Cache of Indian blades is unearthed Carroll Co. family finds 16 artifacts

February 16, 1993|By Frank D. Roylance | Frank D. Roylance,Staff Writer

It was a curious "clank" that gave it away.

Douglas Ward, 51, was raking dirt in the upper field of his place near Mexico, north of Westminster. He was preparing to seed it when his rake struck something that sounded more like metal than stone.

He picked it up, brushed it off and knew right away he'd found something remarkable. It was a piece of stone all right, but very hard, perhaps 6 inches long, 2 inches wide and resembling a rough-hewn spear point.

"You could tell it had been formed, and it was sharp," recalled Mr. Ward's wife, Bobbi.

They figured it was probably an Indian artifact.

Excited enough to find one, they didn't give a thought to the possibility there might be more. But there were.

In the days and weeks that followed, they continued to find the curious blades scattered through the dirt, which the Wards' son-in-law, using a small front-end loader, had scooped from a hillside beside their driveway to make room for a turnaround.

"As we raked, we learned to listen for that sound," Mrs. Ward said.

Clank. Clank. Clank. By December, the Wards, their teen-age sons and at least one neighbor had found 16 of the blades. Their discovery was reported to archaeologists at the Maryland Historical Trust and is now known officially as the Ward Cache. It is described in next month's edition of the journal Maryland Archeology.

Dennis C. Curry, the state archaeologist who investigated the find, believes the blades are not finished products, but rather "blanks" that the Indians fashioned quickly at the quarry to lighten them for easier transport back to their villages.

"From this, they could make projectile points, scrapers or knives," he said.

Even as blanks, however, the blades are very sharp. "We cut the twine on the straw bales with it," Mrs. Ward said.

The Wards' driveway excavation had probably disturbed a "cache" of blanks that had been buried. But why?

"It looks like a little bag load or knapsack load," Mr. Curry said. "Why they were cached there, who's to say? We really don't know much about these caches, so few of them are found intact."

Dozens of similar isolated caches have been found in Maryland, but none has been found undisturbed. "We just missed this one," Mr. Curry said.

The most likely sources of the stone are Indian quarries in the Catoctin Mountains, about 25 miles to the east.

"That's not a huge distance," Mr. Curry said. "We find this [Catoctin] rhyolite hundreds of miles from the quarry . . . up into Pennsylvania and New Jersey." It was highly sought after during the Middle Woodland Period, which would date the cache to about A.D. 900, give or take a few centuries.

One line of speculation suggests that the Indians may have been following trails and streams from the Catoctins eastward into the Monocacy River valley, and from there to the Little Pipe Creek.

The headwaters of Little Pipe Creek are near Parrs Ridge, a spine of high ground that runs north into Pennsylvania, toward the Susquehanna Valley.

The ridge line would have made an ideal trail route, and is in fact still followed by modern roads, including Route 27.

The Wards' home stands perhaps 150 feet below the crest of Parrs Ridge, Mr. Curry said.

"If it were being used as a transit route," he said, "perhaps the Indians were walking north on Parrs Ridge and said, 'To heck with it, I can't carry this anymore.' And they walked off the trail and buried it."

Perhaps the burden just got too heavy. Maybe the Indians were being pursued by enemies and needed to lighten their load and make their escape. Or perhaps one of them was injured or sick.

"It's a neat find, and it's really just a capsulized moment in Carroll County's history," he said.

For now, the Wards are holding onto their find. They keep the blades wrapped in paper towels and stored in a box while they continue to gather information on Maryland's Indians.

"I would like each of the children to keep one," Mrs. Ward said. "They were part of the find." But the rest will eventually be made available to schools, local nature centers or a museum.

"They're not really ours," she said. "We just happened to dig them up."

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