The Search for Wighkawamecq: the 2019 Tyler Bastian Field Session in Maryland Archeology

By Matthew D. McKnight, Chief Archeologist

As Maryland Archeology Month draws to a close, I’d like to take this opportunity to invite you, the reader, to attend our Annual Field Session in Maryland Archeology which will be held jointly with the Archeological Society of Maryland (ASM) from Friday, May 24th until Monday, June 3rd.

Every year, dozens of volunteers from around the state converge on a site selected for its research potential and importance to the history or prehistory of the state. They will make significant contributions to a citizen science project and obtain training in archeological excavation methods. If you’ve ever had an interest in archeology, you should consider joining us. Your participation can range from as little as a few hours of work, to the entire 11-day field session.

Billingsley Point and vicinity as depicted on Augustine Herrman’s 1670 Map of the Chesapeake (published in 1673).

This year’s excavations will be held at Billingsley House near Upper Marlboro in Prince George’s County. Owned by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, Billingsley is operated as a historic house museum by the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission (M-NCPPC), who have graciously agreed to host and to assist with the excavations and project logistics this year.

Though the house museum dates later (to the 18th century), the site is the core of a 700 acre tract that was patented to Major John Billingsley in 1662, “…for transportation of 14 servants in the year 1650”. Though it’s pretty clear from the archival record that Major Billingsley never actually lived on the property, a European-built structure is depicted on the parcel on a map of the Chesapeake published by Augustine Herrman in 1673 (and drafted much earlier). Whether or not this structure depicts an actual dwelling or is merely intended to symbolize surveyed and patented land is still an open question. What is not in question, is that the tract was inhabited.

MHT Office of Archeology magnetic susceptibility survey results from October 2018.

The Herrman map marks the presence of not one, but two 17th-century Indian villages on the Billingsley parcel: one named “Wighkawamecq” and the other, “Coppahan”. In addition, the Proceedings of the Maryland Assembly on May 23rd, 1674 make it clear that Billingsley purchased his 700 acres from the “Mattapany and Patuxon Indians”, at least some of whom, “…doe Continue upon the Land”. This statement, as well as Herrman’s map, strongly suggest that two indigenous groups were living on this land in the mid 17th century.

The 18th Century “Hollyday House” at Billinsgsley Point.

In the fall of 2018 and again in late winter 2019, MHT Office of Archeology staff carried out a magnetic susceptibility survey on some of the agricultural fields at the Billingsley property. It was known at the time that a number of 20th century artifact collectors had been active on the site, but MHT did not have a good handle on precisely where this collecting had taken place. It was thought that magnetic susceptibility testing might be able to “zero in” on the locations where archeological deposits had been identified in the past. The magnetic susceptibility of surface soils can be influenced by past human activity such as burning, digging, the introduction of organic matter, and the introduction of foreign stone or other raw materials. Prehistoric artifacts had been recovered from the site, and hearths from ancient cooking fires would be expected to influence the magnetizability of the soils on-site.

MHT Archeology staff excavating a single test unit at Billingsley to examine site stratigraphy.

I’m happy to report that the technique worked amazingly well! Ultimately, after three days in the field, MHT identified a roughly 1.3 acre anomaly of culturally modified soils at Billingsley. Furthermore, the location of this anomaly matches almost perfectly the location of the “W” in “Wighkawameck” on the 17th-century Augustine Herrman map. It isn’t surprising that historically documented tribes such as the Mattapany and Patuxent would find a location appealing for establishment of their village in the late 17th century, precisely where their ancestors had lived during prehistoric times. It’s a pattern that has been observed throughout the state…that certain locations persist in the memories of Native Peoples. Sometimes for millennia.

MHT Archeology staff excavating a single test unit at Billingsley to examine site stratigraphy

“X” rarely marks the spot in archeology, but in this case, a “W” may. With your help, as well as that of the ASM and M-NCPPC, we hope to obtain archeological evidence for a 17th– century Native American presence at the Billingsley site in Prince George’s County. We have 11 days within which to do it. Please join us.

For more information about the Tyler Bastian Field Session in Maryland Archeology and to register to participate please visit the link below.

https://marylandarcheology.org/Field_Session/2019FieldSessionRegistration.html

Proposed Changes to the National Register Raise Concerns

By Elizabeth Hughes, Director of MHT and State Historic Preservation Officer

Nationwide, preservation organizations are sounding the alarm regarding the impact of proposed changes to the National Register of Historic Places Program. The Maryland Historical Trust (MHT) has grave concerns about the proposed changes and their effect on the future of Maryland’s heritage. The changes are not finalized yet, and there is an opportunity for MHT and others to express their views. The National Park Service (NPS)—the agency which oversees the regulations governing this program—is seeking public input through April 30.

