Friday, January 29, 2010
Tuesday, January 26, 2010
The Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA) and the Center for Heritage Resource Studies (CHRS) at the University of Maryland designed the Bladensburg Archaeology Project as a collaborative partnership to investigate the historic resources of the town of Bladensburg, Maryland in anticipation of the upcoming War of 1812 Bicentennial. Bladensburg, a seemingly ordinary suburban community located approximately two miles to the northeast of the Washington, D.C. border, has a rich history that stretches back to the Colonial period. Since that time, Bladensburg has rapidly changed as a result of broad regional and national changes in ecology, economy, political geography, and demography. Today, the historic landscape is invisible behind the dense fabric of transportation corridors, commercial development and industrial spaces. Through archaeology and community outreach, this modern veil has parted to reveal a complex history that spans from the prehistoric period to the mid 20th century.
The project incorporated a civic engagement component that directly involved the community in discovering its past. In engaging the public through addressing their questions about our work and our finds, sharing in their enthusiastic reactions and joining in their civic functions, we were better able to share the experience of our work, and its findings in a way that was meaningful and relevant to the community. Additionally, in demystifying the process of doing archaeology we helped the public understand how it works, why it is important, and how it can be useful to them in their community today.
Since the initiation of the project in the spring of 2009 archaeologists and historians investigated three archaeological sites, conducted documentary and deed research, and compiled architectural inventories in the town. The outreach component of the project began a few weeks before excavations commenced. An initial public history workshop presented the plans and goals of the project to the community. The workshop included a talk by local historians followed by a community discussion in which attendants were encouraged to provide feedback and communicate their interests in the project.
The Maryland State Highway Administration began excavations at the Magruder house, a ca. 1746 stone house built for William Hilleary, in May of 2009. Public site tours, a press conference, and news releases accompanied this work. Throughout the process, staff maintained a project blog with daily updates collected from each member of the field crew. Through the blog, researchers answered questions from the community and from a wider public audience. In June of 2009 CHRS joined the State Highway archaeologists to investigate the grounds of the Market Master's house. Like the Magruder house, open site tours, electronic documentation and public presentations accompanied the archaeology work. Upon completion of the excavation, a second workshop allowed members of the community to provide feedback, view artifacts, and discuss local history. In order to engage and initiate dialogue from the community, project staff also attended numerous community events, celebrations, and meetings where they presented artifacts and released preliminary interpretations from the work. Although insufficient time had passed to reveal results from the excavations, these opportunities to publicly demonstrate the process of archaeology was key to project goals.
Wednesday, January 20, 2010
At a colleague’s suggestion, I looked for the mystery sherds in a wonderful reference book; Hume’s If These Pots Could Talk. Sure enough, there it was; a picture of a beautiful Portobello ware milk pitcher. Our once complete milk pitcher was imported from Scotland in the late eighteenth century. Since Bladensburg was a port town, its residents could easily access foreign goods. Portobello ware has also been found at Riversdale.
Sunday, January 17, 2010
Early in January of this year two members of the Bladensburg Archaeology Project presented a preliminary conference paper on their work with the public. The paper, entitled “Ecology, Commerce, Conflict and Transportation Along the Anacostia River”, was presented at the annual Society for Historical Archaeology conference held this year in Amelia Island, Florida. (conference and society website: http://www.sha.org/about/conferences/2010.cfm) It was co-authored by Michael Roller and Julie Schablitsky. The conference session it was featured in was entitled “Big History at Small Places”. It focused on projects like Bladensburg that contain long and diverse archaeological histories in confined geographical areas. Papers were delivered from projects as far away as Iceland, Mongolia, Alaska, California and Massachusetts. We’ll post the paper on the blog in increments.
We are also planning our upcoming field season starting this May. We will kick it off with a workshop to be held in mid-April. The topic is yet to be decided. We look forward to seeing you there! Keep your eye on the blog in the meantime.