Any archeologist will tell you: the most important part of a dig is not what we find, it is what we find out! Processing artifacts is an essential step to learning more about an archeological site and the stories it may hold. Thanks to support from the Maryland Historical Trust Archeology Lab in Crownsville, project archeologists from Louis Berger, and a great group of fourteen volunteers, we just completed the laboratory processing for the artifacts recovered from Patterson Park this past spring.
Between July 29 and August 27, our volunteers (including seven people who helped out during the dig this spring) washed and labeled artifacts then recorded detailed description in a catalog for the collection. The artifacts included a War of 1812 musket ball, a Civil War belt buckle, and a half-plate made of ironstone. The oldest artifact is the Piscataway point created over 2,000 years ago. We didn’t realize in the field that we had found huge number of pieces of kiln furniture (the protective vessels that held pipes as they were fired in the kiln) or “muffles.” The large number of pieces raises the question of whether a kiln was located at the site or whether they were just brought in as dirt fill.
In the next few weeks, Louis Berger will send the artifacts to Kansas City to be photographed at their own laboratory. They’ll be back in Baltimore in time for the bicentennial celebrations on September 14. In October, we will send the collection to its permanent home at the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Laboratory, at Jefferson Park and Museum in St. Leonard, Maryland. You can look forward to seeing a selection of artifacts back in Baltimore this spring as part of a new exhibit we are planning at the Patterson Park Observatory with the Friends of Patterson Park.
Our archeological investigation in Patterson Park this spring surprised almost everyone with the great number and diversity of artifacts we recovered. Over a thousand artifacts from 1814-era musket balls to left-over animal bones help us learn more about the history of Patterson Park and the people of Baltimore.
This summer, Archeological Society of Maryland is continuing its generous support for We Dig Hampstead Hill by taking on the laboratory processing of the archeological materials at their volunteer lab in Crownsville, Maryland. If you thought archeology was all about digging, this is your opportunity to experience the next phase of archeological discovery!
When can I volunteer?
Volunteer opportunities are available most weeks Tuesday and Wednesday between 9:30am and 3:30pm. Processing the Hampstead Hill collection is expected to continue from August through September. Volunteers are welcome to sign up for a few hours or for a full day. After the conclusion of this project, additional volunteer opportunities will be available at the lab on most Tuesdays to process artifacts from a contact-period Native American archeological site.
Where is the lab located?
Maryland Historical Trust
100 Community Place
Crownsville, MD 21032
How can I sign up?
To volunteer, contact Greg Katz at email@example.com. Seats in the lab are limited and will be filled on a first-come-first-served basis.
Processing includes washing/cleaning, drying, labeling, identification, cataloging, data entry, and packaging for long-term care. No prior experience or training is required to get involved with this stage of the project! Volunteers will work alongside lab director Louise Akerson, retired Director of the Baltimore Center for Urban Archaeology, and Fieldwork Director Greg Katz and his team from the Louis Berger Group. Cleaning artifacts is a great way to learn more about conservation and artifact identification.
As rain today and tomorrow keeps our We Dig Hampstead Hill project team inside (catching up on all of the less glamorous paperwork!), we’re excited to share a few results from our second successful week in the field, what archeologist Greg Katz says is, “Good stuff, and more good stuff to come!”
Last week, we welcomed five school groups for a hands-on field trip at Hampstead Hill including students from Thomas Johnson Middle School, Morrell Park Middle School, Patterson Park Public Charter School, and Hampstead Hill Academy. Special thanks to our school outreach coordinator Theresa Donnelly for supporting these visits and to Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum (whose “Mystery Objects” learning activity has been a huge hit with these young archeologists-in-training).
We also made great progress in locating the remains of the defensive earthworks and finding some exciting artifacts that connect us to the people who camped along that line during the fall of 1814. Fieldwork Director Greg Katz has shared his perspective on the second week of the project:
We had strong volunteer support, and we were able to take our test units (started last week) down to 3-4 feet below surface into some very interesting nineteenth-century deposits. We found the eastern and western edges of the tavern structure, as well as the base of the earthen cellar. We recovered lots of interesting artifacts from the tavern excavations, including a large assortment of buttons and ceramic wares, and smaller amounts of bottle fragments and other domestic items. One of my favorite finds from this area is a Goodyear rubber button, probably produced in the 1850s, when the former tavern was home to the Keeper of Patterson Park. Nothing military in nature was found in the tavern structure, which was unexpected.
Some military items did turn up in the test units north of the Observatory, including a gunflint and a musket ball. By the close of the week we were fairly confident that we were near the base of the 1814 fortification ditch in the excavations both north and south of the Observatory.
The testing south of the Observatory found some very interesting layers of soil and elements of an older drain system possibly dating to the nineteenth century. A relatively shallow ditch, suggestive of the 1814 fortification ditch, was found approximately 1.5 feet below the ground surface. At the base of the ditch was a small brick storm drain. Approximately two feet lower we encountered another ditch that we think is the actual trench from the 1814 earthworks. Our current theory is that the upper ditch is a historical reenactment of sorts – that at some point in the nineteenth or early twentieth centuries a ditch was dug to recreate the historic rampart. The drain system may have been installed to keep the recreated ditch from filling with water. This may be an example of how each generation of Baltimoreans comes to learn the city’s history, and rediscovers and reinterprets the past. Good stuff, and more good stuff to come!
Our project team spent their first week following up on the remote-sensing study conducted by Dr. Tim Horsley last month. Tim’s study gave us two big leads: evidence of the old fortification ditch and evidence of a building and cellar we believe may be Jacob Loudenslager’s tavern and the field headquarters during the Battle of Baltimore.
To learn more about these features, the team opened three trenches, including one at the tavern site and two to test the old fortification ditch. Fieldwork Director Greg Katz shared his reflections on the first week in the field:
The testing of the tavern area has gone very well. We found the remains of what we think is a brick foundation on the very first day of the investigation. So far, the search for the trench has been less successful. While we located signs of the original fortification in the southern trench, we also found a drain that looks like a later feature (likely installed between 1827 and the 1853 when the area was turned into a public park).
According to the remote sensing survey, the northern ditch was supposed to be buried just over 3 feet below ground but we have not yet found anything that’s clearly the fortification yet so we have to go a little bit deeper still. I’m excited that so much of the 19th century landscape seems to still be intact but we still have a lot of work to do and it’s been taking a long time to get the information that we have so far so we have to try to be very careful from here going out strategic in terms of what amount what testing were going to be able to accomplish.