The Cumberland Site is a palisaded Late Woodland village located on the Patuxent River in Calvert County, Maryland. A portion of the site, including the palisade, has been radiocarbon dated to the middle sixteenth century.  The site also contains evidence of earlier occupations. The Cumberland Site is only the second palisaded village found in Tidewater Maryland, and the first found on the Patuxent River. During the Late Woodland and Contact Periods, the Patuxent region was a battleground between the Chesapeake Algonquian-speaking groups and the Susquehannocks to the north. This collection is important for examining Native American frontiers during a period of increased resource competition, and for understanding the Late Woodland Period in southern Maryland.

Archaeological Investigations

In the 1930s, Richard Stearns identified a shell midden on the Cumberland family’s property in lower Calvert County. His field maps indicated a village site was present in an agricultural field, but his surface investigation did not detect that it was palisaded. The location of the site was recorded, and no further work was done at that time.

In 1982, the Cumberland family notified the Maryland Historical Trust that they were planning to construct a house on a portion of the site. In May of 1982, Michael Smolek from the Southern Maryland Regional Preservation Center conducted initial investigations to determine the site’s subsurface integrity. Smolek first performed a quick controlled surface collection, collecting artifacts from 49 twenty-by-twenty-meter squares and 19 partial twenty-by-twenty-meter squares across an agricultural field. To check for subsurface remains, 30 shovel test pits were excavated along two transects. One shovel test pit revealed a section of the palisade. Smolek then traced 76 meters of the palisade line using 15 random test units of various sizes.

In May 1983, the site was divided into 400 four-by-four-meter squares, and artifacts were surface collected from 276 of these units. All artifacts were retained, except for oyster shell, fire-cracked rock, and non-cultural rocks, which were weighed and discarded. Soil samples were also taken a few centimeters below the ground surface from each of the 276 collected squares. A third surface collection, using the same grid and collection procedures, was conducted in June 1983 after the site had been plowed. Unfortunately, the southeastern portion of the site had been bulldozed, so this area could not be collected. Oyster shell was neither retained nor weighed during this investigation.

Forty-two systematically and 42 randomly placed test squares, each measuring two-by-two- meters, were excavated to subsoil across the site. All soil was dry-screened through 3/8-inch mesh, and all oyster shell was quantified by weight and discarded. A Gradall was used to then mechanically remove the plow zone on the portion of the site to be impacted by house construction, an area approximately 24 by 48 meters in size. All soil from features, including the palisade, borrow pits, post holes, and hearths, was dry screened through 3/8-inch mesh or wet screened through 1/16-inch mesh. The relative lack of features, such as postholes and pits, is probably the result of the land being plowed for a number of years, while clusters of artifacts outside the palisade may represent additional settlement or activity areas.

A total of 86,935 artifacts were found at the Cumberland Site, not including the materials from the surface collection and shovel test pits in 1982. All artifacts appear to date before European contact, as no European trade material was recovered.

Ceramic objects recovered from the Cumberland Site included 5,593 pottery sherds and nine terra cotta tobacco pipe fragments. While many sherds could not be formally categorized, 2,659 Townsend Series sherds and 119 Mockley sherds were identified.   A total of 4,206 lithic objects were recovered, with quartz, quartzite, chert, sandstone, and rhyolite the predominant materials. Fifty-nine projectile points and point fragments were found, including one St. Albans, one Morrow Mountain, two Bare Island, one Orient Fishtail, one Jack’s Reef Pentagonal, one Madison, six Levanna, seven Potomac, and 39 unidentifiable. These range in date from the Early Archaic to the Late Woodland, but all triangular projectile points were recovered from within the palisade. Faunal materials were well represented at Cumberland, with 64,842 oyster shell fragments making up the majority of the 66,433 faunal items recovered. Most of the harvested oysters appeared to have been between three and four years of age, collected from clear water near the shore, and indicate a fall and spring occupation at the site. Snail, clam, periwinkle, mussel, and unidentified shells were also recovered in limited quantities. A barrel-shaped shell bead was the only worked shell item recovered during excavations, while a shark’s tooth, probably worn as a pendant, was recovered from the plow zone. Soil acidity and mechanical destruction resulted in a relative lack of animal bones in the plow zone at Cumberland. The 811 animal bones, including teeth, bones, fish scales, turtle shells, and antlers, were recovered primarily from subsurface features.

Archeobotanical Studies

Abundant archeobotanical remains were collected during the 1983 investigations.  These include flotation-processed sample, waterscreen-recovered plant material, and hand-collected carbon concentrations.  Since their collection, these have been curated at the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Laboratory where they await analysis. 

In 2009, archeobotanical consultant Justine McKnight conducted a pilot study of three samples from Lot 616, a small pit located within a larger borrow pit which overlapped the inner palisade trench encircling the site.  A full quantitative macro-botanical analysis was conducted, and a sample of maize (Zea mays) from the feature was submitted for radiocarbon dating using the Accelerator Mass Spectometry (AMS) technique.

The archeobotanical samples hailed from Lot 616:  One flotation-recovered; One waterscreen-recovered; And one hand-collected archeobotanical sample were analyzed.  These yielded an array of plant artifacts types, including wood charcoal (dominated by white oak and hickory), hickory and possibly acorn nutshell, the Meso-American cultigen maize, fungi and amorphous carbon.  

One flotation-recovered maize cupule was submitted to Beta Analytic for radiocarbon dating using the AMS technique.  This sample produced an uncalibrated radiocarbon date of 390 +/- 40 BP: AD 1560, placing it temporally at toward the end of the Late Woodland period (see Table 02).

Beta Number
C-13 Adjusted Age
Cal 2 sigma low
Cal Median Probability
Cal 2 sigma high
Lot 616
390 +/- 40


McKnight, Justine W.
2010 Building the Archeobotanical Dataset from the Cumberland Site (18CV171).  Analysis of   Seven Samples. Prepared for The Maryland Archaeological Conservation Laboratory, Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum. March 12, 2010.
2009 Pilot Archeobotanical Analysis of three Sample Types from a Single Context at the Cumberland Site (18CV171) with Direct Radiocarbon Dating of Maize Remains.  Prepared for The Maryland Archaeological Conservation Laboratory, Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum July 17, 2009 .
Smolek, Michael A.
1986 The Cumberland Palisaded Village Site: A (Very) Preliminary Report. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Archeological Society of Maryland.
Williams, M. Christopher
1983 A Preliminary Site Report for the Cumberland Palisaded Village Site, Calvert County, Maryland. Report submitted to the Maryland Historical Trust, Southern Maryland Regional Preservation Center, and American University.

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