The AiA Blog The Archaeology in Annapolis Project Sat, 12 Jul 2014 14:00:42 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Blacksmiths, Backfilling, and Final Thoughts Sat, 12 Jul 2014 14:00:42 +0000 The final week of Archaeology in Annapolis for the 2014 field season has led me to reflect on the journey that those of us new to archaeological field work have faced in the last six weeks. Familiar readers of the AIA blog, mainly my own mother, have now read my fellow classmates blogs and have gotten their respective take on how each week has developed and what each exciting, or sometimes not-so-exciting, day of digging has produced. As this is the only and final blog this week my plan for this adrenaline-charged post is to do a walk through of the final week of fieldwork as it has looked from my perspective. For those of you close readers, no need to rub your eyes, you read correctly: an entire week in one post. Buckle up.

Our week begins with the intrepid, waterlogged workers of Unit 89 (Sarah, Rebecca, and myself) wondering what our next move would be after closing out our 5×5 foot unit upon hitting the water table the previous week. We soon got our answer when our fearless TA Ben Skolnik informed us that we were to be digging STPs (shovel test pits for those of you who weren’t there the first week) to determine what other buildings were on the long green at Wye House. When Ben had talked with our unit last week we had discussed the possibility of a nearby blacksmith shop further down the gravel road from the slave quarter we were currently excavating. We also discussed how the shoreline itself near Llyod Creek and Wye River had been altered by the introduction of intensive agriculture to the region. This discussion of water not only reminded me of our previously thoroughly soaked unit we had dug, but would prove to be prophetic for the STPs we were going to dig.

At first digging STP during our final week of field work and class felt almost wrong considering it had been nearly 5 weeks since we had last ruined perfectly good grass in such a manner. The greater purpose of this war on sod was to establish the possible boundaries and determine any evidence for there being a blacksmith’s shop or facilities north of the excavations of our classmates.

Our first STP, shown below, was a spot chosen near the closest sapling to our previous unit. We were rewarded with few artifacts. We found some brick, some mortar, and a few nails upon going nearly four feet into the ground. Upon these findings, Ben rethought our strategy and has us move our next STP location closer to the drainage ditch that served to prevent the road from flooding. The lower elevation would hopefully allow us to come down upon a time-frame where a blacksmiths shop may have existed more quickly, and nicely enough also served to prevent me from having to dig holes lying on my chest trying to grapple with earth nearly three feet below me.



This proved to be our break through. In our very next STP we found a pipe-stem and tin-glazed earthenware that upon primary inspection appeared to date to at least the mid 18th century. Our class was lucky enough to have received an in-depth ceramic lecture during our work at SERC that helped me identify the ceramic at nearly first glance (with the help of my group and confirmation of our TAs). Identifying ceramics has been an extremely gratifying part of this entire process. Additional findings were more brick, mortar, oyster-shell, nails, and a couple pieces of slag. Beyond the pipe and ceramic that helped us begin to date what we were beginning to find, the slag was especially encouraging.

Slag is a byproduct of the smelting of metals associated with blacksmithing. The impurities harden and form a hard mass often covered with small dents and bubbles. These findings led us to widen our STP area to a box consisting of four STPs forming the corners that would straddle the drainage ditch. The STPs higher in elevation, closer to the road, turned up more slag and brick and mortar. However, as the STPs moved down the drainage ditch and approached the water, at a lower elevation, we would often hit the water table before we could find further evidence at the appropriate elevation.

Thus we once again widened the search area to a grid that would resemble a “six on a die” formed of STPs. The first four were the previously completed box, and the final two came in towards our original excavation site. Our final two STPs produced a large amount of slag and brick and mortar compared to the previous five STPs (for those of you counting we dug seven STPs in total over the course of 3 days; Monday-Wednesday). In the sixth STP we found a good deal of brick and mortar still attached that we could not even begin to dig under. This finding and the volume of slag and metal artifacts we found around the seventh STP would suggest that at the very least there is some evidence that some metalworking and blacksmithing could have taken place in this area. After digging seven four foot holes, once again getting covered in muddy water, and forming some nice new designs of blisters on my hands it was nice to be rewarded by our initial hypothesis being supported with some substantiation.



Now for those following the rough timeline by the time we were done with STPs it was Wednesday. Which may lead some to ask well now what does your group do that you completed your unit and STP collection before other groups had even finished one unit. First of, it is impressive that as a reader you also realized the incredible work ethic and efficiency of Unit 89, and I applaud you for that insightfulness. However, the fact remains that every unit excavated in archaeology is different so it was now our responsibility to help the other groups with whatever tasks were necessary. These often consisted of help screening, scraping, moving buckets of dirt, and backfilling units.

