Ground Truth: Recent Investigations of Ground Penetrating Radar Anomalies by the MHT Archaeological Research Program

By Dr. Zachary Singer (MHT Research Archaeologist)

The theme for Maryland Archeology Month 2022 is “The Future of Studying the Past: Innovative Technologies in Maryland Archeology”. One suite of innovative technologies that is being highlighted is remote sensing: methods which allow archaeologists to detect cultural resources buried beneath the ground surface. Remote sensing technologies have transformed how archaeologists study the past. Today, with the aid of high precision GPS receivers and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) mapping software, the coordinates of potential archaeological resources can be precisely located via remote sensing, recorded and plotted in GIS, and then surgically examined through excavations pinpointed to their exact locations.

Over the years, the MHT Office of Archaeology had dabbled with these technologies, carrying out some limited survey with magnetic susceptibility technologies or partnering with others for such work. Beginning in 2019, MHT Chief Archaeologist, Matt McKnight, began a push to acquire additional equipment with which to undertake a more rigourous terrestrial remote sensing research program. The remote sensing technologies deployed by our office include a magnetic susceptibility meter (MagSusc), a fluxgate gradiometer, and a ground penetrating radar (GPR) system. We also utilize a high-precision GPS system capable of pinpointing a location on the Earth’s Surface accurate to within 7 millimeters (or about 1/4 inch).

MHT archaeologists have assisted with remote sensing surveys on archaeological sites throughout Maryland and identified many intriguing anomalies suggestive of archaeological features. However, as is always the case with remote sensing data, these potential features are just that: potential features. Without archaeological ground truthing through excavation it is not possible to conclude with absolute certainty what the various anomalies identified via remote sensing represent. Fortunately, our office has collaborated with many members of the Maryland archaeology community to ground truth (or physically excavate) some of the intriguing anomalies identified via our remote sensing surveys to determine their forms, functions, and ages. Below, we present a sampling of some of these exciting ground truthing results.

Barwick’s Ordinary (Caroline County)

MHT archaeologists carried out a geophysical remote sensing survey at the Barwick’s Ordinary Site on the Choptank River in Caroline County during the summers of 2019 and 2020 to examine a field where the owners of the property had encountered colonial artifacts during a prior landscaping project. The primary objectives of remote sensing at the site were to obtain detailed imaging of the subsurface features believed to be yielding the artifacts recovered on the property. Magnetic susceptibility, gradiometry, and GPR surveys on the property revealed several anomalies suggestive of buried architectural elements.

Annotated results of the MagSusc, Gradiometer, and GPR remote sensing surveys at Barwick’s
Ordinary.

In the fall of 2020, with assistance from ASM volunteers, locals, and Professor Julie Markin of Washington College, a few small test units were excavated to ground truth the anomalies at Barwick’s. The results confirm that the site contains well-preserved, artifact rich, mid-late 18th century archaeological features. Come participate in additional ground truthing excavations this summer at the Annual Tyler Bastian Field Session, which will take place at Barwick’s Ordinary from May 20-30, 2022.

Dr. Matt McKnight ground truthing a GPR anomaly, which was revealed to be the corner of a likely 18th-century privy at the Barwick’s Ordinary site.

Calverton (Calvert County)

In the summer of 2020, MHT archaeologists conducted a ground penetrating radar survey at the 17th-century Calverton Site in Calvert County in an area located within 10 meters of the eroding edge of Battle Creek. The creek is slowly destroying the site and the goal of the GPR survey was to identify anomalies in the portion of the site most at risk of loss from shoreline erosion. The GPR survey would later be investigated via ground truthing using traditional archaeological methods.

Annotated results of the GPR remote sensing survey at Calverton, highlighting the location of a shaft anomaly, which ground truthing determined to be a 17th-century
cellar (CLICK IMAGE TO EXPAND).

