Posted: Saturday, December 22, 2012 11:00 pm | Updated: 11:13 am, Mon Dec 24, 2012
It might have been the last thing they expected to find.
Since 2009, Anne Arundel County’s Lost Towns Project archaeologists have uncovered a trove of prehistoric Native American artifacts along the Patuxent River indicating the spot was a gathering place for thousands of years. Now they think they know why.
This year’s dig at Pig Point uncovered what appears to be a ritualistic burial place with five or more oval pits with human bone and artifacts dating from 230 B.C. to 620 A.D.
“It looks like this was ritual central for 850 years or more,” county archaeologist Al Luckenbach said. “This casts all the things we discovered in the first three years in a completely different light. It is a hell of a mystery.”
Earlier finds suggested it was the area’s bounty (especially the fishing along the Patuxent) that lured bands of tribes to the site. But now it looks like the rituals surrounding the sacred dead — or were they enemies? — are also a key part of the continued occupation.
“This is completely new to science,” Luckenbach said. “And the first time professional archaeologists have been able to glimpse what is really going on in these places.”
Years ago, mostly in the 1930s and 1950s, similar deposits of what is known as Adena flint — tools, arrow and spear points and pipes made of stone found only in quarries in Ohio — have been found along a line stretching from Ohio to Delaware. But those were found by amateurs and hobbyists long before more modern archaeology theories and technology were developed. [Bullshit! Amateurs and hobbyists made major discoveries in Egypt during the late 1800's; and what about the amateurs who discovered Troy and uncovered the treasures at Ur? So-called amateurs and hobbyists today continue to make major archaeological discoveries, that are then turned over to the university and museum people.]
Luckenbach and other Lost Town staffers were amazed to find Adena artifacts at Pig Point on a bluff overlooking Jug Bay. Layer after layer of artifacts were found, one period of material stacked atop another, and another.
The first big find indicating the pre-historic sweep of time were wigwam post holes built on top of one another. The youngest was from the 16th century, the oldest could be 3,000 years old. They are the oldest structures ever uncovered in Maryland.
It was one eureka moment after another, from pottery preceding the birth of Christ to a Palmer point that could be 10,000 years old. Other points found were from 1,000 to 5,000 years old. A small paint pot, the first fully intact pre-historic pot Luckenbach has ever held, was made about two centuries before Columbus sailed the ocean blue.
Lost Town archeologists were not sure whether to pursue a fourth year digging at Pig Point. When they did, it was decided to dig test pits on an adjoining property just uphill from the previous work.
Of the scores of test pits, five proved fruitful.
“What we have is at least five oval pits, about 20 by 25 feet each,” Luckenbach said.
Most of the 2012 season was spent on just one of the oval pits, actually only one-third of that pit was painstakingly excavated, inch by inch. What they found dwarfs previous work.
Archaeologists were all giddy a couple years back when they found a single copper bead. This summer yielded 180.
Luckenbach was thrilled to have found a couple of intact sections of Adena tube pipe in the previous Pig Point digs. “Now we have 80 to 100 of them,” he said.
But it was the bones that opened up an entirely new realm of discovery. “We were finding all these pieces of bone. For a few weeks we didn’t know they were human. Until we saw teeth,” he said.
Curiously, all the bone found is long bone, arm or leg bone, and skull fragments. There are no pelvic bone, spine, rib bones.
Dug and dug again
Early Native American tribes engaged in reburial rituals. Every year, 10 years, or more, a group would gather the remains of their dead and commit them to a common burial ground. Iroquois tribes were noted for their reburial rituals as were the Nanticoke who took their ancestors’ remains with them when they moved to Pennsylvania from the Eastern Shore.
Ossuaries held the the dead whether nothing but skeleton or fresher remains. But the bodies were intact, or mostly so. The difference at Pig Point is that all the bones were smashed, broken on purpose. And so were thousands of artifacts such as fancy Adena points, beads, gorgets, and other items. All broken into bits.
“These are perhaps the most significant discoveries ever made by the (Lost Towns) project,” Luckenbach said. “It is an opportunity to uncover a type of ritual behavior never before seen by science.”
Doug Owsley, a preeminent forensic archaeologist at the Smithsonian, will examine the fragments — especially the teeth. The long bones didn’t look like they included any children under 10, though some children’s teeth were found. The people were shorter than most of the Plains Indians.
The excavated pit, which was filled with ash and the fractured bone, points, pottery and such, shows evidence the Native Americans returned to the same pit, uncovered it and added more material over the years. “Were they ancestors, or enemies? Or could these be offerings to the gods.” Questions abound. “This is unreported ritual behavior. The groups repeatedly gathered at this site to trade, fish, conduct rituals and arrange marriages,” Luckenbach said.
Other scientists agree. Chris Goodwin, of R. Christopher Goodwin and Associates in Frederick, said the benefits to science are immeasurable. “Although there are other Adena sites, this one is very different because of the amount of material...and the presence of apparently ritual behaviors.”
Pig Point’s “impact is significant, it can answer a lot of questions about this period,” said Darrin Lowrey, of the Smithsonian’s Museum of Natural History and the University of Delaware. “The way humans treat their dead will tell you a lot about what is going on.”
The remains, once studied, will be re-buried yet again, Luckenbach said. He has contacted the Piscataway tribe in Maryland to offer them the chance to perform the burial of the bones using rituals they see fit.
************************************************So, about the same time as the Han through the start of the Tang Dynasties in ancient China, Pig Point was being used as a ritual/ceremonial center in what is now Maryland in eastern USA. But people call Native Americans "primitive." Really? Europeans who came here have nothing in this land of equivalent age or ritual significance.