Friday, November 6, 2009

Upcoming Events: AWS lecture and Bladensburg Archaeology Talk

There are two events in the next two weeks in Bladensburg that might be of interest.

First of all the Anacostia Watershed Society, who hosted the projects history workshops will continue its lecture series next week with a talk from Howard Ernst, Associate Professor of Political Science at the U.S. Naval Academy. He will talk about the political side of environmental efforts to clean up the bay.
Here is some info:
Who: Howard Ernst, author of Fight for the Bay and Associate Professor of Political Science at the U.S. Naval Academy.
When: 7:00PM to 8:30PM
Where: George Washington House, 4302 Baltimore Ave., Bladensburg, MD [map]
RSVP: RSVPs are required. Please contact AWS at or call 301-699-6204.
For more information about Professor Ernst, visit his Web site at

On Thursday, November 19th at 3:00 the Bladensburg Archaeology Project will present a short talk about the project at the Bladensburg Library. Here is a link to library activities:

See you there!

If you have any questions you can email

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Artifacts in Focus: A Little Bostwick History as Seen Through a Bullet

Bullets are a common find on archaeological sites, especially in rural or formerly rural areas such as Bladensburg. Their recovery suggests something of how radically the landscape of Bladensburg has changed, from a sparsely occupied hamlet to the urban bustle it is today. Civil War-era bullets are also common. Several were found at the Magruder and Market Master’s house suggesting the likelihood that troops may have camped on the grounds.

While excavating on the grounds of Bostwick this summer we found a bullet unlike others we had seen before. (for more on the Bostwick excavation: It was a large-caliber rifle bullet, copper-jacketed and grooved. Its appearance suggested to us that it dated to the late nineteenth century at the earliest. It just so happened that a member of the Bladensburg Police Force, specifically the firearms training officer, came to visit us out in the field that day. We decided to show him the bullet to get his professional opinion as to its origins. His assessment was that it was between .46 and .48 caliber, and belonged to a big game hunting rifle. He estimated its age to the early part of the twentieth century. It turns out that James Kyner, who purchased the house in 1904, was an avid big game hunter. For anyone who has been into Bostwick, the sight of the many large trophy heads on the currently empty walls is not easily forgotten.

The Historic American Buildings Survey report describes Mr. James Kyner as an adventurous man who made his fortune building railroads in the west. He was also a Civil War veteran, losing his leg in the conflict. Bostwick has come to absorb and reflect the aesthetics of its long succession of owners, and Mr. and Mrs. Kyner are no exception in this regard. Besides the trophy heads, the interior walls are decorated with cabinets and wallpapers that were fashionable at the time. A large colonial revival porch was added to the front of the house by the Kyners’. Numerous brick outbuildings were also, at this time, demolished. In 1937 Kyner wrote a biography of his long and fascinating life called “End of Track”. In it he recounts his experiences growing up in the Midwest of the late 19th century, the adventures and difficulties of railroad work and his latter life as a politician. Bladensburg is mentioned very briefly at the end, where he fondly describes the peace of his retirement home:

“…going east with my wife and very young daughter, I bought an old colonial home just outside the District of Columbia, within six miles of the White House. The old house appealed to me in part, perhaps, because the date high up one of its tall chimneys is 1746, which antedates my own arrival in this world by just one hundred years.
Here, with seven acres of garden and orchard and lawn to interest me, I have stood aside for the past thirty years and let the world go by. Busying myself with bees and dogs, with chickens and with a horse or two, modernizing and reconstructing this old, old house of mine, I have played no part that could be felt so very far beyond the pillars at my gate. I have seen, as from a seat in a theater, the drama of the world. Here and there it touches me, of course, but mostly it does not.” (Kyner 1937: 276).