Backfilling a unit is among the most satisfying and tiring activities related to archaeology. It involves the somewhat ironic task of moving the mountain of back dirt you created excavating back into the huge pit/hole/bear trap you created in your archeological quest. Having worked on a farm, and been schooled by a mother who had a particular penchant for gardening and yard work this is a task that I was rather well suited for. The last two days have consisted nearly entirely of this closure-filled activity for me.

While moving buckets upon wheelbarrows of dirt into holes I have begun to think back at my time with Archeology in Annapolis these past six weeks. It’s funny how the smell of rotting grass under a pile of dirt jump-starts the conclusion muscles. My first big-picture thought was how lucky my classmates and I were to have had the opportunity this summer learning the basics of archaeology in such historic surroundings. We received great instruction and had the pleasure of operating not only at SERC, an incredible coalition of people in an incredible environment, but also at the very plantation where one of America’s heroes, Frederick Douglass, spent some of his formative years. As the summer goes on I’m sure I’ll forget the blisters, sunburn, and ominous tick bites and focus on the experience that not many are always granted, but for now I’m focused on backfilling the final units tomorrow and getting to say on final goodbye to Wye House (possibly in a cloud of dirt).

A final special thanks to my conscientious STP model Sarah.

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Archaeology: Its Kinda a Muddy Mystery Fri, 04 Jul 2014 14:46:16 +0000 So I’m not going to lie, when my group (Sarah and Drew) and I began excavating test unit 89 at Wye House I thought it was going to be a quick and somewhat dirty job; now, all I can say is it has been a dirty job.

We are excavating the yard space around a presumed slave quarter (previous field schools determined where the brick piers to the quarter were, making it possible to determine how large the quarter was). Test Unit 89 sits on a downhill slope about eighteen feet northeast of where the north wall of the slave quarter would have been; Unit 89 is also about fifteen feet west of a marsh (the marsh has made dealing with the soil very interesting… and wet).

Due to its proximity to the marsh and the quarter, we thought there might only be a few artifacts here and there that might have rolled down the small hill. For the first day of excavation our prediction was correct; there was grass and mud attached to the grass and not much else. Then, it was like the gods of archaeology began to favor Unit 89.

The second level (Level B) began to show promise when we found mortar, charred wood, ceramics, glass, slate, and even part of a pipe! As we continued excavating, my group and I began to notice that there was evidence of more iron pipes and an unidentified copper-like object began to appear in this level. We were not able to take these artifacts out because they were all only visible in Level B and actually buried in Level C. (It was annoying knowing there was something there, but we couldn’t touch it for fear of ruining the chronology in which the artifacts were being excavated.) Level B proved to become more of an annoyance when we had to keep cutting through roots to bring the level down at an equal rate throughout the entire unit. Through these annoyances we were soon rewarded with Level C.

Bottom of Level C and what we had to map. Source: Archaeology in Annapolis Flickr

Bottom of Level C and what we had to map. Source: Archaeology in Annapolis

To put it simply: there was a lot happening in Level C. At first, we were finding the usual artifacts: small pieces of brick, mortar, ceramic shards, and glass fragments. We were also able to excavate the rest of the copper-like object- it might be part of oil-lamp- that was visible form Level B. However, as we kept excavating, my group and I began to notice that the iron pipes that had been visible from Level B were more numerous in Level C and began to (possibly) form some kind of pipe system along the north wall of the unit. Then, we began to uncover the slate and bricks; the slate covered the floor of about a third of the unit. We all just looked at the mass of slate for a second, talked, and wondered if it was some kind of pathway. Ben later told us that we were wrong and that slate was only used for two things: chalkboards and roofs and there was too much slate for it to be a chalkboard. The brick fragment and slate roofing (we later found a fragment with a nail hole) told us that the north wall of the quarter that had been eighteen feet away probably fell over and landed where unit 89 now sits. Level C of Unit 89 helped show us some of the possible building materials of the slave quarter.

However amazing it was to uncover all the pipes, bricks, and slate, we still had to map the prominent artifacts in Unit 89; it took about an hour.

It was hard to find excitement in Level D after excavating Level C. Sure, we found bricks, slate, glass, and ceramic fragments, but it wasn’t as exciting as uncovering some cool piece of information that no one would have ever thought to be possible.

