Saturday, October 17, 2009

ASM Annual Meeting

Just back from the Archeological Society of Maryland's annual meeting, held this year at the maritime museum in Havre de Grace and hosted by the Northern Chesapeake Chapter. The various presentations throughout the day covered the many projects in which the chapter has been engaged.

A particularly notable moment was the bestowal of the William B. Marye Award, the Society's highest honor, on Dan Coates. Dan has been a leader in experimentation in aboriginal technologies and in sharing archaeological discoveries with the general public. He has also been the sometimes shadowy figure providing logistical support for field sessions and other archaeological events. Congratulations Dan!

At the meeting we announced that, weather permitting, we would be working at Port Tobacco next weekend, giving ASM members, and especially those in the Certified Archeological Technician program, an opportunity to get in some field experience before the weather gets really bad. More on that later in the week. As of today, we are canceling fieldwork for Monday to give the ground a chance to dry out and anticipate renewal of the field effort on Tuesday.


Friday, October 16, 2009

Getting into the zone...plowzone that is!

In the spirit of our return to Port Tobacco to continue excavations I figured today would be as good a time as any to discuss an archaeologist's close encounters with soil...of the plowzone kind.

At Port Tobacco the first and second strata excavated are often plowzone deposits. Plowing accounts for the mix of artifacts often found while screening plowzone soils, as the movement of a plow destroys any vertical stratigraphy, jumbling together ceramics, glass, metal, etc. that were deposited during different time periods. Additionally, plowing the soil (while wonderful for cultivation) often interferes with features and damages artifacts. All of this mixing and damage may seem depressing, but all is not lost! Although artifacts may be moved vertically through strata during plowing, they do not move very much spatially (horizontally). This means that artifacts in the plowzone generally are still located near to where they were originally deposited.

Since plowing only minimally moves artifacts spatially, it has been possible for us to name different excavation areas at the Port Tobacco site. For instance, both historic and prehistoric ceramics were found in the plowzone in the Aboriginal Locus (not named because the sole artifacts found are associated with prehistoric occupation, but because the density of aboriginal artifacts is much higher). While this mix of artifacts spanning thousands of years in age may make it difficult to date occupation periods, the high concentration of aboriginal artifacts still suggests that in this particular space there were likely aboriginal activities occurring. So, while plowing may make dating and feature identification near-impossible, plowed soils can still offers clues as to what types of activities did and did not occur in an area of a site. This also has important implications when analyzing soils as, once again, while soils from different strata have been combined the soil is still representative of that particular area.

Also, since we looked to awful chilly in yesterday's picture, I thought it might be nice to recall those beautiful sunny days of the Field Session back in May by posting a couple of pictures of us and the wonderful volunteers tackling some plow zone. Many thanks to John Fiveash of the Archaeological Society of Maryland for these pictures--please check out the ASM website for many more pictures from the 2009 Port Tobacco field session (as well as others from past field sessions!).

Stay warm...I heard there is a possibility of a bit of flurry activity early on tomorrow morning!


Thursday, October 15, 2009


Despite the damp and chilly weather at Port Tobacco yesterday Carol and Calvin joined Pete, Kelley and I in finishing a third 5x5 unit in the search for the Swann site. We excavated five strata in Unit 82, starting with lightweight silty loam that was deposited relatively recently by the elements. This uppermost layer had 4.5 lbs. of oyster shell. Stratum 2 was similar, but hard packed. This layer revealed a lovely decorated clasp with the hinge intact. Stratum 3 was lighter in color and had more gravel than the previous layer. A large one cent coin and several buttons were found in this stratum. Large one cent coins were replaced by the smaller size, which is used today, in 1856.

The first three strata also had large amounts of iron, whiteware, and creamware. Stratum 4 appeared only in the southwest portion of the unit. It was mottled with light-brown organic material, which may have been part of a tree that decomposed on that spot. The layer contained a few pieces of fire-cracked rock. The last stratum was very gravelly, with brick flecks and several large brick fragments. There was also a wine bottle neck with a string rim, tin-glazed earthenware, green and blue edgeware, and pearlware. The artifacts in Stratum 5 indicate that the layer was deposited earlier than the Swann site. We finished the unit when the soil became a light yellowish-brown, very gravelly, and sterile.