Through his narrative we can understand one of the many ways the landscape of Bladensburg has been conceptualized by its occupants. Here is an amazing photograph of James Kyner I received from Susan Pearl showing Mr. Kyner standing in front of the large hearth at Bostwick:

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Bladensburg Day/ Mexican Independence Day/ Port Towns Day Celebrations

The Bladensburg Archaeology Project sent representatives to two different community gatherings in the last two weeks to share details of their project and to receive feedback from the community. On the 12th of September project members attended Bladensburg Day/ Mexican Independence Day. It was an excellent opportunity to share information about the project with Bladensburg’s Spanish speaking population. On the 19th of September project members attended the Port Towns Day at the Bladensburg Waterfront. Music, food and conversation were in abundance at both events. Project members distributed information about historic resources in Bladensburg and Prince George’s County and details about the project. A display of artifacts from the Magruder and Market Master’s House excavations were presented. At the Port Town’s day celebration children were given the opportunity to take part in a mock dig. Here are some photos from the events.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Artifacts in Focus: "Home Rule" Pipe Bowl Fragment

For the next few entries we will talk about interesting artifacts we have encountered while cataloging and washing. This first artifact was found at the Market Master's House earlier this summer. Janet Donlin from the CHRS lab writes:

"While washing artifacts in the Center for Heritage Resource Studies lab, we discovered a fragment of a pipe bowl with the words “HOME RULE” and a graphic below the words depicting a Celtic harp with clovers bordering the bottom. This artifact was uncovered from Test Unit 6 on the eastern side of the house and tells us a little bit about the person who might have owned it.

“Home Rule” refers to the Home Rule Movement in Ireland during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. This movement was a reaction to the Act of Union, which was enacted in 1801 by the Irish Parliament, uniting the country with Britain. In the 1830’s, an Irish lawyer named Daniel O’Connell began a “Repeal of the Union” movement which inspired the Home Rule movement in later years. In O’Connell’s time, many people argued for a repeal of the Act of Union. The Home Rulers took a lot from the arguments of those who supported repeal, but argued more for a strictly Irish parliament to govern their country and less for a total split from Britain. The Home Rule movement was most active from the 1870’s and on, and eventually led to the Government of Ireland Act of 1920, which created two home rule parliaments in Ireland, one for the North and another for the South.

Finding this slogan on a pipe bowl in America shows that some Americans, many of whom were themselves of Irish birth or descent, were in sympathy with and supported the Home Rule movement in Ireland. University of Maryland Department of Anthropology Professor Stephen Brighton has written a paper about tobacco pipes with Irish-related symbols depicted on them. In his article, entitled “Symbols, Myth-Making, and Identity: The Red Hand of Ulster in Late Nineteenth-Century Paterson, New Jersey”, he tells us that pipe smoking was a popular social activity in the nineteenth century and that often smokers displayed causes they were sympathetic to or things that they supported on their pipes. Whoever owned our piece of pipe, therefore, was in some way connected to the Irish Home Rule movement. Whether they were Irish emigrants, had family or friends in Ireland, or were just a supporter of the cause is all up to conjecture, but little clues like this give archaeologists like us a small piece of insight into the lives of those who passed through the town of Bladensburg."

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Second Public History Workshop

The Second Public History Workshop was a great success. It was held in the George Washington House at the Anacostia Watershed Society on the 12th of August. It was attended by nearly 40 interested citizens and historic preservation professionals from all over the Washington-Metro area. It began with a presentation of Bladensburg history by Prince George’s County historian Susan Pearl. She covered many topics of interest including historical stories, figures, and buildings of Bladensburg’s past. Her visual presentation included many fantastic maps, photographs and paintings related to Bladensburg’s history most of us had never seen before.
Some of the topics included:
-Photographs of the 18th century houses that stood in Bladensburg until the mid-Twentieth century including “the Parthenon”, “the Ross House”, “Blenheim”, and “the Dieudonne House”.
-The story of Margaret Adams, an African-American innkeeper of Bladensburg, whose inn was favored by George Washington
-The story of the portrait painting of Elizabeth Tasker Lowndes by American portraitist Charles Willson Peale
-Images and descriptions of the 18th and 19th century mills that used to exist near Bladensburg
-Maps of the train lines, trolley lines and roads that connected Bladensburg to both nearby communities and national transportation networks.

Her presentation provided many details about Bladensburg history, while also demonstrating how much there is to learn.

