By Charlie Hall, State Terrestrial Archeologist
Every April since 1993 Marylanders have celebrated Archeology Month. Officially proclaimed by the Governor as a celebration of the remarkable archeological discoveries that provide a tangible link to at least 12,000 years of human occupation here, Maryland Archeology Month has annually provided the public with opportunities to become involved and excited about archeology. With a variety of events offered statewide every April, including exhibits, lectures, site tours, and occasions to participate as volunteer archeologists, Archeology Month elicits the gathering of interested Marylanders at various occasions to share their enthusiasm for scientific archeological discovery.
Did I say “gathering”? Well, we seem to have a conflict this year between our desire to gather together and do some archeology, and our shared responsibility to observe an appropriate social distance in groups not to exceed 10, and now to stay at home, in an attempt to slow or stop the spread of COVID-19. How can these two disparate callings be reconciled? Like the heroes who are working hard to manufacture M95 masks and respirators, we have been working – albeit with perhaps not the exact same sense of urgency – on how Maryland Archeology Month might carry on in this time of careful isolation. There is a will, and we have found a way.
This year’s Maryland Archeology Month theme – Partners in Pursuit of the Past: 50 Field Sessions in Maryland Archeology – lends itself to digital sharing. The Field Sessions in Maryland Archeology are 11-day intensive archeological research investigations held every spring in partnership between the Archeological Society of Maryland, a State-wide organization of lay and professional archeologists, and the Maryland Historical Trust, a part of the Maryland Department of Planning and home to the State’s Office of Archeology. While these two partners host the event every year, others are required to make the Field Sessions happen, including researchers/Principal Investigators, archeological supervisory staff, property owners, and volunteers from the public. Each of these partners is essential. Without any one of them the Field Sessions don’t happen. Maryland Archeology Month 2020 is a chance to shine a grateful spotlight on all these necessary partners in the Field Session program.
Here is your first digital opportunity to engage with Maryland Archeology Month: you can access downloadable versions of the Archeology Month 2020 poster and booklet online at the Archeological Society of Maryland’s website (https://marylandarcheology.org/, scroll down and click on the poster image to access the Maryland Archeology Month website). The poster depicts a lively scene from the 2015 Field Session, held at the Biggs Ford Native American village site in Frederick County, and highlights the various kinds of partners present. The booklet contains 40 pages that are jam-packed with information about the Field Session program, organizations doing or promoting archeology in Maryland, and volunteer opportunities in Maryland archeology. This year the booklet features 13 essays written by Field Session partners, including three by researchers/Principal Investigators, two by archeological supervisory staff, four by officers of the Archeological Society of Maryland, one by a property owner, and four by volunteer archeologists. These short, non-technical essays relay the authors’ recollections and reflections on their Field Session experiences.
Filling different partnership roles, the different individuals bring different life and professional experiences to the Field Sessions, and take different experiences from them. As research endeavors, the Field Sessions must be under the direction of a qualified researcher with an anthropological interest in the site being studied who is responsible for designing the investigation and ensuring that it is properly carried out. Researchers can come from universities, state and county agencies, and consultancies, and each meets strict professional standards. Each site is owned by someone, and the property owner’s willingness to welcome a small army of sunburnt, dusty, and exuberant professional and volunteer archeologists on to their property is critical to each Field Session. The sites of past Field Sessions have been owned by state agencies, county agencies, private individuals, and organizations. While involving many sophisticated scientific techniques and instruments, archeology is at its core low tech and labor intensive. It requires a lot of patient people wielding small hand excavating tools and carefully moving a lot of soil. The labor pool powering the Field Sessions is the public. In classic Tom Sawyer fashion, the public is enticed to pick up shovels and trowels and work for anywhere from a partial day to all 11 days excavating in the hot sun, often on their hands and knees. Many volunteers take vacation time to participate in the Field Sessions. They are the backbone of the Field Sessions, and they seem to really enjoy themselves.
With the first Field Session occurring in 1971, this year’s represents the 50th. (Mark you calendars for May 22nd through June 1st and plan to join us at the Billingsly site in Prince George’s County. Watch the Archeological Society of Maryland’s website for registration materials and updates. We’re still crossing our fingers . . . ) The forty-nine previous Field Sessions have been held on 36 sites in 14 counties across the site. Twenty-five of the sites were Native American occupied (prehistoric), ten were historic aged, and one had both prehistoric and historic components.
Here is your second opportunity to connect digitally with Maryland Archeology Month: Want to know more about the past Field Sessions? Do you wonder where they occurred, or which were prehistoric and which historic? Are you curious about the research conducted at each? A team of talented professional archeologists have created a StoryMap of the 50 Field Sessions. This map-based app is interactive, informative and entertaining. Visit https://mdarchaeology.github.io/Annual-Field-Sessions/ or scan the QR code printed on the cover of the booklet and on the poster, or click the link on the Maryland Archeology Month website, to investigate the distribution of Field Session sites across the state, learn details of the archeology found on each, and see pictures from the past!
It is my hope that these digital experiences will connect you virtually to other Marylanders as you collectively, yet individually and at home, celebrate Maryland Archeology Month! Several of the events planned for April will be rescheduled, and at them you will be able to pick up physical copies of the poster and booklet. Watch the Maryland Archeology Month website for updated information. I wish you an engaging, and healthy, Maryland Archeology Month!