Established by the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, the National Register of Historic Places is this country’s official list of places worthy of preservation. In Maryland alone, the National Register has 1,801 listings, including 255 historic districts, altogether comprising 108,523 contributing resources. Although inclusion in the National Register is largely honorific, this designation is the threshold for access to state and federal rehabilitation tax credits—a powerful tool for community revitalization. The National Register also plays an important role in ensuring that local communities have a voice when the federal government’s actions have the potential to impact historic resources. Federal agencies are required to consider the effects of their actions on National Register-listed or National Register-eligible properties and to engage with citizens concerned about the future of these non-renewable resources.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is an example of a federal agency that has embraced its historic property stewardship role.  This year, NIST will be receiving an award from Preservation Maryland in recognition of their exemplary preservation program at the agency’s Bethesda campus.

Among the various rule changes currently under consideration by NPS, one of greatest concern to MHT will provide federal agencies with unilateral and exclusive rights to nominate or refuse to nominate their properties to the National Register of Historic Places.  This change to the National Register nomination process extends not only to the listing of historic properties but also to the process of determining whether or not federally-owned properties are even eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places. 

The eligibility determination process is an essential step as agencies and state historic preservation offices, like the Maryland Historical Trust, work together to consider the effects of federal agency actions on historic properties through the Section 106 review process.  Federal agencies take the lead in developing determinations of eligibility (DOEs) for properties under their care.  DOEs are designed to be objective assessments of a property’s history and significance, uninfluenced by the nature or possible impacts of proposed projects. 

Under the current National Register regulations, this process is typically collaborative, resulting in “consensus determinations” between the federal agency and MHT.  Should a disagreement arise, the dispute is resolved by the Keeper of the National Register.  Regardless of the Keeper’s ultimate determination, federal agency projects still proceed.  The Section 106 process cannot stop federal agency undertakings from proceeding, it simply requires agencies to take into account the effects of their actions on historic properties.

Fort Howard, located in Baltimore County, was determined eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979. Owned by the Veterans Administration, plans for the redevelopment of the property are of significant interest to the local community.   This historic image, showing Fort Howard’s main hospital building and officer housing, is from the collection of the Dundalk-Patapsco Neck Historical Society.

Under the proposed rule, it would now be possible for federal agencies to refuse to acknowledge the existence of historic properties in their care and, with impunity, carry out projects that may damage or destroy historic buildings, landscapes, and archeological resources under their control. The rule as proposed undermines the role of the state and the Keeper of the National Register as impartial arbiters of eligibility determinations. It also prevents local governments, tribes, and non-profit organizations from providing input on how federal agency actions may impact historic resources. Under this new scenario, there is no system of checks and balances on federal agencies who, in certain cases, have a vested interest in determining that no historic properties will be impacted by their actions. In this way, state and local communities are blocked from commenting on the impact of federal agency actions in our own backyard.

This proposed rule erodes the most basic principle undergirding the origin of the National Historic Preservation Act. Crafted in response to urban renewal and transportation projects of the 1950s and 1960s, which excluded local communities from deliberations about federal actions and resulted in large-scale demolition of historic resources, the Act sought to give states and local communities a voice in federal decision-making. By cutting states, local governments, tribes and non-profit organizations out of the process of determining whether properties may be eligible for listing on the National Register, the proposed rule subverts the intent of the National Historic Preservation Act.

To learn more about this proposed rule or to provide a comment, go to: https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2019/03/01/2019-03658/national-register-of-historic-places

Comments are due to NPS by 11:59 p.m. EST on April 30, 2019.

A Curated Coin from Calvert County (Guest Blog)

By Kirsti Uunila, RPA, Calvert County Historic Preservation Planner

For the past two summers, MHT archeologists have partnered with the Archeological Society of Maryland (ASM) and Calvert County to investigate the Calverton Site on the shore of Battle Creek to search for what remains of the seventeenth century town. Calverton, also known as Battle Town, was the first seat of Calvert County government. Established around 1668, it was abandoned sometime after the court was relocated to Prince Frederick in 1724. The town site has been in agriculture ever since. Battle Creek has eroded the Calverton Site with an estimated loss of more than 50 meters of shoreline. Using a plat of the town drawn in 1682 (see map), archeologists concluded that some of the town is still on land, including the first home of Michael Taney and other buildings.

