LEON ——At Pig Point, the tools, ceramics, food waste and traces of wigwams have been repeatedly buried by fresh deposits of soil, probably washed down from higher on the bluff. That has left a continuous record, 6 or 7 feet deep, with the oldest occupations at the bottom of the layer cake, and the most recent at the top. And carbon-14 dates from many of the 13 layers have confirmed their ages.
The first season of digging produced the site's youngest carbon date of AD 1540. As the months went by, deeper levels yielded dates of AD 530 and AD 210. This year and last, burned materials from deeper hearths have yielded carbon dates of 6,500 years before the present, then 8,500 years, and last week, 9,290 years.
Christopher Goodwin, a commercial archaeologist based in Frederick who is not involved in the work, said the firm sequence of dates and discoveries at Pig Point "not only allows us to look at individual components of pre-history and describe subsistence and material culture, but it gives us the opportunity to look at long-term patterns of change. That's what archaeology is all about. It's a fabulous site."
Goodwin believes the artifacts unearthed at Pig Point will become a "type collection," a kind of standard reference that will help archaeologists from New England to the Southeast classify and date their own discoveries.
What impresses Luckenbach about Pig Point is the site's enduring natural bounty, which for close to 10,000 years has invited continuous occupations by human groups seeking a true Land of Pleasant Living.
The dig has uncovered traces of their menu, which included wild rice, tuckahoe, hickory nuts, freshwater mussels, and lots of game and fish, Luckenbach said. Bones and scales were sent to an expert in North Carolina, who identified them as those of yellow perch and white perch.
"Eighty-five hundred years ago, it's supposed to be a different environment," he said. "But when you think about what we got out of the pit, it's exactly what you'd get still today."
The shores of the Patuxent below the site are still thick with wild rice and tuckahoe, and perch still swim in the shallows.
In time, Luckenbach hopes to scout other places on nearby bluffs, in the hope that they, too, attracted some of Maryland's earliest residents.
Based on the unique and exotic artifacts he's recovered at Pig Point, he believes the area may have been an important junction for trade, cultural and perhaps religious exchange between the Ohio Valley and the Atlantic coast, and still other cultures to the north and south.
What may be almost as remarkable as the discoveries Luckenbach and his team are making, archaeologists say, is the fact that he's been allowed to conduct the dig at all.
Despite financial woes at both the state and county levels, the work has continued for three seasons, funded by Anne Arundel County and grants from the Maryland Historical Trust, as well as private donations.
County staff, volunteers and college interns from at least four states have dug two days a week, every week, from April to the first frost.
"It's very unusual for a county archaeology office to have the support to engage in a multiyear project like this, and to just do it to find out what's there," Dent said. "It's amazing what Al's been able to do."
Dent praised the property owner, William Brown, who first contacted Luckenbach about the artifacts he was finding there, and who has pitched in to help as Luckenbach's crews dug deeper and deeper holes in the front yard of a rental house on his property.
"People are enthusiastic about archaeologists for a while," Dent said. "But after we've been camped out in your front yard for three years, the fascination very often wanes. He [Brown] is an archaeologist's dream."
Why does he do it?
"Because they're learning and I'm learning," Brown said. "And it's important."
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