Saturday, June 28, 2008

Grave Orientation

Scott asked about grave orientation at the newly discovered cemetery at Port Tobacco. He noted that according to Christian tradition the preferred orientation is east-west; that is, the body is laid out with the head at the west end of its east-west axis and the feet at the east end. On judgment day, the dead arise facing the rising sun (a metaphor for the return of Christ).

The tradition today is honored more in the breach than the observance, but there is accumulating evidence that Europeans in Colonial America often did not observe the tradition outside of church cemeteries.

The graves uncovered at Port Tobacco so far are oriented about thirty degrees west of north; which is to say, they are closer to north-south than east-west in orientation...not what we might expect for a church cemetery.

Below is the map of the Patuxent Point household cemetery that I worked on in southern Calvert County with the Maryland Historical Trust nearly 20 years ago. This graveyard probably was in use from the 1660s through the 1680s, and possibly into the early 1700s, by a succession of households.

I've divided the graves into groups or clusters based on their orientation and other factors. Note that some intrude into others and that allows us to determine the order in which they were placed: 1, 3, and then 2. The fourth cluster probably represents laborers and its date relative to those of the other groups cannot be determined. The upshot of the analysis is that only Cluster 3 graves approach the ideal of an east-west orientation.

The general pattern at the Port Tobacco cemetery remains to be seen. Grave orientation certainly will be among the issues that the PTAP crew will address when we find some funding for the further exploration of that cemetery. And don't forget: we still have the later cemetery on the north side of town to locate and define and, possibly, resurrect and restore long buried grave markers.


Friday, June 27, 2008

Colonial Period Graveyard

Last August the PTAP crew excavated Shovel Test Pit 150 in the Compton field, near the hedgerow that separates the field from the Jamieson field to the west. Unlike the other 400 odd shovel tests that we eventually would excavate, STP 150 came down on what should have been undisturbed subsoil, but instead encountered a mixture of three soils of varying color and texture, including some material that probably came from deep below the natural subsoil.

This subtle difference suggested that we had come down on a feature, one dug deep into the earth. It didn't have any artifacts in it that we could see, but then only a few square inches had been exposed, and there were very few artifacts in neighboring shovel tests. It was a deeply dug cultural feature with few associated artifacts. If it were a structural post hole or cellar hole suggesting a dwelling, we would have expected a fair number of Colonial or early 19th-century artifacts. We hypothesized, therefore, that it was part of a graveshaft that we had encountered, even though none were known to have existed in this area (a community cemetery existed throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries on the north side of town, buried in sediment).

During the field session, Scott Lawrence led a small band of intrepids in the excavation of a 5 ft square near STP 150, traces of which could still be detected on the surface. That unit exposed what I thought was a plowscar and then, after excavation, appeared to me to be a tire rut in the otherwise undisturbed subsoil. Two additional units, however, exposed three partial and one entire graveshaft. The plowscar/tire rut more likely is a paling fence ditch, a shallow trench in which a boundary fence was erected (see drawing and photograph below).

Our discovery has more importance than learning about where an early cemetery was located (although that is pretty important). It also narrows down our search for the 1680s to 1709 Anglican church at Port Tobacco, a framed structure that, based on the large pieces of burned daub found in those three excavation units, is nearby and probably of earthfast construction.

We expect to eventually expose and map the entire cemetery, as well as excavate the church when we find it. There are no plans to excavate any of the graves. Detailed archival research should help us more accurately date the church and cemetery.


Thursday, June 26, 2008

With Many Thanks

Dear Readers:
Processing and analysis of the materials recovered during the Archeological Society of Maryland's field session at Port Tobacco are proceeding rapidly and I expect that we will start sharing some of the preliminary results as soon as tomorrow. At this point, however, I would like to thank--on behalf of the PTAP crew-- the many individuals who have made this undertaking a success:

Mr. Calvin Compton and Dr. Dorothy Barbour gave us permission to work on their land for which we are all grateful. Without that access, there would not have been a field session. Indeed, there would be no PTAP.

Mr. Jim Berry on a few hours notice used his skip loader to backfill all of our excavations, saving the project several hundred dollars and allowing us to use our volunteer and staff labor to further explore the site on the last Sunday rather than devoting valuable time and labor to backfilling by hand.

Cathy Hardy, Donna Dudley, and Sheila Geissart and their colleagues in Charles County's departments of Planning and Economic Development provided critical logistical support, some funds, and lots of good cheer and moral support. They embody the true meaning of civil servant.

Sheila Smith, as always, never missed a beat in accommodating our motley crew. She also materially supported our survey of the plowed fields in the weeks leading up to the field session.