Michael Roller gave a presentation describing some of the preliminary findings of the excavations of the Market Master’s and Magruder Houses. The presentation began with a description of the process of site excavation. While analysis of site soil stratigraphy, field notes and artifact collections has not yet begun, a few interesting artifacts noted during recovery or washing were photographed and described in the presentation. Among them were:
-A Native American stone tool dating back to 5000 years ago
-A creamware teapot fragment dating to the 1790’s with a portion of an inscription reading “When this you see, remember me, And bear me in your mind. Let all the World say what they will. Speak of me as you find.”
-A Civil War-era Bullet and Navy Button

The night ended with a question and answer session that included the recollections of a few long-term resident of the town or surrounding community. Many thanks must be given to the Anacostia Watershed Society that contributed space, logistical help, and promotional materials for the workshop.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Second Public History Workshop Tonight!

The Second Public History Workshop will be held tonight, August 12th, at the George Washington House. It will be hosted by the Anacostia Watershed Society. The event starts at 7:00 PM. It will feature a lecture by Prince George's County Historian Susan Pearl and a short presentation on the archaeological excavations.

When: Wednesday, August 12, 2009; 7:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
Where: The George Washington House, 4302 Baltimore Ave.; Bladensburg, MD 20710

Friday, July 31, 2009

Special Assistance at the State Highway's Lab

Nichole: "Today Tara and I had some special helpers at the Maryland State Highway Administration archaeology lab. Marcell Thompson (left) and Javon Epps (right), Towson High School seniors, are participating in the Summer Youth Employment Program. They are interning with the Project Planning Division and get to experience different careers within SHA. They helped us wash artifacts from the Magruder House. Tara also gave them a lesson in prehistoric tool making and hunting practices. Marcell said he’s surprised how much archaeology can be found in our own backyard. He so insightfully said that if you learn about the past, you can better understand the future. Before today, Javon also didn’t know that there was so much archaeology in Maryland. He said today he learned about the important roll archaeologists play within State Highways. Both Javon and Marcell said that history is their favorite subject in school so we might have some future archaeologists!"

Friday, July 24, 2009

Anacostia River Flood Control Part 2/ AWS Lecture Series

A few older residents we spoke to at our Public Day and other outreach events had strong recollections of the flooding of Bladensburg. These floods continued until 1955, when the Army Corp of Engineers, in collaboration with several state and county agencies, commenced work on the Anacostia River Flood Control and Navigation Project. The collaborating agencies included the Prince George’s County Commissioners, Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission, the Maryland-National Park and Planning Commission and the State Roads Commission. This project was described by the WSSC: “The former twisting, winding stream has been freed from kinks, straightened and dredged to a depth of six feet at mean low tide; levees ranging from three feet to 18 feet in height and up to 118 feet in width guard both sides of the river; drainage channels and pumping stations have been built, and new bridges and highways constructed”.

The following images are excerpted from a publication by the WSSC created to explain the project to the public. The document is entitled "Taming A River: Anacostia Flood Control and Navigation Project". The first image shows the engineering plan (dotted line) superimposed over a photograph of the Anacostia River stretching from the northern end of Bladensburg up to Riverdale. (#3 on the map is Baltimore Avenue, #2 is Decatur, #1 is Riverdale Road).

The next image shows a flooded scene from the Peace Cross. This picture is from the Washington Evening Star and was taken after a storm in the summer of 1955.
The last image, also from 1955, shows the flooded landscape around the Decatur Street bridge.

Hopefully we have seen the last of the flooding of the Anacostia River. Though it has not asserted itself in quite so dramatic a way as it last did in 1955, the river is still central to life in Bladensburg. To understand the history, the geography, archaeology and the cultural life of Bladensburg, we can't forget the effects this mighty river has had on its history. By the same token, we must also examine the many ways that human contact has deeply affected the river throughout history.

On Thursday, July 30, the Anacostia Watershed Society (AWS) will host a lecture series event featuring Dr. Harriette Phelps, Professor Emeritus at the University of the District of Columbia's Department of Biological and Environmental Science. Dr. Phelps's research focuses on active biomonitoring of the Anacostia River using the Asiatic clam (Corbicula fluminea) to identify areas where river sediments have been heavily polluted by toxins, including pesticides and heavy metals.

