The Higgins Site (18AN489) is a multi-component prehistoric site located near the Baltimore-Washington International Airport in Anne Arundel County, Maryland.
This site is especially important because of a surviving intact Paleoindian deposit, one of the few from this era in the state. The site was also occupied throughout the Archaic Period into the Early Woodland Period.
Twenty-six features and sealed levels were excavated at the Higgins Site, spanning approximately 9,000 years and adding valuable information about the earliest phases of Native American life in the Middle Atlantic region. The Paleoindian remains at 18AN489 are highly significant because they represent the only excavated sample from an undisturbed subsurface context in Marylands Western Shore region. In addition, few sites containing intact remains from the Archaic Period have been excavated in this area. The materials from the Higgins Site have the potential to yield important data about the processes of site formation and function, environmental adaptation, and prehistoric subsistence, settlement, and technology in Maryland.
The Higgins Site had been known among collectors for many years. Professional archaeologists examined the site beginning in 1978, prior to construction at the Baltimore-Washington International Airport (BWI). During the Phase I project conducted by Dennis C. Curry and Spencer O. Geasey of the Maryland Geological Survey, 43 shovel tests were excavated, revealing intact deposits below the plow zone.
In 1987 and 1988, the Maryland Geological Survey conducted Phase II excavations to determine site boundaries more precisely and to test the integrity and nature of the deposits. One hundred seventy-six shovel tests, measuring 50 cm in diameter, were excavated to sterile subsoil. Soil was screened through ¼-inch mesh, and all artifacts were collected by stratigraphic level. Seven one-by-one-meter test units were subsequently excavated, with placement based on the distribution of selected artifact types and soil anomalies in the shovel tests. Vertical control consisted of 5cm arbitrary levels within natural stratigraphy. Tools, cores, and fire-cracked rock were pedestalled and piece-plotted. The Phase II investigations demonstrated the presence of at least three significant, intact, sub-plow zone deposits within the seven acre project area.
Phase III excavations were conducted in 1988 by Carol Ebright. A total of 221 square meters were excavated in three blocks, exposing activity areas from different prehistoric occupations. Since clear evidence of stratification was not found in the Phase II test units, the thickness of levels within natural stratigraphy was increased to 10cm intervals. All blocks were excavated in one-by-one meter square units, and all artifacts, except flakes, were pedestalled and recorded within their 10 centimeter level.
Once subsoil was encountered, each unit was divided and excavated in fifty-by-fifty centimeter quadrants. All soil was screened through ¼-inch mesh and excavated to the base of cultural deposits. Due to leached sandy soil and lack of organic preservation, features were identified by clusters of artifacts, not changes in soil color . Phase III investigations uncovered numerous occupation areas, some with subsurface features, from the Paleoindian through the Early Woodland Periods.
Additional Phase I and II testing was conducted at the Higgins Site in 1992. The goal of these investigations was to determine if intact portions of the Higgins Site existed east of a nearby highway, and to evaluate vertical and horizontal integrity in that area.
Within a 5.5 acre parcel, shovel tests 50 centimeters in diameter were excavated at 15 meter intervals into sterile subsoil and screened through ¼-inch mesh. Eight test units were placed in areas where the 89 shovel test pits suggested concentrations of prehistoric artifacts. As with the Phase III investigation, all subsoil was removed in 10 cm arbitrary levels in the test units. Excavations revealed intact prehistoric deposits dating from the Early and Middle Archaic and the Terminal Archaic/Early Woodland Transition periods.
A total of 104,670 artifacts were recovered at 18AN489. While features from every subperiod exist, the majority of the Early, Middle, and Late Archaic Period artifacts were recovered from below the plow zone, while additional Late Archaic, Terminal Archaic/Early Woodland, and Historic Period artifacts were located in the plow zone. All prehistoric artifacts were kept, except fire-cracked rock, which was counted, weighed, and discarded. All historic artifacts were retained except for coal, slag, cinder, and brick fragments, which were recorded and then discarded.
Stone tool manufacture was a major activity at the Higgins Site, with the vast majority of lithics made from quartz and quartzite obtained from the immediate vicinity. Bifacially worked tools include 208 projectile points representing 21 types, one quartz scraper, one quartz drill tip, and 429 bifaces in various stages of manufacture. Seventeen scrapers and six gravers were the main unifacial tools recovered, while ground stone tools include nine manos, six hammerstones, and five pestles. Analysis of the lithic materials included a comparison of material types, manufacturing technologies, tool kits, tool use and curation, and material conservation between subperiods. Prehistoric ceramics were only recovered in the Marcey Creek occupation area, where a partial steatite-tempered vessel was found.
Absolute dating measures such as radiocarbon, archeomagnetic, and thermoluminescent techniques were not used at the Higgins Site, and dates are based on cross-dating. Environmental data, including palynological, micro-residue, geochemical, pedological, and sedimentological evidence, yielded important information for determining the function of living areas, features, and lithic tools; for revealing subsistance strategies; and for reconstructing the paleoenvironment, which varied slightly between subperiods. This data was combined with artifact evidence to interpret the types of activities that were occurring at the Higgins Site during each subperiod, such as stone tool production and maintenance, and plant and animal processing.
Records for the Higgins collection are housed in eleven letter-sized archival clamshells. All documents are original and in good condition, with minimal dirt and staining.
Excavation documents include excavation unit records, archaeological feature records, and plan and profile drawings. The records are organized first by block, then by excavation unit number; feature records are included in the folder of the unit in which they were encountered. All excavation records are searchable in the database, using block, unit coordinates, level, layer, lot, lot coordinates, date, and feature number.
Other records present in the collection include field journals, artifact and ecofact analysis, background research, elevation/topographic journals, photographic logs, miscellaneous site maps, and multiple artifact catalogues. These have been scanned as .PDF files and are available through the database, but they are not searchable. One report is available online as a word searchable .PDF file: Early Native American Prehistory on the Maryland Western Shore: Archeological Investigations at the Higgins Site (Ebright 1992).
Photographs taken on-site or in post-processing are available through the online database, and are searchable using the above criteria. Researchers should note that images are not linked directly to specific documents, and photo records do not necessarily exist for all features or units. Original images consist of slides, negatives, prints, and contact sheets. All records are housed at the MAC Lab.
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