Digging up past in Arundel

Artifacts: For 11 days, professional and amateur archaeologists join in the search near Annapolis for evidence of a Colonial tobacco pipe-making operation.

May 18, 2004|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

John Fiveash huddled over a clipboard yesterday, soaked in sweat, with dirt under his nails as he stood in a meadow near Annapolis.

Pencil in hand, he helped to translate what he and his comrades saw in the soil into a map on graph paper: a foot of dirt containing clues to what is believed to be the earliest Colonial-era tobacco pipe manufacturing operation in America.

Fiveash was among dozens of members of the Archeological Society of Maryland from around the state - some professional archaeologists, some amateurs - who have been laboring over the past week and a half at this site north of Severn River, where archaeologists hope to find the kiln of 17th-century pipe-maker Emanuel Drue.

No kiln found

The dig did not unearth the kiln, although digging did uncover a few of the type of rocks used to build one.

"We've got lots of debris," said Fiveash, 55, an amateur archaeologist from Glen Burnie who usually works on training plans for military analysts. "There had to be a kiln out here somewhere, unless this was a kiln landfill."

He pointed to chunks of kiln guts, pieces that would have supported pipes being fired, that were protruding from the ground.

But in a level part of the field, the dig did uncover what appears to be evidence of a second building on the site north of the Severn River. A trash pit and the discolored dirt denoting what might have been a hearth were in the 30-foot-by-25-foot section, said C. Jane Cox, assistant Anne Arundel County archaeologist.

Whether that structure was Drue's or belonged to a later occupant is yet to be learned, but the dig yielded artifacts archaeologists hope will help unlock the mysteries of Drue and his cottage industry.

The dig was this year's field session for the Archeological Society of Maryland, a cooperative project with the Maryland Historical Trust that chose the Drue site.

Armed with trowels, hats, gloves and sunscreen, the group worked with Anne Arundel County's archaeology program and provided the equivalent of 235 days of free labor over an 11-day span ending yesterday.

From the 1650s until his death in 1669, Drue made a variety of pipes distinctive for their artistry, swirls of colored clay and stamped designs and shapes.

The discovery of evidence of his operation several years ago was considered nothing short of monumental. It challenged earlier notions that held that dark clay pipes found at 17th-century sites were peculiar to Native Americans or slaves, and showed a pipe-making operation in an area known at the time for its tobacco trade.

Drue's operation was at Swan Cove, one of eight known sites that were part of the Providence settlement dotting creeks off the Chesapeake Bay.

The group spent yesterday finishing maps and refilling pits, which were dug mostly around an apple tree, in the hunt for artifacts. Society members were delighted with their finds, especially telltale charred clay loaves, which distributed heat, and ceramic muffles, which held pipes, both key parts of a pipe-making kiln.

Participants signed up for the dig for many reasons.

Dirty hands

"I have to get my hands dirty once in a while," said John Newton, 55, whose job as chief of environmental documentation for the Maryland Transit Administration keeps him in the office. In the past week, he was thrilled to uncover a pink-and-white marbleized piece of pipe.

Evidence of the work of society members was everywhere - more than 100 stacked buckets, dozens of plastic bags of artifacts and the hip-high anthills of dirt they'd sifted.

"It's hit or miss, whether you get stuff in your screen or not," said Dick Brock, 64, a retired Defense Department map analyst from Adelphi.

He found a piece of sheet lead used in window-making, a folded slice that, when laid open by archaeologists, might contain a date.

Dennis Curry, a senior archaeologist specializing in native artifacts at the Maryland Historical Trust, saw something else in his first-hand work at the site: similar living patterns in two different societies.

"It struck me how isolated these little farmsteads - or whatever these things are - are. ... I really find it interesting because, in some respects, they're not much different from the settlement patterns of the Native Americans," he said.

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