In Level E, we were again looking (the better word for it would probably hoping) that there would be something amazing in the level. Sarah found a complete milk-glass jar that had “HA” embossed on the bottom; we clung to that jar and the possibility that we could identify it. We managed to discover the jar was a Hazel Atlas cold cream jar; Hazel Atlas dates from 1902- 1964, we had a time period for this level of our unit. There was also a feature (something that causes a disturbance in the soil) that managed to intrigue us. The feature held pieces of an oil-lamp (possibly connected to the copper-like object in Level C). Level E managed to re-catch our interest in Unit 89.

Sarah and I screening through the mud from Level F. Source: Joe Harden

Sarah and I screening through the mud from Level F. Source: Joe Harden

Finally came the true trouble level in Unit 89: Level F. We thought Level A was bad with the grass and mud/clay, but Level F had thick and somewhat wet clay that made it impossible to screen the soil quickly… there were a couple of screening backups during the excavation of Level F. We would have one person shovel shaving and two people pushing the soil through the screen (we would take breaks from screening to shovel… you would think it would be the other way around). We had to leave for the day in the middle of excavating Level F and came back in the morning to water slowly trickling into our unit; but it didn’t rain- we managed to dig under the water table (where groundwater sits). We had to screen using our hands because the actual screen would not work with the mud (by the end of screening we were covered in mud). Also, since we were under the water table, we could not continue our excavations of Unit 89. We were upset that we had to stop our excavations because we could see the amazing artifacts that we could not touch.

I guess what I’ve learned throughout this field school and what I’m trying to demonstrate here by talking about Unit 89 is how, even though archaeology is a lot of work and sometimes really annoying, there are glimpses of amazing and intriguing things that remind you why you are working so hard.

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Real World Archaeology: A Student’s POV Wed, 02 Jul 2014 15:04:34 +0000 As the previous blog post stated, last week was our first week working at Wye House, the plantation where Fredrick Douglass lived as a slave. Ever since June 3rd, we have been hard at work excavating at both SERC (The Smithsonian Environmental Research Center) and at Wye House; for myself these past few weeks have been my first experience practicing real world archaeology. I can sum up my experience so far in two words: surprisingly satisfying. 

“Why is it so surprising?” you may be asking. The reason I used the word ‘surprising’ is due to how surprisingly labor intensive archaeology can be. When I pictured doing archaeology as a little girl, I always imagined I’d be wearing those outfits archaeologists and anthropologists wear including an Indiana Jones hat, a whip, and being able to find the most amazing artifacts out of sheer luck. Well, that is not the case. During our time working at SERC I wore: jeans, a t-shirt with sleeves that needed to be tucked under my jeans, and I had my hair in a tight bun while wearing a baseball cap. I wore all of this while digging (sometimes bent over to reach the soil at the best angle) and sweating under a blanket of humidity, heat, and sunlight for hours at a time.

Currently I am wearing the same type of clothes while at Wye House, due to the heat and out of respect for the family who have invited Archaeology in Annapolis to dig there. This week, and especially today, has been a rather frustrating day for my group’s unit due to what our unit is revealing to us. A ‘unit’, is the 5 5 ft square we dig down in order to be able to record the artifacts found and to map the statigraphy (the different soil layers of the earth, each depicting either human influence or a geological event). This is what our unit looks like as of July 1st.

Our Unit (Unit #88)

Our Unit (Unit #88)


Imagine digging in this hole as carefully but as quickly as possible. As the UMD graduate students tell us, it is something we as archaeological students will learn as we gain more practice. As a beginner, I can tell you it is a hard thing to do well. It becomes even more difficult when your unit reveals a level solely of large fragments of: bricks, mortar, and oyster shells. My group dug through this layer and it took roughly 2 to 3 hours to dig. The next day we had to sort, weigh, and discard (due to the sheer number of artifacts and not being able to store, analyze, and preserve these artifacts with the time they had left) as quickly and as carefully as possible before our day was over. It was a tedious process, but it was a process that needed to be done. Amazingly, the entire process was done in less than 2 hours!

Bricks & Mortar

Bricks & Mortar


It’s surprising how different archaeology is when compared to what I as a student learned and what I have been practicing out in the field. You learn all of these techniques and you believe you have them down perfectly, but doing it out in the field and messing up constantly can be frustrating. Despite all of the hard work and physical and mental exhaustion, this ongoing process has been rewarding and satisfying. Yes the work is difficult and you don’t really understand how tired you feel after digging through hard or wet dirt for hours, but the thrill of finding an artifact and seeing the work you have done is immensely satisfying. For example, our layer of bricks, mortar, and oyster shells, have been infuriating to dig but it has helped solidify our theory that these artifacts are the remains of the destruction of the slave quarters. We still don’t know how it was destroyed or brought down, but we do know that it happened. 

