Saturday, September 29, 2007

The Wade House and Centennial Hotel

Jim and I have been discussing strategy for the upcoming ASM Volunteer Weekend at Port Tobacco. We plan to conduct shovel test pit excavations in three different locations during the weekend. This will allow volunteers to get a feel for the variety of deposits that exist in the project area. Depending on the number of volunteers, we may also open up some larger 3 by 3-foot or 5 by 5-foot units to further explore some interesting deposits.

The first location to be surveyed ASM weekend will be the area of the Wade House and Centennial Hotel. The Centennial was one of three hotels/boarding houses in Port Tobacco during the late 1800s. The picture above is of the Centennial in 1915. The Wade House is on the left. The picture below is of the same two buildings, taken from the opposite angle. From this picture it seems as if the Wade House has a prominent double chimney, like the Chimney House. This picture also suggests that the Wade House may have had a brick-lined cellar like that at Chimney House.

The Wade House and Centennial Hotel area of the site should be very rich in artifacts and provide valuable data for our research questions. We are particularly interested in comparing artifact assemblages from the Centennial with that of the St. Charles Hotel, excavated in the 1960s.


Friday, September 28, 2007

Port Tobacco Times

Today the first of what we hope to be many newspaper articles chronicling our work at Port Tobacco appeared in the Maryland Independent, Nancy Bromley McConaty reporting. You can find the piece at Coincidentally, we recovered several pieces of printer's type today from one of the town's two newspapers. With apologies to the staff of the Maryland Independent, the area in which we found the four pieces of type likely was occupied by an old competitor, Port Tobacco Times. Fear not Maryland Independent...we will get to your old office soon.

We also began a new relationship today with Southern Maryland Resource Conservation & Development in Waldorf the staff of which has been extremely helpful and patient. Thank you SMRC&D.

The crew will be in the Compton field at Port Tobacco this Saturday and Sunday, having finished with testing in the Jamieson field today. In the Compton field we are testing an area that lies downstream of the core of the town as it existed in the late 19th century. We expect to find more Native American and 18th through 19th-century European American and African American materials. You can check our blog each day to learn about our discoveries, but a visit over the weekend should be both pleasant and informative.


Thursday, September 27, 2007

A Mapping We Will Go

We spent the day out at Port Tobacco but did not dig a single hole. Instead we used the total station to lay in six datum points and get three dimensional coordinates for hundreds of surface features, buildings, and vegetation.

There are several goals to all this mapping.

First is the creation of an accurate site map that documents where we have excavated. One of the areas we mapped today was excavated by avocational archaeologists approximately 15-years ago. Without a map of their excavations we cannot determine the extent of their efforts until we re-excavate there. The photo above shows one depression they left behind.

Second, a site map that documents the locations of buildings, trees, paved roads, and other obstructions provides visual explanation of why certain areas were not excavated.

Third, we are documenting the 2007 version of Port Tobacco that may prove useful for future historians, archaeologists, planners, etc.

Lastly, an accurate digital map of Port Tobacco can serve as base map over which the various maps of the late 1800s town can be laid. Computer software can be used to stretch compress, or rotate the historic maps until they fit with the base map. For this process our most important refernce points are the corners of the Burch, Chimney, and Stagg Hall, houses as they are the only structures that are depicted on all maps.


Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The Hamilton Coincidence

Funny thing happened out at Port Tobacco today. I went into the restored courthouse during lunch and when I came back out I was approached by a woman. She asked if the courthouse was open today. It wasn't. She seemed disappointed so I offered to let her in and show her around. She signaled over to husband to park the car.

If I recall this correctly, the visitor had traced two members of her family to Port Tobacco. Her Greene ancestors arrived by boat in the 1600s and later some Hamiltons lived in the town. Neither name rang a bell with me but I gave them an overview of the town layout in the late 1800s, showed them the displays constucted by the Society for the Restoration of Port Tobacco, and sent a business card with the website address home with them.

