Posey (18CH281)


The Posey Site (18CH281) is located near Mattawoman Creek in Charles County, Maryland, aboard what is now the Naval Surface Warfare Center–Indian Head Division. The site was initially identified in 1963 by Navy chemist Calvert Posey in an area that had been damaged by an earlier explosion at Indian Head’s Biazzi Nitration Plant, where nitroglycerin was manufactured. In 1985, the site was tested by William Barse as part of a much larger archaeological survey of the Indian Head facility. The site was investigated more extensively in 1996 by staff from Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum, under the direction of Julia A. King and Edward E. Chaney.

Artifacts recovered from the Posey Site indicate the presence of a small, single-occupation component, probably Native American, dating to the period between 1650 and 1700, although the exact size of the original settlement is uncertain because portions of the site were destroyed by later construction. Systematic shovel testing around the site suggests that, unlike the Camden Site (44CE3) on the south side of the Rappahannock River, the Posey Site was a relatively isolated domestic settlement, although other Native American occupations are no doubt present in the area along Mattawoman Creek that was reserved for Indian use in the 17th century.

Historical research suggests that the Indians living at Posey were likely Mattawoman, a component group of the Piscataway Indians. The land containing the site had been granted by Lord Baltimore to Thomas Cornwallis in 1636, and was re-patented by Cornwallis in 1654, although there is no evidence any Europeans were living in the area by that time. In October 1665, Nancotamon, one of the great men of Mattawoman, came before the Maryland Provincial Council and asked what his people should do, whether they should “remove further into the woods or to remayne upon the land where they now or lately lived,” presumably in this portion of Charles County. In response, the Council ordered the metes and bounds of the “ould habitations” of the Mattawoman surveyed, and, in the interest of peace and safety, forbade any Englishman from taking up lands within those boundaries. The Council further declared that any Englishman so settling risked imprisonment.

Portion of Hermann map

For the next several years, the English government worked toward protecting Indigenous lands in this area. In particular, the Provincial Council forbade settlement between the heads of Mattawoman and Piscataway creeks until portions of the lands had been officially allotted to the Mattawoman. Significantly, this is the area including the Posey site. Augustine Herman’s map of Maryland and Virginia, which was completed in 1670 and published in 1673, shows three longhouse structures in the vicinity, although not in the exact location of the Posey site. Significantly, Herman’s map also shows encroaching English settlements on the south side of Mattawoman Creek. Researchers have cautioned that Herman’s map, while impressively accurate, should not be taken literally. Still, the map does suggest English settlement very nearby at the end of the third quarter of the 17th century.

Following Cornwallis’ death in the late 1670s, his land was willed to his wife, Penelope. The widow Cornwallis sold Mattawoman Neck in 1688 to Captain Edward Pye. One of the instruments of transfer recognizes that the land was “now in possession of Indians.” Although twenty-five years previously the Provincial Council had made concerted efforts to protect Indigenous settlements in this area, such issues do not seem to have been a concern when Pye acquired the land. Nonetheless, the Indians living on the tract may have been left alone, at least for a while. In 1695, the colonial government pondered how it might convince Indigenous people living in that area to allow some English settlement, thereby increasing the production of tobacco.

It is about this time—the end of the 17th century—that the Posey site appears to have been vacated.

Archaeological Investigations

Barse excavation block.

Following the site’s discovery in 1963, Calvert Posey and his colleagues excavated a large number of artifacts from it. They uncovered a number of features, including house patterns and storage pits, at least some which were apparently excavated. A brief report by Posey (n.d.) describes—without quantifying—some of the artifacts he found, including Native and European pottery, red and white clay pipes (including one he claims bore a 1618 date mark), copper and stone triangular points, iron nails, lead shot, shell beads, and large amounts of wild animal bone. No field maps or notes on this work are known to exist. The collections from this effort remain in the possession of the Posey heirs.

In 1985, William Barse excavated a total of 11.5 square meters, including a block excavation measuring 4 by 2 meters and three additional units. At the base of plow zone in the block excavation, Barse recorded 17 features, including 16 post molds and a small pit. Several features were tested. Barse concluded that the Posey Site was first occupied by Indigenous people just prior to the arrival of Europeans, and continued to be occupied for an unknown period of time following the English settlement of Maryland. The overwhelming majority of recovered artifacts included materials produced by Native Americans, although a small amount of European material was also recovered. Barse interpreted these European artifacts as trade goods.