That is why real world archaeology is surprisingly satisfying: the work is painful and will leave you exhausted every day, but all of that work leads to finding artifacts that have not been seen and for providing a voice to those who may have never had one. Ultimately that is what archaeology is to me: a way for us today to discover and help those who could not tell their stories during their lifetimes to do so now. Maybe one day I’ll be lucky enough to be like Evelyn from The Mummy or Indiana Jones, but right now I am happy knowing that despite how physically demanding archaeology truly is, it’s an amazing field that brings the past to life while making it relevant for today’s society.

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SERC vs Wye House: Similarities and Differences Fri, 27 Jun 2014 15:08:30 +0000 As a relatively new student to the discipline of archaeology, I thought it was interesting to note the differences and similarities between the excavations of the first three weeks of the University of Maryland’s Field School in Historical Archaeology and now the start of the second three weeks, each of which are being conducted at two separate and distinct sites.  Although the purpose of each excavation is similar, i.e. research into African American archaeology in both the antebellum period leading up to the Civil War and in the years following that conflict, each site presents its own unique set of archaeological challenges for the students due to the different setting and location of each site.

As noted in the previous blog, we just completed our first three weeks of excavation at a site located on the grounds of the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC) located near the city of Annapolis.  This site is a possible tenant house linked to an early settler family, the Sellmans, who owned a large parcel of land which served as an operating plantation for several generations prior to and after the Revolutionary War.  After several transfers of ownership, this land was eventually purchased by the Smithsonian in 2007 to become  part of the SERC.  According to previous historical research the possible tenant house may be dated to the mid-19th to early 20th century time frame, and initial (and very preliminary) field analysis of some of the artifacts recovered thus far indicate this may be the case.  We are now in our first week of work on another site located on Maryland’s Eastern shore, which is the Wye House, an historic plantation that has been in operation from the mid-17th century to the present, and has been in the same family for 11 generations. This particular site is especially noteworthy for its connection to Frederick Douglass who lived for several years as a slave on the plantation in his youth.

The differences between the two dig sites are noteworthy. For example, the site located at the SERC is brand new endeavor for the Maryland Field School, whereas the Wye House has been the subject of historical research and previous excavations since 2005 and can be considered a mature field site with specific research questions already developed.  This means that much of the detailed historical research,  Phase I survey work (both non-invasive and Shovel Test Pits), Phase II detailed excavations, and Phase III analysis and reporting had been completed by previous field schools on a variety of areas around the plantation.   Although we are tasked to conduct our own Phase II excavations in order to ascertain the locations of slave quarters which were known to be situated on the “Long Green”,  this effort will be a continuation of work that had been previously accomplished by the earlier field schools (Note: the Long Green was an area of the plantation that Frederick Douglas specifically identified as the location of several slave dwellings).

On the other hand, at the SERC site, we did not have the benefit of previous survey work (although some historical research had been done to locate and tentatively identify the general area of the site),  and therefore much effort was required to ascertain the extent/size of the site and determine optimum points for detailed excavations. This required several days of surface survey work with the simultaneous digging of numerous Shovel Test Pits (STP’s). The STP’s, each consisting of a small excavation to determine the presence or lack of potential historic artifacts, were placed in a specific pattern running through and surrounding the location of the presumed tenant house. The STP’s, while they could be tedious and sometimes without any productive finds, did prove valuable in two respects: we were able to get a better appreciation for the layout of the site, and they proved to be excellent tools for learning archaeology trade craft, which after all is one of the primary purposes of the field school.

Another difference between the two sites, is the relative status of the archaeological profile of each site.  The tenant house at the SERC site did present an obvious entity that was readily discernible to even the inexperienced eye. There were the remains of piers (brick foundations), a collapsed chimney, and wooden timbers and beams from the walls and roof, all of which served to provide excellent clues for the start of the survey and subsequent excavations.  However, at the Wye House, despite the extensive research and previous field school excavations, there was no obvious above ground evidence of any dwellings on the Long Green, and consequently no guarantee that the placement of our excavation units would produce the results we were looking for.  That is seems to be the nature of archaeology – the best research can often times only result in the best hunches for digging!

Finally, there are obvious similarities in the two dig sites. All the trade craft skills we learned at the SERC site, i.e. placement of the units, plotting the datum point for each unit, taking elevations and photos for each level, proper trowel technique, identification of stratigraphic layers, Munsell color charts, washing and sorting or artifacts, and last but not least – documentation, documentation, documentation, is all being put to good use at the Wye house.