The lecture, which will include a slide show and question-and-answer period, will take place on Thursday, July 30, 2009 between 7:30 p.m. and 9:00 p.m. Light refreshments will be served. RSVPs are appreciated (see below for more information).

When: Thursday, July 30, 2009; 7:30 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.
Where: The George Washington House; 4302 Baltimore Ave.; Bladensburg, MD 20710
RSVPs: Please call 301-699-6204 or write to Please let us know how many people will be joining you at this event.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Bladensburg Community Partnership Networking Meeting

Yesterday (July 21st, 2009) representatives from the Bladensburg Archaeology Project attended the Community Partnership Networking Meeting at Bladensburg Town Hall. It was attended by more than 40 people representing the diverse interests of the town. Business leaders from the town of Bladensburg were joined by representatives from governmental, educational, spiritual, and charitable organizations. The goal of the meeting was to brainstorm the future and present needs of the town, and to make local connections between service providers and those in need of them.

Local community-based organizations included the Port Towns Community Development Corporation, the Anacostia Watershed Society, and the Bladensburg Rotary Club. Local business’ including Ken’s Auto Repair, C&M Exterminators, Suntrust Bank, Long Fence, Stephen’s Pipe and Steel, and PEPCO sent representatives. Federal, State and County organizations and agencies including the National Park Service, the State Highway Administration, the Maryland-National Park and Planning Commission, the Health Department of the Town of Bladensburg, Bladensburg High School, Bladensburg Elementary School and the Bladensburg Branch Library also sent representatives. Pastors from several local churches also attended including the Seventh Day Adventist Church and the Decatur Heights Baptist Church.

State Highway representatives Richard Ervin and Mike Roller spoke about the archaeology project and the goals of the community outreach component. Invitation was made to the community to help with the planning for best use of the recently acquired National Park Service Battlefield Protection Grant (see post: Community Members were also invited to attend the Public History Workshop, on August 12th. (see post: Connections were made with Bladensburg High School for the planning of a school presentation or a curriculum based upon the archaeological work conducted at the Magruder and Market Master’s Houses. Additionally, further planning was conducted for a presentation to be given at the Bladensburg Branch Library later this fall.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Taming the Anacostia: Flood Control in Bladensburg Part 1

A recurring theme in Bladensburg history is the flooding of the Anacostia River. Local accounts from as early as 1738, before the founding of the town of Bladensburg, talk about the damaging affects of the floodwaters. An account from Beall Town, an early settlement located just north of Bladensburg, describes the floods: “The freshes [floods] have brought down trees and trash which is lodged in and choak’d up the channel in said branch so that boats and other craft cannot be brought up to lod or relod goods at the usual landing place”

William Wirt, born in Bladensburg in 1762, and who later became Attorney General of the United States, wrote the following in his memoirs:
“At the lower end of the town, towards Baltimore, the house nearest the Eastern Branch, was occupied by old Mr. Martin, whom we used to call Uncle Martin- I know not why. The Eastern Branch is subject to heavy freshets [floods], which have flowed up to Mr. Martin’s house and sometimes overflowed the whole village. One of the surprising and interesting spectacles to me in those days was this old man wading up to his waist, during a freshet, and harpooning the sturgeon”

This long history of flooding was in evidence in our archaeological investigation in several ways. First of all, flood borne soils were ubiquitous. River cobbles and silt were observed throughout the soil profiles. Excavations at the Magruder House, located lower and closer to the river than the Market Master’s, exhibited a long history of efforts to drain and dry the lower half of the house. Drainage pipes and trenches, mixed with artifacts from throughout its occupation, were observed in the test units excavated below the house.

The floods continued in Bladensburg until efforts to control it were accomplished in the 1950s.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Time Team America Premieres/ Gazette Article

The PBS show "Time Team America", featuring our own Julie Schablitsky, premiered on PBS last week. It was great! It manages to depict archaeology in a very entertaining way, while also showing the work, the patience and the rigorous method that must go into a successful excavation. You can watch it on PBS, Wednesdays at 8/7 central or online here:

Also, the Gazette posted an interesting article about the SHA and community effort to research and preserve the War of 1812 battlefield. Dick Charlton and Rick Ervin were interviewed for this article. Read it here:

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

National Park Service Battlefield Grant

For today's post we asked SHA archaeologist Richard Ervin to talk a bit about the recently awarded National Park Service Battlefield Grant:

"The Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA) is pleased to have received a National Park Service American Battlefield Protection Program grant for the Battle of Bladensburg.

