Archeologists seek to preserve past without hampering future

Buckeystown, Maryland (AP) 11-07

Forty-three years ago, a Buckeystown resident stumbled across large pits filled with debris from an 800-year-old Indian village, including rare bits of native pottery.

As archeologists work to piece together clues of daily life of those long-gone Indians, they also are fighting to protect such sites from being destroyed. The goal is to protect history without hampering development.

Counties such as Anne Arundel and Prince George’s have enacted provisions enabling archeologists to conduct preliminary studies of potential sites and then to work with builders to develop a plan to salvage artifacts. Frederick County is considering a similar provision.

Without such protections, archaeological sites are destroyed almost daily in Frederick County because no rules exist to protect them, said Jim Gibb, a professional archaeologist and vice president of the nonprofit Archaeological Society of Maryland Inc.

“We can lose an incredible amount of information about the area’s history,” Gibb said.

Archaeological sites are finite, added Charles Hall, an archaeologist with the Maryland Historical Trust, who led an archaeological dig at the site near Buckeystown.

“Once it is gone, you can’t go back 800 years and recreate an American Indian village,” he said.

This spring, about 75 Marylanders spent a week hunched over a large square hole in a Frederick County cornfield along the Monocacy River where the village once stood. Sifting buckets of sand through mesh screens, the volunteers recovered more than 5,000 pieces of stone and pottery. Their findings were forwarded to American University for analysis.

The American Indians dug holes to make hearths, store food such as nuts and corn, and to make pots. The holes then served as trash cans, Hall said.

“We can’t interview them, but we can learn a lot about their lives from what they threw away,” Hall said.

For example, the makeup of the pottery suggests the inhabitants were living at the Buckeystown site between 1200 and 1250 A.D. but abandoned it long before European settlers arrived in Maryland. American Indians in the region made three types of pottery, the oldest tempered with limestone. Around 1350, they were using pottery tempered with crushed quartz and, between 1450 and 1500 A.D., they tempered the pottery with crushed river mussels. The Buckeystown site is unusual because it has yielded only the limestone pottery, Hall said.

Archaeologists hope to learn more about where and why the American Indians left by studying the artifacts and charting where they were found.

Buckeystown resident Calvin Swomley, who is interested in archaeology, discovered the site in 1964.

The archeologists said sites such as the Buckeystown village have been studied in Anne Arundel and Prince George’s counties without inconveniencing developers.