Protecting Providence

April 29, 1994

Anyone who has ever found an arrowhead in the backyard or a stack of letters in the attic written by their great-grandparents might have an inkling of the excitement local archaeologists are feeling over the discovery of the lost colonial hamlet of Providence. Not that Providence, a Puritan settlement that thrived during the mid-1600s, can be compared to such modest finds. What county archaeologist Al Luckenbach has found on the lower BroadneckPeninsula is a once-in-a-lifetime discovery, so historically significant that it demands special consideration by developers and the Anne Arundel County Office of Planning and Zoning.

Unfortunately, the Providence site sits in the midst of a growth area with plenty of room for development. Four of the six colonial homesites discovered so far already have been damaged by housing construction, storm water management or road work. Dr. Luckenbach frets that increasing development is starting to hit the Providence homesites more often.

The county should support the archaeologists' efforts however possible. One tool it can and should use is the subdivision process, during which it can require builders coming in with new projects to avoid historic sites as part of their plan. The county already uses this authority to protect historic homes and other buildings.

To excavate, study and preserve Providence sites found in developments that have already been built out or that have been approved for construction will require the assistance of the landowners. So far, archaeologists have been lucky to find property owners willing to work with them. We hope others prove equally cooperative. Dr. Luckenbach believes that many more historic homesites lie in the area, so archaeologists and historians will need the help of private citizens.

Next to St. Mary's City in Southern Maryland, Providence may turn out to be this state's most important example of 17th century life. The site is yielding such a wealth of information and artifacts -- everything from bone combs used to remove head lice to Indian pottery -- that local archaeologists are ready to call in outside experts. Development does not have to stop because of Providence, but it does have to adjust so that this rare find can be protected and studied in the coming years.

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