Friday, June 25, 2010


When they first detected traces of an 800-year-old wigwam on a bluff over the Patuxent River last year, archaeologists celebrated what they said was the oldest human structure yet found in Maryland (USA). Now, deeper excavation at the site is yielding details of much earlier settlement, extending its history back to at least 3,000 years ago.

"As far as I know, it's older than anything in Maryland, Virginia and Delaware, perhaps the oldest structures in the Chesapeake region," said Anne Arundel County archaeologist Al Luckenbach, leader of the dig. And that's just the age that's been established by carbon 14 dating. Slicing deeper in the sandy bluff overlooking the Patuxent's broad marsh, Luckenbach's crew has found stone tools suggesting humans were exploiting the river's abundance as long as 10,000 years ago. Called Pig Point, the site is producing a gusher of ancient artifacts - decorated pottery, tools crafted from stone and bone, ornaments and food waste.

"Some of the ceramics that have come out of this site are really just astounding," said Maureen Kavanagh, chief archaeologist at the Maryland Historical Trust and a specialist in ceramics. There have been pot fragments with incised angular decorations or rims crimped like a pie crust. Diggers found an intact paint pot the size of a child's fist, and a miniature, decorated pot the size of a thimble.

Archaeologists say some of their discoveries are so exotic in this region, they suggest Pig Point was a center of trade among native people as far-flung as Ohio, Michigan and New York. Even today, the town site overlooks broad expanses of wild rice and Tuckahoe - river plants that would have helped to feed the native people. Trash middens unearthed in the dig are yielding the remains of freshwater mussels, oysters, fish, beaver, muskrat, otter, deer, duck, nuts and more. Archaeologists have also found carbonized corn kernels, evidence of agriculture.

Among the finds at Pig Point is a stone projectile point. The flint was traced to a formation in Ohio, and it was fashioned in a style typical of the mound-building Hopewell tradition that flourished between 200 BCE and 500 CE in from West Virginia to southern Indiana. The Hopewell people were known, among other things, for their far-flung exchange routes. Other items include a rolled copper bead from Michigan and green jasper from New York. The finds demonstrate that Pig Point people were in contact with other trade centers at some distance, and their town was itself a semi-permanent base camp and trade center, like others found along rivers in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

Source: The Baltimore Sun (12 June 2010)
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