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.

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

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.

New Pieces of History at the MAC Lab

By Patricia Samford, Director, Maryland Archaeological Conservation Laboratory

It somehow seems appropriate that the acquisition by the State of Maryland of many of Baltimore’s most important artifact collections would occur during April — Maryland’s Archaeology Month.  These collections, which were generated through the work of the Baltimore Center for Urban Archaeology, will be curated by the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Laboratory (MAC Lab) at Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum.

18bc38 pearlware scratch blue

A privy filled in the early 19th century at the Clagett’s Brewery site (18BC38) yielded 432 ceramic and glass vessels, including this unusual scratch blue pearlware chamberpot bearing the initials of England’s King George.

The formation of the Baltimore Center for Urban Archaeology in April of 1983 was arguably the single most influential action affecting archaeology in the city.  Baltimore mayor William Donald Schaefer, impressed by the Archaeology in Annapolis project, decided that a similar program was needed to promote heritage tourism in Baltimore. Mayor Schaefer envisioned excavations as a way, through the media and public visitation, of promoting Fallswalk, a new historic walking trail along Jones Falls.  In establishing the Center, Schaefer instituted the first public archaeology program ever funded by a major U. S. city.

Over the next fifteen years, the Baltimore Center for Urban Archaeology conducted historical research on 53 city properties, resulting in 21 excavations. Some of the most important projects included the Clagett Brewery (18BC38)—one of Baltimore’s earliest breweries—along Jones Falls, and Cheapside Wharf (18BC55), where the Inner Harbor is located today. The center’s work generated around 500 boxes of artifacts—collections that have revealed important evidence about the city’s past and its important role as a port city.

conservancy tour

Members of an Archaeological Conservancy tour admire artifacts from the privy at Clagett’s Brewery

Elizabeth A. Comer directed the BCUA from its inception in 1983 until 1988, when she left to work in tourism in the Schaefer administration. Upon her departure the direction of the BCUA was shared by Kristen Stevens Peters and Louise Akerson. Louise, who had been the BCUA’s Lab Director since 1983, assumed overall direction of the BCUA when Kristin left in 1990, and continued in that role until her retirement in 1996. Esther Doyle Read was the final director of the BCUA until it was dissolved, along with the City Life Museums, in 1997. The collections generated through the center’s work were acquired by the Maryland Historical Society. For the next twenty years, the collections and the records associated with the excavations were unavailable to researchers and students. Negotiations between the State of Maryland, the City of Baltimore and the Maryland Historical Society resulted in the collections being turned over to the state in April of 2018.

The MAC Lab has already begun to make the collections available to the public.  A sample of artifacts from the Clagett Brewery Site was on display during Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum’s Discovering Archaeology Day event on April 21st and they were also popular with the Archaeological Conservancy tour of the lab.  Over the next several months, artifacts from the collections will begin to be added to the Diagnostic Artifacts in Maryland website and also to Maryland Unearthed, a website that allows the public and researchers to learn more about the collections at the lab.   For more information about this collection or the work of the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Laboratory, please contact patricia.samford@maryland.gov.

Author’s note: This is a slighly updated version of the original article with a few factual errors corrected.

Angling for Archeology

By Troy Nowak, Assistant State Underwater Archeologist, Maryland Historical Trust

“Catch anything?” is positively the most common question we are asked on the water.

“Perhaps?” is usually the correct answer, but not an answer anyone would expect or understand without explanation. There is never time to explain when piloting a skiff with a cable attached to a towfish astern, and crabpots, pilings, or other obstructions dead ahead. The answer is usually a simple “No,” hopefully not accompanied by a scramble to avoid collision.

Contrary to popular belief, we are never fishing and rarely searching for any particular archeological site or shipwreck. As part of the Maryland Historical Trust, Maryland’s State Historic Preservation Office, most of our time on the water is related to routine site inspections of areas where construction is planned, or surveys of areas where development is expected or erosion is accelerating.

John Fiveash and Brent ChippendaleMay 2017 Field Session (1)

John Fiveash and Brent Chippendale, volunteering with the Maryland Maritime Archeology Program as part of the 2017 Annual Field Session in Maryland Archeology.

Each year roughly 700 projects receiving state or federal licenses, permits, or funding find their way to our desks  for review in compliance with state and federal historic preservation laws. All involve activities with potential to impact submerged archeological historic properties and reviews of these projects can take from ten minutes to years of coordination with government agencies and project sponsors. Very few, about ten per year, require site inspections; even less result in recommendations to government agencies for archeological studies prior to construction or other ground disturbance. This process is the frontline against loss of submerged archeological sites and/or the information they can provide to development.

Most site inspections and surveys involve reconnaissance of a discrete area using a side scan sonar, a marine magnetometer, and an echo sounder. Side scan sonar allows us to record detailed images of submerged lands and objects regardless of water clarity and the marine magnetometer helps us find submerged and buried shipwrecks, wharves, or other structures or objects which cause localized distortions in the earth’s magnetic field. The echo sounder is largely used to make sure we don’t run the instruments or the skiff aground, but we can also use the data it collects to produce bathymetric maps which can allow comparisons between current bottom topography and historic charts and maps.

MAM Poster 2018web

This April, Maryland Archeology Month celebrated the 30th anniversary of the Maryland Maritime Archeology Program.

We rarely know if we “caught” anything significant without further work – typically including data processing and review, library and archival research, more survey, and occasionally diving.

Discovery of new sites not only happens during formal site inspections and surveys, but also, and quite often, during the trip home. We typically stow the magnetometer before we depart the area we are formally investigating. It is towed nearly 70 feet astern during operation creating a complication and potential hazard while cruising among other vessels. We often leave the sonar in the water, as it is usually either pole mounted or towed very close alongside, and adjust its range to cover a large area. Now painting in broad strokes, the sonar produces coarse-grained images unsuitable for a typical archeological survey, but good enough to detect large objects protruding from or sitting on the bottom.

Chester_River_Shipwreck

Wooden shipwreck recorded during the  final site visit of 2017.

The return trip usually is planned in advance to pass or quickly inspect areas where the remains of old boats and ships may be hiding, such as inlets where they were often discarded, and shoals where they often ran aground. This is usually the most relaxing and exciting part of the day. The work is done and we can use our knowledge, skill, and a bit of luck to “catch a big one.”

We are often fortunate enough to share the excitement of discovery with volunteers who assist at the helm or scrutinize incoming data for any indication of potential targets. When we get a “bite” we normally turn around and readjust the sonar to capture clear images such as the wooden shipwreck recorded by volunteer Bill Utley and me after the Maryland Maritime Archeology Program’s final site visit of 2017 (see shipwreck photo above). We look forward to returning to the site to learn more about its identity and significance and to more site visits, surveys, and discoveries like this one in 2018.

This post was adapted from Charting the Past:  30 Years of Exploring Maryland’s Submerged History, a booklet written in celebration of Maryland Archeology Month – April 2018.

The Maryland Maritime Archeology Program was established in 1988 in response to the Abandoned Shipwreck Act of 1987, which encourages states to study, protect, preserve, and manage shipwrecks embedded in or on state-controlled submerged lands, and in recognition of the importance of Maryland’s varied submerged cultural resources. The program inventories and manages these resources in collaboration with non-profit organizations and government agencies and shares information with the public through its education and outreach activities.

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.