SHA has been working with local elected officials, historic preservation groups, the Maryland Historical Trust, the University of Maryland, and other partners on ongoing historical and archeological investigations around the town of Bladensburg. The project will involve public outreach and will produce interpretive information about Bladensburg to assist with Maryland’s bicentennial commemoration of the War of 1812. Archeological work has started at two of the surviving eighteenth century structures in Bladensburg, both located adjacent to state roadways. SHA had also planned archeological work along our right-of-way adjacent to US 1, which crosses the battlefield. The NPS grant will allow SHA to conduct additional research and investigations in other areas of the Bladensburg battlefield. This important battle led to the burning of the nation’s capital, but also involved a brave stand on the part of sailors and marines under Commodore Joshua Barney. Barney and many of his men were native Marylanders, and earned the respect of hardened British troops for their determined defense.

SHA will be working with local preservation groups to provide interpretive information about this battle, which galvanized the successful defense of Fort McHenry in Baltimore. We look forward to working with the National Park Service on this exciting project."

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Second Public History Workshop

The Bladensburg Archaeology Project will hold its second Public History Workshop on August 12th, 2009 at the George Washington House. The Anacostia Watershed Society will kindly lend its space for this event. The purpose of the workshop will be to present a lecture about local history, share updates and information about the archaeological investigation, and hold an open discussion about local history with the public.

The lecture will be given by Susan Pearl, who recently retired from her position at the Maryland National Park and Planning Commission to devote full time pursuing research topics of diverse interest as Prince George’s County Historian. Recently she has presented lectures on the Stier art collection from Riversdale mansion and the postal and road system of historic Prince George’s County. For the workshop she will present a lecture on transportation and change in Bladensburg.

The workshop will run from 7 to 9 PM. Please RSVP:
The address of the George Washington House is 4302 Baltimore Avenue, Bladensburg.

In other news: The Anacostia Watershed Society is holding a lecture series. The next talk will take place on the 30th of July at 7:30PM. It will be given by Harriet Phelps, a retired professor from UDC. It will describe her method for monitoring water quality in the river using mussels. Please RSVP the society to attend:

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Introducing the Bostwick House

The Center for Heritage Resource Studies of the University of Maryland began a small excavation at the Bostwick House this morning. It is scheduled to last for about one week. For this post we decided to write a little bit about this fantastic 18th century structure. Its history is closely related to that of the Market Master’s House, having a common owner and builder.
Christopher Lowndes, who we have mentioned in previous posts, was a major merchant, manufacturer, importer, slave trader and postmaster of Bladensburg. He was among the signers of a petition drawn up to commision the founding of the town. He also served as a court justice for Prince George’s County and town commissioner of Bladensburg.
The main body of the house was built sometime between 1742 and 1746, making it one of the first buildings constructed in Bladensburg. The main body of the house is a two-and-a-half story high early Georgian-style house. A long grassy terraced garden runs between the house and 48th street in Bladensburg. Currently, the architecture of the house reflects the tastes and fashions of the long succession of owners that owned and lived there throughout the last 250+ years. Porches, exterior kitchens, and buttresses were added to the exterior. Decorative elements such as plaster wall decoration, stained glass windows, Victorian wallpaper, larger staircases, extra doors and hunting trophies have also added their distinctive style to the building.
The Center for Heritage Resource Studies of the University of Maryland conducted a survey of the property surrounding the Bostwick House in the Spring of 2008 ( The results of the survey only touched upon the huge amount of archaeological research potential present at the Bostwick House and the other 18th century buildings in Bladensburg.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Day 14: Soil Chemistry/ The Discoveries of the Week

