Unearthed prehistoric Indian camps reveal detail of hunting and gathering WEST COUNTY--Crofton * Odenton * Fort Meade * Gambrills

January 19, 1993|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,Staff Writer

Moving less dirt than it takes to dig the foundation of a ne home, archaeologists have found evidence of a series of 4,000-year-old Indian camps on the site of a massive, new subdivision near Laurel.

Researchers hailed the find as significant because of the size and complexity of the camps unearthed. Information gathered there would provide new knowledge about the lives of ancient hunters and gatherers in Maryland.

"One of the great accomplishments of this study is that we are able to develop a pattern of camps," said Al Luckenbach, the archaeologist for Anne Arundel County.

The researchers said the unnamed tribe of about 100 that lived in the camps pre-dated the Algonquins. They were adept at moving temporary camp sites to take advantage of resources, such as edible plants, wildlife or fish in the Little Patuxent River.

"It is almost to the point where you could call it strategic management of wild resources," said R. Christopher Goodwin, whose Frederick-based archaeological company conducted the dig. "It was the land of good and plenty."

Much of the land now is part of a 3,500-unit community called Russett being built on 614 acres at the Baltimore-Washington Parkway and Route 198.

It was not surprising to find the remains of an Indian village on the site, said Marshall Zinn, vice president of Curtis F. Peterson Co, developers of Russett. "If you look at the history of the land and its proximity to the Little Patuxent River, you have to assume that Indians lived there," he said.

But the Russett site is larger than most of those discovered in archaeological digs, and unusual because of the interconnecting camps that show how ancient humans lived from season to season, Mr. Goodwin said.

"The relationship between the camps gives us a big picture about lifestyles throughout the region," Mr. Goodwin said.

Mr. Zinn said the dig, mandated by the county as part of his development agreement, has cost him about $1 million. He has a display case showing off some artifacts at the visitor's center and plans to name four streets after types of pottery and arrowheads.

The archaeologists found one base camp, located near the Oxbow Nature Preserve, and several temporary camps, including one overlooking the Little Patuxent from a 40-foot cliff.

Christopher R. Polglase, the vice president of R. Christopher Goodwin Co., the archaeological firm, said microscopic samples taken from stone tools show the Indians used the temporary camps for hunting animals like grouse, turkey, rabbit and bobcat.

"If we are dealing with people who could hunt and kill bobcats, then we are dealing with pretty accomplished hunters," Mr. Goodwin said.

The smaller temporary camps, about an acre square, also were used for seasonal fishing -- especially during the huge fish runs at spawning time.

A larger, 7-acre base camp, located only a few thousand feet from the river, was more of a permanent home and served as the center of activity and culture.

One of the more startling finds was what the archaeologists describe as the precursor to modern-day pottery.

There is evidence that the Indians mixed clay and crushed steatite, a soft stone, to make bowls, Mr. Goodwin said.

The researchers also found evidence that the Indians traded or bartered with other tribes from as far away as Frederick, based on arrowheads made of rhyolite, which is found in abundance on Catoctin Mountain.

"They traded to create social relationships even though the items probably weren't needed," said Mr. Luckenbach, the county archaeologist.

But the researchers cautioned that the findings offer a skewed view of what life was really like in the year 3,000 B.C.

Items such as clothing, woven baskets or wood carvings, which probably would contain distinctive designs did not survive the centuries.

While some of the arrowheads indicated a distinct style, the wood carvings are "where they would have put their designs," Mr. Polglase said.

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