Maryland’s “Archeological Synthesis” Project

by Matthew D. McKnight, Research Archeologist, Maryland Historical Trust

Synthesis Project ScreenshotAre you a student, weekend researcher, or preservation professional with an interest in Maryland archeology? Are you a professional archeologist looking to conduct some background research on a specific artifact or site type? Have you been confounded in the past by lack of access to so much of the CRM “gray literature”? If so, the Maryland Historical Trust (MHT) has a new online resource that may be of interest to you.

On Maryland Day (Wednesday, March 25th, 2015) the MHT’s Office of Archeology launched a new online tool to provide members of the public with greater access to data obtained through tax-payer funded and publically mandated archeological research. Funded by generous support from the MHT Board of Trustees and the Maryland State Highway Administration’s Transportation Enhancement Program, the Maryland Archeological Synthesis Project has been underway since late 2007, reviewing the nearly 50 years of archeological site reports generated in compliance with the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 and similar state and local legislation. The overall goal of the project has been to characterize this data for as wide an audience as possible and produce a number of online and print products to make the information more accessible. Two volumes on Maryland archeology (one on prehistory and one on Colonial archeology) are still in the works, but the first major public offering of the Synthesis Project is now available on the web at https://webapps.mdp.state.md.us/apps/synthesis/.

This Archeological Synthesis Database is a first-of-its-kind online catalog of archeological sites within the state where Phase II and Phase III test excavations have taken place. Focusing on compliance-driven research, the database is linked to MHT’s Site Survey files, but is also tied to synopsis reports and cover sheets generated by reviewing larger excavation reports. The synopsis reports contain capsule summaries of the overall site reports, organized so researchers can quickly pull out the most relevant information needed for determining if a particular site is of interest. Cover sheets deal with the history of archeological activity at a site, specifically the justifications for fieldwork, research objectives, and potential for future research. Best of all, the entire database is keyword searchable. Simply type in your research topic or an artifact type and get back a list of sites that may be of interest. More robust searches can even be carried out on variables like soil type, archeological research unit, county, etc.

Two versions of the database are available online. One portal is open to the general public; the other is available to professional archeologists who meet the US Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Professional Qualifications. Search functionality and the universe of sites within the database are identical in both versions. However, geographic locations and site setting information within the Public Access version of the database are intentionally vague to protect site locations. The Professional Access version of the database includes detailed site location information and is only available to authorized archeologists who have obtained a Medusa account with archeological data privileges.

After considerable public expense to undertake archeological work, test results should not be buried on a library shelf. The only way to advance archeological research is to build upon past experience, but the data from past work needs to be readily available. This project begins to rectify both long-standing problems while giving back to the public a view of the State’s rich archeological heritage. You can read more about the Maryland Archeological Synthesis Project at http://mht.maryland.gov/archeology_synthesis.shtml.

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