The Lost Towns team is usually working on several projects at the same time. For the past four years we have been involved in excavations at Pig Point and Londontown. We have also been conducting some interesting research on sea level rise and its affects on cultural resources, particularly archaeological sites. A brief summary is below.
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Sea Level Rise Threatens Our Cultural Heritage
An innovative and wide-ranging study of the potential threats of sea level rise to heritage resources in Anne Arundel County was undertaken by the Cultural Resources Division of Anne Arundel County’s Department Planning and Zoning in 2010. The team produced a vulnerability study of archaeological sites, historic buildings and districts, scenic and historic roads, and cemeteries. This effort identified 422 threatened archaeological sites, 74 historic buildings or structures, 11 historic districts, 14 scenic and historic roads, and 18 cemeteries that could potentially be impacted or even destroyed by sea level rise in the next 50 years. The study identified sites within the 0 to 5 foot inundation model (provided by DNR) as the accepted as the best estimate forecast that within 50 to 100 years, the sea level could rise in that range.
Clearly- a five foot rise would be the uppermost end of the complex modeling effort, though this worst-case scenario is not as likely as the middle to lower range models.
About 30% of the recorded archaeological sites in Anne Arundel County will be impacted by rising seas, and 88% of these will be impacted by the more conservative estimate of 0-2 ft of rise. The impact will be felt by both prehistoric and historic sites located mainly in the eastern part of the County along the Magothy, Severn, South, Rhode, and West Rivers and on Herring Bay. A few sites along the Patuxent River and Jug Bay will also be impacted, but considering this river flows through only a small portion of the County after the head of tide (near Queen Anne’s Bridge), these sites may avoid major damage.
The State SHPO has conducted similar studies, headed by Jennifer Chadwick-Moore and Maureen Kavanagh. The MHT conducted a desk audit of the resources potentially affected across the State, considering archaeological sites, MIHP-listed properties, easements held by the State and Sites that are listed on the National Register or are listed as a National Historic Landmarks. In their study they determined that:
1. Rising sea levels, erosion and major storms all pose a significant threat to historic and archeological sites, districts, and landscapes;
2. A preliminary analysis of archeological sites indicates that over 30% of coastal county sites would be affected, and scarce Paleoindian, contact period and 17th century sites are proportionately most endangered;
3. Other historic resources will need to be examined in much greater detail to determine which classes of properties are most vulnerable.
Based on our research, and in the field verification of more than 20% of the most threatened sites, erosion is more of a threat to sites in parts of the County that have experienced minimal shoreline
stabilization measures. The bluffs that typify this part of the western
shore Chesapeake Bay watershed are particularly susceptible to erosional
forces intensified by changing climate. In more populated, wealthy
areas, where large swaths of the coast have already been stabilized, sea
level rise is the bigger threat. This assumes that anything is left of
the site once the construction is completed – this is not often the
Shell middens, generally given a “moderately significant” ranking
in this study, represent the single site type that will be most affected
by sea level rise. About 76% of the recorded middens will be inundated
by 2 ft or rise and over 81% will be inundated by 5 ft of rising seas.
This represents a striking loss of a tremendous amount of information
about the ancient prehistoric and more recent historic residents of the
As this project continues into 2011, the team will consider the public
outreach efforts put forth by the British government and non-profit
groups to engage the public to become stewards of their heritage
resources. The team will also work closely with the State of
Maryland’s Historic Preservation Office on developing appropriate
policies and responses from the Cultural Resources community to this
natural threat. Working with archaeologists and planners with the State will ensure that the detailed research conducted by Anne Arundel County
and the lessons learned from this intensive study will benefit the
entire State. While not every site can, or should, be saved from
destruction by natural forces, heightening awareness of the rich
heritage resources that surround us is the first step towards mitigating
the damage that we may see inflicted upon our cultural heritage in the
The team has been hard at work expanding our knowledge of the Native American past of the County. With a grant from the Maryland Historical Trust, the team, led by Stephanie Sperling, has begun a multi-year investigation into "Middle Woodland" period sites in Central Maryland. The first step in any good research program is to find out what others have done before you, and in that, Stephanie has compiled an expansive bibliography of scholarly resources that address this period of the Native American continuum. More than 170 sites have been targeted for the team to visit, and the most promising sites will be tested in Spring 2009. To learn more, check out the Middle Woodland Research Tool.