Saturday, January 26, 2008

Native American Archaeology at Port Tobacco

Yes, the focus of the project team's research at Port Tobacco is the Colonial Period development and 19th-century transformation of the town. But, as April's posting yesterday demonstrates, we are interested in the American Indians who occupied the region prior to what scholars call the Contact Period (sustained relations, amicable and hostile, between the aboriginal occupants and the invading Europeans).

Our first phase of study has identified pottery that archaeologists have identified throughout coastal Maryland as Potomac Creek and Rappahannock (both Late Woodland, or dating after AD 800), and as Accokeek and, possibly, Popes Creek (the Early Woodland [750 to 400 BC] and Middle Woodland [400 BC to AD 200] periods. Peter wrote about some of this material a week or so ago. [Just a reminder: these are terms that archaeologists have applied to periods that we have defined and to types of artifacts representative of those periods; they are not the terms used by the people whom we study in referring to themselves and their neighbors.]

The later material seems most prominent and we hope to conduct further testing in the area of one of those concentrations this spring. Given the prevalence of these aboriginal sites throughout the region, one might ask...actually, you might ask...why we are bothering. Well, we wrestle with that question too. As I mentioned in a previous posting, we hope that an exploration of the prehistoric deposits might shed some light on what has happened in the Port Tobacco Valley prior to European colonization; specifically, we'd like to know what geologic processes were in motion before Europeans introduced large-scale deforestation and agriculture.

It is also my hope that we can develop new ways of looking at prehistoric sites in the Chesapeake Basin from the vantage point of Port Tobacco. In my opinion, the amount we are learning each year about these sites, and the people and cultures they represent, is quite small compared to the great strides of a generation and more ago. We are in a bit of a rut, and Port Tobacco offers the opportunity to rethink some strategies and concepts, and perhaps to revise some of the long-held, but poorly substantiated interpretations such as that April wrote about yesterday.

I hope to see many of our readers at Port Tobacco courthouse tomorrow at 1PM for our first major public presentation on our findings. And I hope to see many of you on the edges of our excavation units this spring.


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