Maryland Historical Trust and the “Archeological Synthesis” Project

As part of our #SHA2016 series on Washington D.C. archaeology, below we repost a wonderful archaeological project undertaken at the Maryland Historical Trust by Research Archaeologist Matthew D. McKnight. The mission of the Maryland Historical Trust is to preserve and interpret the legacy of Maryland’s past through research, conservation, and education of their historical and cultural heritage. The  “Archeological Synthesis” Project is an important online resource for anyone interested in Maryland archaeology, and it shows the great work being done by archaeologists in the D.C. area:

Maryland’s “Archeological Synthesis” Project

by Matthew D. McKnight, Research Archeologist, Maryland Historical Trust

Are you a student, weekend researcher, or preservation professional with an interest in Maryland archeology? Are you a professional archeologist looking to conduct some background research on a specific artifact or site type? Have you been confounded in the past by lack of access to so much of the CRM “gray literature”? If so, the Maryland Historical Trust (MHT) has a new online resource that may be of interest to you.

On Maryland Day (Wednesday, March 25th, 2015) the MHT’s Office of Archeology launched a new online tool to provide members of the public with greater access to data obtained through tax-payer funded and publically mandated archeological research. Funded by generous support from the MHT Board of Trustees and the Maryland State Highway Administration’s Transportation Enhancement Program, the Maryland Archeological Synthesis Project has been underway since late 2007, reviewing the nearly 50 years of archeological site reports generated in compliance with the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 and similar state and local legislation. The overall goal of the project has been to characterize this data for as wide an audience as possible and produce a number of online and print products to make the information more accessible. Two volumes on Maryland archeology (one on prehistory and one on Colonial archeology) are still in the works, but the first major public offering of the Synthesis Project is now available on the web at https://webapps.mdp.state.md.us/apps/synthesis/.

This Archeological Synthesis Database is a first-of-its-kind online catalog of archeological sites within the state where Phase II and Phase III test excavations have taken place. Focusing on compliance-driven research, the database is linked to MHT’s Site Survey files, but is also tied to synopsis reports and cover sheets generated by reviewing larger excavation reports. The synopsis reports contain capsule summaries of the overall site reports, organized so researchers can quickly pull out the most relevant information needed for determining if a particular site is of interest. Cover sheets deal with the history of archeological activity at a site, specifically the justifications for fieldwork, research objectives, and potential for future research. Best of all, the entire database is keyword searchable. Simply type in your research topic or an artifact type and get back a list of sites that may be of interest. More robust searches can even be carried out on variables like soil type, archeological research unit, county, etc.

Two versions of the database are available online. One portal is open to the general public; the other is available to professional archeologists who meet the US Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Professional Qualifications. Search functionality and the universe of sites within the database are identical in both versions. However, geographic locations and site setting information within the Public Access version of the database are intentionally vague to protect site locations. The Professional Access version of the database includes detailed site location information and is only available to authorized archeologists who have obtained a Medusa account with archeological data privileges.

After considerable public expense to undertake archeological work, test results should not be buried on a library shelf. The only way to advance archeological research is to build upon past experience, but the data from past work needs to be readily available. This project begins to rectify both long-standing problems while giving back to the public a view of the State’s rich archeological heritage. You can read more about the Maryland Archeological Synthesis Project at http://mht.maryland.gov/archeology_synthesis.shtml.

Check out the Maryland Historical Trust blog post on the “Archeological Synthesis” Project at: https://mdhistoricaltrust.wordpress.com/2015/04/10/archeological-synthesis/

 

 

 

Hands-On History

Over the last several years, Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum (JPPM) has enjoyed a productive relationship with Huntingtown High School in Calvert County, Maryland. In previous years, the school’s archaeology classes produced cell phone tours for the park, with the students working on the projects at every level, including conducting oral history interviews, developing tour themes and scripts, recording the tours and writing press releases.

Rockingham hunt pitcher from the privy.

This year, JPPM decided to take on a different type of project, with the newly-formed “Historical Investigations” class. The students are analyzing the contents of a mid-19th century privy from Baltimore’s Federal Reserve site (18BC27). Archaeologists excavated the site in 1980, but since the artifacts were never studied or a final report prepared, the students are working with an assemblage that has never before received any attention.

This particular privy was filled with broken plates, spittoons, chamber pots, medicine bottles, and a torpedo bottle once used to hold carbonated beverages. One spectacular find from the privy was a large Rockingham pitcher depicting a boar and stag hunt, made around 1855 by a Baltimore pottery firm.

Teacher Jeff Cunningham and a student mend a creamware chamberbpot, while another student works on a sponged cup.

The students completed cataloging the artifacts (2,200+), mended the ceramics and glass from the privy and determined minimum ceramic and glass vessel counts. Each student chose a particular artifact to research in depth, creating illustrated essays that were both posted on JPPM’s website and produced as posters for display. In addition to writing a standard archaeological report on the privy, the students also created an exhibit of their findings that are currently on display at a local public library.