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Welcome to Wye Wed, 25 Jun 2014 15:00:29 +0000 Week Four. Day Two.

Last Friday we concluded our time at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC). Our excavation at SERC proved to be insightful but a certain element of intrigue nonetheless remains. The excavation of units around the building proved to be rich in artifacts. Unit three, my unit, which straddled the inside and outside of the building demonstrated some level of difference between the inside and outside. A feature containing artifacts was located in the deeper levels outside the building, oyster shells and shards of glass were also found in greater quantity in the outside section of the house. Unit Two, located at the back of the house, is believed to be located over what would have been a porch. Unit One, located in the front of the building, surprised its excavators with a drastic difference in depth in their level C and feature containing oyster shells, and the most recent, and original, theory is that it is located on what would have been a garden. There still remains much to be learned from our SERC site, which Archaeology in Annapolis will hopefully address in future field seasons.

We are now at our new location; the Long Green at Wye House Plantation. Wye House is located near Easton, Maryland and was settled as a plantation in the late Seventeenth Century. Throughout its history as a prolific farm Wye House has seen many notable people, one of them being a young Frederick Douglass. Douglass lived, as a slave, at Wye House Plantation for a few years at about the age of six. Though his time at Wye Plantation was brief, it left a strong and lasting impression of life as a slave, and is described vividly and accurately in Douglass’ book, “My Bondage and My Freedom”. Mentioned in “My Bondage and My Freedom” is The Long Green, where we are currently excavating. One of our goals in excavating at the Long Green, an area were slaves worked, is to learn more about the slave’s daily lives. This includes religious practice.

Cache Found at entrance of building. Source: Archaeology in Annapolis Flickr

Cache Found at entrance of building. Source: Archaeology in Annapolis Flickr

Last year’s field school at the Long Green uncovered a Cache located at the entranceway of the building. The Cache, containing items believed, in West African Traditions, to protect one’s entryways, was left to be better excavated during this field season with new technology. This season the plan is to excavate the Cache using laser technology to scan the cache as it is excavated, thus preserving a record of the cache as it was found.

Currently, as we prepare for the laser scanning to commence, three units are excavating in the side yards of the building. So far we have yet to find much; one brick, a wire, and a nail that peculiarly resembles one of our own nails used to mark unit boundaries. The unit closest to the marsh area has encountered mud, while my unit, which is relatively distant from the marsh and directly under the afternoon sun, has had very dry dirt. I have yet to decide which one is worse, but the dry dirt might win on the account of being less messy. Three more weeks remain of field school and hopefully in that time period, we will be able to better understand not only Frederick Douglass, but the life of those who lived and worked in the Long Green and Wye House Plantation, through our excavation.

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Concluding Excavations at SERC Fri, 20 Jun 2014 12:16:37 +0000 Two field school students screening for artifacts at the SERC site.

Two field school students screening for artifacts at the SERC site.

It’s really hard to believe that tomorrow is our last day at SERC. Over the past three weeks, the field students have learned an incredible amount about not only archaeology but also the rich history that  exists at the SERC properties. During our first week at SERC, we spent most of our time digging shovel test pits (STPs). While at times this might have seemed redundant, especially when we were not finding any artifacts, completing the STPs helped us students learn that having patience is an incredibly important aspect of being an archaeologist.

Once the STPs were completed, we moved on to excavating units. For many of us, this was our first time ever excavating a unit and there was a lot to be learned. We learned much about excavating  during the first weeks, like how to hold a trowel and the best ways to properly dig using a trowel or a shovel. With help from the graduate students, we were able to catch on very quickly. And our units proved very fruitful! Almost every shovel full had artifacts in them and each unit ended up exposing different elements of our site.

Unit 3 in progress- SERC

Unit 3 in progress near the end of the excavation at SERC.

After digging there for almost a week and a half, the group excavating Unit 1 has found reasons to believe that their unit is in the front yard of the house and could possibly be a portion of an old garden. Unit 2 has concluded that their section of the property could have included a porch-like area. Finally, Unit 3 is a good example of the differences that can exist in the soil and the artifact assemblage between the inside of a house and the outside. The outside portion of the house included many more domestic artifacts, while the inside of the house gave up mainly architectural artifacts.

A field student assisting with mapping the SERC site.

A field student assisting with mapping the SERC site.

As part of our concluding activities on the site, Ben took myself and a couple of other students to help him map the site. This was a unique opportunity to learn about total stations and mapping. We used the total station to find the precise locations of our shovel test pits and units so that they could later be added to a map of the site. This process was also a test of patience since the total station had moments where it would not work for us and human error occurred a few times as well. Overall, this was a very quick but intriguing look into a side of archaeology that I had not yet been able to experience.

