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 sixteenth century, and 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, 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. Over 4,900 sherds exhibited no surface treatment, while 268 were fabric- impressed, 42 net-impressed, 34 cord-marked, nine smoothed-over cord-marked, five smoothed, two incised, and 575 were unidentifiable. Rim sherds revealed that the Late Woodland ceramic vessels from Cumberland were predominantly straight-walled vessels with plain rims, as seen in the almost completely mended vessel from Lot 534. In addition, one sand-tempered sherd with a hole drilled in its center might represent a ceramic ornament. The nine terra cotta tobacco pipe fragments included two incised bowl fragments, one punctated stem fragment, two undecorated bowl fragments, and four undecorated stem fragments.

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. Twenty-five bifaces, two scrapers, one spokeshave, and five hammerstones were also recovered.

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.


The collection consists of original records in good condition, with the exception of some discoloration and minor staining from field use. The collection is housed in four letter-sized clamshell archival storage boxes, three oversized enclosures, and two document rolls.

The excavation documents are organized by excavation unit number; records exist for 110 units. Records include provenience cards, plans, profiles, and soil descriptions. Daily field journal sheets are present for June and July 1983.

Other records in the collection include stratum and survey registers, artifact notes, various maps, surface collection notes, artifact catalogs, postmold data forms, a bound field journal covering the summer of 1983, and a site report -- A Preliminary Site Report for the Cumberland Palisaded Village Site, Calvert County, Maryland (Williams 1983). These have been scanned as .PDF files and are accessible via the database, but not searchable.

Records from a survey at Preston-on-Patuxent are included in the Cumberland record collection, because the two sites are located on the same property. The Preston-on-Patuxent project was a survey undertaken in 1982, and it resulted in the discovery of the Cumberland site. Preston-on-Patuxent does not have its own archaeological site number. Records include survey logs, daily field journals, shovel test pit and surface collection data sheets, plans, profiles, and miscellaneous maps.

Photographs taken on-site or in post-processing are available through the online database, and are searchable using the above criteria. Researchers should note that images are not linked directly to specific documents, and photo records do not necessarily exist for all features or units. Original images consist of slides, negatives, and prints, and are housed at the MAC Lab.


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.

Digital Resources



Archaeological Report
Artifact Documents
Excavation Documents
Field Notes
Lot Index
Photo Log
Survey Logs

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An online archive of over 30 archaeological sites in Maryland, produced by the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Lab with the support of the National Endowment of the Humanities.