location of course). While taking all of the meticulous recordings and measurements and carefully troweling the unit, it was difficult to understand exactly why this was important. It wasn’t until we finished excavating a specific stratigraphic layer of a unit, that I realized that stratum was destroyed. Those meticulous measurements preserved the material history.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Kicking off the Summer Field Season

Written by staff member Lauren Schiszik, Internship Coordinator

This past week, we had a great start to the summer field season, with an orientation for our summer archaeology interns on Thursday, June 2, and our Saturday Dig Day at London Town on June 4. While we don't have the record-breaking 17 interns that we had last summer, we are still in the double-digits with 14 interns. The majority are doing archaeology, two are doing historic preservation, and one is doing historical research. The students bring a broad range of backgrounds and interests, and range from high school to college graduates. We are happy to host all of them and are looking forward to a productive and educational summer!

Dr. Al teaches interns about archaeology in Anne Arundel County
at the intern orientation.

This season, we are trying something new. Interns will be writing weekly blogs, so that readers can get a fresh perspective on our excavations. Look for the first intern blog entry next week!

We're focusing our excavations this summer on Pig Point and Rumney's Tavern at London Town, and would love to have volunteers come and join us! Alternatively, you can take the "armchair archaeologist" approach and read about our finds here throughout the summer from the comfort of your air-conditioned office or home. 


Monday, June 6, 2011

Exciting finds from Pig Point and London Town

Written by staff member Stephanie Sperling; Photos by volunteer Barry Gay:
Two bottles found in the pit; circa 1880 (left)
and circa 1680 (right)
 For those of you who missed Dig Day at London Town last Saturday, let me tell you about two of our really interesting finds.  First, as field director Shawn and former intern Mark (making a guest appearance for dig day) dug through the deep pit behind Rumney's Tavern, they came across a soil horizon that contained two large bottle fragments.  Oddly enough, one dated to the late nineteenth century while the other dated to the late seventeenth century!  Finding these two bottles about nine feet below the ground surface means that the pit must have been filled in sometime around 1880, but how did an intact bottle neck from 200 years earlier also end up there?  Right now, Dr. Al's working theory is that this might have been a brick-lined colonial well robbed out in the 1880s.

Shawn and Mark measure their excavation depth in the deep pit

Revolutionary War pewter button from
London Town cast with the letters "USA"
Erin also found a really neat Revolutionary War-period button in the screen.  This pewter button is in remarkably good shape considering its age and that it came from the plow zone (we often find degraded, crumbling pewter resulting from centuries spent in the harsh London Town soil).  This particular button was cast with the letters "USA" on the front and dates to the late 1770s or early 1780s.  This style was typical of George Washington's Continental Line infantry and was found in a unit dug just north of Rumney's Tavern.

Middle Woodland period pipe from Pig Point
We continue to find amazing artifacts this season at Pig Point.  Last week, we found a highly unusual pipe fragment in Middle Woodland context in the large midden.  This striking pipe bowl has incised rectangles and squares above several horizontal lines, making it the most elaborately decorated pipe fragment yet found at the site.  Interestingly, it looks very similar to a Middle Woodland pipe found at the Abbott Farm site near Trenton, NJ.  Pig Point has been called a "sister site" to Abbott Farm for several reasons.  Both are located in similar riverine settings and each has contributed greatly to the knowledge of regional prehistory.  Also, both sites are deeply stratified and seem to have particularly interesting Middle Woodland components.

Middle Archaic hearth in profile; note the debitage
and fire-cracked rock scattered around it

Finally, I am thrilled to report we just got a radiocarbon date back from a deep hearth feature discovered in early May.  The charcoal recovered from this ancient firepit produced a calibrated date of 4560-4460 BC!  That means this was used sometime about 6400-6500 years ago, placing it squarely in the Middle Archaic time period.  This hearth was found under a dense layer of debitage and worked flakes about 2.5 feet below the ground surface, and you can see in the picture that it plunged over a foot deep.  This is our first Middle Archaic feature at the site, further proving that people have been living at Pig Point for thousands of years.   

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Dig Day this Saturday

Come one, come all to Dig Day at London Town this Saturday, June 4.  Open from 9am-2pm, activities include tours of the archaeology lab and the field site, a chance to see artifact collections from London Town and Pig Point, and the opportunity to get dirty helping staff with hands-on field activities.  Don't miss this free event! 

Here's a link to the Historic London Town and Gardens website for directions and more information about the park: http://www.historiclondontown.org/  Hope to see you all there!

Beautiful ceramics found in Rumney's Tavern excavations

Rumney's Tavern excavation with the National Historic Landmark William Brown house in the background

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Middle Woodland III Report Finished!

Written by staff member Stephanie Sperling:

As many of you know, I've spent the better part of 2011 working on the final report for the Pig Point site.  I'm happy to say that the report is finished and has been sent to the Maryland Historical Trust (our grantor) for comments.  Thank you to everyone who helped!  I couldn't have completed it without you.  Thanks especially to volunteer Pat Melville who put together the most comprehensive historical summary of Pig Point ever written.  Pat worked for the Maryland Archives for many years, and I am so grateful that she used her extensive research skills to summarize countless land records, wills, and court proceedings into an accessible narrative.  Thank you!  

