Artifacts, Oyster Shells and Shipwrecks: My Internship with the Maryland Historical Trust

By Ryan Miranda, 2017 Summer Intern in Maryland Archeology

As the summer archeology intern with the Maryland Historical Trust, I was excited to make the most of this great opportunity. My first day included introductions to the archeology team of Dennis Curry, Matt McKnight, Charlie Hall and the rest of the staff, after which I began to help with setting up the equipment for the annual Tyler Bastian Field Session in Maryland Archeology, held this year at the 17th century Calverton site in Calvert County.

Arch Pipestems Calverton

Pipestems from Calverton

During the field session, I experienced all parts of an archeological excavation. I laid out several units, broke ground, removed turf, excavated and sifted through the loose soil to find artifacts. My main role during the field session though was lab manager and paperwork supervisor. While I had experience in the excavation side of field work, I had little experience in the lab work side. With the help of the Kirsti Uunila, an archeologist and planner with the Calvert County government, the experience exposed me more to how to properly clean, count and organize artifacts. I learned the vital role of organizing paperwork in the field and keeping accurate records up-to-date. Archeology is a destructive science. Without proper documentation and organization, artifacts and paperwork with the provenience details and description of finds could be lost. Important details from the past would remain uncovered.

Arch Measuring Oysters

Measuring oyster shells

The next part of my internship was co-authoring a field report with Charlie Hall. This report described work at a Late Woodland Native American site that was excavated in 2009—a site which contained a shell midden despite being a few miles upstream from where oysters are usually found. My portion of the report focuses on the cultural settings of the site and the oyster analysis. The cultural settings section examines the general prehistory of the area, from the Paleoindian era to the Late Woodland. It included explanations of settlement patterns, subsistence, technology and how they all evolved through time. The oyster analysis section entailed researching how to properly measure oysters and interpret the findings. I then continued the work of a previous intern to measure the shells to help determine the possible environment that each was grown in. This part of the internship familiarized me with the research side that is crucial to archeology. I found it fun to discover new information about objects and times with which I was not familiar. Simultaneous to the oyster shell project, I was also cleaning artifacts from the spring field session, which afforded me the opportunity to handle some amazing objects.

Arch Maritime Survey

The author conducting maritime survey. Photo credit Troy Nowak.

 

The final part of my internship was spent working with the Maryland Maritime Archeology Program. I worked with one of the State’s underwater archeologists, Troy Nowak, and was able to go out into the field (or should I say, out on to the water) to help document several shipwrecks along the western shore of Maryland. I helped plan and execute side scan sonar and magnetometer surveys which allowed us to obtain clear images of what was beneath the waves. This was an incredible opportunity to get hands-on training with the tools of a maritime archeologist and learn more about Maryland’s maritime history.

Though my time here at the Maryland Historical Trust was short, I have valued the experience and the lessons I have learned here. I would like to thank the staff for welcoming me into the community and making this internship an amazing experience.

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Introducing Map-Based Medusa: Viewing Maryland’s Historic Places in Real Time

By Gregory Brown, Cultural Resource Information Manager

To kick off Preservation Month this May, the Maryland Historical Trust is pleased to announce a new interactive map-based tool, “map-based Medusa,” to explore the state’s inventory of historic places and archeological sites.  Taking advantage of new web-based mapping technology, map-based Medusa offers the opportunity to view Maryland’s extensive geographic database of historic and cultural properties and to access the records linked to these resources, all within an easily accessible user friendly interface.

Blog1The new system allows both in-house and remote access to the documentation of over 60,000 architectural and archeological resources in a variety of ways. Consultants and staff can view a proposed project area and see all known cultural resources, with links to Maryland Inventory of Historic Properties forms, National Register nominations, determinations of eligibility, and other detailed documents. Map-based Medusa also allows you to look up a property by name, address or inventory number, and view that property on a map along with associated forms and photos.

Most architectural information is freely available in Medusa. Archeological site location is restricted to qualified archeological professionals as mandated in the state’s Access to Site Location Policy. Any qualified professional can apply for a Medusa account to get access. For assistance using map-based Medusa, tutorials and FAQs are available online. We will introduce webinars and introductory videos in the coming months.