We have learned a lot in the past three weeks at SERC. It will be strange to not return to SERC after tomorrow but at the same time it will be nice to feel some closure on the work we have completed so far. I am looking forward to the next part of our journey at Wye House!

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Artifacts from SERC fieldwork Wed, 18 Jun 2014 01:13:31 +0000 We’ve started our third and final week of excavation on the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC) campus. We’ve opened three five-foot by five-foot units around the remnants of a late 19th century building.

Since we are trying to use material culture to answer questions about what the structure was used for and by whom, our units were strategically laid out in three places: what we believe could be a front yard, in between two brick piers of the foundation straddling the interior and exterior of the structure, and in back of the building.

My partner, Joe, and I are excavating the unit in the front of the building. We think this might be a “front yard” because the building was likely positioned toward the dirt road that connects with the main Homestead (Woodlawn).

Indian Head Penny dated 1893 similar to the one found at SERC. Photo from ebay.

Indian Head Penny dated 1893 similar to the one found at SERC. Photo from ebay.

While ceramics, glass and even nails can be good for dating a site or a specific layer within a unit, these diagnostic artifacts usually only narrow the timeline to a smaller date range. However, we found an Indian Head penny with 1893 on the front which gives us a very specific year to work with. While this may not be the earliest artifact from our unit, we will know more once the artifacts have been cleaned and cataloged in the lab.

In addition to the penny, we have screened bags full of nails and other hardware which might indicate that our unit is in an area where someone might have had a discard pile for used building materials. The presence of fence staples might indicate there was a fence implying that there was, in fact, a yard to fence off.

The variety of rusted nails found in the “front yard unit.” Photo by Sarah Janesko.

The variety of rusted nails and other hardware found in the “front yard unit.” Photo by Sarah Janesko.

Glass jar bases and piece of ironstone ceramic plate. Photo by Sarah Janesko

Glass jar bases and piece of ironstone ceramic plate. Photo by Sarah Janesko

Among our most interesting artifacts are also two bases from glass jars and ceramic from what is likely a plate. These glass jars are interesting because the bases are intact and could have been used to store food or water. The ironstone ceramic plate tells us that people were eating in or near the building.

Pitchfork in situ (on site or in position not moved from where it lay) with glass and ceramic. Evidence of farm tools suggests that the people who used this building were workers on the farm. The blue tagging tape is so we could see it in the woods without stepping on it. We left it in the field because it was on the surface and not in one of our units. Photo by Sarah Janesko.

Pitchfork in situ (on site or in position not moved from where it lay) with glass and ceramic. Evidence of farm tools suggests that the people who used this building were workers on the farm. The blue tagging tape is so we could see it in the woods without stepping on it. We left it in the field because it was on the surface and not in one of our units. Photo by Sarah Janesko.

These artifacts in addition to the many oyster shells and some charcoal found in our unit indicate that this building was likely a house where people lived and cooked and worked. Its location, behind the Homestead and off the main road, tells us that it was probably inhabited by the servants who worked at the house and farm.

My interest in Historical Archaeology stems from its ability to enhance our understanding of marginalized groups of people by studying what they’ve left behind. This site could help us understand what the lives were like for the people who lived and worked on this property and how that has changed over time.

I’m looking forward to seeing how some of these artifacts clean-up in the lab and to see what all of these pieces can tell us about the house and who lived there.

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The Start of AiA at SERC Thu, 12 Jun 2014 14:08:45 +0000 We started our excavation by walking around the remaining foundation of a building and looking at what makes this a site. So, we were looking for anything that demonstrated human activity, like broken glass, nails, ceramics, bricks, altered landscape; we even looked at how the trees in the area were arranged differently too!

This piece of Aqua Glass was found in one of our STPs.

This piece of Aqua Glass was found in one of our STPs. Source: Joe Harden

Then came the fun part! We started digging; we dug Shovel Test Pits (STPs). These are one-foot by one-foot holes that help us create a range of human activity; they give us information about how far away from the building humans were and what they may have been doing, and if an STP comes back empty it still gives us a lot of information, meaning that human activity didn’t extend that far away from the building and it gives helpful information on the stratigraphy or layers of the soil. All of the STPs are carefully measured from a fixed point, called a site datum, on the site that will not move. So we chose one of the brick piers and took a compass and labeled it as 1000N and 1000E and every STP from there was measured in increments of 25 feet in any of the cardinal directions, for example, if the STP was 25 feet south of our point and 25 feet west, the STP would measure at 975N and 975E because calculations are always made in regards to north and east. A brick pier is used as a building foundation. They are used for wooden houses to raise the floor of the house off the ground so that the wood doesn’t sit on wet ground and rot. We’ve all seen a brick pier before, now we know what it’s called! The bricks are stacked and mortared together in each corner and usually one on each side of the building as well.

