Thursday, August 25, 2011


Three years of digging at a prehistoric Indian site in Anne Arundel County has unearthed the oldest structures and human habitations in Maryland and is making this bluff above the Patuxent River one of the most important archaeological sites in the Mid-Atlantic.

Last week, archaeologists learned from carbon-14 dating that a stone hearth they uncovered this summer was last used 9,290 years ago. That makes the site, called Pig Point, twice as old as the earliest carbon-dated human habitation found previously in Maryland.

Yet the carbon-14 date is just the latest in a series of extraordinary discoveries at the South County site that are drawing the interest of archaeologists from throughout the region.

Beginning in 2009, the team led by Anne Arundel County archaeologist Al Luckenbach has found oval patterns of wigwam post holes dating from 800 to 3,000 years ago, the oldest human structures ever found in Maryland.

They have found highly decorated pottery, tools of stone and bone, personal ornaments, copper beads from the Great Lakes, exotic tools and ceramics from the Ohio and Delaware valleys, fossil shark teeth from Southern Maryland and shells from the ocean beaches.

Luckenbach's team is still finding evidence of human occupations from the Early Archaic period, 10,000 to 8,000 years ago. As they dig even deeper into the bluff, and back in time, the next period they would reach is the "Paleo Indian" or "Clovis" time, roughly 10,000 to 20,000 years ago. Last year, neighbors showed Luckenbach several fluted Clovis spear points they picked up in a field at the foot of the bluff. So his team is now on the lookout for more Paleo-Indian artifacts in their excavations, finds they could document and date.

Setting aside the extraordinary artifacts, archaeologists say Pig Point is most unique and valuable because of its nearly 10,000-year record of continuous human habitation. At Pig Point, the tools, ceramics, food waste and traces of wigwams have
been repeatedly buried by fresh deposits of soil, probably washed down from higher on the bluff. That has left a continuous record, 6 or 7 feet deep, with the oldest occupations at the bottom of the layer cake, and the most recent at the top. And carbon-14 dates from many of the 13 layers have confirmed their ages. "The whole sequence [of C-14 dates] fit the way they should," Curry said. "It's very clear that the 6 feet of sediment is undisturbed."

Based on the unique and exotic artifacts he's recovered at Pig Point, Luckenbach believes the area may have been an important junction for trade, cultural and perhaps religious exchange between the Ohio Valley and the Atlantic coast, and still other cultures to the north and south.

Despite financial woes at both the state and county levels, the work has continued for three seasons, funded by Anne Arundel County and grants from the Maryland Historical Trust, as well as private donations. County staff, volunteers and college interns from at least four states have dug two days a week, every week, from April to the first frost.,0,3824207.story


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