After completing the unit, we dug a few STPs in the nearby field. We found a handful of items; mostly vessel glass and very small whiteware sherds. The next obstacle we tackled in that area is the mountain of stone and trash that Jim talked about in Monday’s blog. The mound is covered with thorny vines and poison ivy. No doubt it will an adventure to clear it and document the location before we even begin to excavate.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Change of Plans

In anticipation of filthy weather tomorrow and Friday, I'm suspending fieldwork at Port Tobacco until next week. Sunday is a remote possibility depending on how much rain falls over the next two days, but the Weather Service calls for an inch of rain on Thursday and continued intermittent showers and chilly temperatures through Sunday.

On a happier note, today Peter Quantock has arrived at the 35th anniversary of his birth and he is celebrating it in a square hole in a woods in Port Tobacco. (He is pictured left in the red bandanna.)

Pete shares his birthday with noted poet ee cummings. I'll pay homage to cummings on some other day. I proclaim today National Pete Day.


Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Back At It

Another day at the Swann site and more interesting observations. We removed some recently deposited soil from a new unit (#81) and found a shell midden below that appears to date to around the middle of the 19th century. It capped a non-shell midden that included a fair amount of bone and artifacts dating to the first half of the 19th century, which in turn rested on culturally sterile gravelly clay loam.

We can't say for sure that this is the James A. Swann oyster house/restaurant, but the artifacts certainly are consistent with that attribution.

I will not be on site tomorrow, but Pete, Anne, and Kelley will be there and volunteers, as always, are welcome. We are getting close to tackling the stone foundation that is just a few feet from our current unit, #82.

The weather forecast for Thursday is not promising, so watch the blog if you are interested in visiting or participating.


Monday, October 12, 2009

Swann site update

Sorry, no pictures today. We had a crew of seven today working on the Swann site. Lots of oyster shell and lots of artifacts. My read on the artifacts particularly the ceramics, is that we have a site occupied from around 1800 (creamware and pearlware, but no white salt-glazed stoneware) through the first half of the 19th century (Mid-Atlantic slipware and quite a few large sherds of Rockingham yellowware.

We recovered quite a few nails--both handwrought and machine-cut--but no wire nails that I noticed.

Tomorrow we are moving farther into the hedgerow by about 25 ft to excavate another 5 ft by 5 ft unit. Then we are likely to swing south and approach a large pile of building stone that likely represents the stone foundation and cellar hole of the Swann House.

Because of some tight scheduling and other commitments, I probably will not post any photographs until later in the week.

Remember: tomorrow evening at the Port Tobacco courthouse Dr. Julie King will report on her research in Charles County this past summer.


Sunday, October 11, 2009

Upcoming Events

Anne, Kelley, and Pete have substantially completed the artifact catalog (there are always minor corrections and clarifications to make), logging in just under 125,000 artifacts recovered since Scott and I first put spade to ground in the fall of 2006. We don't have a catalog of all the paperwork that we generated as a consequence, but suffice it to say it is a ponderous stack. I'm beginning to feel a bit like Jacob Marley, dragging behind me the ponderous chain of artifacts, forms, and reports forged in life. Unlike the links of Scrooge and Marley, however, I hope that our assemblage of data will effect some good in life, recognizing and celebrating the histories of the forgotten and contributing to a larger understanding of the interaction of historical and environmental processes.

Now that we are current in our cataloging and making some headway in analysis and report writing, we are returning to the field this Monday through Friday. We will be on the backside of the hedgerow that stands between Compton field and the Jamieson family field and the creek, so we will be out of sight. Volunteers and visitors should walk past and to the left of the courthouse and follow the woods along the creek. Alternatively, drive across Compton field to the end of the hedgerow and walk a few yards toward the creek. We start at 9 AM.

On Tuesday evening at 7:30 Dr. Julia A. King will speak to the Charles County Archaeological Society in the Port Tobacco courthouse about the search she is undertaking for Charles, Lord Baltimore's summer house and Zekiah Fort north of La Plata. It is absolutely free and you get to hobnob with many of the PTAP participants while hearing a report on some groundbreaking research.

This Saturday is the annual meeting of the Archeological Society of Maryland, held this year in Havre de Grace. For details, visit the ASM website:

The PTAP team looks forward to an exciting autumn. Please join us.