While the Town period of Pig Point lasted for nearly 300 years, our excavations have centered on the thousands of years of prehistoric occupation (or the Native American occupation that happened before contact with Europeans).  That was also the main focus of my report.  Based on the artifact assemblage and the seven feet (!) of intact stratigraphy, we can certainly state that people have been living at Pig Point for about 10,000 years.  Incredible!  Anyone is welcome to read the report, but for those of you without the time for a 200+ page document, I'll sum up a few of the more interesting points here.

A reconstruction of a Woodland period house at Pig Point

First, I should say that nearly every prehistoric period in the mid-Atlantic region is well represented at Pig Point.  Archaeologists break down the millennia of prehistoric time into different periods based on changing artifacts and lifeways.  For example, the Archaic period extends from about 7500 B.C. – 1000 B.C. and was a time of hunting and gathering after the last Ice Age.  People adapted to a changing climate by utilizing every part of the landscape during different seasons, and gradually they became more sedentary.  Thousands of projectile points and stone tools were left behind that tell us about the different activities taking place during this long time period.  The appearance of clay pottery marks the beginning of the Woodland period (from 1000 B.C. – A.D. 1650), when people settled down for much of the year in base camps or villages.  Eventually, agriculture developed and the villages became larger as the population grew.

Excavation of the 8,000 year old pits found
beneath the Woodland midden

Pig Point saw heavy occupation during both the Archaic and the Woodland periods.  It has always been an appealing place to live!  The rich resources of Jug Bay can still be harvested all year long (fish and shellfish, mammals and birds, marsh plants and nearby forest species), and countless freshwater springs provide a constant source of drinking water.  Last year, we excavated several features that informed us about what people were eating over the millennia.  For instance, we found two hearths dating to over 8,000 years ago that still contained hickory nut shells and white perch scales.  The charcoal found in these ancient firepits was successfully radiocarbon dated, producing the oldest dates ever in Anne Arundel County!  We also excavated more of the remarkable Woodland period midden (or an area of cooking and working stratified over 3,000 years), where we found tens of thousands of bones and shells from dozens of species.  We now know that by about A.D. 1200, the people of Pig Point were growing corn to supplement their diets.

A selection of artifacts from Pig Point: From top to bottom - Woodland period pot sherd; Projectile points made of non-local stone; a selection of bone tools; three incised gorgets

We have found over 200,000 artifacts from the site, ranging from animal bones to projectile points to beautifully decorated pottery, pipes, and adornments.  Some of the bones were worked into tools used for needles or soft hammers or were used for adornments (like canine teeth with holes drilled for necklaces).  The projectile points span 10,000 years and are made of both local and exotic stone (like Ohio chalcedony and Pennsylvania jasper).  Some of the clay pot sherds have exquisite decoration, as do several of the pipe fragments.  And a number of gorget fragments (a type of rectangular stone pendant) were marked with geometric lines by someone thousands of years ago.

If you would like to know more about the Pig Point site, please contact us and we’ll be happy to share more of our remarkable findings.  But the best way to learn about the site is to volunteer in the field or the lab.  We’re back in the field every Tuesday and Friday, come out to this beautiful site and join us sometime!


I love getting dirty in a feature!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Great press about Pig Point!

By Josh McKerrow, Annapolis Capital
Hi everyone - just wanted to let you all know that we got some great press about Pig Point in the Annapolis Capital on Sunday! You can read the article here.

The Capital also made a really neat slideshow of photos from the site of artifacts, staff, volunteers and interns, which you can also check out here.  

Monday, April 4, 2011

April Fools

Hi all - Hope you enjoyed our April Fools edition of the newletter that we put up on Friday. We've taken it down now, but if you missed it and want to see it, email Lauren to get a copy.

Enjoy the gorgeous weather today!

Friday, April 1, 2011

Spring Newsletter

Hi folks! We have a fresh new newsletter for all of you, so I hope you enjoy reading it on this rainy April day.

Check it out here:


Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Back in the field at Pig Point

It's been a long winter cooped up in the lab, so last Friday we made our first spring trip back to the field at Pig Point.  Since we still have to contend with freeze/thaw, we don't want to dig any unit too deep.  Otherwise, the sandy walls will literally slump and collapse!  Instead, we went over to the Glendening Nature Preserve to check out some depressions on the hill overlooking the site.  We were curious if these could be remains of a prehistoric activity or something stemming from the historic use of the area (extending back at least 350 years).  We found out they were likely created by the sand and gravel mining that took place in this area in the 20th century - not exactly the exciting archaeological find we were hoping for, but at least now we know! 

The test trench dug in the Glendening Preserve

Considering we didn't find anything in the trench, we decided to bury a volunteer!  I don't think we backfilled over him.  Hmm, better go back and check...

                                                                                                                                      We also took the first tentative steps toward excavating another block in the core of the site, although we only got through the upper historic fill horizons.  The discovery of three projectile points spanning the Woodland period has us very excited for what remains underneath!

We'll be back in the field occasionally throughout March, so call the lab at 410-222-1318 if you'd like to come out and volunteer.

ALSO - the Middle Atlantic Archaeological Conference (MAAC) is coming up next weekend, March 18-20.  Jessie and I will be participating in a Lithic Technology Workshop on Friday, and Al and Lauren are giving papers on Saturday (Al will be talking about the 2010 Pig Point findings and Lauren will be talking about our project researching the effects of sea level rise on archaeological sites).  If you're interested in attending, here's the website for more info: http://www.maacmidatlanticarchaeology.org/

Hope to see you soon!