Lithics, Ceramics and Fauna, Oh My! – An Internship Cataloging Adventure

By Grace Davenport, Maryland Historical Trust Intern

My name is Grace. I am an intern with the Maryland Historical Trust in Crownsville, MD. I have only ever worked in an archeology lab once before. All I did was put some dirty artifacts in some water, gently brush them with an old toothbrush and listen to other groups in the class become excited that they had a hair comb in their collection of artifacts. Meanwhile, when I looked at my bag it just looked like a clump of rust (which it was). That was a historic site, and we never went into much detail with it. Working in the Archeology Lab with the Maryland Historical Trust has been an entirely different experience.

We are currently working on cataloging a collection from the 1970s. The site is Mason Island II in Montgomery County, which is an island in the Potomac River. It is a multi-component site, which means that there are artifacts from different time periods. Most of what we’re cataloging are artifacts from the late Woodland period (beginning in AD900).

The artifact categories we find are these: lithics, ceramics, faunal, and floral. Occasionally we come across some historical artifacts. Lithics are stone artifacts and can be as purposeful as chipped stone tools or as common as non-diagnostic pebbles. The most common materials we find for the chipped stone debris and tools are mainly quartz with the occasional quartzite, rhyolite, and chert.

Lithic

A quartz projectile point

Ceramics are exactly what you think: fired clay vessels that have broken into shards or simple fired ceramic waste. Did you know that clay could be tempered with another material? Tempered means that a material was mixed in with the clay before it was fired. The most common temper materials we find with this collection are shell and quartz. Sometimes there is limestone (which we test with vinegar – it bubbles) and sometimes there is no temper at all.

Ceramics

Rim of a ceramic vessel. The decoration has punctuation and incisions.

Faunal is anything related to animals, and my favorite material class. This is where the bones come in. Woodland Indians split bones open to eat the marrow (sounds disgusting, but there are so many nutrients in there). This section has some fascinating artifacts like teeth, turtle shells, and burned bone. If you’re lucky or looking hard, you might even be able to see some cut marks on the bone fragments.

Bones

An assortment of bones including split bones, burned bones and general bone fragments. 18MO13 is the site number for Mason Island II, and 894 is the lot number in which these artifacts are found.

Floral artifacts include charcoal, burned wood, and sometimes burned nuts. As you can imagine, this material class can be quite fragile and is often stored in plastic vials in lieu of plastic bags.

Working in the lab has been a completely enriching experience for me and I couldn’t have asked for a better way to learn about both Woodland Native Americans or archeology lab practices. We meet most Tuesdays from 9:30am-3pm. If you’re interested in learning more about helping in the lab, please contact Charlie Hall (Charles.hall@maryland.gov) or Louise Akerson (Lakerson1@verizon.net).

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