Ten thousand years ago, a primitive race of nomadic hunters camped on a rolling hill overlooking a smooth blue bay in what is now St. Mary's County, Maryland.

Some 6,000 years later, early Indian tribes farmed the same ground, building round huts with wooden poles and surrounding their villages with deep trash pits.

A thousnad years after the villages had disappeared, early European colonists built farms in the area, and rested from their work at a small stone tavern perched on the hill.

Now, once again, the hill overlooking Breton Bay, 25 miles from the mouth of the Potomac River, is populated by nomads. The new residents - 14 undergraduates from George Washington University - are sleeping in tents, and once again, tilling the earth.

This time, however, the digging is done with aluminum shovels the students hope will unearth what remains of the communities that came before them.

As part of a GWU course in field archeology, the students - budding archeologists and anthropologists as well as chemistry and English majors - are spending the summer attempting to prepare a four-acre site for eventual use as an exhibition area by the Potomac River Museum in Colton's Point.

Lying somewhere in those four acres, says project supervisor Bill Stubblefield, is one potential treasure the students hope to find; the remains of a 17th-century tavern that, according to colonial records, once stood on the site.

Meanwhile, the diggers are uncovering hundreds of artifacts for study and display at the museum, ranging from pipe stems and iron nails of colonial farmers to fluted points - chipped, sharpened pieces of stone that archeologists believe were used by prehistoric peoples.

The students' project represents the most significant archeological site work now taking place in Maryland, according to state archeologist Tyler Bastian.

"We're trying not to think too much about the tavern," says Stubblefield, 28, who recently received his master's degree in archeology from GWU. "Because the first purpose of this project is to teach archeology. But locating the tavern would be a really important find."

The students, many of whom enrolled in both of the two four-week field sessions organized for the summer, spent their first week in classrooms at nearly St. Mary's College taking crash lessons in archeological site techniques, Stubblefield said.

The work at the GWU site is relatively simple, Stubblefield said, becasue most of the historic artifacts are buried in what scientists call the "pile zone" area of the soil - the first 15 inches below the ground surface.

Artifacts at archeological digging sites frequently have been wedged many feet below ground by the passage of time and topsoil, Stubblefield said.

After moving to the site, located 50 miles west of Washington near Abell's Wharf, the students started the search for artifacts by digging one-meter-by-one-meter holes in areas where, earlier studies showed there were concentrations of colonial materials.

When artifacts turn up in the smaller holes, Stubblefield said, three-meter-square pits are dug.

So far, after two summer of digging by GWU students, no evidence of the colonial tavern has been turned up, Stubblefield said. But students have stumbled on a trash pit used by Indians of the Woodland period, who lived in the area between 1000 B.C. and 1400 A.D.

Although little is known about these early tribes, Stubblefield said, the trash pits apparently lined small, compact villages like medieval European moats.

Inside the pit, the students discovered crude arrow points, traces of maize corn, and bits of pottery made from molded clay and coarse sand.

The GWU diggers also found small, brown stains in the earth - the residue of wooden poles used by the Indians to construct small, thatched huts.

Traces of an even earlier little known civilization are also scattered throughout the area, Stubblefield said, in the form of crude arrowheads - actually stones sharpened at one end.

These early tools, called fluted points by scientists, have been dated back at least 6,000 years, and archeologists believe that the early people who occupied Abell's Point may have hunted and worked in the area as far back 10,000 years ago, Stubblefield said.

The students are carefully recording all of their funds on field reports, and keep logs of the daily work on the site.

Eventally, the entire area they are digging in will become part of the Potomac River Museum's Archeological Park, which already occupies one portion of Abell's Wharf.

Wooden pavilions will be constructed around the Indian pits - and the tavern, if it is found - and artifacts will be displayed in cases for visitors to examine, Stubblefield said.

In the meantime, the digging will continue for at least one more summer.

"It's hard work," Stubblefield said, "but actually we have it rather easy back as 10,000 years ago, Stubblefield Compared to a lot of sites, this one is rather luxurious, and the view over the bay is beautiful. It's not a bad way to spend the summer."