I thought I’d post a quick blog to tell you about the AutoCAD maps I’ve been working on for the Pig Point site report. AutoCAD is a computerized drafting program that many archaeologists use to digitize field drawings in order to see a more holistic view of a site. I first scan the field maps into AutoCAD and then digitally sketch over the field drawings. Then, I’ll add a few finishing touches and I’ve come up with a site or feature map that is ready for presentations or reports.
Here’s an example from the Java site. The first image is a field map showing a small portion of the exposed 17th and 18th century Sparrow’s Rest site. Below that you can see the digitized AutoCAD map that combines ALL of the smaller field maps into one larger image. It’s much more clear and ready for presenting! I’ll let you know when I have some cool Pig Point maps ready, it should be soon.
Wow, it’s been a while since we blogged, but we have been incredibly busy. The end of the dig season came so fast, it felt like it snuck up on us.
We ended up closing Pig Point for the winter on December 10 with cold weather on our heels. We were sad to say goodbye for the season, but goodness knows there was work to be done in the lab! With the help of our amazing volunteers and interns during the 2010 dig season, we excavated 545 new lots (compared to 280 lots during the 2009 season). This means we have 545 bags of artifacts to wash in the lab, which then need to all be labeled and cataloged!
I can happily report that today we are about half way done processing the 2010 artifacts! This is again due to the diligence of our dedicated volunteers and interns who return to the lab every day and help us wade through the seemingly endless fragments of pottery, bone, and stone.
While everyone knows that the excitement of discovery is what makes field work so appealing, few realize that countless amazing discoveries aren’t made until the artifacts are brought back to the lab to be processed. For example, while washing a bag of artifacts, volunteer John Tizol came across a tiny white bead, which was unknowingly collected in the waterscreen this summer. There was also a piece of prehistoric pottery that had been slipped (like paint, but with colored clay instead of glaze), a type of which none of us have ever seen before. It likely dates to the Early Woodland, at least 2,500 years ago. Not to mention the beautiful variety of decotrated pot sherds we see every day. Who knows what else is waiting for us on the shelf of artifacts yet to be washed?
While we work on processing all of our artifacts, many on staff have their own little projects going on. Stephanie is busy writing the final installment of the Middle Woodland report that will be turned into the Maryland Historical Trust. Shawn is working on mending the prehistoric pottery from Pig Point to see if we can figure out a minimum vessel count. Lauren is putting the final touches on our most recent newsletter, which should be coming out in the next few weeks – look for it in your mail box soon! Carolyn is thisclose to having the entire Chew site assemblage processed. And Jane and John are working on writing grants to help fund us for the upcoming fiscal year.
We love having visitors and volunteers here in the lab at London Town, so if you find yourself in our area with some free time, stop by and see us! –Later Gators! Jessie
The Lost Towns Project began the search for the nearby lost 17th century town of Herrington in 2000, which lead to the eventual discovery of the Chew mansion in 2007. Today, the view of the Chesapeake Bay is obscured by trees, but we have found several thousand high style artifacts that shed light on the opulent lifestyle of the Chews. Beautiful porcelain, stoneware, and decorated delft fireplace tiles speak to the types of fine objects that would have decorated the mansion. We also found a wine bottle seal with the name “S. Chew”. Talk about provenience! Oddly enough, we haven’t found a single coin in this wealthy home.
Abundant architectural materials tell us much about the mansion itself. We now know it measured 56ft by 66 ft (HUGE by 18th century standards), had at least six rooms per floor, and likely had marble floor tiles in the front entranceway. A Maryland Gazette article from 1771 says that the mansion burned to the ground, and although the Chews managed to save most of their valuable furniture, the house was likely a total loss. The Chews soon left Anne Arundel County and their grand mansion was forgotten for hundreds of years. Digging through all of that brick rubble was tough going, but it was worth it to find out more about this exquisite building.
