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SHA archaeologists always looking for historic discoveries

A piece of ship architecture from the War of 1812 USS Scorpion was brought to the surface during an archaeological investigation last year. The Scorpion is buried in sediment in the Patuxent River near Upper Marlboro, and the State Highway Administration will be part of an effort to unearth the ship.
A piece of ship architecture from the War of 1812 USS Scorpion was brought to the surface during an archaeological investigation last year. The Scorpion is buried in sediment in the Patuxent River near Upper Marlboro, and the State Highway Administration will be part of an effort to unearth the ship. (PHOTO COURTESY OF SEARCH FOR THE USS SCORPION PROJECT , Carroll County Times)

TANEYTOWN - After the Taneytown Streetscape project started nearly four years ago, archaeologist Nichole Sorensen-Mutchie made several visits.

State and federal laws require the State Highway Administration to consider finding archeological sites before construction begins on any project.

Archaeologists such as Sorensen-Mutchie are dispatched to sites all over the state to see what artifacts they can find and what they can learn about the history of nearby sites and buildings. She spoke at the Taneytown Business Breakfast about how the archaeologists employed by the State Highway Adminstration assist with preservation efforts.

"Until you go out and visit," she said, "you never know what you are going to find."

During an excavation at the Magruder House in Bladensburg three years ago, archaeologists found a counterfeit 1777 George III half pence. Historians believe the Magruder House, located along Kenilworth Avenue, served as a hospital after the Battle of Bladensburg in the War of 1812.

Once, while searching for a Mason-Dixon line marker, Sorensen-Mutchie stumbled upon the site of an old pump house.

While some of the findings are extravagant, many are tiny discoveries found at field digs, including centuries-old buttons and ceramic shards.

The archaeologists aren't limited to just sites near state highways. Next year, SHA archeologists will team with the U.S. Navy and the Maryland Historical Trust on an excavation to unearth the USS Scorpion, which is buried in eight feet of muck and sediment in the Patuxent River near Upper Marlboro.

In the late 1970s, amateur archaeologists discovered the Scorpion, the flagship in the Chesapeake Bay flotilla that defended Washington during the War of 1812.

Archaeologists are planning to build a cofferdam to drain water from the site at a time to be determined for the War of 1812 bicentennial. Last year divers discovered what's left of the Scorpion is in excellent shape, Sorensen-Mutchie said.

Thanks to the Streetscape project, more is known about the history of Taneytown, Sorensen-Mutchie said.

For example, an opera house entertained audiences in the 19th century. It was located next to the train tracks along Main Street. Visitors from Washington and New York would regularly stop to visit, said Nancy McCormick, Taneytown's Economic Development Director.

Taneytown was also home to three department stores near the bustling train station. Information about the business history of Taneytown will be included on one of five signs being put up through the city. A group of historians helped research the details of Taneytown's past, McCormick said.

"They have uncovered some amazing things that we didn't even know we had," she said.

While archaeologists do spend time out in the field, they are also charged with several other tasks at the SHA. They review permit requests to see if any potential cultural resources could be in the area, they study artifacts from excavations in a lab and examine everything from aerial photos to maps.

They are always on the lookout for hidden bits of Maryland's history.

"What we do," she said, "is study to learn more about the people and the culture who made the artifacts."

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