Seven likely anthropogenic features were identified in the GPR survey at Calverton. Eight test units were excavated by Applied Archaeology and History Associates during the summer of 2020 to assess these GPR anomalies. The excavations resulted in the identification of ten cultural features, which yielded late 17th- and early 18th-century artifacts including tobacco pipes, a Charles I sixpence coin (1639-1645), and sherds of tin-glazed earthenware. The largest and most artifact-dense feature related to the colonial occupation of Calverton was an in-filled cellar.

Photo of the 17th century cellar feature after it was bisected to ground truth the GPR
anomaly.

Maiden’s Choice (Washington County)

In the spring of 2021, MHT conducted a GPR survey at the Maiden’s Choice I site in Washington County to search for buried domestic structures. The GPR survey revealed the presence of an anomaly suggestive of a subsurface foundation remnant roughly 40 ft east-west by 20 ft north-south, and with an apparent chimney remnant (roughly 5 X 5 ft) near the center. In the fall of 2021, MHT collaborated with the Western Chapter of the Archeological Society of Maryland to excavate three test units to ground truth these GPR anomalies. The ground truthing excavations uncovered remnant rubble stone foundations with artifacts recovered from the plowzone dating primarily to the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

3D models of the excavation units that revealed the remains of a late 18th century
foundation.

Domestic artifacts were present such as furniture tacks, buttons, clay marbles, handwrought nails and coins including a 1776 Spanish half-reale, a pierced 1796 half dime, and a “draped bust” American half cent (1800-1808). A Napoleon Bonaparte First Consulate German jetton was also recovered. A jetton is a commemorative token or medal and this one likely dates to the years 1799-1804, before Napolean was coronated as Emperor. The fall 2021 excavations suggest that this site is a domestic site associated with the Barnes-Mason family that occupied the Maiden’s Choice property after 1773.

Fortunately, in the three examples discussed above, ground truthing of remote sensing anomalies resulted in the discovery of artifact rich archaeological features. However, this is not always the case. Remote sensing anomalies can also be caused by natural occurrences like bioturbation from plant roots and animal burrows. Accordingly, although it is tempting to jump straight from remote sensing results to archaeological site interpretation, the step of ground truthing cannot be skipped. Excavations will always be necessary to determine whether remote sensing anomalies are in fact the remains of
exciting archaeological features or less exciting gopher holes.

Announcing FY2020 AAHPP grant recipients!

We are pleased to announce the FY2020 African American Heritage Preservation Program (AAHPP) grant recipients! Twelve projects were awarded funding for preservation projects throughout the state. Jointly administered by the Maryland Commission on African American History and Culture and the Maryland Historical Trust, the AAHPP provides capital funds to assist in the preservation of buildings, sites, or communities of historical and cultural importance to the African American experience in Maryland. The Commission and MHT are excited to support these projects, which include unique sites such as a World War II memorial park, an early 20th century bowling alley, a historic swimming pool, and tunnels that were part of the Underground Railroad.  Read more about all our newly funded projects below.

If you are planning to apply for funding for a project, the FY2021 grant round will begin in the spring of 2020, with workshops in April and applications due in July. For more information about the AAHPP, please contact Charlotte Lake, Capital Grant and Loan Program Administrator, at charlotte.lake@maryland.gov. For information about organizations receiving grants, please contact the institutions directly.

Project: Sotterley Plantation: Slave Cabin – Hollywood, St. Mary’s County ($78,000) Sponsor: Historic Sotterley, Inc.

Sotterley Plantation is a 1703 Tidewater plantation with more than 20 original buildings still standing. After its restoration, the 1830s slave cabin was dedicated to Agnes Kane Callum, a Baltimore resident whose great-grandfather was born enslaved at Sotterley, and who was instrumental in telling the story of Sotterley’s enslaved community. The grant project will include repairs to the cabin as well as accessibility improvements to the paths leading to it.

Project: Fairmount Heights World War II Monument –Prince George’s County ($12,250) Sponsor: Town of Fairmount Heights

The Fairmount Heights World War II Monument was built in 1946 to honor local citizens who served in the armed forces during World War II. The grant project will include repairs to the monument and site improvements within the park.