Soil Chemistry Explains Crumbling Ceramic Sherds
Julie:"While excavating out at the Market Master’s House site, we have noticed the very poor preservation of the ceramic artifacts. Many of the 18th and early 19th century ceramic fragments flake apart in layers as they are removed from their context. We suspected the poor preservation may be a result of the alkaline soil. This morning I stopped at the local hardware store and picked up 4 pH soil test kits for $1.50. I tested three strata in Test Unit 6 and found that the soil pH was very alkaline; the only neutral stratum was the 19th century layer that was filled with ash, coal, and artifacts. Based on our soil test, we found that the poor preservation of our 18th century ceramics was the result of the high alkalinity of the soil. Although this pH level is not good for the preservation of ceramic, glazes, lead, glass and fabrics, the alkaline soil seems less destructive to bone, lithics, shell, plaster, iron, and copper-alloy artifacts. "

Here is an interesting resource that desribes the effects of different soils on the preservation of artifacts:

The Discoveries of the Week Mike:"It was our second to last day at the site today. We finished all but one of the four test units we set out to complete this week. Our last week of fieldwork left us with some interesting finds. Postholes popped up in the bases of several units around the house, up to three feet below the surface. This suggests several things. First of all, the historic living surface of the Market Master’s House is much lower than the present surface level. A careful examination of our artifacts and fieldnotes will indicate to us, in coming months, how well preserved these early historic strata are. It also suggests that the historic landscape around the house was crowded with architectural features such as fences, awnings, and smaller impermanent wooden buildings. I now see the lone solid frame of the Market Master’s House differently, imagining it surrounded not by grassy lawn and gardens, but by a very different landscape of dense domestic, industrial, commercial and agricultural activities and their respective constructions.

Another interesting discovery made this week resulted from the shovel test pits we excavated below the asphalt of Market Lane, to the north of the house. The recovery of deeply buried artifacts from the 18th and 19th centuries suggests that some intact resources from that part of Lot 37 survive below the blacktop. All this suggests that, despite the long hours of work spent out at the Market Master’s House and the Magruder House, much remains to be learned about these resources."

Stay tuned for more at this blogsite as we report on the washing and analyzing of artifacts and the results of the architectural and deed research that is being conducted of the sites. We’ll also announce public events of the Bladensburg Archaeology Project and other local organizations, and report on what else is happening in archaeology around the region. The University of Maryland team will begin a small excavation at the Bostwick House starting Friday.

Here are some photos of the day including some of the delicious celebratory banana cream pie we ate from Clement’s in Bladensburg:

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Day 13: Closing up the Units/ More Work to Come

Dave Gadsby writes:
"Archaeological activities are beginning to wind down at the Market Master's house. We spent a fairly mild summer day recording unit profiles and finishing excavations of the last few units. Mike, Janet and I also finished up some STPs in the lower parking lot area. By tomorrow, Rick and Jenn will likely have finished the remaining two units and shortly afterward, the piles of backdirt scattered throughout the yard will tumble back into the holes from which they were excavated.
While the recording phase of archaeological research is an extremely important part of the process, it doesn't often result in exciting finds. The most notable object I saw today was a fragment of shell- tempered prehistoric pottery. The acidic soils at the site had leached all of the calcium from the oyster, and only the baked clay fabric - pocked with holes where the shells had been - remained. We also recovered a large fragment of a large canning jar, still attached to the zinc top and white glass lid liner.

While this particular chapter of the project is drawing to a close, archaeologists will remain a presence in Bladensburg for some time to come. Starting Friday, we'll be doing some test excavations at Bostwick, and excavations at the George Washington house will take place in the more distant future."

Monday, June 22, 2009

Day 12: Back in the Field Again, Multiplying Postholes!

