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Excavations of 'Shaw's Folly' at the

Smithsonian Environmental Research Center




This June, students from Howard Community College (led by Dr. Jim Gibb and Dr. Laura Cripps) have joined forces with volunteers from the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center's (SERC) "Citizen Scientist" program to excavate Shaw's Folly; a site associated with the 17th Century settlement of the area by the Sellman Family. Students from the University of Maryland College Park have also joined in on the fun; excavating a 20th Century site close by. Students from HCC earn transferrable credit to UMCP as part of this collaboration, as well as being part of a unique research project that fits within the wider research objectives of SERC.



The story of our site begins with the Sellman family, who operated a plantation on the land for over 200 years.  In 1658, John Sellman—about twelve or thirteen years old at the time—arrived in Maryland from England as an indentured servant. Like most indentured servants, he worked for a single household for ten or twelve years. When his term of service ended, his former employers released him with two warrants worth 50 acres of land a piece. For the remaining forty years of his life, John Sellman worked his way up the socioeconomic ladder until he had a plantation and indentured servants of his own. 'Sellman's House' which currently serves as the archaeological laboratory at SERC dates to the 18th century. This site we are investigating ("Shaw's Folly") may reflect the earlier and original 17th Century residence of the Sellmans.



Follow this Blog on updates on our excavations and what we are finding!

















































































































































































































Before we started to excavate, students and volunteers undertook a 'Magnetometry Survey' of the probable site. Magnetometry relies on sub surfaces features such as postholes, walls and other 'fired' materials giving off weak magnetic signals that can be picked up by a machine called a fluxgate gradiometer. Howard Community College is one of the only, if not the only community college to own this piece of technical equipment, making HCC students, some of the best community college students trained in archaeology!


The image left shows the magnetometry survey overlaid by the metal detector survey.

Students open 2m x 2m excavation units, to try and identify the archaeological features and material remains from this site

All of the excavated soil is secreened to ensure that no artifacts are missed!

Excavation units must have neat edges! We can often see the layering of the soil in these unit edges.

All artifacts are cleaned and dried. In this image we see many fragments of 17th century tobacco pipe (both stems and bowls) plus nails and fired daub (clay) which was used as part of 'wattle and daub' chimneys.


Clay pipes (which are sometimes stamped) can be used to date the site based on their shape and design.


We have also found a complete copper alloy 'Lateen' spoon - dating to the late 1600's.


Polychrome ware and tin glazed wares also retrieved from site indicate a mid to late 17th century structure - the earliest ceramics we have indicate activity from around 1660 with the majority of artifacts indicating activity in the later decades of the 1600's.

Students learn how to use a total station to record the exact location of excavation units and artifacts and to add them to our survey maps.

Even Dr. Cripps digs!

We have now started to find the changes in the color and texture of soil that reflect the walls and floors of a 17th century structure. The fire-red daub indicates burning; either the daub was associated with a chimney structure or the building itself may have been partially burned?

As it's been quite hot, a break for popsicles helps keep up morale!

This piece of 'polychrome' ware actually dates to the mid 1600's!

We are starting to recover a lot of pieces of clay pipe stem and bowl. The people who lived here were heavy tobacco smokers!

The Lateen spoon we found!

Measuring the features in our unit so we can draw an accurate representation on grid paper.

Could it be we've found our first post-hole? It looks like it! The dark circle in the middle was most likely where the post was and has since rotted, giving us the dark soil color. The surrounding irregular shape would have been the mixed top and bottom soil that the original inhabitants used to pack the post in place.

This is a completed drawing of one of our previous units.

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