Project: Liberty Grace Church of God: Bowling Alley – Baltimore City ($100,000) Sponsor: Liberty Grace Church of God, Inc.

Liberty Grace Church of God was built in 1922 and has an early 20th century bowling alley in its basement. This historic bowling alley will be restored to working order. Read more about the bowling alley in our earlier blog post!

Project: Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church – Cambridge, Dorchester County ($100,000) Sponsor: Eastern Shore Network for Change, Inc.

The Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church was constructed in 1903 and is the oldest African American church still standing in Cambridge. This grant will fund structural repairs to the church, as well as repairs to windows and doors.

Project: Emmanuel Episcopal Church: Tunnels – Cumberland, Allegany County ($100,000) Sponsor: Emmanuel Episcopal Parish Incorporated

Emmanuel Episcopal Church was built atop the remains of Fort Cumberland, forming a series of tunnels beneath the church that eventually came to be used as shelter by African Americans escaping slavery on the Underground Railroad. Local oral traditions describe a quilt panel with a cross on a hill representing Emmanuel Episcopal Church as a stop on the road to freedom. This project will improve lighting and ventilation in the tunnels, as well as improve accessibility for visitors touring the tunnels.

Project: Warren Historic Site: Warren United Methodist Church and Martinsburg Negro School – Dickerson, Montgomery County ($100,000) Sponsor: Warren Historic Site Committee, Inc.

The Warren Historic Site is likely the last in Maryland where the traditional triad of buildings constructed in most post-Emancipation African American communities – the church, school, and lodge hall – still exist. The grant project will include roof and foundation repairs on the church, as well as roof, foundation, and floor repairs on the school.

Project: McConchie One-Room School – La Plata, Charles County ($99,000) Sponsor: Charles County Fair, Inc.

The McConchie School was constructed around 1912 to serve African American children in central Charles County. The school was closed in 1952, was converted to a residence, and had been abandoned by 1980. The Charles County Fair purchased and moved the building to the fairgrounds in 1990. The grant project will include structural repairs so that the school can continue to be used as a museum.

Project: Zion United Methodist Church – Federalsburg, Caroline County ($100,000) Sponsor: Zion ME Church

Zion Methodist Episcopal Church was built in 1931 and features stained glass windows and ornamental woodwork on its tower. The grant will fund accessibility and drainage improvements to the site, as well as structural repairs to the building.

Project: Robert W. Johnson Community Center: Swimming Pool – Hagerstown, Washington County ($100,000) Sponsor: Robert W Johnson Community Center, Inc.

In 1959, the North Street Swimming Pool was constructed as part of the Robert W. Johnson Community Center in Hagerstown’s Jonathan Street Neighborhood. It was the only pool in the city where African Americans could swim, and the pool itself is relatively unchanged since it was built. The grant project will repair the swimming pool so that it can be returned to community use.

Project: Ellsworth Cemetery – Westminster, Carroll County ($65,000) Sponsor: Community Foundation of Carroll County, Incorporated

Six African American Union Army veterans established the Ellsworth Cemetery in 1876 to provide a burial place for the African American residents of Westminster. The grant project will include mapping of the cemetery and conservation of grave markers.

Project: Asbury M.E. Church – Easton, Talbot County ($100,000) Sponsor: Historic Easton, Incorporated

Asbury M.E. Church was dedicated by Frederick Douglass in 1878. The church also served as a temporary high school for Black students in the 1930s and is now both an active church and a community center. Grant funding will be used to make structural repairs and accessibility upgrades to the fellowship hall within the church.

Project: Fruitland Community Center, Wicomico County ($44,000) Sponsor: Fruitland Community Center, Inc.

In 1912 local community members built the Morris Street Colored School, now known as the Fruitland Community Center, for Wicomico County’s African American children. The building is still used for educational purposes, with summer and after school programs for children as well as an archive. The grant project will include roof replacement, accessibility improvements, and upgrades to the electrical and mechanical systems of the building.