Milk Glass

Milk Glass found in an STP. Source: Joe Harden

In our STPs we found many different indicators of human activity: different types of glass, different types of ceramics (plates, bowls, etc.), nails, charred wood, oyster shells, even a vinyl record! Glass and ceramics differ by color and texture due to the different time periods, styles, uses, and technologies available to produce them. We found ironstone, a ceramic that is white but will have a rust color in the creases; pearlware, a ceramic that will have a bluish tint; creamware, a ceramic that is off-white and usually has yellow or green in the creases; among many others. In regards to glass, we’ve found pieces of milk glass, glass that is white through and through; manganese glass, glass that appears clear but actually has a slightly purple tint due to the chemical (manganese) used to produce it; aqua glass, glass with a noticeable light blue tint from the iron impurities in the sand used to produce it; and many more. I could list them all but this would go on for ages. A link to different types and descriptions can be found here.

Manganese Glass

Manganese Glass found in an STP. Source: Joe Harden



Shark’s Tooth found in an STP. Source: Trish Markert

Also in our STPs we’ve found this layer of sand, and as we started moving down the hill this layer of sand was found closer and closer to the surface. And then a team member found a shark’s tooth! We originally had a hypothesis that where we were digging used to be some type of water system, but the discovery of the tooth made us more sure! So this site may have been a Tidal River of the Chesapeake Bay at some point in the past!

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Archaeology in Annapolis comes to SERC! Thu, 12 Jun 2014 04:17:26 +0000 Screen Shot 2014-06-12 at 12.11.41 AM

The “Homestead House” was the home of the Sellman family for two centuries — our site is several hundred meters back, in the woods, and was likely a tenant house.
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Archaeology in Annapolis this year has the great honor of working with the Smithsonian at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC!).  This is a very exciting partnership — not only is the SERC campus home to some of the most cutting-edge environmental research in the world, but a great deal of history as well.  Also, SERC’s Citizen Science program provides opportunities to incorporate the public as volunteers in a variety of research — including archaeology.  This commitment to public engagement at SERC aligns with AiA’s own investment in public archaeology, a top priority of AiA since its beginnings over 30 years ago.  Jim Gibb’s work at Sellman’s Connection has been an outstanding example of Citizen Science in action — excavating  alongside volunteers to test the area around the 18th century house that first greets you when you drive down the winding road (at a leisurely and strictly upheld 15 MPH) and enter SERC’s campus.  We were lucky enough to get the grand tour from Jim in the spring, and thus came to choose our site for this year’s field school.  And so, we arrived last Tuesday — the Archaeology in Annapolis 2014 Field School — armed with shovels, trowels, screens, and notebooks (among many other things we use out there).

This is just the beginning — and our students themselves will be sharing their experiences on our blog throughout the season.  So for now, let’s bring you up to speed on our site and some history at SERC.

Where We Will be Excavating:

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During his mapping of Sellman’s Connection, Jim Gibb located what appears to be a late 19th century foundation in the wooded area, several hundred yards behind the Homestead House (Woodlawn).  At one point in time, a road had connected this structure to the larger house and the main road beyond it.  This can be seen in several historic topographies dating back as far as 1905, and as late as the mid-1990s.  What this structure was for has yet to be seen in any written records, but its location and size suggest it was a possible tenant house for laborers during the 19th and early 20th centuries.  It was mostly likely constructed using wooden planks, a building material much more ephemeral and less costly than the bricks used to construct the main house.  As we don’t know much about this structure or those who used it, archaeology will be an important tool to tell us about what this building was, what it was used for, and by whom.  Another important tool will be oral history, as many of the local community members remember a time when this building still stood and have specialized knowledge about the local history of the area.