Ed Edelen provided an outstanding lunch and tours of his home at historic Mulberry Grove to at least 30 of the grubbiest, dirtiest vagabonds you'll ever want to meet. I'd have chased the whole crew off and called the police.

Dr. Charles Hall--Charlie--of the Maryland Historical Trust brought his usual good cheer, passion for the work, and willingness to pitch in to the field session...he proved a critical link in our nearly over-extended crew. Thank you Charlie.

Dan Coates built our temporary shower behind the courthouse. A great deal of the field session's success can be attributed to Dan's efforts. Without that shower, we would not have been able to camp on site and in the Burch House. He saved us a lot of trouble and expense. Dan also built the new H-frame screens and the new platform screen that we hope will eventually replace the old, inefficient tripod screens that ASM has used for many years.

Our local friends Elsie Picyk and Steve Lohar brought their energy, dedication, and hard work to the field session each day, as they often have during the eight months or so that PTAP has existed. Steve and his wife Tina also treated the staff, an intern, and volunteers to dinner at a local restaurant, an evening of conviviality punctuated by a very impressive electrical storm.

Last, but by no means least, the PTAP crew thanks the ASM leadership and 86 registrants for many hours of hard work, collegiality, and high spirits. What a pleasure, and what a shame that we couldn't have stretched out the field session for several more days (or weeks?).

On a personal note, I want to thank my old friend and co-director, April, for her hard-headed determination to see every facet of the field session and our research conducted in an orderly manner. (Management really isn't my long suit.) Pete, Scott, and Dionisios brought intelligence and leadership and dedication to doing the best possible job to each of their excavations. Thank you all.

For those of you whom I've forgotten to mention, please accept my apologies. I hope there will be plenty of opportunities to recognize your efforts as the project steams on.

We'll get back to reporting on results tomorrow. Laboratory days at the MHT lab in Crownville begin next week and will occur on Tuesdays and Thursdays.


Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Lab Work Set To Begin

While everyone involved with the laboratory work at the field session did an amazing job, we still have quite a few artifacts left to wash, catalog and rebag. We will start next week at the Archaeology Lab in Crownsville. Instead of one day a week, we are trying to arrange two days a week in the lab. All volunteers are welcome as usual. I will post again later this week with days and times.

Again, a big thank you to all the volunteers who spent hours a day cleaning and bagging artifacts during the field session.


Postscript from Jim:
I second Pete's thanks. Also, I moved all of the artifacts from Port Tobacco to my lab and we will move them to the MHT lab tomorrow. The combined weight must exceed 200 pounds. If there is sufficient interest, we will schedule some lab days in Port Tobacco.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Jail House Rocks

Let me first thank everyone who assisted me with the Port Tobacco Jail House project. By far, my crew was the most ambitious and hard working. You all know who you are and I really appreciate you helping me. Special thanks to April, Jim, Pete, and Dio for their advice and guidance. Also, to Steve, our intern...thanks for the coffee!

April and Jim during dinner at the Burch House. Angry Peter makes threats in the background.

The jail house efforts didn't start too well. We excavated a unit in a failing septic field! Very damp as you can imagine. While digging in that festering swill, someone wandered into the woods about 50 ft away (hmmm) and discovered a lot of surface brick, mortar, plaster, and even an iron fence. Additionally, a large mound was seen. My dynamic and energetic crew was quick to clear the brush from the entire area. A few STPs were dug revealing fairly deep deposits of rubble as well as 18th, 19th, and 20th century artifacts. We knew we were on target. A 2.5 ft by 10 ft trench was excavated, but no foundation. Later, a 5 by 5 was excavated and there was the foundation! Subsequent test units were excavated, revealing more foundation. At one point, the foundation seemed to reach a corner and we dug STPs at 15, 20, and 25 ft, hitting foundation at each test site. A 5 by 5 was dug at the 25 ft mark. The wall, strangely, seems to terminate there. Was this the main wall of the jail or and interior support wall? We'll not know this season, but we will soon! Lot's more details available on this site...more later.

Above: The Dynamic Jail House Crew excavates the foundation. Below: a view of the jail site with the Hardest Working People in Penal History

Monday, June 23, 2008

The Field Session Finale

Today was the final day of the ASM field session. We had a small group
of volunteers today but managed to excavate a few features and still
clean up the courthouse and pack up most of the equipment.

Yesterday was much more hectic. We finished up excavation on all areas
of the site by 3pm and then had a wrap-up BBQ party. Only three of us
stayed the night but we had quite a night of swimming mixed with
strong storms.

I am off to NY tomorrow and Dio is already back in Chicago. Jim, Pete,
and Scott will hold down the fort in MD all summer. Keep checking in
her for more volunteer opportunities.

April M. Beisaw