No less than 15 minutes later, Jim and I were talking with a longtime resident of Port Tobacco. I asked him about the property adjacent to his. "That is the old Hamilton property," he said. I checked the parking lot but our visitors had already gone.


Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Volunteer Weekend in Late October

On the weekend of October 19 through 21, Maryland Historical Trust staffers and volunteers from the Archeological Society of Maryland will join the Port Tobacco Archaeological Project crew at Port Tobacco. Non-members are welcome to join us as well as we continue the survey and testing program, searching for parts of the Colonial town site, its Native American precursors, and 19th-century successors. This is a great opportunity to work shoulder to shoulder with a group of great people committed to archaeological research and conservation. I will not jinx us by prognosticating about the weather, but I'll just say that autumn in Southern Maryland is pretty okay if somewhat noisy from the honking of geese flying overhead.

The field day will run from 9Am to 4Pm. Participants should wear sturdy shoes and clothes. Bring a lunch and dine al fresco, or run into nearby La Plata (3 miles) for a sandwich or hot meal. We expect to have a field laboratory running throughout the weekend to process material as it comes out of the ground. Candidates in the Certified Archeological Technician program can fulfill their survey requirements and attend one or two workshops. (Workshops, at least one of which will be on archaeological ethics are open to all.)

We are looking into the availability of motels and campgrounds and will make that information available soon. Contact us via e-mail or phone if you would like to join us.

On related notes, I will join April and Pete in the field on Wednesday for some extensive mapping and gridding. We have been working in the office today on cataloguing artifacts (Pete), refining our research design (April), and preparing grant applications to fund the work. In a future blog I would like to talk about the research design, an important document that guides what we do and how we do it and, most importantly, why.


Monday, September 24, 2007

Tin-Glazed Earthenware

Throughout our time in Port Tobacco we have uncovered many different types of historical ceramics from over 200 years of occupation on the site. One of the great things about excavating is the chance to get a first hand look at some of the artifacts that people have used rather than look in a book at them. Now most of what we find is just pieces of what used to be whole plates, cups, bowls and mugs but by examining these pieces we can distinguish them from each other on the spot to get an idea of what types of ceramics were being used in Port Tobacco.
Over the next several weeks I will write about each of the different types of ceramics we have found along with some photographs. Be sure to check back next week for another ceramics lesson.

The first piece is referred to as tin-glazed earthenware. Now what is a tin-glazed earthenware you ask? A tin-glazed earthenware is a soft bodied earthenware that has a tin oxide glaze to it usually with a blue design motif painted onto the pottery. They are fired at a low temperature (900 – 1100F) and must be glazed in order to hold liquids. The technique of making this type of ceramic has been around since about the 9th Century A.D. However, it didn’t show up in the United States until the late 17th and through the 19th century. Most of what is found in the Chesapeake region came from England during this time.

The piece in the picture below was found just this past Friday in one of our STP’s. The second picture is a whole tin-glazed earthenware dish for you to compare.


Sunday, September 23, 2007

Orange is Not a Soil Color

We continued our shovel test pit excavations today and found what appears to be the remains of a building and associated trash pile or midden. This is exciting because the Port Tobacco maps of the late 1800s do not depict a building in this area (the southwest corner of the Centennial Hotel block). More on this later as we wash and analyze the artifacts.

Today's blog is about one of the lesser known tools of the trade, the Munsell Soil Color Charts. These charts come packed in a small binder for field use. Each chart is a single page of color squares, similar to paint chips. Every square has a notch cut out of it so we can hold a sample of soil behind the chart to determine which chip matches the soil color most closely. Each color chip has a corresponding number code and color name. This method of standardization prevents two archaeologists from referring to the same soil by different color names. For example, a soil that looks orange in color may have the Munsell name of light yellowish brown. In fact, orange is not an acceptable soil color...according to Munsell.

There are other color chart products made by Munsell. My favorite is the Frozen French Fry color chart that supposedly "ensures perfectly cooked fries every time". Seems like a gift for that hard to shop for friend.