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A Guide to Public Archeology on the Patuxent River

St. Leonard Creek
A beautiful day is reflected on the Patuxent River. Photo by Sarah Rogers

Southern Maryland is charming especially in summer when fields of green crops line the roadways, local produce stands and trucks selling fresh crabs advertise with hand painted signs, and archeological excavations are in full-swing.

In addition to paddling, hiking, cycling, visiting museums, and attending living history programs, visitors and residents have the opportunity to dig with archeologists and discover local history firsthand. Come be part of the research process and see how the stories of history unfold for those who dig, scrape, brush, wash, and meticulously analyze the physical evidence of the past. 

The history along the Patuxent’s banks is rich and layered. Some artifacts uncovered in the deepest layers are roughly 13 thousand years old. These deep, fruitful layers provide clues about the lives of American Indians who lived along and visited the river’s shores, and—above—there are other layers that tell the stories of colonial settlers, enslaved blacks, laborers, soldiers, and families.

For those interested in the dramatic history of the War of 1812, there’s no better place to start working alongside archeologists. The Patuxent played an important role in the War of 1812, serving as the backdrop for key battles, encampments, and scouting expeditions. The region also served as home to residents who lived along the Patuxent’s shores during and after the war. Read on to discover how to get started and be part of the process of discovering this region’s layered past.

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Speaking of layers

Stratigraphy is a word for the study of layers or strata. Examining these layers of soil and rock can provide clues about many details, including the relative ages of artifacts.  


Do you want to live a day in the life of Indiana Jones or Laura Croft, the "tomb raider"?

If you answered yes, archeology might not be what you expect. The adventures of the “real” archeologists and volunteers on the Patuxent River are admittedly less exciting, glamorous, and dangerous than those portrayed in popular culture. But archeology on the Patuxent is still fascinating. As a visitor or volunteer you can learn about and be part of the digging and analyses that uncover stories of the past: stories of War of 1812 battles, American Indian occupation, and more.  


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