Introduction

The Mechanic Street site (18AG206) encompasses the remains of 19th-century working-class households in Cumberland, Allegany County, Maryland. Cumberland was an urban center in the 1800s, serving as a transportation hub adjacent to rich coal and timber exploitation areas. The neighborhood explored through the archaeological investigations was a mixed working-class and middle-class neighborhood, within one block of the main street of Cumberland and near railroad lines and the C & O Canal.

Archaeological Investigations

This investigation was undertaken as part of the Station Square Project, a major phase in the Canal Parkway Development Project in Cumberland. Phase I, II, and III excavations were conducted in 1992 and 1993. Phase II results led investigators to expect stratified deposits from three periods of residential occupation at the site: the early 19th century (1790-1820), the middle 19th century (1820-1860), and the late 19th to early 20th century (1860-1900). The majority of the deposits identified in Phase III excavation date to the earliest period, with lesser amounts from the middle period, but no substantial undisturbed deposits from the later period were identified. The four house lots investigated were occupied by both owners and tenants. From 1813 until the 1890s the neighborhood had a very stable population. Owner and tenant households were compared, as were four households of the Russell family over three time periods. The study examined characteristics of 19th-century material culture, consumer behavior as measured by ceramics and meat purchases, and public health. A regional comparative study was conducted on the effect of transportation networks on material culture, the local redware tradition, and on ceramic consumption among households of similar economic means in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia.

Archeobotanical Studies

The site had excellent preservation of floral and faunal materials, and there is an extensive collection description and analysis of dietary remains in the full site report. Sixty-eight seed and nut pieces were recovered (aside from those found through flotation).

Twenty-six flotation samples were collected from a total of 18 19th-century features, which included a privy, a brick drain, a water stain, several post holes and ash pits, three pits, and two trenches.

Flotation samples were processed using a SMAP-type flotation system. System efficiency was assessed using Wagner’s poppyseed test (25 fresh poppy seeds were added to eight samples prior to flotation). Recovery rates ranges from 84 to 100 percent. A total of 117 liters of soil was floated and yielded 734.3 grams of light fraction material. The light fractions and the greater than 2 mm portions of the heavy fraction form the basis for this analysis.

Analysis was limited to the study of seed remains from the site, and both charred and uncharred seeds were included. Uncharred seeds are frequently excluded from macroplant analyses, because they often constitute modern intrusions into archaeological deposits. However, when suitable environmental conditions exist, even the most fragile fresh seeds can persist in the archaeological record for a long period of time (e.g. historic well or privy features). Because 18AG206 was occupied in the recent past, and suitable features were sampled, non-carbonized seeds are included as archeobotanical artifacts.

The recovery of macroplant remains from the Mechanic Street flotation samples was excellent. A total of 15,328 seeds (7 charred) were retrieved from the flotation samples. Forty-seven plant taxa were identified during this analysis, including 15 cultigens, 11 possible cultigens, 5 naturally-occurring fruits and berries, 12 naturally-occurring herbaceous plants, 1 black walnut hull, 2 grasses, 1 composite, and 44 unknown seeds. Approximately 75% of these seeds (and 37 plant taxa) were recovered from the privy. Identified species include apple, cherry, coriander, corn, fig, peach, plum, tomato, wheat, cantaloupe/muskmelon, squash/pumpkin, field pumpkin, crookneck squash, watermelon, cucurbit, blueberry, bramble, elderberry, grape, probable huckleberry, mulberry, mustard, persimmon, possible serviceberry, strawberry, possible sunflower, ground cherry, hawthorn, nightshade, pokeweed, carpetweed, copperleaf, dock, goosefoot, jimsonweed, knotweed, pigweed, probable Caryophyllaceae, purslane, sedge family, spurge, velvetleaf, wood sorrel, black walnut, goosegrass, grass, and composite seeds.

References

Cheek, Charles D., Rebecca Yamin, Dana B. Heck, Leslie E. Rayner, & Lisa D. O’Steen
1994  Phase III Data Recovery: Mechanic Street Site (18AG206) Station Square Project, Cumberland, MD.  John Milner Associates, Inc. for the Maryland State Highway Administration.
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