Archaeologist digs in to save history

Q&A

April 27, 1993|By Frank D. Roylance | Frank D. Roylance,Staff Writer

Every time a developer fires up his bulldozers to clear land for another housing tract, there is a risk that fragile traces of Maryland's past will be ground to dust.

Kathy Lee Erlandson is an archaeologist who has argued for more local laws like one unique to Anne Arundel County that holds back the bulldozers until sites can be studied for archaeological value.

An amateur archaeologist since childhood, and a professional for the past five years, Ms. Erlandson, 38, is chairwoman of the Central Chapter of the Archeological Society of Maryland. She was interviewed at her current dig -- an 18th-century farmstead in Howard County where county-sponsored excavations have turned up 4,000-year-old Indian artifacts.

QUESTION: What is an example of an archaeological site saved by Anne Arundel County's law?

ANSWER: Piney Orchard, a humongous development near Odenton. It was an Indian campsite and we were able to get carbon dating and blood residue from projectile points. We even had the blood typed, and it was positive for elk and deer. And we tested less than 1 percent of the site. I don't think we really delayed them [the developers] at all.

Q: Why don't more counties have laws like Arundel's?

A: Because the developers have an incredibly strong lobby. It has been attempted for years in other counties.

Q: How much delay and expense do developers incur?

A: That depends on the size of the project, and on the person [archaeologist] who's bidding on it. When you consider what a building project costs, the archaeology is a minimal part of it. We don't need to preserve everything. What we want is the opportunity to at least go in before it's destroyed and to recover the data. Then we'll be out of your hair.

Q: What laws are currently in place for the protection of archaeological sites in Maryland?

A: There are state and federal laws that say any time state or

federal money is used in a project, archaeology must be done, or at least considered. That usually works fairly well. But when you're talking about private development, or on a county level, they [developers] can basicly do what they want. Anne Arundel is the only county in Maryland that really has a full-time county archaeologist, and they have a law that affects subdivisions.

Q: How does it work?

A: Any time there's going to be subdivision work -- town houses, golf course, a shopping mall -- it must be reviewed by the county archaeologist. And he can hold up grading permits until the archaeology is done.

Q: How long can they hold it up?

A: I don't think there is a definite time frame. He [county archaeologist Al Luckenbach] doesn't seem to have problems with developers at all. They complain, but they seem to comply.

Q: What are developers required to do if Dr. Luckenbach believes there may be artifacts on the site?

A: He will then direct the developer to proceed with the archaeology. Typically, he [the developer] will select an archaeologist to assess the potential. Very often that's as far as a project will go. They'll find nothing, or they'll find nothing intact that will tell us anything, at which time the county archaeologist will say, "OK, you can go ahead with your permits."

Q: What if the developer's archaeologist finds something important?

A: If the county archaeologist agrees, he can tell the developer more work must be done. At that point, the developer can either choose to continue the archaeology or, if they can change a street, or a storm water management pond to avoid the [archaeological site], they don't have to incur the cost [of more archaeology].

Q: What scientific benefit has Anne Arundel County realized because of its laws?

A: Tremendous. Anne Arundel County must have five or six times the number of archaeological sites registered with the Maryland Historical Trust as any other county -- well over 800 registered sites.

Q: Are sites being lost in counties that have no archaeologist?

A: For every one site that might be caught, there are going to be hundreds that are demolished and will never be known. St. Mary's Cemetery [an old burial ground in Howard County that was disturbed last year by developers] is a perfect example. It ended up costing everybody a lot of money. This is not unique to Howard County. In Anne Arundel there have been at least two cemeteries that they've attempted to develop. The county archaeologist caught them, and these people were prosecuted.

Q: What can be done to prevent such losses elsewhere?

A: Rather than have archaeologists and developers look at each other as the enemy, we'd much rather see if we can't work together.

The archaeological community in Maryland would also love to work with the politicians or the government officials in the counties to establish some type of cultural resource regulation.

Q: Can developers benefit from archaeology?

A: When the Rouse Co. put up the Gallery down at Harborplace and we did Cheapside Dock, the archaeology was tremendous. It's good public relations that they're giving something back and jTC not just always taking. There's a lot you can read in the history books, but what we do brings you into touch with the people, what their lives were all about.

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