Archeologist giving presentation, hosting public digs at Pine Valley Park

Archeologist Stephen Israel is not just telling Carroll County residents what he does, he is giving them opportunities to go out and do it with him.

The Baltimore resident is leading a free presentation titled "Dig This! New Challenges at the Pine Valley Park Native American Hunter & Gather Camp Archaeological Site" at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the North Carroll branch of the Carroll County Public Library in Greenmount.


Following that presentation, Israel will be leading public excavation days at Pine Valley Park in Manchester on Thursday, Friday, April 25, 26, and 27 and May 5. It's all part of Maryland Archeology Month.

"I'm trying to get data so we can get a bigger picture for what the hunters and gatherers were doing when they spent the night at Pine Valley Park," said Israel, who retired from a position as an archeologist with the federal government in 2003.


He has been leading excavations at Pine Valley Park since 2007.

Because Pine Valley Park has had few modern alterations, "it allows us to study a site that hasn't really changed," he said.

The majority of his findings have been stone tools that lead him to believe that American Indians might have used the site as a campground 3,000 to 6,000 years ago, prior to Europeans arriving in North America, he said.

Israel has found spear points and flakes of stone, which he said are the chippings that came off rocks when American Indians carved their own hunting knives.

"They made them when they needed them. You don't want to carry along heavy stone tools when you're hunting," said Israel.

He said he believes that the hunters and gatherers of that era used a stone called rhyolite from the Catoctin Mountain.

New Windsor resident Benton Watson has been assisting Israel in his excavations since 2007.

"It's probably more interesting what we haven't found," Watson said. "There hasn't been anything that looks like a shelter."

Both Watson and Israel said this indicates to them that Pine Valley Park never contained a village; it was most likely a camp site where hunters and gatherers spent short periods of time prior to moving on.

"It was still pretty much a nomadic life," Watson said, continuing that even with the constant changing landscape of the world, day-to-day life for all human beings has always been about survival.

At Pine Valley Park, Israel said he has also found soil stains that are evidence of fire pits. He said the fire pits were used by hunters to cook white tail deer, bear, beaver, elk, rabbit, raccoon, squirrel, turkey and turtle.

Jim Gibb, the treasurer of the Archaeological Society of Maryland, Inc., said archeologists are able to differentiate whether a site was a village or campground by evidence of houses and discarded trash.


"Low density materials have evidence of smaller groups for short periods of time," Gibb, an Annapolis resident, said. "What we do find is things that preserve, and by and large, that's stone."

Gibb said that Israel is a credit to his profession by getting the public involved in his excavations.

"We want them to learn about how science is used to learn about the past," Gibb said. "If you want people to appreciate these things, you have to involve them."

Israel said his work has several purposes, including a future exhibit; a 2014 report for the Maryland Archeology Journal; and material for future archeologists.

"I also enjoy spending time with Carroll countians who are interested in their own past," he said.

Israel's public excavation days are weather permitting and will start at 8 a.m. at Pine Valley Park. Pre-registration is required by calling Israel at 410-945-5514.

Watson said he does not regret all the time he has spent at that site.

"To think, that you're the first person to touch [your findings] in 4,000 or 5,000 years. It's pretty mind boggling that it's been there that long - it kind of puts you in contact with those people," he said.

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