Patuxent II Site (18CV17)

The Patuxent II Site (18CV17), also known as the Stearns Site, is a multi-component shell midden site and possible village locale at the Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum (JPPM) near St. Leonard in Calvert County. The site is situated in an agricultural field on a terrace adjacent to the Patuxent River. Occupation at the site dates to the Early and Late Archaic and Early, Middle, and Late Woodland periods.

This site was recorded by the Maryland Geological Survey in 1969 based on the notes of Richard Stearns, an avocational archaeologist who collected the site in the 1930s and 1940s. A catalog of Stearns collection reported Accokeek cordmarked sherds, Mockley cord-marked sherds, Rappahannock fabric-impressed sherds, Rappahannock Incised sherd, and a groundstone pipe fragment. In 1981, Laurie Steponaitis, a researcher from the State University of New York at Binghamton collected 18CV17 as part of a large scale survey of the Patuxent River drainage for thesis. At least two eroding storage/refuse pits were observed along the bank of the river.

Also in 1981, a preliminary survey was undertaken of the 512 acre Patterson-family property by MHT personnel of what would become the Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum. The site was re-identified and active erosion of the shoreline was observed. A large (almost 4 meter wide) prehistoric shell-filled feature was observed eroding from the 2 meter high bank. At that time it was thought that much of the feature already had been lost. In 1984, the remaining portion of the pit was salvaged. During the intervening period, the condition of the feature was monitored and artifacts on the beach in the vicinity recovered and saved separately.

In October, 1984, state archaeological personnel assisted by volunteers with the Archeological Society of Maryland excavated the shell pit feature. Upon removal of the plowzone, 6 cultural strata were identified in the surface of the irregularly-shaped (but probably originally circular) pit, intruding into natural clay subsoil. No additional features were observed. A total of 12 cultural strata within the feature were excavated. An oyster shell sample was retained from those strata containing shell. Flotation samples were taken (20%) from two selected strata that gave evidence of containing microscopic organic material.

The 12 strata can be broadly segregated into two major types: shell bearing strata and strata containing little or no shell. It appeared that the five shell-bearing strata represented primary refuse dumps that were interspersed with the other seven strata which resulted from the natural filling processes caused by erosion of the exposed pit walls. This evidence suggests that the pit remained open and was filled over an extended period. Artifact analysis generally supports this as the majority of ceramic sherds were recovered from the primary refuse layers. Forty-seven of the sixty-two total ceramic sherds recovered from the pit (75.8%) were retrieved from 3 of the 5 shell-bearing strata. One wash stratum did, however, yield a significant number of sherds (13 or 20.9% of the assemblage).

Without any additional structural evidence from either the pit itself or observed in the area adjacent to it, little could be determined about the pit’s function. Interpretation was made even more difficult by the fact that much of the pit (believed to be well over 50% of it) was lost before excavation due to erosion.

The documented assemblage from the 1984 excavations and collections made on the beach below the eroding feature included a stemmed biface, 1 Madison point, 2 primary flakes, 5 pieces of fire-cracked rock, and 167 ceramic sherds. The ceramic assemblage included 2 Yeocomico Plain, 73 Rappahannock Fabric-impressed, 14 Rappahannock Plain, 9 Rappahannock Incised (1 rim), 1 Rappahannock Corded, 62 other Rappahannock sherds, and 6 Mockley sherds.

The ceramic evidence clearly indicates that the pit feature began to be filled toward the end of the Sullivan Cove phase (roughly AD 1250-1600) of the Late Woodland period. Carbon samples collected from the pit feature were sent to two different labs for radiocarbon dating. It is uncertain whether these samples were collected in 1981 or 1984, but they were collected from the pit feature. One sample produced an uncalibrated date of 650 ± 60 radiocarbon years before present, while the other produced a date of 491 ± 125 radiocarbon years before present. These dates correspond to calendrical date ranges (with 2 sigma accuracy) of AD 1267-1411 and AD 1266-1663. Both dates fit well with a Sullivan Cove occupation. Unfortunately, the circumstances of the recovery of the carbon and the dates themselves are poorly documented and no further information is available.

Additional work was carried out at 18CV17 in 1986 and 1988. At least thirty-one 2 X 2 meter units were dug. A faunal assemblage of over 12,000 artifacts was collected during the state-sponsored excavations from 1981-1988, most of it consisting of deer bones and oyster shell. Bluefish and blue crabs, two migratory species which are present in the Patuxent River during the summer and autumn, were found at 18CV17, indicating at least a summer and fall residence at that site. Twenty pieces of bone at the site were worked into tools or ornaments.

Based on the findings to-date, 18CV17 appears to be a multi-component shell midden with a significant Late Woodland Sullivan Cove occupation on a high bank overlooking the Patuxent River. Intact features and diagnostic artifacts have been documented at the site.

(Edited from the Maryland Historical Trust Synthesis Project)


  • Pogue, Dennis
  • 1987. Stearns Site (18CV17S) Excavation Summary. Manuscript on file.
  • Pogue, Dennis, and Wayne Clark
  • 1985. Salvage Excavation of a Late Woodland Prehistoric Pit (18CV17S) Calvert County, Maryland: Preliminary Analysis. Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum File Report No. 4.
  • Pogue, Dennis, and Wayne Clark
  • 1985. Salvage Excavation of a Late Woodland Prehistoric Pit (18CV17S), Calvert County, Maryland: Preliminary Analysis. Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum File Report Number 4.

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