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Digging Back Into Our History

The Patuxents used to live here; some still do

Along Battle Creek in Calvert County, St. Mary’s College archaeologists helped document the early history of a people newly recognized as native by the state of Maryland.

How hard is it to prove a hunch?
    It took 75 holes a foot deep by a foot wide followed by five three-by-five-foot excavation pits dug with exacting symmetry in the unyielding earth to document the late naturalist Mitzi Poole’s suspicion. Her girlhood swimming hole on Battle Creek might, she believed, be a Native American site.
    It was a good place to call home, this rise above the creek’s winding curves. Captain John Smith had found a surrounding chiefdom of five farming villages stretching from modern-day Lusby to just south of Hunting Creek. He called it Pawtuxent on his earliest map of Chesapeake Country.
    This summer the full proof was unearthed. Tribal people came here for hundreds of years. Shards and flints here dug and sifted from earth’s embrace pushed the earliest settlement on this spot back as far as 200 A.D.
    With a National Park Service Underrepresented Community Grant, St. Mary’s College archaeologist Julia King helped document the early history of a people newly recognized as native by the state of Maryland. This will be one of six new nominations to the National Register of Historic Sites, the only one in Calvert County.
    A St. Mary’s team of archaeologists dug the probes and pits, then sifted the soil through screens to find the evidence of thousands of oysters shucked and eaten and pots made and broken over hundreds of years.
    “People lived here a thousand years and touched a lot of things that no one has touched in quite a while,” field director Scott Strictland told me.
    “I like being involved in telling stories of people who didn’t get their stories told,” he added.
    The work — along with triangular piles of sifted dirt looking like giant anthills — was open for all to see just one day this month. Descendants of those early people came too, to show their presence and their inherited skills. Now the pits have been filled and the land allowed to keep the rest of its secrets.
    But if you visit Calvert County’s 198-acre Biscoe Gray Heritage Farm, walk up to the creek. You may feel something of the thrill of unexpected connection. And you may understand better why archaeologists do all this digging.
    “It’s like the ultimate jigsaw puzzle,” said Wayne Clark, who followed up on Poole’s hunch. “In the beginning, you don’t even know what’s in the box. As you learn with each discovery, you see not only the picture but also how the pieces fit. It’s a wonderful career trying to recreate the history of a people.”
    Biscoe Gray Heritage Farm is open dawn to dust daily: www.co.cal.md.us/BiscoeGray.