Saturday, November 14, 2009

More on Eroded Site

Thursday I wrote about a highly eroded site that the GAC team tested in a Southern Maryland county. I thought that I would add a bit more on the subject. I continue to be cagey about the site and where it is located because we are in the middle of a process. In any case, the specific location is irrelevant to the point.

In the map to the above you can see the site 18PR996 on top of a knoll and several artifacts that were recovered from the plowed surface some months ago. I noted in the earlier blog that we surface collected, shovel tested, metal detected, and excavated five 3 ft by 3 ft units. We exposed and excavated the very bottom portion of a pit with some ash in its fill. Clearly, at least one foot, and possibly several feet, of soil has been lost over the past couple of centuries, and especially during the 20th century.

In the photograph to the right, you can see the artifacts that we collected during all phases of field work. This isn't a sample...apart from some small brick fragments and some oyster shell fragments, this is everything we recovered. In fact, the probable fuel line (#5) and the bolt (#3) are machine parts, likely from a 20th-century tractor.

Clearly there was a house on the site, but surely it was built with more than a few nails (#s 1, 2, 4, and 7) and furnished with more than a few bits of ceramic (#s 6, 7, and 8).

Identifying the locations of these early 19th-century house sites has research value, but we are unlikely to get much more information out of them...they are lost.


Friday, November 13, 2009

Foundation Mapping Continues...sort of

Hey folks,

Sorry for the late blog post on this rainy, windy day. After trekking back from Port Tobacco I was set to finish up the mapping of the Swann House foundation, but was foiled by technology in the form of an uncooperative AutoCAD program. I was, however, able to complete the south wall--please click on the image below for a better look. I promise a complete, high-quality, drawing of the foundation by the middle of next week.

Also to look forward to over the next couple weeks are updates about the excavations done at Port Tobacco that were funded through a Preserve American grant. One of the areas included in this is the site where April and her minions...I mean, enthusiastic students, searched for the Indian King hotel. Perhaps some of our volunteers would remember this area better as the one full of tin-glazed ceramics.

Wishing everyone a wonderful weekend (stay dry!)


Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Earth is Falling

The GAC crew conducted a one-day site examination on an early 19th-century domestic site in a neighboring county earlier this week. It proved instructive in that it represents the exact opposite effect of erosion that we see in Port Tobacco.

In Port Tobacco, large expanses of the town are covered in sediments that had eroded from the surrounding uplands. But what do you suppose archaeological sites in the uplands look like?

The site we looked at this week had been plowed earlier in the year. We found nothing on the surface of the high ground, although we did note two pieces of pearlware on the low ground several hundred feet to the west and northeast. Fifteen shovel tests at 25 ft intervals on three parallel transects produced only sparse traces of brick. Metal detecting produced only two handwrought nails and one machine-cut, machine-headed nail. Five 3 ft by 3 ft test units yielded five sherds of pearlware, some small oyster shell and brick fragments, and another handwrought nail. Clearly there is an early 19th-century domestic site on this small ridge.

Two of our test units exposed part of an ash-filled pit (see above). Note the ring around the perimeter that I scored with my trowel, showing the bottom sediment encompassing a later deposit. We estimate that we recovered half of the pit and that it was at least 4 ft in diameter. A small test hole near the presumed center revealed that it was only three inches deep. We excavated the exposed portion of the pit and it proved to be uniformly shallow.

My reading of this pit feature is that it has been heavily truncated by plowing and erosion. An estimate of one to three feet lost to erosion seems reasonable...the sparse artifacts in the overlying plowzone support this estimate. The site has eroded away and only the very bottom portion of a deep pit has survived. If you were to have stood upon this site a century ago, my guess is that you would have been one to three feet higher in elevation. Where did all that soil go? Take a look at the nearby creek and the answer becomes obvious.

Based on work elsewhere, I think this erosional problem has plagued Southern Maryland for years, but it greatly accelerated with the widespread adoption of motorized plowing beginning in the 1930s.


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Today's blog is brought to you by...

...the north wall of the Swann House! The rainy fall weather has kept us inside the office, meaning that we are all diligently working on site reports and mapping. One of my tasks today was continuing to digitize our maps of the Swann House foundation. Pete did a quick drawing a week or so ago, but since then we have been back out in the field with our pencils and folding rules to carefully map in each stone and brick. While tracing these hand-drawn maps in AutoCAD does not sound especially difficult, it becomes more time-consuming than one would expect! To start, we scan in the drawing(s) we intend to digitize. The drawing below is the section of the north wall farthest to the west.

This scanned document is then referenced into AutoCAD, scaled, and traced. After the large stones are copied we go back through and add the patches of mortar (the darker hatched areas). The drawing below is the completed north wall that Anne has been working on over the past week. Please click on both of these images to get a better idea of what these maps look like (Note: you will be unable to so this in Microsoft Internet Explorer but should work fine in Mozilla). To the left you can see the digitized version of the drawing above, which has now had the other sections of the north wall added onto it. Once each of the four walls is completed, we will merge them together and have a detailed drawing of the foundation. This final masterpiece will be used primarily for publication purposes, though it also gives us a clear reference for the site now that we have left the field for the season.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


Everybody is off in different directions today, so no substantive posting. Apart from other projects on which the GAC team is working, we have undertaken a long-overdue equipment overhaul, organization, and cleaning. We have a good deal of material to clean and process from the recent Port Tobacco work, so stay tuned for updates.

We are nearly finished with a small-scale site examination in neighboring Prince George's County that should be very illuminating in terms of the erosion problem at Port Tobacco. Hopefully, we can blog on that later in the week. Because the project is in progress, I'll be unusually vague about many specifics, but the results of our work illustrate just how severe erosion of farmlands was during the 20th century.


Monday, November 9, 2009

Talk on Excavation of 18th Century Maryland Site

Just a reminder that Tuesday (Nov 10) the Charles County Archaeological Society (CCAS) will be meeting at 7:30pm at the Port Tobacco Courthouse. Ed Chaney, Deputy Director of Maryland Archaeological Conservation Laboratory, will present a talk, entitled "Ye dwelling house wherin the plaintiff's grandfather lived: Excavations on an early 18th-century plantation."


PS from Jim:
After a ceramics workshop at J. Patterson Park & Museum last May, we walked over to the site that Ed will be talking about, guided by Trish Samford. This is a very rich, complex, and interesting site. Don't miss this talk