You might not realize it, but there's history right under your feet.
At hundreds of sites throughout Prince George's County, archaeologists are shoveling up clues about how people lived hundreds of years ago.
The excavations "really show the range and diversity of the past cultures of Prince George's County--from Native American and colonial settlements to the very rich African American culture," says Donald Creveling, an archaeologist with the county Parks and Recreation Department.
At these sites, county archaeologists work side by side with volunteers and high school interns. Five days a week, group members can be found on theirhands and knees, dressed in work boots and jeans, boring into the earth with shovels and trowels. "We actively engage the community in discovering their past," Creveling says.
The public can see what some of these excavations have yielded at "Lost and Found," an archaeological exhibit now on display at the Surratt House Museum in Clinton. The show includes bits and pieces of county history--from buttons to arrowheads, pieces of clothing to animal bones.
The finds on display come from three sites: the burial vault at Darnall's Chance, a colonial plantation home in Upper Marlboro; the mid- to late 19th-century slave quarters at Mitchellville's Northampton plantation; and the original county seat at Mount Calvert, then called Charles Town (the seat was relocated to Upper Marlboro in 1721).
For a week in July, the Surratt House Museum itself was one of the county's archaeological sites. The museum plans to build a Civil War research center on an adjacent lot but asked county archaeologists to excavate the site before construction began.
"I would love to find one of those privy holes," Surratt House Museum curator Laurie Verge said before the excavation. (Privies, where families dumped their trash, are the archaeological equivalent of striking gold.) But a week of digging yielded nothing.
Of course, the site of the exhibit already has a place in history: The Surratt House is famed for its role in the Lincoln assassination. As John Wilkes Booth fled Ford's Theatre in Washington, he made a pit stop at the red, two-story wooden tavern of alleged co-conspirator Mary Surratt. The "Lost and Found" exhibit is in the room next to the second-floor attic where guns and ammunition were hidden by a group of Booth's confederates.
The artifacts on display in "Lost and Found" range from prehistoric to relatively contemporary. They include Native American axes, spearheads, arrow points and pottery fragments found at the Charles Town dig. From the Darnall's Chance burial vault, there are fragments of glass, toys and clothing, and from the Northampton slave quarters, there are buttons, toys, beads, cowrie shells and ivory combs.
Accompanying the Northampton relics are photographs of hundreds of descendants of one of its slaves, Elizabeth Hawkins. During the last 10 years, many of those descendants have volunteered to help archaeologists dig at the site (the ruins of the 18th-century house and several outbuildings are in the Lake Arbor community). Family members plan to return and help complete the excavation next month. By fall, Creveling hopes to dedicate a park there.
"It's my favorite site," Creveling says of the Northampton slave quarters. "Not only are we adding to our knowledge of African American history, but we're working with this family as they literally dig up their own past."
"Lost and Found" is on view through Aug. 29 at the Surratt House Museum, 9118 Brandywine Rd., Clinton. The museum is open 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Thursday and Friday; noon to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Admission is $3. Call 301-868-1121.