Welcome the the MHAA's new blog! We'll be using this space to keep the public updated on our upcoming archaeological projects. Beginning next week we will be undertaking an archaeological survey here at the Caleb Rector house in Atoka in the hopes of finding out more about the property and the people who lived here.
Before we get started I'll share a little about my background. I'm the newest staff member here at the MHAA, where I work as the public programs coordinator. Before joining MHAA I spent over a decade working in archaeology and historic preservation. I got my start back in 2003 when I took the archaeological field school at Historic St. Mary's City in Maryland. I instantly fell in love - to me archaeology was the perfect blend of academic and physical work. I continued to work for Historic St. Mary's City, uncovering Maryland's 17th century capital, and served as a teaching assistant for their 2005 field school. I also spent a year working at Maryland's Archaeological Conservation Lab at Jefferson Patterson Park working on a comparative study of sites throughout the Colonial Chesapeake.
After leaving southern Maryland I spent many years working in the private archaeology sector, or what is known as Cultural Resource Management. These types of firms get hired as consultants when certain construction projects might impact historic resources. Typically they're only involved when state or federal funding is involved - things like highways, pipelines, or military bases - but some local governments have recognized the importance of protecting their history as well. Our job was to go in, perform archaeological and architectural surveys, and help come up with ways to best protect those resources while still allowing for necessary construction. This line of work took me all over the country and to all sorts of different projects. Sites I've worked on range from a World War II POW camp all the way back to an Archaic period Native American site and a whole lot in between.
Now that we have that intro out of the way let's look at the type of work that we'll be doing this summer. The project will begin with what is referred to as a Phase I level survey. This means we will establish a grid across the entire property and at set intervals we will excavate shovel test pits. These small holes measure approximately 15 inches across and can vary in depth depending on what the soils look like (more on that later). All of the soil from the shovel tests will be screened through wire mesh so that any artifacts can be collected. If we find artifacts that means the shovel test is “positive” and we will dig four more around it at a smaller interval. Known as delineation this process allows us to fill in the blank spots on the grid, giving a full picture of how the artifacts are distributed across the site.
The entire Phase I process has to be meticulously recorded. Archaeology by its very nature is destructive – once the soil has been excavated there’s no way to put things back the way they were and valuable information can be lost. For archaeologists, the location of the artifacts is just as important as the objects themselves, so information about where the objects are found can be used to date them and to understand how the site was used historically. Unfortunately, that important contextual information can be disturbed by both natural and human activity. Erosion, animal burrows, construction, and relic hunting are just a few of the ways that artifacts can be moved or lost from their original context, which means less information about how people lived in the past. This Phase I survey will help determine which parts of our property contain intact archaeological deposits and which places have been disturbed in the past.
We want to keep the public involved with this project as it moves forward. We’ll be documenting our work and our finds here on the blog. If you happen to be driving by the Rector House and see us out in the yard please feel free to stop by and say hello!