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!

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