A 17th-century plat of Calverton geo-rectified to modern satellite imagery.

An area near the Taney house is believed to have been a dependency or outbuilding related to the dwelling. It contained numerous artifacts from the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. One was a large wine-bottle fragment bearing a broken seal with the initial ‘M’. Michael Taney’s, perhaps? Several small features were excavated in the dependency, including an apparent line of postholes. Two of these postholes were situated approximately three feet apart, suggesting the presence of a door. The most notable artifact found was on the edge of one of these postholes. It is a James I silver shilling with a mint mark indicating it was made in 1604. Since the town was not established until sixty years after that, the coin had had a long journey and was likely to have been a treasured object. In “archeologist speak” it had been “curated” by its owner well beyond the date it was minted. Its placement in a posthole that may have held a doorpost suggests a deliberate act, possibly to bring good fortune to the building and its inhabitants.

Colonial bottle glass seal with an “M” mark, possibly for Michael Taney.

The artifacts and records of the second season are being analyzed now and we hope to learn more about the people who lived, worked, and traded in the Colonial port town. Calvert County proposes continuing work at the site and will use ground-penetrating radar (GPR) this spring to locate cellars, hearths, and other features that may be in imminent danger of erosion, and to investigate more of the site.

Curated 1604 James I silver shilling recovered from the base of a burned post at Calverton.

Introducing the MHT Library

By Lara Westwood, Librarian, Maryland Historical Trust

In honor of National Library Week, we are showcasing the library at the Maryland Historical Trust, an often overlooked resource for those seeking guidance on restoring and preserving historic properties, researching archeological sites, or simply interested in Maryland history, historic preservation, architectural history, and archeology. The library collection holds over 10,000 books, archeological reports, architectural drawings, as well as historical maps, oral histories, and over 100,000 photographic slides and negatives, which could benefit a wide variety of researchers.

The library at the Maryland Historical Trust.

Books in the library range in topic from prehistory, anthropology, and geology to biography, decorative arts, and modern architecture. The collection emphasizes studies of Maryland in county histories, genealogical works, and other resources, but is not limited in scope. The owner of a historic home, for example, may find catalogs advertising house kits and other building supplies, how-to manuals on repairing and preserving roofs and windows, and books on architectural styles useful. The wide selection of books on interior design, historic wall finishings, and house styles may appeal to students of architecture or historic preservation. Archeological research can be supplemented by books on Native American cultures, technology and theory, shipwrecks, and more. Dissertations, theses, and student papers by professors and university students on relevant themes have also been collected. New books are frequently added to the collection, including limited run, locally and self-published works. The library also maintains subscriptions to a numbered of local, national, and international professional and popular journals and periodicals, often not available in local public libraries.

A sampling a just a few of the thousands of titles in the collection.

Supplemental materials related to the nearly 50,0000 properties on the Maryland Inventory of Historic Properties (MIHP) are some of the most unique items in our collection. This includes historic structure reports, field and research reports, published works, architectural drawings, vertical files, and photographs. Historic structure reports are typically in-depth studies of single properties with recommendations for rehabilitation and conservation work. A wide variety of structures have been investigated including houses, government buildings, lighthouses, and churches, and these reports are often helpful sources for chain of title information, property history, and modern and historic photographs. Paint analysis reports may also interest researchers seeking information on period accurate paint colors, and work in dendrochronology could assist in dating wooden buildings, which are cataloged with field and research reports. The architectural drawing collection is another underutilized gem for researchers of architectural history. All counties are represented in the collection and includes many different types of structures from bridges and public buildings to palatial estate houses to barns and tenant houses. The vertical files also hold a wealth of materials, such as research notes, correspondence, newspaper clippings, and photographs, on various subjects, including MIHP properties, historical events, and cities and towns.

MHT has collected thousands of images to document historic properties, historic districts, and archaeological sites in Maryland. These slides, negatives, and photographs are maintained in the library and supplement the images available in the MIHP form. They primarily date from the 1960’s to present, but older photographs can sometimes be found. The architectural images in particular are of tremendous value in the study of Maryland’s history and development. Many of the buildings photographed are no longer extant or represent structures beyond the well known historic sites. In some cases, these are the only known photographs of a structure. The collection also provides examples of many architectural styles, building types, and design features.

An image of the Robert Llewellyn Wright House in Montgomery County, Maryland from the slide and negative collection.