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The new map-based Medusa application was created with the technical assistance of the Applications Development team of the Maryland Department of Planning, the Maryland Historical Trust’s parent agency. We are grateful for the efforts of Information Services Manager Ted Cozmo, Doug Lyford, Greg Schuster, and Debbie Czerwinski, building on earlier database development work of Maureen Kavanagh, Carmen Swann and Jennifer Falkinburg. The online version of Medusa was supported in part through a Preserve America grant administered by the National Park Service, Department of Interior, and by funding from the Maryland State Highway Administration through its Transportation Enhancement Program.

To start using map-based Medusa, go to https://mht.maryland.gov/secure/medusa/.

For more information, please contact Gregory Brown, Cultural Resource Information Manager, at gregory.brown@maryland.gov.

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. Continue reading

Huntingtown High School Connects Past to Present through Archeology

By Patricia Samford, Director, Maryland Archaeological Conservation Lab

For the last several years, Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum has been working with the Archeology Club at Calvert County’s Huntingtown High School on a project to tell stories about Baltimore’s past.  Students in this year’s club identified and studied artifacts from a privy that was filled with household garbage between 1850 and 1870. In addition to mending pottery and glass and identifying the seeds and animal bones that made up the food remains in the privy, the students turned to land records to discover just whose garbage they were studying.

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An Archeology Club member mends a circa 1850-1860 platter. About 90% of the vessel, decorated with a Greek Revival motif, was present.

Continue reading

My Summer in Maryland Archeology

By Justin Warrenfeltz

As the 2016 Summer Archeology Intern with the Maryland Historical Trust (MHT), I have worked on a wide variety of projects, each more interesting than the last. In June, I assisted with the planning and implementation of the Archeological Society of Maryland annual Tyler Bastian Field Session in Maryland Archeology. As a former archeological crew chief, this was a perfect opportunity for me to contribute substantially to MHT’s work at the River Farm site. Under the guidance of archeologists with the Lost Towns Project, I assisted with excavation and site management.

Justin Janes Island

The author at Janes Island State Park in Crisfield

After the Field Session, State Terrestrial Archeologist Dr. Charles Hall asked me to plan and implement a research method for oyster shell analysis of artifacts recovered from the Willin Site in Dorchester County, most recently excavated by MHT archeologists in 2009. Continue reading

2016 Cultural Resources Hazard Mitigation Planning Grants Awarded

With funding from the National Park Service Hurricane Sandy Disaster Relief Fund, the Maryland Historical Trust has awarded seven grants throughout the state to help protect historic places and archeological sites from future storms. These grants will be supported by the Trust’s Cultural Resources Hazard Mitigation Planning Program, which was created to assist local governments to better plan and prepare for the effects of coastal storms and other hazards that impact historic places and properties. The grant projects are described below.

Anne Arundel

Early 20th century vernacular home common to Shady Side

Anne Arundel County Trust for Preservation, Inc., Phase I Hazard Mitigation Planning for Anne Arundel’s Cultural Resources: $32,000
Three areas in the county (Shady Side and Deale; Pasadena; and Maryland City, Laurel, and Jessup) face the highest risk to flooding and contain the most undocumented historic structures, as well as unsurveyed potential archeological resources. To remedy this, the Anne Arundel County Trust for Preservation will conduct a study to identify historic structures and archeological sites and evaluate the potential damages caused by flooding. Continue reading

Prehistoric Ossuaries: A Personal Journey

by Dennis C. Curry, Chief Archeologist, Maryland Historical Trust

Theodor de Bry engraving of a John White watercolor, possibly showing an ossuary at Secotan.

Theodor de Bry engraving of a John White watercolor, possibly showing an ossuary at Secotan.

It’s funny how things work.  Some 20 years ago, in response to requirements of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, the archeology staff was compiling an inventory of human remains curated at MHT.  During that process, the extreme complexities of ossuary remains and sites led me to look at these unique features in Maryland.  The ultimate result was a book, Feast of the Dead: Aboriginal Ossuaries in Maryland.  Then about a decade ago I was asked to write a book chapter that would look at ossuaries from throughout the entire Middle Atlantic region.  Although that book project eventually died, I reworked my chapter and submitted it as an article to the journal Archaeology of Eastern North America, where it was recently published.  Below are some highlights.

Ossuaries are communal graves.  They are also secondary graves, meaning that the deceased were originally buried in individual graves before being exhumed and reinterred in a collective burial.  Early historical accounts of Huron ossuary burials (such as those by 17th century French Jesuit missionary Jean de Brébeuf) describe an elaborate burial ceremony referred to as the “Feast of the Dead.”  And while early explorers in the Middle Atlantic region do not mention ossuaries (they describe individual burials, and the deposition of “king’s” bodies in charnel houses), I think watercolorist John White inadvertently depicted an ossuary at the North Carolina village of Secotan in 1585.  There, he portrays a small plot (B) “where they assemble themselves to make their solemn prayers;” it is topped by a ceremonial fire and surrounded by wooden posts carved with human faces, and it is adjacent to a structure (A) “wherein are the tombs of their kings and princes.”  Each of these characteristics has been documented archeologically at various ossuary sites.