Crew member Janet Donlin wrote about her exciting day:
"Hey everyone! Today we headed back out to Market Master’s House after a week of processing artifacts in the lab. We still have four open units that we have to finish and we hope to be done by Thursday so it looks like we have our work cut out for us. The good news is that Mike and I have almost finished our second unit, Test Unit 7. Today was pretty exciting because we found our first legitimate features! We found what originally looked to be two post holes, but two turned in to three as we dug them out. Feature B was a very square and rather shallow post hole near the southeastern corner of our unit, and just above it to the north was Feature C. As we dug out Feature C, we found that it was actually two post holes (and their post molds) that were right next to each other. We guess that one was dug originally and then another was dug right next to it as the first fell into disrepair. In them we found some nails, a couple pieces of glass, and a few early 19th-century ceramics, like ironstone and pearlware. What the post holes were doing there is still open to debate. Since the soil on the west side of our unit was a little different from what was on the east (where the post holes were), we thought that maybe they were put in as part of a structure that was located in our unit, the soil on the west being the interior and the east being the exterior. However, we haven’t found very many artifacts to prove this, and like all archaeology there is a lot of conjecture involved. Still, our three post holes were pretty cool finds!"
Here is a picure of the two features. The one being excavated is Feature B. The one to the left of it is the double posthole, Feature C.
The second photo shows a detail of Feature C showing the two dark round stains representing the remains of posts and the outline of the holes dug before placing them in the ground. The one on the left was placed after the one on the right. Artifacts recovered from the soil affirm this interpretation.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Guest Blogger: Paul Shackel, University of Maryland/ Star-Spangled Trail Project and Blog

Today we asked Dr. Paul Shackel, Chair of the Department of Anthropology at the University of Maryland, and one of the many participants in the Bladensburg Archaeology Project, to post a comment. Here is his posting:

"This research project sponsored by the State Highways Administration (SHA) and the University of Maryland (UM) is a wonderful example of cooperation and professionalism among two very important organizations in the State of Maryland. I am struck by the dedication and enthusiasm the archaeologists have for sharing their knowledge of the recent and distant past with the local community. This project began with a joint presentation lead by community leader Dick Charlton and University of Maryland graduate student Michael Roller. The presentation occurred several weeks before the research project began.

Engagement in the community provides an avenue to discuss what the archaeologists are doing in their neighborhood. It also allows for the research team to hear about the community’s concerns and interests. SHA and UM team members have attended local town meetings, making contacts with residents who are more than willing to share their experiences, concerns, and dreams for their community.

While this summer’s weather has made us dig out our old umbrellas and rain gear, there is a lot more work to do, building bridges with the community and learning more about the towns that are near the university. Pooling resources and talent from two of the state’s premier institutions in the state has allowed for a more fruitful and beneficial experience for the community as well as the institutions involved. I applaud Julie Schablitsky, section chief for the cultural resource section, Maryland SHA, and the rest of the project members from UM and the SHA for their enthusiasm and making this project an overwhelming success."

Here is a picture of (from L to R) Paul Shackel, Julie Schablitsky and Cindy Chance taken on our Public Day.

We wanted to inform you about another project related to the Bicentennial celebration of the War of 1812. University of Maryland graduate student Kristin Sullivan is working on the Star-Spangled Trail project for the National Park Service. Her project is concerned with connecting the historic celebrations with living communities along the Trail, such as Bladensburg. She has set up some electronic resources such as a blog:,
and a Twitter page: She is actively looking for feedback, opinions, advice and suggestions from the Bladensburg community. Please feel free to contact Kristin through these sites.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Guest Blogger: Architectural Historian Melissa Blair

We are taking a short break from fieldwork but will be resuming next week. The trenching at the Mango Cafe has been rescheduled for a later date. In the meantime, labwork and research are continuing and muscles are resting. We asked State Highway Administration architectural historian Melissa Blair to talk a little bit about her involvement in the project and share some early photos of the Magruder House. Here is her entry:
"Hi! I’ve been an architectural historian at SHA for 5 years. One of my favorite things about the job is partnering with archaeologists on projects and learning about a discipline that I have very little training in. In overly simple terms, architectural historians look at cultural resources above ground level and archaeologists look at cultural resources below ground. Of course there are plenty of resources that don’t fall neatly into one category or the other, such as ruins or cemeteries, and in truth, most historic resources have both an above ground and below ground component – so you would think that archaeologists and architectural historians worked closely together all the time. Sadly, this is not the case. We get trained in separate academic departments, go to different conferences, read different journals, and generally get stuck in the silos of our own disciplines. Because of the structure of our federal historic preservation compliance laws, transportation-related Cultural Resources Management (CRM) is an arena where archeologists and architectural historians do work closely together. It’s a good thing, because ultimately we are all passionate about the past and strive to make history a relevant part of today. We just go about doing so in very different ways.
The Bladensburg project is a great example of integrating archeology and architectural history. All of the digs are happening around buildings that are still standing. The buildings give clues to the archeologists about where to dig, and in turn, the artifacts and features they uncover expand our understanding of the buildings.

