HSMC Archaeology Upgrades to New Buildings


On Friday, April 13, Historic St. Mary’s City (HSMC) held the annual Archaeology Month lecture titled, “From the Trenches to the Shelves.” The lecture, which took place in the Visitor’s Center auditorium, was made up of three parts: Chief Archaeologist Dr. Timothy Riordan gave an update on the 2011 excavations around the Calvert House during field school last summer, special projects archaeologist Ruth Mitchell discussed the work underway around Anne Arundel Hall in preparation for the upcoming construction, and Curator of Collections and Laboratory Director Silas Hurry presented detailed plans about the Anne Arundel Hall replacement project.

The first part of the lecture, presented by Timothy Riordan, explained work done in the past by students in the archaeology field school and the goals for the upcoming summer. The Leonard Calvert House, which was built in the first decade of settlement at St. Mary’s City, was first explored in the 1980s but for the past four years, the field school has been excavating the site. The work has been largely focused in the yards around the original house; the research goals varied every summer, but they were mostly about “tracing things out,” said Riordan.

When defining these boundaries, fences are the most important feature to find. Riordan said, “Fences are important because they define the space and the first residents were legally required to build them.” The Calvert House was occupied for 65-75 years, so the property experienced lots of development and fences. The earliest fence found was curved and irregular and it “represents the earliest expression of bounding the landscape at the Calvert House,” to Riordan.

Most of the excavations took place on the north part of the site, which offered “good work to break in the students,” joked Riordan. In order to excavate the soil layer, the students had to break through the old driveway of the Broome Howard house.

Another site that is in the process of excavation is Pope’s Fort, built in 1645 during a rebellion against Lord Baltimore. The fort had several irregular qualities that still mystify the archaeologists and despite several years of work, they don’t have a clear picture of the defenses on the north side of the fort. However, the site did yield many exciting artifacts, such as early ceramics and a lead cloth seal from the commonwealth period, the 1640s-1650s.

This past summer, excavations continued in the southwest of the Calvert site in a trash ravine that offered some extraordinary artifacts. An unprecedented 24 complete pipe bowls were found among a large amount of pipe fragments. A lice comb out of bone or ivory, a mouth harp, a combination candlewick trimmer and snuffer, and a tool used to hang keys from a belt called a chatelaine all contributed to an “interesting an exciting summer,” said Riordan.

This coming summer, the field school will go back and explore part of the Calvert House for the first time. There have been partial excavations on two separate cellars, one made of brick and one made of fired clay. Riordan says the goal is to “fill in some of the gaps” in the knowledge of these cellars.

For the past two years, Ruth Mitchell and her team have been systematically working around Anne Arundel Hall. Mitchell said, “It is surprising how much preservation can exist,” considering its location so close to Route 5 and the old location of Margaret Brent Hall.

According to Mitchell, the stratigraphy, or the soil layers, around Anne Arundel is very complicated. Despite the difficulty, the archaeologists found a brick foundation of reused bricks with a cellar in the southern portion and evidence of a heating element in the northern portion. It is most likely a part of the Hicks-Mackall Plantation dating to the 18th century.

After finding the brick foundation, the team began excavating closer to Anne Arundel that offered its own set of dirt and water management problems. They found fences, an 18th century building near Trinity Church Road, post holes, and two unexplainable features: a two-walled building an and open-ended fence. In regards to these anomalies, Mitchell simply said, “I don’t have any answers.”

Near the previous site of Margaret Brent Hall, they found a fence or drainage ditch and virtually undisturbed trash ravine. “The preserved deposits went right up to the footer,” said Mitchell. “I was astonished.”  There were “lots of great artifacts,” in the ditch such as a bone-handled fork, ceramics, and an amazingly intact wine glass stem from the 18th century. The most exciting finds were four bottle seals, all found within five feet of each other, initialed and dated with 1767. Two of the seals were initialed with “I.A.,” possibly tying them to James Adderton. The other two haven’t been tied to any residents; they are initialed with “I.N.” and “B.A.S.”

Underneath of the recognizable digloo, the team found one complete terracotta pipe bowl, a random find for the area because the material is associated with Native American occupation, which was uncommon at this time period. They found more fences, a possible ditch, and an unidentifiable copper object.

The most recent digs are “very preliminary. We have no idea when we’re finding,” said Mitchell. In any case, the artifacts and features found by the team “help us understand this little known section of the 17th century landscape.”

During the final portion, Silas Hurry discussed the problems and opportunities that have occurred while designing a 21st century archaeological facility. Hurry and his colleagues began planning the Anne Arundel Hall replacement project in 2000 as a joint effort between HSMC and the College. The original plan was to adaptively reuse Anne Arundel as a curation facility, but that proved impossible due to structural problems. At that point, it was proposed that the building be torn down and replaced.

A company specializing in green architecture called the Smith Group was hired to design the project. Instead of one large building, the Smith Group, HSMC, and the College decided to build four smaller buildings, arranged in a pinwheel. The complex will provide academic space for the departments of Anthropology, Museum Studies, and International Languages and Cultures as well as an extensive lab and artifact storage for HSMC.

The artifact collection has moved around quite a lot in the past, starting in Kent Hall and moving around to various buildings around the area until it settled to its current location at the HSMC Archaeology lab in 1979. However, they have grown out of the current location and are unable to house the millions of artifacts found at Historic. As Hurry put it, “we are busting out in terms of artifact storage.”

After visiting several archaeology labs, the team came up with a design that optimized the future lab space for artifact processing and storage. The artifacts will start at the receiving lab, connected to a loading dock. Then they will move to the wash and preparation lab, the artifact analysis lab and the largest space, the archaeological conservation room, and the documentation workroom.

Upstairs, there is an area to study collections, a research library, and offices for the archaeologists. The lab building will connect to the neighboring building by a two-story bridge that contains a large area of storage with compactable shelving, a special dry storage area, a storage area for non-archaeological material, and a space dedicated to the historical archives.

The design includes a green roof that eliminates storm water management issues, with viewing ports under the roof and exhibit sign panels so visitors can watch the archaeologists at work and have an idea of what is being processed at the lab. In the conservation lab, the team hopes to have an x-ray machine that will enable the archaeologists to see through corrosion. According to Hurry, “laying out artifacts is the key to understanding them,” and the lab will enable greater understanding than ever before.

Hurry said that archaeologists are sometimes seen as strange because, “we wash trash, put tiny numbers on the trash, put the trash in little bags, but the bags in boxes, and then treat the trash like treasure. But we can do so much more with so little, much more than 10 years ago.” This lab will benefit not only the College, but also the comprehension of St. Mary’s City through the years.