Today, ossuaries are typically encountered by accident, such as at this house construction site on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.

Today, ossuaries are typically encountered by
accident, such as at this house construction site on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.

One advantage to looking at ossuary sites from a large region (the core of the Middle Atlantic runs from Cape Henlopen, Delaware to Cape Fear, North Carolina) is that trends start to appear.  One thing that I noticed throughout the region was that ossuaries consistently occur in one of three settings: in isolated locations, within village sites, and within what appear to be defined “cemetery areas.”  The latter really intrigued me.  I looked at 27 primary sites from the region, and 16 of these contained cemetery areas consisting of multiple ossuaries; these ossuaries range in number from 2 to 13, and total more than 60.  In most cases, these multiple ossuaries are fairly tightly clustered, yet they never intrude into each other.  (Similarly, in village settings, ossuaries are not disturbed by other village features or structures.)  This makes me think that ossuaries—which were sometimes re-opened and re-used—were clearly marked and maintained on the landscape, probably often visited and esteemed by the local population.  It also makes me think that there are many ossuaries that have not yet been found.  Today, most ossuaries are found by accident, usually exposed during construction activities, and when I visit such finds, I often wonder how many more ossuaries are there, just beneath my feet.  Recently, I got a partial answer to that question.  A Maryland county was looking to develop one of its properties…a property on which several ossuaries had been found in the past.  Since I was convinced there was a “cemetery area” at this location, we recommended that the county undertake a non-destructive ground-penetrating radar survey of the area.  The results obtained by geophysical archeologist Dr. Tim Horsley were spectacular: clear indication of at least 8 more ossuaries on the property!  Yes, indeed, this was a “cemetery area.”

Results of a ground-penetrating radar survey at a site with 3 known ossuaries (blue), indicating the presence of at least 8 more probable ossuaries (red).

Results of a ground-penetrating radar survey at a site with 3 known ossuaries (blue), indicating the presence of at least 8 more probable ossuaries (red).

During the course of my study of Middle Atlantic ossuaries, many other patterns emerged.  Some of these include:

  • Ossuaries vary in size from just a few individuals to more than 600; the average is around 70 people.
  • The largest ossuaries tend to occur in the tidewater Potomac region of Maryland and Virginia, where a dozen ossuaries average nearly 250 people each.
  • The earliest ossuaries contain no associated artifacts.  Later, when artifacts do appear, they are usually non-utilitarian and decorative in nature.
  • The most common artifacts are beads (initially shell, then copper, then glass and/or a combination of types).  One Virginia ossuary contained 35,000 shell and glass beads, but that is unique.
  • Notably, artifacts are often associated with the remains of children.
  • Artifacts may also indicate the social status of individuals, such as a presumed “shaman’s kit” from a North Carolina ossuary, and a possible copper headdress from one in Maryland.
  • Specific treatment of remains (for example, extended articulated burials, or cremations) may also suggest social differentiation of individuals.  In fact, I have wondered if the death of these “special” people actually triggered the periodic Feast of the Dead.
  • In any event, ossuaries are not merely jumbles of bones.  Specific individuals (as bundles, articulated burials, or cremations) can be discerned, and it is clear that their identities were maintained by family members over the years-long burial process.  In this sense, they truly represent a community of the dead.

So it is that a simple catalog compilation developed into a 20-year immersion into the study of prehistoric ossuaries, first in Maryland, then further afield.  I hope my work allows modern Native Americans to better understand the ways of their ancestors, as well as allowing non-Native Americans to appreciate other cultures.  And some 20 or 50 years down the road, I hope this work will help guide future archeologists.

A post script:  When my article appeared in Archaeology of Eastern North America, I told my wife that it had been published.  She asked to see a copy, explaining “I don’t really understand what you do.”  (I know she started reading Feast of the Dead, but I’m fairly sure she never finished it.)  Anyway, that’s a pretty big shortcoming on my part, so I decided to write this blog from a more first-person perspective in order to provide an “inside look” at how one archeologist works. — DCC

Links for further reading: