Iroquois, Catawba and Piscataway indians roamed the hills and stream valleys of Frederick County for centuries before the first white settlers arrived here and began forcing the tribes to move west in the early 1700s.

More than 200 years later, station wagons have replaced ox-drawn wagons, but the settlers are still coming, and in at least one case, state officials say they once again are threatening to plow indian culture under.

A Frederick developer is building 461 town houses and detached homes on a 160-acre tract along the Monacacy River that may be the site of an ancient indian village that flourished anywhere from 1,000 to 10,000 years ago.

So far, the developer has refused to let scientists excavate the site to determine its archeological significance, and state officials are worried that they may lose a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to discover more about the indians that once roamed the region.

"We're a little discouraged," said Richard Hughes, state administrator of archeology for the Maryland Historical Trust.

"We know of at least one site there that's considered to have a high potential . . . for rich deposits that would be very valuable for research," he said.

The Ausherman Construction Co., which is developing the site off of state Route 26 about 37 miles west of Washington, already has begun building town houses as part of a subdivision known as "Waterside."

Company President Marvin E. Ausherman was out of town and unavailable for comment this week. But he previously told reporters that he was concerned about the cost of delaying development to allow the archeological dig.

State officials said Ausherman agreed to meet with them to discuss the situation, but as of this week, nothing further had developed.

The Waterside property was identified as a potentially significant archeological site by a 1982 study conducted by state archeologists. No further work has been done to confirm the finding, and state officials are anxious to resolve the question before the bulldozers move in.

"The study indentified this area as having extremely high potential for the presence of villages spanning the full time range from prehistoric to the arrival of European settlers," said Hughes. "It's relatively rare to come across a site like this."

The river's presence nearby holds out the promise that artifacts were buried in silt. If that is the case, they probably are well preserved and relatively undisturbed, despite the passage of centuries, he said.

If the site was intensively settled by Indians, it could yield an array of stone tools, ceramics, arrowheads and possibly human remains that would shed light on the health, diet and migratory patterns of the early inhabitants.

Under federal law, developers who use federal money in their projects or who are licensed by the federal government must consider the project's affects on historic or archeological resources.

If sites are deemed significant, they can be added to the national register of historic places and preserved, the state archeologist said.

Ausherman sought Veterans Administration loan guarantees for the project, but withdrew his application after the state asked him to spend up to $20,000 to help fund a study of the site.

The development is now funded entirely with private money, which leaves the state with little leverage to compel the study or excavation, Hughes said.

The Maryland General Assembly recently passed a law requiring state agencies to consider the importance of archeological resources when they undertake construction projects, but private developers are not covered by the measure.

The Maryland Historical Trust typically reviews 2,000 federal, state and local projects a year to determine whether anything of historical or archeological signficance is threatened.

In all but a few of cases, no further study is required. When something does arise, the agency usually negotiates an arrangement with the developer, who normally funds the work, Hughes said.

"We always try to work with developers to avoid delays and large expenses," said Hughes. "The situation is unfortunate, but I'm still hopeful [Ausherman] will allow some investigation back there."