Brief History of Sellman’s Connection

The Sellman family’s history in Maryland can be traced back to John Sellman, who arrived in America in 1658 as a twelve year old indentured servant, required to work in a single household for over a decade to earn his freedom.  Throughout his life, he worked his way from indentured servitude to owning his own plantation.  His son, William, later moved to the 360-acre plantation called Shaw’s Folly that now lies within SERC’s campus.  There, he and his wife Ann built the house that you see there today, known at SERC as the Homestead House but named Woodlawn when it was built in 1735.  This house was home to several generations of Sellmans, including General Jonathon Sellman who fought at Valley Forge with the Continental Army in 1777-78.  Several additions were added to this house over time – a wing in 1841 and another in 1979 – and it likely had several outbuildings and tenant houses for the hundreds of men and women who worked there as slaves and paid laborers through the 18th, 19th, and early 20th centuries.  According to Richard Donavin, a descendant of the Sellman family, many African American men and women remained after the Civil War as paid laborers, but little is known about their lives and the conditions they faced.[1]  Jim Gibb and many volunteers have uncovered some clues to this past, including a potential 19th century slave quarter and food preparation building in the field south of the Homestead House and a brick foundation, probably of a 19th century dwelling, in the yard west of the House.[2] 

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Map of Gibb Excavations, 2014
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The Sellman family sold the property to Yvone Kirkpatrick-Howat, an avid tree collector, in 1915.  According to local knowledge, at one time there had been a tenant house (AA-149 MHT) that had previously served as two slave quarters (later joined together).  While this is not the structure that we will be investigating, it speaks to the presence of slaves and tenants at the plantation, and could be a potentially similar building to the one we will be investigating.  This is drawn from 1987 report done by the Maryland Historic Trust, which cites Samuel Asker, a tenant farmer for Yvone Kirkpatrick-Howat at the time.[3]

Throughout the 19th century, much of the surrounding land was used by Robert Lee Forrest as the Java Dairy Farm – the land the eventually became the beginning of SERC’s campus.  The foundation that we will be excavating belonged to a building that stood throughout this time, from as early as the latter part of the 19th century well into the 20th century and the memories of many local community members.  The land containing the Sellman property was bought by the Smithsonian in 2007.[4]

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Field School in Public Archaeology Wed, 07 May 2014 17:00:27 +0000 Haven’t figured out what to do with your summer yet?  Can’t seem to get enough archaeology?  Archaeology in Annapolis is pleased to announce an advanced field school in public archaeology for summer session 1, 2014.  This course is geared toward students who have already completed some training in archaeological field methods and want to work more closely with members of the public to construct meaningful interpretations of the past.

James Madison's mansion

James Madison’s mansion. Source: Montpelier Foundation

From June 2-June 21, we will be at Montpelier, James Madison’s home in Orange County, Virginia.  Tying in with excavations ongoing since the 1980s, this year’s excavation will explore the impacts of Emancipation on the African American community in Orange County.  The excavation will take place at the site of a late antebellum slave quarter that may have been reoccupied following the end of the Civil War.  This presents archaeologists with a unique opportunity to understand the effects of Emancipation at both the household and the community levels through the comparison of this site with other late antebellum and reconstruction era African American sites that have been excavated on the property.

Open house at The Hill, 2012

Open house at The Hill, 2012. Source: Tim Poly

From June 23-July 11, the course will move to the town of Easton, Maryland.  In an Easton neighborhood known as The Hill, free African Americans since the late eighteenth century have lived and worked.  The neighborhood has been the focus of community-building efforts since the time of slavery.  Yet, today, the community’s social fabric is threatened by gentrification.  At the request of community members, archaeology is part of an interdisciplinary project aimed at using conversations about the past to bring people together to value The Hill Community, its contributions to the Town of Easton, and its ongoing existence.  This project works with community members to identify goals for community development and to use archaeology to meet those goals.  This summer, we will be excavating on a site purchased by local free man Perry Sprouse in 1827.  It sits immediately adjacent to Bethel Church, the oldest AME church on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.

Open house at The Hill, 2012

Open house at The Hill, 2012. Source: Tim Poly


The field school will meet daily, Monday-Friday for six weeks.  Students are responsible for reporting to the site each day and contributing to the field work, laboratory work, and reading discussions.  Students will complete weekly reading assignments that address the methods and theories in public archaeology and will discuss those readings and their relevance to Montpelier and The Hill.  Students will lead site tours and participate in a discussion with community members about archaeology and our findings in order to apply what they have learned about public archaeology.  Writing assignments will include blog entries and short essays that integrate the readings with their experiences.

 We have arranged free on-site housing at both Montpelier and The Hill.


To register, you may sign up for one or both sections of the course:

Montpelier ANTH 498Y-section XI31 Undergraduates
ANTH 688Y-section XI31 Graduates
Easton ANTH 498Y-section XI51 Undergraduates
ANTH 688Y-section XI51 Graduates

 All students will receive in-state tuition.  Students from outside the University of Maryland, College Park, must be formally admitted to UMCP for the summer session.  Applications can be found at


For more information, contact

Stefan Woehlke:

Tracy H. Jenkins:

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