Thanks to Volunteer of the Year Barry Gay for finally inspiring me to write about this site! Barry went out last Thursday for the season closing of Chew. He told me,
“My visit to Chew last Thursday was quite eventful. Prior to my visit, Shawn said, come out to Chew, we will clean up and do some profile drawings. “Clean Up” meant filling in one of two large excavated units which took hours and getting bee stung in the process. I had two bee sting bites on my right hand, one on my left hand and one on my left elbow. I was picking up bricks and hit a bees nest!! Erin was bothered by bees while excavating a unit. I had problems with my footing walking about the excavated site.”
This gives you a sense of the tough going out there. Here are a few field photos from the last two years…the good times and the bad!
After conducting an extensive shovel test survey of the Java site, we have resumed unit excavation to find out more about the 17th and early 18th century Sparrow’s Rest-period occupation. One 5ft square unit was placed in the front, or river-side, yard of the circa 1750 brick mansion ruins. We found a number of early artifacts in the shovel tests in this area (including tin-glazed earthenware, hand wrought nails, and brick and daub fragments) and were curious if this could be the faint remnants of a second structure that pre-dated the mansion. Digging through the dry, clayey soil of the lawn meant slow going, but we found several more ceramic sherds and architectural materials (nails, window glass, and daub) that strongly suggest this was a Sparrow-period activity area of sorts. Unfortunately, we didn’t find any intact features below the plow zone. Maybe another house once stood here. Or could it have been a barn or some other farm building? Whatever it was, it left a very light footprint in the archaeological record, and I hope to get back there one day to investigate further. (NOTE: Click on any photo to zoom!)
In the meantime, excavations around the main Sparrow dwelling continue. This house and related occupation, in contrast, left a very heavy archaeological footprint! By that, I mean there are several large features that define and surround the footprint of a small timber-framed house that once stood here. From the 12ft long brick hearth base to the 10ft diameter cellar to the 25ft long outdoor trash pit we are currently excavating, there are dozens of large features that can tell us so much about the lives of the Sparrow family.
This trash pit is really interesting. We excavated a small portion of it in 2008, and found it to be about 2ft deep and full of kitchen type-refuse (big cow bones, pottery, wine bottle glass, and broken utensils). It started right outside the front door of the house, and we found out this year that it continues in a straight line for at least 25ft away from the building. It seems likely that a fence once stood here where the Sparrow family dumped their trash. While the thought of a trash pile in the front yard might seem disgusting to modern people, it was common practice in the 17th and 18th centuries. There were no trash trucks to haul colonial garbage! By digging a trash trench, at least they kept it somewhat contained.
We’ll be at Java for at least another two weeks, there’s still time for you to come help us uncover its rich colonial past! Contact Jessie Grow, our volunteer coordinator, for more information at email@example.com.
We hope you can join us next year!
In addition to our exciting field season at Pig Point, we are also digging at three other historic period sites this summer: London Town, Chew, and Java. The Java site was a large plantation overlooking the Rhode River with occupation spanning the 17th, 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries. The ruins of a circa 1750 Georgian brick mansion still stand as the centerpiece of the site today. The mansion (first called “Squirrel Neck” and later “Java”) was occupied until an 1890 fire devastated the structure. The owners attempted to rebuild, but the building was uninhabitable by the early 20th century, and it was left to slowly deteriorate for the next 80+ years. Today, the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC) owns the land and they are attempting to stabilize the ruins.
We began excavating at Java in 2005 while investigating the cultural resources of the entire Rhode River drainage. Excavations continued there from 2006-2008 and we discovered the well-preserved remains of a 17th century post-in-ground building just 100 ft from the imposing 18th century brick mansion ruins. This is likely the archaeological remains of “Sparrows Rest”, the 17th century plantation of the Thomas Sparrow family. The 1675 will of Thomas Sparrow II makes reference to two dwellings on his land, one of which was a “timber house” where his sister, Elizabeth, lived. A window lead marked with the date of “1671,” hundreds of tin-glazed earthenware sherds, and several thousand other early colonial artifacts found around the footprint of this earthfast house strongly suggest this was one of the early Sparrows Rest dwellings.
