Monday, August 25, 2008

Future research priorities

Assuming that I haven't screwed it up, you will notice a new poll immediately to the left of this posting. We would like to gauge interest in some of the research topics that we are pursuing. These are some of the research topics with which the project is involved and the list is not intended to be inclusive.

Early prehistoric riverine adaptations refers specifically to the Late Archaic Indian sites that we have identified in Port Tobacco and in the fields extending to Warehouse Point. The floodplain setting of these sites suggest that the occupant exploited spring fish runs and a variety of wetland plants and animals. How these sites and the activities they represent fit into larger settlement and subsistence systems remains uncertain. These sites likely were occupied 3,000 to 5,000 years ago.

Contact period is that brief era during which Indians came in sustained contact with Europeans, the 1630s to the early 18th century in Southern Maryland. Surviving documents are remarkably few and obtuse on the question of how these two peoples interacted in Maryland. (They are a little better for Virginia.) We think we found a Contact period site in June during the Archeological Society of Maryland field session. With further investigation, can we find the remains of an Indian house? deposits containing Indian-made objects and traded European artifacts? evidence of dietary patterns (bones, mollusk shells, plant remains) that may reflect indigenous or creolized foodways?

We know remarkably little about town-formation along the Chesapeake Bay in the Colonial period. The few surviving records suggest concepts in town-planning, but say little about the realities of changing urban environments, including their adverse environmental impacts. Port Tobacco is a superb laboratory for studying these topics because it is well-preserved as an archaeological site, it has a relatively rich archival record, and it is one of the few Chesapeake settlements to have turned into something more than a handful of dwellings and taverns around a courthouse of landing. Discovery of the Colonial cemetery this past June likely will lead to the discovery of the first church, and with that we will have a significant key to the appearance of the early 18th-century town.

Port Tobacco and Charles County played a significant role in the Revolutionary War, particularly in supplying the Continental Army during the first few years of the conflict. We really do not know what the town looked like during that period, nor how it changed during the economic depression in the years following the war. How was the town laid out and what was the relative wealth of its occupants during and after the Revolution? The project team has already identified relevant sites and we expect to find more.

We are already pursuing the Civil War era in town, focusing largely on the last year of the war and the Lincoln conspiracy. We will intensify this work in connection with our Preserve America grant, but have already found one of our targeted sites for the period: the 'new' jailhouse. We will be looking for the house of conspirator George Atzerodt's common law wife, the post office, and Union encampments in the vicinity.

Feel free to raise other topics using the comment function of the blog. We will run this poll through October 1, 2008. We hope to have a volunteer weekend in October or November and the poll might play a part in our decision as to where to work during that event.

As for the previous poll, we are heartened to see interest in videos of the work and will endeavor to provide more and of higher quality. We will try to acquire an appropriate camera for the work.


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