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.

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.