A Summer Exploring Maryland’s History by Land and Sea

A Summer Exploring Maryland’s History by Land and Sea

By Stephanie Soder, 2019 Summer Intern in Maryland Archeology

Having recently graduated with a Master’s degree in Maritime Studies (Archeology), I was excited when I was chosen as the Maryland Historical Trust’s summer intern. I grew up just over the Mason-Dixon border in Pennsylvania and spent about half of my life in Maryland, so I was happy to be back in the state I considered “home”. The MHT Archeology staff wasted no time in throwing me into the chaos of gearing up for the annual Tyler Bastian Field Session that was taking place at Billingsley House in Prince George’s County.

The Author examining a prehistoric pit feature exposed during the 2019 Field Session
(Drone imagery courtesy of Ryan Craun, M-NCPPC).

Though the Billingsley House dates to the 18th century, this 11-day field session focused on finding two 17th-century Native American villages. I was charged with keeping the field lab running smoothly and the site forms organized. Water buckets and toothbrushes came out every day for artifact washing, allowing volunteers to take a break from digging in the heat. Every tenth bucket coming from each unit was water screened through a ⅛” mesh, hoping to reveal small trade beads (and creating quite the mess). By the end of the session, 12 units had been opened, resulting in artifacts ranging from pre-colonial lithics and ceramics to nails, faunal remains, and fire-cracked rock. Thanks to the hard efforts of the lab volunteers, almost all of the artifacts were washed and weighed by the end of the last day.

The remaining time of my internship was split between a variety of projects. I was able to work on projects that met my interests, and though I love to be out in the field, I challenged myself by taking on tasks that I was not as familiar with: Section 106 review and compliance, artifact identification, and remote sensing.

A Late Archaic projectile point recovered at Billingsley (Photo by the author).

Compliance archeology focuses on ensuring that federal and state funded projects limit impacts to the historical integrity of sites around Maryland. Dixie Henry and Beth Cole shared their expectations for compliance reports and gave me federal and state standards for archeology and architectural studies to read. They then allowed to me to review some compliance reports and tag along on a consultation meeting with the National Park Service to mitigate impacts to historic sites while building their new C & O Canal Headquarters. The time I spent learning about compliance has reinforced my appreciation for the work that goes into protecting our historical resources.

My graduate research focused largely on Pacific Islander culture and modern conflict, so getting familiar with artifacts found throughout Maryland was a necessity. I spent much of the second half of my internship in the lab cleaning, identifying, and photographing artifacts from previously completed fieldwork in Janes Island State Park (Somerset County). I then began working on site forms and compiled a report that highlighted research on each type of artifact find. There’s no better way to learn how to complete a task than getting to do it first-hand, and I feel that my time working with the artifacts helped familiarize me with examples found around Maryland and the resources available for identification.

Most of my previous work involved excavation or evaluation with very little training in remote sensing. Under the tutelage of Matt McKnight and Charlie Hall, I learned how to run a magnetic susceptibility meter and a fluxgate gradiometer. Putting what I had learned to the test, we set out for a new site that may be associated with an ordinary dating from the origins of Caroline County. I assisted with using the gradiometer and practiced with the magnetic susceptibility meter. The collected data will help with future work on the site by the Caroline County Historical Society. Out on Janes Island, Troy Nowak put me to work completing a side-scan sonar and bathymetric survey in Maryland waters. With a steady hand and concentration, I learned to follow transect lines while driving a boat in order to collect data consistently. The rest of the week was spent surveying the shoreline and tracking how it has changed over time in order to evaluate potential impacts on historical sites.

The author collecting marine remote sensing data off of Janes Island (Photo by Troy Nowak).

My summer at MHT came to an end far too quickly, but it has been an extremely rewarding experience. It has helped prepare me for a career in Maryland, and I’d like to thank the entire staff at MHT for their guidance, patience, and for providing me this amazing opportunity.

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.

New Historical Markers along Maryland’s Roads

Old Wallville School Marker Unveiling.
Photo courtesy of David Krankowski

 

The Maryland Historical Trust, State Highway Administration, and local partners have installed six new and two replacement historical markers along Maryland’s roadways, bringing the total number of markers to 822! Continue reading