The Thomas Point site (18ST570) is a multi-component site dating to the Late Archaic and Middle and Late Woodland periods.  It is located on Town Creek on the western shore of the Patuxent River in St. Mary’s County.  A dense oyster shell midden characterizes Late Woodland period occupations at the site.

Archaeological Investigations

The Thomas Point site was discovered in 1986 during a Phase I archaeological survey of the 211-acre Patuxent River Farms property.  The Phase I shovel testing, at 10m intervals along transects spaced 30m apart, identified the site as a large shell midden extending for approximately 220m along the edge of a bank overlooking a tidal marsh, and for a maximum of 160m west of the marsh bank.  Site boundaries were most clearly defined by the nearly continuous, if only sparse, distribution of oyster shell fragments, and less commonly recovered lithic debris, fire-cracked rock, and shell-tempered ceramics.  The highest shell concentrations occurred in shovel test pits close to the marsh bank.  Nearly all the shell was broken and rounded, and recovered in a 9-28cm thick plowzone.  However, one shovel test pit encountered an area of whole layered shell that was interpreted as preserved midden, directly south of the ravine bisecting the site.  This shell midden stratum yielded four fragments of Late Woodland shell-tempered pottery.  In total, one projectile point (a Late Archaic period Bare Island) and 29 ceramics were found.  The ceramics included one Accokeek cord-marked, one Popes Creek cord-marked, three unidentified quartz-tempered sherds, and one unidentifiable sand and grit tempered sherd.  The remaining 23 sherds were Late Woodland period Townsend-Rappahannock series wares.

The 1987-88 Phase II testing consisted of the excavation of 48 1mx1m units placed at 20m intervals across the area identified by the Phase I survey.  Phase III efforts focused on the investigation of the shell midden through the excavation of 77 1mx1m units, which transected the midden and tested the surrounding area.  The data indicated that the site was first occupied in the Late Archaic period.  Traces of activities from this period are limited to a few stone tools and flaking debris which shows little spatial clustering.  More frequent reoccupation during the Middle Woodland period is evidenced by the presence of Mockley ceramics found in the shell midden.  Residential occupation intensified during the Late Woodland period, when isolated shell heaps merged to form a continuous midden.  Cultural remains from this period include ceramics of the Townsend series (Rappahannock Plain and Fabric-impressed, and Townsend Incised) and Sullivan Cove ware (Cord-marked); small, triangular projectile points; and bone and carbonized plant remains.  Evidence of historic occupation at the site is limited to a few, widely scattered 19th and 20th century ceramics, white clay pipe fragments, glass, and nails.  The scarcity and seemingly random spatial distribution of these materials provides little evidence for the presence of architectural structures.

Data from the shell midden provide evidence that the transition from the Middle Woodland, Selby Bay Phase to the Late Woodland, Little Round Bay and Sullivan Cove Phases occurred in this region between A.D. 800 +/- 70 and A.D. 1070 +/- 50.  Increased sedentism associated with the Late Woodland period is reflected by food remains from the midden, which indicate that maize agriculture was an integral part of the economy.  The Middle Woodland reliance on non-local rhyolite for making stemmed points was replaced about A.D. 900 with the use of local quartz and chert for the manufacture of small, triangular arrow points.  The production of ceramics also shifted at this time from those stamped with cordage to wares impressed with fabric or incised with geometric designs.

Archeobotanical Studies

Flotation samples were analyzed by C. Margaret Scarry of Florida State University.  Plant remains from 33 flotation samples (373.35 liters) were analyzed.  Carbonized remains from these samples were sparse and not especially well-preserved.  Identifications of potential food remains suggest a subsistence strategy which combined foraging with small scale plant cultivation during at least the summer and fall seasons.  The cultivation of maize appears to have been practiced as part of a foraging economy which exploited a diverse array of fruits and seeds and relied heavily on acorn mast and hickory nuts.  Fruits included persimmon, blueberry, elderberry, grape, and plum or cherry.

Herbert's investigations documented maize use at the site from contexts indirectly dated to between A.D. 880 +/- 70 and A.D. 1070 +/- 50 (Herbert 1995).   Five radiocarbon dates were originally obtained from carbonized plant remains recovered from the shell midden area.  Recently, a direct AMS date was obtained on maize cupule fragments from Stratum 2, Level 1 of the shell midden (FS380) (McKnight 2009).  This sample produced an uncalibrated radiocarbon date of 370 +/-40 BP: AD 1580.  This result demonstrates a wide gulf of difference between dates on wood charcoal and fruit remains from the same context, and highlights the usefulness of directly dating cultigens when building regional chronologies.

Five radiocarbon dates were obtained from carbonized plant remains recovered from the shell midden area:

Beta No
Measured Age
Cal 2 sigma low
Cal Median Probability
Cal 2 sigma high
Feature 11

700 +/- 60 bp
AD 1219
AD 1296
AD 1398
Shell Midden St 2 Lv 2
800 +/- 70 bp
AD 1040
AD 1219
AD 1376
Feature 12
890 +/- 80 bp
AD 1016
AD 1136
AD 1272
Feature 9
970 +/- 80 bp
AD 895
AD 1081
AD 1223
Shell Midden St 2 Lv1
1070 +/- 50 bp
AD 784
AD 966
AD 1117
Shell Midden St 2 Lv1 259071 Maize 370 +/- 40 bp AD 1443 AD 1525 AD 1635


Herbert, Joseph M.
1995 Thomas Point (18ST570): Emerging Late Woodland Traditions in Southern Maryland. Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum Occasional Papers No. 5.
Scarry, C. Margaret
1995 Plant Remains from the Thomas Point Site (18ST570), Saint Mary’s County, Maryland. Manuscript on file, Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum, St. Leonard, Maryland.
McKnight, Justine W.
2009 Letter report on direct dating of maize from the Thomas Point shell midden.  Submitted to the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Laboratory, Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum, Maryland.

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