Friday, April 29, 2011


Multiple excavations at the site of Pig Point, Maryland, have borne some of the oldest artifacts found in the Mid-Atlantic states - pottery, arrow and spear points and remnants of wigwams, fires and foodways - and there likely is more to come. "They could have been here for 10,000 years," said Al Luckenbach, the county's archaeologist. "We have carbon-dated artifacts 8,500 years old." Luckenbach and his colleagues likely have uncovered a site spanning the range of human settlement in the Mid-Atlantic.

What makes Pig Point stand out is the depth of archaeological evidence all in one location. He explained that other sites may have artifacts just as old but they usually are spread several levels apart - one layer of pottery from the 12th century, for instance, then another layer three or four feet deeper. At Pig Point the artifacts have been found buried together, one period to the next stacked on top of one another.

The settlement likely served as a base camp for multiple bands of native Americans. Algonquin peoples and their predecessors likely were drawn to the shallows of Jug Bay and its wealth of fish, shellfish and other sources of sustenance. There also is evidence it was a center of trade. Several artifacts, such as a rolled copper bead, or points made of stone found in Ohio, have been unearthed.

The digging at Pig Point began in earnest in 2009 with funding from the Maryland Historic Trust aimed at locating and analyzing Middle Woodland period (0 to 500 A.D.) prehistoric sites. The Lost Towns Project had been digging prehistoric sites over the years, searching deeper and in more detail many Native American settlements mapped out over a generation ago. It also came about through the publicity-shy property owner's willingness to allow big chunks of his property to be dug up and sifted for the sake of historic curiosity.

One of the first finds that sent chills up the spines of the archaeologists
was a few dark smudges in the dirt. Those round spots turned out to be the remnants of saplings thrust into the ground for a wigwam, the oblong shelters favored by the indigenous people of the region. Then they found another row of posts, then another.
"We have the oldest structures ever found in Maryland," Luckenbach said. "And the first found in Tidewater Maryland," Pig Point's wigwams, thought to be about 16 by 12 feet, are considerably older. The first was about 800 years old. Carbon dating on the other post holes showed they were even older - one from the 6th century and another from the 3rd century.

It seems every layer uncovered in the methodical system utilized by archaeologists has turned up another eureka moment. If not a piece of pottery preceding the birth of Christ, it was an even older spear point. Crews have found preserved bone tools, arrowheads made of deer antler, needles and awls made of bone, flaking tools, plus shards of pottery, clam shells, fish and wildlife bones. And then there are the points - arrow points, spear points, some in the familiar triangle shape, others rounded, still others longer oblong affairs.

The oldest, a Palmer point, could be 10,000 years old. Pig Point also is the farthest south Archaic triangle points have been found. Previously a New Jersey site, well-known among archaeologist as Abbott Farm, south of Trenton, was the southernmost location the Archaic period points had been found. Other points found include Piscataway points from roughly 1,000 B.C. Bifurcate points dated at 5,000 B.C. also were unearthed. Pottery found at the site includes the first intact native American pot Luckenbach has ever held. The 2.5-inch paint pot was found next to a heavily burned fire pit along with pieces of unfired clay, leading county staff to believe it got lost under the fire built to fire a batch of pottery. Carbon dates from that layer of the dig have run from 1260 to 1320 A.D. A tube pipe circa 500 A.D. and chunks of a gorget, a semicircular stone worn around the neck, are among the other prominent finds. Aside from the depth and plenty, it's the unusual items found there that have sparked interest and wonder. There are items uncovered there from the Adena mound building cultures of the Midwest, for instance.

But why would it all converge at Pig Point? Theories abound. The wealth of artifacts found so far will keep the Lost Towns staff and scores of interns busy for years. And there will be more to come. After two full seasons of digging, the thousands of artifacts uncovered at Pig Point have been moved to the county archaeology lab at Historic London Town and Gardens in Edgewater. There every piece is meticulously cleaned, numbered and cataloged. Then the study can begin.

So they are back at it at Pig Point, digging and scraping, sifting and
sorting, finding out who we are.


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