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Strange Harvest

Oysterman hauls up archaeological treasure

A big jug was not what waterman Simon Dean of Solomons was expecting to haul up from the bottom of the Patuxent River in his oyster tongs. As a committed young waterman in partnership with wife Rachel to work the water and — with a new venture, Solomons Island Heritage Tours — introduce visitors to the estuarine experience, Dean knows his Chesapeake.
    But nothing had prepared him to harvest a botija.
    Yet that’s what he found, according to Patricia Samford, director of the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Lab at Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum in St. Leonard.
    What’s more, a botija in “remarkably good condition — though heavily encrusted in oysters, barnacles and other marine life.”
    The 18th-century Iberian olive oil jar, standing almost two feet tall and shaped like a ribbed carrot, is the type used by the Spanish, Italians and Portuguese to transport olive oil to their colonies in Florida and farther south.
    So “recovering such an intact artifact in the waters of Southern Maryland is particularly interesting to archaeologists,” Samford reported.
    “Dean took great care of it and got it to the right people,” said Jody Hedeman Couser, of Chesapeake Conservancy, the brain trust behind Watermen Heritage Tours. “His stewardship will ensure that the jar is preserved as part of our cultural heritage.”
    Conservators at the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Laboratory are removing the encrustations and preparing it for showing.
    See it at its first public viewing on Discovering Archaeology Day on April 18, 10am to 5pm at the MAC Lab at Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum: 410-586-8501; www.jefpat.org.