1652 Susquehannock Treaty

Note from author:  I would like to acknowledge the assistance of Ed Chaney, Deputy Director of the MAC Lab and Dr. Julia A. King, St. Mary’s College of Maryland in the preparation of this blog. Any errors are my own.

Figure 1.Tulip shaped tobacco pipe from the Pine Bluff site. Tobacco had social and spiritual significance for native peoples and in some cultures, stone pipes were used in treaty ceremonies.

Figure 1. Tulip shaped tobacco pipe from the Pine Bluff site. Tobacco had social and spiritual significance for native peoples and in some cultures, stone pipes were used in treaty ceremonies.

This week’s Maryland artifact is a tobacco pipe recovered in the 1970s during an excavation at the Pine Bluff site (18WC20) near modern-day Salisbury in Wicomico County.  The pipe, made from fired clay, is in a shape associated with the Susquehannock Indians and often described as a “tulip” pipe.  Other materials found during the excavation, including gun parts, glass pharmaceutical bottle fragments and English ceramics, suggest that some components of this possible village site post-dated English contact (Marshall 1977).

By the time of English colonization, the Eastern Shore had been home to Maryland’s native peoples for at least 13,000 years (Rountree and Davidson 1997:20). Archaeological surveys have revealed evidence of short-term camps, villages and places where resources were procured and processed.  The abundant natural resources of the Eastern Shore—fish, shellfish, wild game and wild plants—made this area a favorable place to live. Continue reading

Maryland’s Fishing Industry

Bone fishhook from Everhart Rockshelter.

Bone fishhook from Everhart Rockshelter.

Returning home by air from a recent trip to Michigan, I was once again struck by the abundant waterways that bisect our little state. The Susquehanna, Potomac, Choptank, Patapsco and Patuxent are the major state rivers that empty into the Chesapeake Bay, the largest estuary in the United States. Overall, between Virginia and Maryland, more than 100,000 streams, creeks and rivers wind through the Chesapeake Bay watershed (Chesapeake Bay Program 2014). These waterways are the source of the fish and shellfish that have made the words “Maryland” and “seafood” all but synonymous.

The thought of Maryland’s fishing industry is likely to bring up images of commercial vessels with trawl nets or sports fishermen hauling in citation weight rockfish from the back of a charter boat. But this week’s artifact, a diminutive carved bone fish hook from the Everhart Rockshelter (18FR4) in Frederick County, reminds us that fishing has long been an important part of Maryland’s past (Figure 1). This rockshelter, which was excavated by Spencer Geasey in the early 1950s (Geasey 1993), was occupied for thousands of years, all through the Archaic (7500 B.C. – 1000 B.C.) and Woodland periods (1000 B.C. – A.D. 1600). One of the rockshelter residents must have used this fish hook to catch dinner from nearby Catoctin Creek. Continue reading

SS Columbus Paddle Wheel – Steamboat Transportation and Trade along the Chesapeake Bay


The SS Columbus paddle wheel underwent conservation treatment in Louisiana and arrived at the MAC Lab for curation when the lab opened in 1998.

By far the largest artifact in the MAC Lab collections, weighing in at a whopping 15,000 pounds (give or take), is the paddle wheel shaft from the SS Columbus (International Artifact Conservation 1998).  Built in Baltimore and launched in 1828, the Columbus plied the waters of the Chesapeake Bay, transporting cargo and passengers between Baltimore and Norfolk (Holly 1994).  On November 28, 1850, a fire broke out onboard the steamship, resulting in nine fatalities and the sinking of the vessel near Smith Point, Virginia.  Although the location of the wreck had been known since the 1970s, a decision was made to bring up the 22 ft. long paddle wheel shaft, as well a number of other pieces of the vessel, after the Army Corp of Engineers dredged adjacent to the shipwreck in 1990 in order to deepen the shipping channel (Irion and Beard 1995). Continue reading

Bald Friar Petroglyphs

In this photograph, some of the petroglyphs can be clearly seen outlined in white (probably chalk).

Among the more enigmatic artifacts curated at the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Lab are fragments of prehistoric rock art. Archaeological evidence of art dates back tens of thousands of years and has been an endless source of fascination for scholars, as well as the general public. The carved Venus of Willendorf figures, the painted bison at Lascaux, Chinese bronzeworks and other early artistic endeavors captivate and excite the human imagination. The recent discovery of 40,800 year old stenciled hands and painted dots in a Spanish cave is evidence that Neandertals may have been the first cave painters (Than 2012); it is almost certainly only a matter of time before future discoveries push the limits of early art even farther into the past. Continue reading