Annual Field Session in Archeology Scheduled

The following information is posted from the Maryland Historical Trust…


The planned return to the Billingsley site will take place between May 28th and June 7th, 2021, as the 50th Annual Field Session. Information about the upcoming Field Session, including registration materials (pre-registration is required), are available on the Archeological Society of Maryland’s Field Session webpage.  The deadline for registering is May 24. Or, to register directly, use the forms provided.

This cooperative venture between the MHT Archaeology Program and the Archeological Society of Maryland runs 11 days, inclusive of weekends and the Memorial Day holiday, and is open to the public. The purpose of the Field Session is to train lay persons in archaeological methods and teach Maryland’s past through hands-on involvement, while making meaningful contributions to the study of Maryland archaeology.

The annual Field Session, now in its 50th year, has investigated sites ranging from Archaic camps to Late Woodland villages to historic mills and plantations. It has been held in 14 of Maryland’s 23 counties, and has examined 34 different sites.

Excavations were held in 2019 at Billingsley House near Upper Marlboro in Prince George’s County. Owned by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, Billingsley is operated as a historic house museum by the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission (M-NCPPC), who have graciously agreed to host and to assist with the excavations and project logistics this year.

Though the house museum dates later (to the 18th century), the site is the core of a 700-acre tract that was patented to Major John Billingsley in 1662, “…for transportation of 14 servants in the year 1650.” Though it’s pretty clear from the archival record that Major Billingsley never actually lived on the property, a European-built structure is depicted on the parcel on a map of the Chesapeake published by Augustine Herrman in 1673 (and drafted much earlier). Whether or not this structure depicts an actual dwelling or is merely intended to symbolize surveyed and patented land is still an open question. What is not in question, is that the tract was inhabited.

The Herrman map marks the presence of not one, but two 17th-century Indian villages on the Billingsley parcel: one named “Wighkawamecq” and the other, “Coppahan.” In addition, the Proceedings of the Maryland Assembly on May 23rd, 1674 make it clear that Billingsley purchased his 700 acres from the “Mattapany and Patuxon Indians,” at least some of whom, “…doe Continue upon the Land.” This statement, as well as Herrman’s map, strongly suggest that two indigenous groups were living on this land in the mid 17th century. In late 2018, MHT Archaeology staff conducted a magnetic susceptibility survey of the fields at Billingsley in order to identify areas of past human activity. The magnetic susceptibility of surface soils can be influenced by past human activity such as burning, digging, the introduction of organic matter, and the introduction of foreign stone or other raw materials. Prehistoric artifacts had been recovered from the site, and hearths from ancient cooking fires would be expected to influence the magnetizability of the soils on-site.

MHT identified a roughly 1.3 acre anomaly of culturally modified soils at Billingsley. Furthermore, the location of this anomaly matches almost perfectly the location of the “W” in “Wighkawameck” on the 17th-century Augustine Herrman map. The principal goal of the field session, this year, will be to investigate this anomaly and determine if evidence can be located tying the cultural deposits within the anomaly to the 17th century Indian village of Wighkawamecq.

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