Join Us at the Annual Field Session in Maryland Archeology

By Charlie Hall, State Terrestrial Archeologistbiggs1

You are cordially invited to join the archeology staff of the Maryland Historical Trust in the investigation of two overlapping Late Woodland Native American village sites along Glade Creek in Walkersville, Maryland.  Mark your calendar now:  the Field Session begins on Friday May 22nd and ends on Monday June 1st, including weekends and the Memorial Day holiday.  You may choose to attend for half a day, a whole day, or any combination up to the entire 11 days.  Pre-registration is available through the Archeological Society of Maryland (, click on Field Session).  We hope to see you there!

The Field Session

Started in 1971 by the first State Archeologist, Tyler Bastian, the Annual Field Session in Maryland Archeology is a cooperative venture between the Maryland Historical Trust and the Archeological Society of Maryland, Inc.  From its weekend origin to the current 11-day format, the Field Session has been true to the goals of involving the public in the investigation of significant archeological sites, and teaching proper archeological field techniques to the interested public.   Thirty-two different sites have been investigated over the years; nineteen of them Native American sites, and nine of them historic, and one with components of both.

The Biggs Ford Site

biggs3For the past two years the Field Session has taken place at the Biggs Ford site in Walkersville (Frederick County) – which is also where the Archeological Society of Maryland first collaborated with the State’s Office of Archeology to conduct research.  That first field investigation in 1969, led by Tyler Bastian, appeared to reveal two separate occupations on the site.  Called the Montgomery Complex, the earlier culture represented generally dates to between AD 1000 and AD 1400.  The second, the Keyser Complex, has been dated at other sites to between AD 1300 and AD 1600.  In that first field investigation, it appeared that both villages were circular, and that they overlapped but did not completely overlay each other.

In 2009 the Maryland Historical Trust returned to the Biggs Ford site and tested these early interpretations of the site.  A selective surface collection resulted in over 1,000 artifacts from the two cultures identified in 1969.  The distribution of the artifacts clearly showed that the Keyser village was in fact circular, and was about 100 meters in diameter.  No conclusions could be drawn from the surface collection regarding the configuration of the Montgomery village.

In the 2013 and 2014 Field Sessions at the Biggs Ford site our goals have been:  (1) to confirm the configuration, size, and organization of the Keyser village; (2) to clarify the size, shape, and organization of the Montgomery village; (3) to identify and investigate a Keyser house within the village; and (4) to retrieve data that could elucidate the subsistence and dating for both occupations of the site.  During the two Field Sessions we’ve benefitted from 925 person days of volunteer assistance and have investigated 180 square meters of the approximately 22,500 square meter site — or less than 1% of the site area.

Despite what may seem to be a very small investigated area, we have already learned a great deal.  We know, for example, that the Keyser village site was palisaded (enclosed within a defensive wall of tall wooden stakes), and that its inhabitants ate elk (among other things) and used the tips of its antlers for tools.  We know that the Montgomery village was organized around a ring of storage pits. With the discovery of a few small glass trade beads, we know that someone who lived on the site, possibly the Keyser people or a later group, traded with the earliest European explorers.  We have also collected bushels of material that will be used to address questions of subsistence and chronology.

biggs2There is, however, much we still do not know.  For instance, we have not yet identified a Keyser house site.  In his 1969-1970 work Tyler Bastian identified a rectangular postmold pattern that he interpreted as the outline of a domestic structure.  However, a Keyser house in western Maryland was recently identified with an oval pattern.  House shape is an important cultural trait that can help us identify connections to archeological cultures elsewhere, potentially clarifying the origins of the Keyser Complex.  You can assist us in this important work!

To learn more about the Biggs Ford site, visit the website of the Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum under Research Tools, Archeological Collections in Maryland, where you can access original field notes and photographs from Tyler’s 1969-1970 field work.  Our more recent work at the site is chronicled on our website under Archeology/Current Research.  Finally a photo album of the two past Field Sessions at Biggs Ford can be viewed on the Society’s website at

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