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3 November 2007
Prehistoric artefacts unearthed in Maryland

Five thousand years ago, a stand of oaks was a place where Native Americans came to gather quartz and make tools. Now, archaeologists are working feverishly to learn all they can about it before this patch of Montgomery County assumes its next role in human history, part of the roadbed of the proposed intercounty connector.
     Field researchers hired by the Maryland Department of Transportation are in their final days of digging, sifting, photographing and cataloguing the proposed route's only known archaeological site. After 2 1/2 months, they've filled more than 175 boxes with artifacts, enough to fuel months', or even years', worth of laboratory analysis. "We're very excited," said Julie Schablitsky, cultural resources manager for the State Highway Administration. "This gives us a chance to re-create the story of what happened here thousands of years ago."
     Archaeologists found the site in 2003 as a part of a routine check of future highway lands. The presence of quartz boulders and a small wetland, conditions to which ancient people were often drawn, led them to sink a series of test holes. One of them turned up handfuls of the kind of quartz chips that archaeologists see as a kind of Stone Age sawdust. Someone had once made a lot of arrowheads, spear points and knife blades there. Scientists have not found evidence that the area was ever an established settlement in prehistoric times. Rather, they think native folk visited periodically during the late archaic period to take advantage of the abundant quartz. They might also have harvested cattails from the nearby marsh, a material that once served as moccasin padding and diaper filling, Schablitsky said. "I think this was probably a marketplace that people came to for thousands and thousands of years," said Chris Polglase, an archaeological consultant running the dig.
     In coming months, researchers will sift carefully through the stone record they are carting away, in some cases even analyzing bloodstains to see what kind of animal might have been killed by a given arrowhead. The site has been particularly rich, they said.
     Schablitsky characterized the find as important but not the kind of archaeological showstopper that would be preserved as a park. Road projects often turn up ancient sites, and Maryland has a strict set of rules that finds must be evaluated by archaeologists. If the route of the road cannot be changed, teams move in to 'mitigate' the find by gathering as much data as they can before the bulldozers come. Opponents of the intercounty connector, who are in federal court trying to stop construction of the road on environmental grounds, have not made the route's archaeological value one of their key arguments against it. Neither are local historians taking a stand against paving over the site.
     
Source: Washington Post (1 November 2007)

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