ST. INIGOES, Md. – Two professors of anthropology from The Catholic University of America and St. Mary’s College of Maryland will be conducting and directing archaeological research at Webster Outlying Field in an open, grassy area known as Old Chapel Field.
Long before the Navy acquired the land from the Society of Jesus in 1942, the site was the former location of St. Inigoes Manor, a self-sufficient thriving acreage which once served as the founding mission for the Jesuits in English North America.
Colonial Jesuits, who were wealthy and well-educated, were some of the first settlers in Maryland, having arrived on the Ark and the Dove along with the significant financial backers of the new colony.
“Old Chapel Field was where the Jesuits first started their mission in 1637,” said Craig Lukezic, NAS Patuxent River cultural resources manager. “It was a center of the [Maryland] colony.”
Acknowledging the depth of professional archaeological research that has already taken place by others at Old Chapel Field between the 1970s and the present, the group will use noninvasive geophysical survey methods, such as ground-penetrating radar and magnetometer, to identify definite locations of domestic, agricultural, and ecclesiastical structures believed to have existed there. The geophysical survey findings would then be followed by the physical excavation of five to ten 5×5-feet pits called test units.
“We are particularly hopeful that these methods will serve to ground-truth [or directly observe] the identified anomalies,” wrote the professors in a letter of intent to Lukezic, “…particularly in light of the recent success of [our contractor] in identifying the original fort at nearby St. Mary’s City.”
The letter went on to note that it is anticipated the project will specifically identify the location of the 1630s St. Inigoes House, a late 17th century chapel, an associated Jesuit residence, and slave quarters, as well as being able to determine the extent of previously-identified middens, cellars, post-in-ground structures, and a potentially elusive cemetery north of Villa Road.
“The ground-penetrating radar sort of looks like pushing a lawnmower around in tight rows [over a measured survey block],” Lukezic explained. “The computer sends signals down into the ground to pick up soil density at different levels. It doesn’t work in wet areas and it doesn’t work well in forested areas, but an open field is a good location and it should work nicely.”
The excavation of any test units will follow standard archaeological methodology and all sediment will be screened through quarter-inch mesh. Any artifacts discovered will be washed, analyzed, and ultimately curated at the Maryland Archaeological Conservation (MAC) Laboratory, which already houses thousands of artifacts from the Navy and other federal agencies.
To date, more than 200 archaeological sites have been recorded on the properties of the NAS Patuxent River complex.
“What they’re doing out at Old Chapel Field is a boon for us; it will help define where features are, so we will not build on that land,” Lukezic noted. “My role here is enforcing the National Historic Preservation Act [which requires the identification and evaluation of historic archaeological sites on federal property], and this is an incredibly important site for the state of Maryland.”
For more information and to view some of the previous colonial artifacts unearthed at Old Chapel Field, visit the Colonial Encounters website at http://colonialencounters.org/Index.aspx, go to Galleries, then Artifacts, then select Old Chapel Field.
All photos courtesy of the U.S. Navy by Donna Cipolloni.