Archaeology in Maryland
Discoveries Close to Home
By Cynthia Pfanstiehl
One myth commonly expressed by our international students, who are more accustomed to archaeological sites dating back thousands—not hundreds—of years, is that Maryland archaeologists only investigate “recent” sites dating from the colonial period through the nineteenth century. Students are often surprised to learn that certain Paleoindian sites in Maryland date back as far as 12,000 years ago. Once informed and involved, these students discover Maryland history is far more complex and interesting than they originally thought.
Nearly 150 anthropology students excavated an archaeological site for the first time this spring semester. During their excavations at the site of Nathan Browning’s Tavern, an establishment that operated in Montgomery County from 1807 until the 1840s, students enjoyed the process of discovery; made predictions about what they would find; and recorded every oyster shell, bottle fragment, and button unearthed.
Community engagement, historic preservation, and public education were all part of this project: students learned the methods required to excavate in accordance with Maryland state standards, and interpreted the site by relating the artifacts recovered to the site’s past occupants and history. The team will work closely with the property owner to create a permanent display of artifacts from the dig and a timeline of the Browning’s Tavern history for the community general store.
Field work is an essential aspect of every subfield of anthropology. All MC professors who teach AN 105, Human Evolution and Archaeology, have completed excavations at sites in the United States and some abroad, in Guatemala and Africa. While digging in Montgomery County seems tame in comparison, local sites provide ample opportunities to continue research, prepare technical reports, and present findings
The Browning’s Tavern project is just one of many digs anthropology faculty and students have been involved with over the past 15 years. Many of these archaeological investigations have been conducted in conjunction with the Archaeology Program Division of Montgomery Parks. This mutually beneficial relationship allows Montgomery College to work on sites located on park property.
In a project coordinated by Professor Eugenia Robinson, students and faculty detailed the excavations and history of Falling Green, a circa-1770 Georgian/early Federal style home. The resulting report was submitted for review to the Maryland Historical Trust; it will become a permanent addition to the research library at the Trust. Last year, faculty presented at the Archaeological Society of Maryland meetings and the Montgomery County History Conference.
In 2011, three students from the honors tutorial course, Field Archaeology in Montgomery County, collaborated with me to develop a GIS (geographic information systems) model for locating areas in which prehistoric sites are most likely to be found. It was an exciting opportunity to be part of a project focusing on the preservation of Native American sites in the county. We submitted the culminating report,“Prehistoric Sensitivity Model for Locating Sites within Little Bennett Regional Park,” to Montgomery Parks for planning purposes. We presented at the local Archaeological Society of Maryland chapter meeting.
Dr. Mary Gallagher, now retired, has ensured that anthropology research opportunities continue well into the future. She established the Anthropology Matters Grant with the Montgomery College Foundation in 2009 for faculty research and projects. Gallagher’s second contribution, the Rookie Research Grant, will support independent study tuition for serious anthropology students, giving them experience working one-on-one with a professor.
Other students have completed internships through the College’s Paul Peck Humanities Institute at the Smithsonian Institution, where they had immediate contact with researchers. Some have gone on to advanced study at the University of Maryland and other four-year institutions. Heather Schramm ’12, now an anthropology major at Coastal Carolina University, recently completed a summer internship as an archaeological assistant at the Horry County Office of Planning and Zoning, and she secured a paid position as a lab assistant at the university.
“As an archaeology student at Montgomery College, I was given a number of research opportunities, which taught me how to put together a site report using my research from the field,” says Schramm.
Cynthia Pfanstiehl, associate professor of anthropology, has worked as a staff archaeologist for four different companies. She was recently a principal investigator and research historian at Archaeological Testing and Consulting in Silver Spring, Md. She has managed both prehistoric and historic investigations at sites throughout the Mid-Atlantic region. She began teaching at Montgomery College in 2001.