As SERC looks forward to interpreting the iconic mansion ruins and Sparrows Rest site to the public in the coming years, plans to develop visitor support systems on the hilltop are in the works. To assist SERC with this planning, we returned this summer to conduct a shovel test survey to ascertain if any significant archaeological resources survive in areas that may be developed for visitor support buildings. Our small army of staff and interns completed the shovel testing two weeks ago, and we have now begun to expand the unit excavation around the Sparrows Rest house site. We want to get a better understanding of the house plan, determine how it was modified over the years, and when it was torn down (we now think it was sometime between 1730 and 1740). There also seems to be a concentration of early colonial artifacts on the other side of the ca. 1750 mansion ruins that we will further investigate with a few test units. Could that be another Sparrows Rest-period structure?
We are excavating this incredible plantation site every Tuesday through September and always accept volunteers to help us dig and screen. Come out and help us discover the rich past of this site!
As our upper excavation block has expanded further inland, away from the edge of the bluff overlooking the marshes of the Patuxent River, we are no longer seeing the house patterns that have defined this part of the site. What we are finding, however, are several in situ Mockley and Popes Creek pot breaks that date to the Middle Woodland time period (sometime after about A.D. 200). It is amazing that this fragile pottery has survived like this for over a thousand years, especially considering all of the Late Woodland and Historic period occupation that came after it! Even more amazing, one of the Mockley pot breaks had several stone pot boilers nearby. These hot rocks would have been added to the vessel while cooking to more evenly and effectively heat the meal and were likely still inside the pot when it broke.
We think this whole area might have been a refuse dumping ground behind the main living area during the Middle Woodland. One of the most amazing things about Pig Point is how much we can learn about how ancient people used this hilltop and how that changed through time.
Come one, come all to the 2nd Saturday Dig Day of the year! It will run from 9 am – 2 pm at Historic London Town and Garden (839 Londontown Rd, Edgewater, MD). Archaeology enthusiasts of all ages can screen for artifacts, take tours of London Town, visit our lab, and learn more about archaeology! We hope you’ll come out and join us!
This event is free, but please consider making a small donations or becoming a member of the Lost Towns Project, which will help us to continue offering our free public education and outreach programs.
Since beginning work at Pig Point, we have had a steady stream of visitors – neighbors, colleagues, local colleges and universities, officials, and so forth. This past Friday, July 2, we were visited by a very diverse international group of archaeologists, curators, and museum officials. They are here in the U.S. for three weeks visiting historical sites and museums across the country through a program run by the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. The 22 participants each represented a country – a sample of coutries represernted include Chile, Jamaica, Egypt, Tanzania, Oman, and Laos. After being greeted by County Executive John Leopold, Al provided an introduction to the site and then led them all in a tour. It was a fantastic experience. The participants seemed very impressed with the site and our program. I was playing paparrazzi, and thus also fielded a lot of questions about the site, the county’s preservation laws and policies, excavation methodologies and site protection. Given the breadth of experiences in this group, they had some really interesting questions, insights, and cross-cultural comparisons. I don’t know about them, but I thought it was a great exchange. Now if only we could go visit them in return…
E.B. Furgurson III, a staff writer at the Annapolis Capital, wrote a terrific article about this visit, and you can read it here. I am posting some of my photos below.
After uploading the gorget video onto Youtube, I decided to search Youtube for the Lost Towns Project, and what do you know, I find an hour-long lecture that Al gave to students in the Ancient Studies department at UMBC in October 2009! In fact, I see current interns in the video… which means that Al did some of my recruiting for me. A belated thanks, Al! The lecture provides an overview of all of the historic sites that the Lost Towns Project has excavated over the past 20 years. Al is such a terrific lecturer, so I’m glad to be able to share this with you.
Here it is, for your viewing pleasure. Sit back and enjoy!