The Smithsonian Pier site (18AN284/285) is a prehistoric shell midden on the banks of the Rhode River in Anne Arundel County, Maryland.  The site yielded artifacts dating to the Middle and Late Woodland periods.  Mockley pottery dominated the artifact assemblage, and the investigations at the site make a valuable contribution to understanding subsistence during the Selby Bay phase (AD 200-800) in tidewater Maryland.

Archaeological Investigations

This site was initially identified by Henry Wright in the 1960s, who conducted limited excavations, testing a Woodland period shell midden near Conteeā€™s Wharf.  Wright thought that the prehistoric component consisted of two distinct loci, registering them under two different site inventory numbers: 18AN284 and 18AN285.

Ballweber (1990) later conducted a more intensive Phase I survey of the area, and found that 18AN284 and 18AN285 are parts of a single site.  The artifacts she recovered were similar to those found by Wright.

Weiskotten and Gibb's (1995) Phase II study confirmed Ballweber's observation.  Plowing has reduced the area of the shell midden and truncated it, but intact midden survives, with large sherds of Mockley and Rappahannock pottery.  The intact midden extends over some 1800 square meters, surrounded by plowed midden.  Twenty 2m by 1m units and two 1m by 1m units were excavated into intact portions of the midden as part of a Phase III data recovery, revealing Middle Woodland (Selby Bay phase) and Late Woodland (Little Round Bay phase) oyster shell deposits of varying thickness (<0.20m) on top of the pre-occupation A-horizon.  Late Woodland material, represented largely by Rappahannock cord marked with incised pottery, occurs primarily in the plowed portions of the midden, with Middle Woodland Mockley cord marked and net impressed pottery occurring in the intact portions of the midden.

Flotation Studies

Both micro and macro-botanical analyses were undertaken as part of data recovery investigations at Smithsonian Pier. 

 Flotation of 100 liters of soil from 50 cultural strata yielded 14.3 grams of carbonized plant material.  Justine McKnight conducted a presence/absence inventory of recovered remains.  Wood charcoal dominated the site assemblage, with red and white oak species, hickory, birch, American chestnut, maple, eastern red cedar, and southern pine identified.  Nut remains were present in 50% of the analyzed samples, and hickory and black walnut were present.  Seeds were not abundant, and were present in only 10% of the samples analyzed.  Sunflower, goosefoot, and bean family were identified.  The flotation samples also yielded unidentifiable rind or husk material and amorphous carbon.  Plant macro-remains recovered from the Smithsonian Pier site document that wild-harvested nuts were a dietary mainstay, and that harvesting of plant food resources took place primarily in the fall. 

Micro-botanical remains from the Smithsonian Pier site consisted of pollen, spores, and rhizomes extracted from 12 samples (6 from Stratum 2C, six from Stratum 3) taken from a single column in the southwest corner of Unit 8. Grace Brush analyzed the samples. Pollen preservation was reportedly poor and pollen was not abundant. Eight arboreal taxa were identified, including mimosa, cypress, hickory, walnut, mulberry, pine, oak, and elm.  Non-arboreal pollen taxa include amaranth, several berries, plantain, grasses, legume, and maize.  The maize pollen was recovered in the upper 5 cm and between 20 and 25 cm deep in the subsoil.  Gibb cautions that the presence of scant maize pollen beneath the largely Selby Bay phase shell midden and buried topsoil should not be taken as evidence of maize cultivation during the late Middle Woodland period.


Ballweber, Hettie L.
1990 Preliminary Archaeological Reconnaissance of the Java History Trail, Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, Anne Arundel County, Maryland. Phase I Report. Submitted to the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, Edgewater, Maryland.
Brush, Grace S.
1995 Pollen Analysis of the Smithsonian Pier Site (18AN284). Report on file, Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, Edgewater, Maryland.
Gibb, James G. and Anson H. Hines
1997a Phase III Data Recovery at the Smithsonian Pier Site (18AN284), Smithsonian Institution Environmental Research Center, Anne Arundel County, Maryland. Submitted to the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, Edgewater, Maryland.
1997b Selby Bay Phase Subsistence Strategies at the Smithsonian Pier Site, Anne Arundel County, Maryland. Maryland Archeology, Volume 33 (1&2): 59-76.
McKnight, Justine W.
1997 Examination of Flotation-Recovered Plant Remains from the Smithsonian Pier Site (18AN284). Report submitted to James G. Gibb, Annapolis, Maryland.
Weiskotten, Daniel H. and James G. Gibb
1995 National Register of Historic Places Site Evaluation of the Smithsonian Pier Site (18AN284/285), Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, Anne Arundel County, Maryland.   Submitted to the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, Edgewater, Maryland.

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