Two of the students are justifiably proud of the exhibit on display at the local branch library.

It was exciting to work with students on a project that provides them with real-world experience in a supportive setting, conducting the type of analysis normally done by professional archaeologists. Even better, is watching the students get a thrill from each new artifact and the information it holds.

What types of engaged work are you doing with local high schools? Share your experiences with us in the comment section!

Maryland Archaeology and the Certified Archeological Technician Program

CAT Instrument Survey Workshop at Bee Tree Preserve in northern Baltimore County (photo courtesy of author via http://marylandarchaeology.org)

Citizen-scientists didn’t just dominate Maryland archaeology until the 1960s…they were Maryland archaeology. But, as in all areas of scientific endeavor, they were marginalized by a growing body of professional, university trained scientists. The Archeological Society of Maryland (ASM) reversed this trend in 2001 with the creation of the Certified Archeological Technician (CAT) program, offering individuals the opportunity to obtain recognition for formal and extended training in the goals and techniques of archeology without having to participate in an academic degree program. Now in its eleventh year, the program honors its thirteenth and fourteenth graduates: Valerie Hall and David Frederick.

ASM took several years to develop and implement the program, drawing inspiration from several programs around the USA, notably those of Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Virginia. Principal challenges that confronted the organizational committee came largely from the professional community which was very skeptical about the value and wisdom of certifying individuals who did not come through conventional university programs and that insisted on a more thorough academic grounding (largely through a lengthy reading list of regional and national classic studies) than seemed consistent with the objective of the program. Some of those fears were allayed by including representatives on the CAT committee from the Maryland Historical Trust - the state’s principal historic preservation agency and institutional seat of the state historic preservation office – and from the statewide professional organization, the Council for Maryland Archeology. These representatives participate in all discussions regarding program modification and in the “defense” of each candidate for certification.

Most members of the organizational committee brought to the table preconceptions of the purpose of the program. Agency archaeologists saw the CAT program as a training ground for prospective volunteers. Other participants thought that successful candidates might use their credentials to take jobs away from those in the private sector who completed more conventional training programs. The more skeptical professional members feared that CAT awardees would use their certification as legitimization for unscientific collecting, misrepresenting themselves to gain access to sites on private and public properties for personal gain. In the end, the committee established the current purpose of the program: to meet the needs of ASM members seeking formal archaeological training, without assuming personal motivations, and a signed ethics statement providing sufficient insurance against misrepresentation. Since Annetta Schott became the first candidate to complete the program (2003), none of these fears have been realized, and the CAT program has become non-controversial and institutionalized.

The key to the success of the CAT program and the concept that has allayed most fears lies within the program name. The ‘T’ stands for technician; not scientist. Here we modify the citizen-scientist concept in recognition that archaeology differs from most fields of scholarly endeavor in that destruction of physical evidence often is unavoidable, a circumstance not generally encountered in cataloging stars, conducting bird counts, or observing whale behavior. Candidates and graduates work under the direction of professional archaeologists engaged in the ethical study of archaeological resources, helping CAT candidates and graduates recognize the difference between ethical and unethical work.

Each candidate (aged 16 or older) applies to the program, paying a nominal one-time fee ($50) and agreeing to abide by the statement of ethics. Candidates pick or are assigned a mentor who: answers procedural questions; identifies field, laboratory, and archival research opportunities; recommends readings and provides copies of difficult to acquire publications; and serves in all other ways one might expect of a mentor. Candidates complete a course of directed reading; document in a journal as well as on a series of forms the required hours in different aspects of fieldwork (mapping, survey, excavation) and laboratory work; prepare forms for registering newly discovered sites; and participate in a series of required and optional workshops offered by professional archaeologists, including: archaeological law and ethics, overviews of state archaeology; historic and aboriginal ceramics; lithic analysis, etc. ASM’s annual field session in archaeology, conducted over eleven days each spring in partnership with the Maryland Historical Trust since 1974, provides opportunities for candidates to fulfill many requirements, but other state, county, and foundation programs, as well as some opportunities offered by the private sector, are integral to the program.

The CAT program appears to be an unqualified success, both in terms of meeting the specific personal goals of individual participants and in providing programs for ASM members who are not candidates. Presentation of awards to the two latest graduates at ASM’s annual spring symposium - which focuses this year on the archaeology of war and community conflict – publicly recognizes their achievements and inspires others to join and complete the program (current enrolment is 48 in an organization of just over 300). Producing one to two graduates each year, the CAT committee is considering other program developments, including a “Kitten” program for adolescents, an advanced level for CAT graduates, and prospective roles in future programs for graduates, most of whom remain active in ASM. The committee also has begun to work more closely with comparable programs in the neighboring states of Delaware and Virginia and encourages candidates to participate in legitimate archaeological projects outside of the state. I would like to see graduates directing field and laboratory projects under nominal professional direction, work proceeding without constant supervision. Would we realize the worst fears of the program’s early opponents? Or would we greatly expand the capacity of the professional community to explore the past? A worthwhile experiment?