On a cloudy afternoon in July, archaeologists scoured the grounds outside the Elkridge Furnace Inn in Howard County. In search of artifacts dating as far back as the 18th and 19th centuries, they dug for clues that could help reveal the history of the site.
The Maryland Department of Transportation, in partnership with the Maryland Department of National Resources, is conducting a two-week archaeological excavation on the site to learn about the history of the two small cabins on the property as well as how they were used.
Uncovering brick floors and stone foundations and finding artifacts like alcohol flasks, animal bones, bone buttons, ceramics and oyster shells, researchers were able to find links to the site’s history of using convict, indentured and slave labor to operate the Elkridge Furnace, which was at one time one of the area’s largest iron producers.
Findings from the excavation, which runs through Friday, will be cataloged and identified before being curated at Maryland’s repository for artifact collections at the Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum in Calvert County, according to a news release.
Other museums will also have access to the collection and may have the artifacts lent to them to exhibit locally.
Led by Julie Schablitsky, the transportation department’s chief of cultural resources, researchers are looking to determine when the cabins were constructed, what they were used for and who may have lived there.
“The archaeology has shown that these buildings were likely used as slave quarters in the 1850s,” Schablitsky said. “This is a surprising discovery since we always assumed that they dated to the time of the Ellicott family.”
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Peter Morrill, Department of National Resources cultural resources and curatorship manager, said the excavation has allowed researchers to uncover new information about the history of the site.
“The [cabins] are indeed circa 1830 domestic structures associated with either the furnace or the operation of the mansion house that would have either been occupied by either lower class people or enslaved people who were working the furnace or at the house itself,” he said.
Sarah Janesko and Ryun Papson are two of the archaeologists working on the excavation.
Janesko said it is necessary for the community to know about the history of the site.
“It’s really important for people to understand that there’s archaeology going on in their backyards and their towns and seeing the artifacts and being at the site can really help people connect with the past in ways that you can’t necessarily reading [about] it in a history book,” she said.
Papson said the history uncovered from the excavation will serve as a resource to those across the state.
“There’s a lot of really interesting stories that we can tell about the people who both worked and suffered and lived here and hopefully some of those stories can come to life for everybody,” he said.