All of the buildings that are part of the Bladensburg project (Magruder House, Market Master’s House, George Washington House/Indian Queen Tavern, and Bostwick) are listed in the National Register of Historic Places, all have Maryland Historical Trust preservation easements protecting them, and all are in good to excellent states of preservation. Not bad, considering how little of the rest of Bladensburg’s colonial past remains.

Here are a few historic photos of the Magruder House. The earliest photo we found so far, taken some time around 1900, shows the rear of the house, the area where most of our recent archaeological excavations took place.

A picture from 1922 shows the façade with a gable front entry porch.

By 1936 (the date of the third picture), the porch had been altered and the wood shingles on the roof had been replaced. The last picture, taken around 1989, shows the house after an extensive restoration. Note how the porch and roofing materials have been restored to the earlier appearance.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Day 11: You'd Think We Have Had Enough of This Place...

Though it was the last scheduled day for the Market Master’s excavation, there is more to come! Firstly, we will make up for our rain days with three or four days of fieldwork during the last week in June. We will finish some unfinished units that turned up some exciting things, and open up some additional units. Additionally, the University of Maryland team will dig trenches in the parking lot of the Mango Café next week to determine if intact resources exist beneath the pavement. On August 12th the Anacostia Watershed Society will kindly host us for a Public History Workshop in which we will have a guest lecturer, historian Susan Pearl, give a talk about transportation and change in Bladensburg. Additionally we will give a short presentation of preliminary project results. Stay tuned for more updates on this exciting project.

Here is a posting from Tara Giuliano about her experiences at the site:
“I got the chance to work on Test Unit 1 and Test Unit 8, both on the south side of the house. The units were both unique and different- even though they were 6 feet from each other! We have been getting a lot of smoking items, such as pipe stems and pipe bowls. Most of them were made of white ball clay called kaolin, but we did fine one special pipe that was made of stoneware and is smaller and thicker then your average tavern pipe. All these pipe steams and pipe bowls suggest the Market Master house was definitely an area that was used by the public. I can't wait to get these artifacts into the lab and cleaned!
Today was my unofficial last day doing field work in the state of Maryland, and my last day on the Bladensburg project. This fall I will be attending the University of West Florida in Pensacola, and I am gearing up for a rather large move next month. Working with the Maryland State Highway Administration has giving me a great opportunity to do many things in the field of cultural resources, but I am really glad I got the chance to work on the Bladensburg project. Both the Magruder house and the Market Master house gave us so much information into the town of Bladensburg and what these houses were used for in the 18th and 19th centuries.”

We also asked Vincent Shirbach to write a bit about his experience at public day, which was a fantastic experience for all of us. His narrative is followed by a few great photos:
“Hi everyone! I would like to thank everybody who came out for public day last Saturday. The turnout was fantastic and way more than we expected. I absolutely enjoyed talking to folks about archaeology and what we’re doing. People from all over got a chance to talk one on one ad hoc with archaeologists with different backgrounds on the same project, and we embrace the curiosity. I'll tell you, archaeology is no big secret, so ask us anything!
Aside from the three rainy days in which we were forced indoors (or outside playing in the puddles with the neighborhood kids…), we are actually coming across so much evidence of the trade market and even prehistoric artifacts that we are constantly stopping and running over to see what people have found. It’s a good thing, trust me! In TU 4, we have found the iron frame to a double barreled pistol, which is surprisingly heavy and could not have been practical considering its weight alone without the rest of the firearm’s assemblage. A beautiful porcelain tea set was found early in the unit, along with gold-leafed porcelain creamer which the house’s residents (who I must also thank for their unbelievable hospitality and generosity) possessed the matching piece! Talk about a stroke of luck! I have to say that it’s the complex plethora of ceramic artifacts that intrigues me the most. Sensible enough considering this was a trading port and possibly one of America’s first post offices. Seriously: the porcelain, redware, yelloware, pearlware, stoneware, creamware… it’s gorgeous.”