Lowery, executive director of the Chesapeake Watershed Archeological Research Foundation in Easton, Md., knew that no such burial mounds existed in the area, but he agreed to investigate anyway.
Lowery said in recent interviews that when he inspected the mound, which rises between the creek and a marsh, he noted that it was aeolian, made of fine, windblown soil. He also noticed strange rocks scattered across its crest.
Volunteer John Imlay and Easton High School biology teacher Nicole Barth examine a skeleton.
(Gerald Martineau -- The Washington Post)
They were not part of a building foundation. Nor were they plow stones unearthed from a farm field.
But Lowery had seen them before in very old cemeteries. They were primitive grave markers placed by early colonists who lacked the tools and materials to make a proper tombstone, he said.
And when Lowery and a soil scientist friend bored into the ground later, they came up with strikingly well-preserved human bone.
"Guess what," Lowery said he told the landowner. "You've got a 17th-century cemetery."
Owsley, 53, one of the nation's top forensic anthropologists, was eager to learn more about the region's unheralded first colonists. By studying their bones, he could tell much about what they ate, what ailed them, how they lived and how they died.
He began to assemble a crew of mostly volunteer archaeologists, a pair of experts in the use of earth-penetrating radar and a group of students and teachers from three Eastern Shore high schools. Work started Oct. 11.
With the help of the radar, which can search the ground for evidence of graves, the team determined that about 34 people were buried at the site, most in a formal, orderly manner.
By midmorning Oct. 27, the field excavation was well underway. Several graves were open, and members of the team sat or squatted beside skeletons, using small brushes and strips of bamboo to scrape dirt from the bones of two men and the young woman in B-7.
Nearby, Smithsonian anthropologist Kari Bruwelheide sorted through the remains of a roughly 18-month-old child, one of three children unearthed by the team.
"We have most of the spine," she said. "We have all of the ribs. All of the neck vertebrae are here. The skull is complete. We have the arms, the shoulders, clavicles . . . the upper thorax is all there."
She said it was not clear whether the child was a boy or girl. She saw no evidence of disease.
The ribs of a 6-month-old exhumed before, she said, did have evidence of a vitamin deficiency disease such as rickets, which comes from insufficient exposure to sunlight.