The tiny brass ring bearing the initials "CC" presents a mystery: Did it belong to Charles Calvert, the third Baron Baltimore? And can the St. Mary's College of Maryland archaeologists who unearthed it ever prove its origins?
The archaeologists discovered the ring this summer at a dig at a Charles County site that was a refuge for Piscataway Indians who were pushed from their homelands by other tribes and the arrival of European settlers in the 1600s.
The small ring, perhaps designed to be worn on a pinkie finger, might have been a signet ring used to seal documents, said Julia King, the St. Mary's professor who oversaw the dig.
King believes the ring might have been used by a representative of Charles Calvert to conduct diplomatic relations with the Piscataway tribe.
The evidence "suggests this is a very significant artifact," King said. "All arrows are pointing to the diplomatic significance of this ring. Hopefully, the site is protected and in the future we can do more archaeology out there."
The settlement known as Zekiah Fort, a few miles south of Waldorf, was created by Charles Calvert in the 1600s as a haven for more than 300 Piscataway Indians, King said. The tribe had lived along Piscataway Creek in Prince George's County, but in the 1600s were facing raids from other tribes from Pennsylvania and New York and pressure to move from European settlers. The fort is about 20 miles from Piscataway Creek.
By treaty, Calvert, the only Baron of Baltimore to actually live in Maryland, was expected to provide relief for the Indians, King said.
"It's an amazing story of foreign diplomacy and it happened outside of Waldorf, Maryland, and nobody knew about it," King said. "It was a piece of history that was just lost."
King, a professor in the anthropology department who studies the history of the Chesapeake area, said it had been known for decades that the settlement existed, but the site was not found until 2011, when archaeologists began studying land and other historical records. In 2012, the land was purchased by Charles County, and the archaeological dig was funded by a $125,000 grant from the Maryland Historical Trust and a $25,000 grant from the Charles County Board of Commissioners.
During the six-week dig this summer, St. Mary's College archaeologists and students found glass beads, Indian ceramics, arrowheads, and Indian and European tobacco pipes, among other items. All the items will be given to the state for preservation.
Mary Kate Mansius, a 2013 graduate of St. Mary's who studied with King and returned to work on the site, was one of those who found the ring while sifting soil through a mesh screen on June 13.
"A lot of things don't look remarkable in the field until you can get back and wash them, but this one was copper, a greenish color, so it really stands out," Mansius said. "It's unique."
Since the discovery, King and her colleagues and students have been studying historical records to determine its origins and have been unable to tie it to anyone besides Calvert. She believes that the ring was used as a diplomatic gift by a representative of Calvert's to the Indians, as a gesture of good will. The archaeologists hope to do more work at the site and learn more about the history of the ring though records and studying the remains of other structures and artifacts.
"We don't think that Charles Calvert went up there," King said. "He's sending his counselors, diplomats, his rangers, carrying this ring as a gift."
Mansius said just finding a bead had been exciting until they discovered the ring.
"It's really kind of unique experience to be able to hold it and touch it," Mansius said. "You're not just learning from books."
Calvert had a home called Mattapany near what is now Naval Air Station Patuxent River in St. Mary's County.
Burt Kummerow, the president of the Maryland Historical Society, said small tokens were often given "like peace treaties" between Europeans and Indians in the 17th century.
Finding the fort's site would have been difficult because typically the only remnants are wooden stakes in the ground, Kummerow said. Finding such a ring would be significant, especially if it is Calvert's, he added.
"You can never know why these things are lost, you always have to puzzle through the possibility of what it might be," Kummerow said. "If it can ever be proven that this was given by Lord Baltimore to the Indians, it would be a pretty big deal."