The library also acts as a repository for the reports of archeological studies performed around the state. Compliance reports, artifact catalogs, other associated materials, and site surveys are available to researchers who meet the Secretary of the Interior’s Professional Qualification Standards for Archeology and their proxies. Members of the public can discover more about archaeological sites and artifacts discovered by exploring the Archeological Synthesis Project and Maryland Archaeological Conservation Laboratory’s Diagnostic Artifacts in Maryland.

Oral histories and maps round out the library’s rich collection. The oral histories capture the state’s cultural traditions through written transcripts and audio and video recordings. Themes include African-American communities in Baltimore County, tobacco in Calvert County, lighthouses across the state, and more. Nautical charts, topographic maps, and other historical maps of Maryland and the mid-Atlantic region are also available to researchers.  

The library’s collection is always expanding. While some collection material has yet to be cataloged, visiting the library catalog is the best way to start a search. More information on the library can be found in the user guide and on the library’s web page. The library is open to the public by appointment, Tuesday through Thursday. Librarian Lara Westwood can be contacted (lara.westwood@maryland.gov or 410-697-9546) to schedule library visits or assist with any research inquiries.

What’s “Magical” About Maryland Archeology?

By Sara Rivers Cofield, Curator of Federal Collections, Maryland Archaeological Conservation Laboratory, Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum

When a committee of archeologists selected “The Magic and Mystery of Maryland Archeology” as the theme for the 2019 Maryland Archeology Month, they were not thinking about Harry Potter or pulling a rabbit out of a top hat. “Magic” in anthropological terms, is anything people do to try to influence the supernatural. That includes personified supernatural forces like gods, ghosts, and ancestral spirits, and impersonal supernatural forces like luck. Usually when people try to influence the supernatural there is a clear end in mind and a ritualized procedure to follow. When you pick a penny up and say, “find a penny, pick it up, and all day long you’ll have good luck,” an anthropologist would classify that as a “magic” ritual.

18CV91 - 4245, Feature 4 NE quad, Alex and Annette excavating2

Archeologists Annette Cook and Alex Glass carefully excavate one quadrant of the kitchen cellar at Smith’s St. Leonard.

Archeology is a sub-discipline of anthropology in the U.S., so we use the anthropological definition of magic for select artifacts that were once considered objects of power. There is a joke of sorts in archeology that any artifact of unknown purpose must be “ritual,” which is really code for “I have no other explanation.” That joke was born out of legitimate criticism, but it has scared some people away from considering ritual and magic in archeology. The burden of proof that something is “magic” is very high. However, it is a disservice to our understanding of past belief systems if we fail to consider possible ritual and magic uses of artifacts, especially if the context calls for it.

18CV91 - 4245C F.4 horseshoe

The Smith’s St. Leonard horseshoe was found in the fill of a kitchen cellar that contained debris from a remodeling episode associated with the brick hearth.

A perfect example is a well-worn horseshoe from Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum’s public archeology site, the Smith’s St. Leonard plantation, which was occupied ca. 1711-1754. The obvious default interpretation of a horseshoe is that it was for shoeing a horse, especially if the horseshoe is worn enough to show it was used. However, historical records indicate that it was rare to shoe horses in Maryland prior to the 1750s because the soft clay soils did not require it. Over 200 units have been excavated at the site, resulting in over 450 boxes of artifacts from the main house, a kitchen, a laundry, at least three slave quarter buildings, a store house, and a stable. Only one horseshoe was found, and it was not near the stable, but in a kitchen cellar that was filled with debris from a hearth remodeling episode.

Horseshoes have a long history as objects placed on thresholds, near hearths, or in ritual concealments to ward off evil or bring good luck. Furthermore, some of these beliefs hold that found horseshoes, such as those thrown from a hoof along a roadway, were the ones with power. For example, witches could not pass through a threshold guarded by an old horseshoe until they had traveled all the roads the horse had traveled, and by then it would be daylight. Thus, history and context suggest that the Smith’s St. Leonard horseshoe was a magical object that once protected the hearth.

2012.001.3AT Horseshoe

The Smith’s St. Leonard horseshoe after conservation treatment.

It is not always possible to determine whether an everyday object was put to a magical purpose, and that is where the “mystery” of the “Magic and Mystery” theme comes in. There are many finds that might be evidence of magic, but there is no way to know with certainty. It is still worthwhile to consider the possibility though because it calls for an understanding of how the people who used these artifacts viewed the world. Ultimately, having that knowledge of how people in the past thought and behaved is what archeology is all about.

Interested in participating in excavations at Smith’s St. Leonard? The 2019 Public Archaeology program runs from May 7 to June 29. For more information visit http://www.jefpat.org/publicarchaeology.html.