Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Indian Queen Excavation, Day 15: Last Day of Excavation

Posted by Dr. Julie Schablitsky, Principal Investigator for the Bladensburg Archaeology Project and Chief Archaeologist at the State Highway Administration:

Today we closed up the Indian Queen Tavern site and by mid July, the Anacostia Watershed Society’s parking lot will be restored. Looking back over the last several weeks, I can say that this has been one of the most complex and intriguing archaeological sites SHA and the U of MD has ever excavated. We recorded almost 50 features that included a brick foundations, a brick well, stone foundations, and numerous post holes and molds. The majority of the artifacts ranged in age from the mid 20th century through the mid 18th century; however, we also recovered quartz and quartzite stone flakes and a projectile point from the first residents of Maryland. Based on our excavations at the three archaeological sites in Bladensburg, it is very clear that the Native Americans lived and fished along the Anacostia River for hundreds, and perhaps even thousands, of years.

The history of the Indian Queen Tavern site suggested that we should encounter archaeology from the first tavern on this lot. Jacob Wirt, a German immigrant, and his heirs owned the property from 1763 through 1785 and operated a tavern here. It is unclear how the site was used between the mid 1780s and 1856 (historic research is still pending). By 1856, Francis Gasch, also a German immigrant, owned the property where he operated a cabinet maker/coffin maker shop between 1860 and 1907. The Gasch funeral home is still in operation just up the road ( Between 1940 and 1960 the buildings on the lot were demolished.

The diversity of occupants and site use for 200 years gave us very complex archaeology with multiple soil strata and intrusions. Our field observations revealed that although we have intact Colonial structures and strata, many of the earlier structures have been truncated or churned due to the manipulation and use of the property. For example, on the very western side of our trench we encountered a brick well. This could be very exciting for archaeologists since these vertical shaft features can hold artifacts from the date the well or privy was abandoned. Indeed, we found mid 20th century bottles and artifacts in the well that confirms abandonment of the lot only 60 years ago. Perhaps most interesting aspect about the well was the reuse of this 19th century structure sometime in the mid 20th century as a cistern or small septic tank as evidenced by three courses of newer brick on top and a pipe sticking into it running from the George Washington House.

Over the next year, we will be busy washing and analyzing all of the artifacts from the site. We will also be pouring over all of the notes, photographs, and drawings trying to figure out the evolution of buildings and structures on the site. Although we have left the field for the laboratory with more questions than answers, I am sure that the data we collected from the Anacostia Watershed Society’s parking lot will give us an amazing story about German immigrant archaeology and the way people in Bladensburg lived during the 18th and 19th centuries.

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