Hampden Heritage

Archaeology, History, and Heritage in Central Baltimore

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Archaeology Season in Hampden Finally Arrives

We are finally going to begin digging archaeological sites in Hampden!
After talking about it for over a year, we will begin excavations at sites around Hampden in a little more than one week. We are armed with a truckload of new equipment (purchased with the generous support of the Hampden Community Council, The University of Maryland, and American University), and staffed by four young people being whose salary is being paid by Baltimore City’s Youthworks employment program, We are also joined by University of Maryland graduate student John Molenda.

The dig will take place on various properties around the Hampden neighborhood. A number of people have expressed surprise that we might be interested in doing archaeology in Hampden. What are you going to look for, they wonder? Why are you doing it here? The truth is that Hampden is a place with a lot of history, not all of which is written down. Archaeology, which systematically looks for the material remains of people in the past (often called artifacts or material culture), is a really powerful way to get at the history that was never written. Project leaders Bob Chidester and Dave Gadsby think that doing archaeology in Hampden is a worthwhile endeavor for just this reason. We hope to get people talking about what we’re doing, and in turn to get people talking about Hampden’s rich heritage as a working community.

These early excavations are exploratory in nature. We don’t know exactly what we will find, but we have some ideas. Bottles, pottery, and food wastes are some of the kinds of things that are usually found when sifting archaeological soils, and can tell us a great deal about how people mentally organized their worlds and behaved as producers and consumers. On a much smaller scale, archaeologists can sometimes find evidence of plant and insect remains, pollen, and soil chemistry that tell us a great deal about past landscape use and environmental change. Archaeological evidence is a particularly evocative of the daily life of people in the past because it “speaks” for people who have been left out of history and because it provides a tangible link to the past that people can literally hold in their hands.

We really hope to make this effort one in which the community of Hampden becomes involved. Building on the history workshops that we held last fall, we have written a research design that we believe reflects the community’s interest in heritage issues. Now we will go out and see what we can find. If you are interested in helping to excavate sites, or simply in dropping by for a visit, feel free to email dgadsby@anth.umd.edu. Please include your name and a telephone number at which you can be reached. Excavations will begin in late June and will continue into August, after which time volunteers will be needed to clean and catalog artifacts. Other volunteer projects may include historical research, oral history interviews, and serving on an archaeology and history steering committee.


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