Excavation units and 1985 excavation block photographed facing northeast, showing possible filled ravine head (Courtesy Naval Support Facility Indian Head, Naval District Washington)
Excavation units photographed facing south showing amorphous midden feature (Courtesy Naval Support Facility Indian Head, Naval District Washington)


Julia King and Edward Chaney returned to the site in 1996 in an effort to identify the spatial and chronological boundaries of the site as precisely as possible, and to collect evidence useful for interpreting Indian lifeways in 17th-century Maryland. A total of 510 shovel tests were excavated at intervals of eight meters over an area measuring approximately 9.9 acres. Fill from the shovel tests was screened through ¼-inch hardware cloth. Thirty-seven 1.5-by-1.5-meter units were subsequently excavated within the boundaries of the site as established by the shovel testing. The plow zone from these units was screened through ¼-inch mesh. A 25-by-25-cm column sample was taken from each unit and water-screened through fine mesh in an effort to recover beads and other small artifacts and faunal remains.

Seven discrete features, including five post molds, a pit, and an unidentified feature, along with one large midden deposit, were identified below the plow zone. The post molds were mapped, sectioned, excavated, and the profiles recorded, all suggesting posts driven into the surrounding subsoil. The large midden feature was linear in places and amorphous in others, and may represent the head of a ravine used to discard refuse. Eight sections were excavated in an effort to document the feature’s shape, stratigraphy, and artifact content. Most of these sections were water-screened, although several samples were retained for flotation. The feature’s fill contained a rich assemblage of cultural material, including artifacts of Indigenous and European manufacture. The feature itself was relatively shallow (10 to 20 cm in depth) with a sloped, basin shaped bottom.

Louis Berger and Associates conducted additional testing at the site in 2012, including the excavation of one test unit in the site core and 43 shovel tests on the north side of Braggs Road, none of which were positive. Materials recovered from the Berger work are not included in the database.


More than 11,000 materials, including artifacts, shell, and animal bone, were recovered during the 1996 investigations, from both shovel tests and excavation units. Slightly more than 1,500 objects are included in the collection that were generated by the excavations undertaken by Barse in 1985. Among these artifacts are Indigenous and European ceramics, red and white clay tobacco pipe fragments, glass, lithic tools and debitage, nails and other metal objects, bone, shell, and relatively large numbers of materials apparently related to Navy construction activities and the Biazzi Plant explosion.

Ceramics include nearly 3,000 fragments of Native-made ceramics, predominantly Potomac Creek wares, although small amounts of Yeocomico, Camden, Moyoane, and Accokeek ceramics are also present in the collection. More than 90 percent of the Potomac Creek fargments are of the plain variety, suggesting a 17th-century date of manufacture. At least 47 Potomac Creek vessels are represented in the collection. Wheel-thrown ceramics of European manufacture number less than 70 fragments, represented primarily by tin-glazed earthenware. Other European types present include Rhenish brown stoneware, Rhenish blue and gray stoneware, black lead-glazed earthenware, and five fragments of Challis-like earthenware.

Both Native-made and European white clay tobacco pipe fragments were recovered from the site, although in small numbers when compared with contemporary sites occupied by the Chesapeake English. All of the red tobacco pipe fragments appear to derive from hand-made, Native-type smoking pipes.

Lithic artifacts include tools, debitage, and fire-cracked rock. Stone types include quartz, quartzite, chert, rhyolite, and European flint. Indeed, while quartz was the most common stone type at approximately 63 percent, European flint formed 18 percent of the lithic assemblage. Much of this flint consisted of debitage, although two gunflints and a cutting tool were made of European flint.

Thirty-eight copper alloy fragments were recovered from the site, including triangles, rolled cones, and scraps or fragments. At least one of these triangles was clearly intended as a projectile point, made of two layers of metal with a deep basal notch terminating in a round perforation near the artifact’s center. The remaining five triangles were flat, and two had perforations in their centers. They too may have functioned as points, although an ornamental usage may also be suggested. Two copper alloy cones were also recovered.

Lead or pewter artifacts include several pieces of shot, a hemispherical button, and a tongue-shaped piece of lead sheet identified as possibly a pad to help secure a gunflint within the lock of a musket or other firearm. A small fragment of possible lead sprue and a small unidentified cylindrical object were also recovered.

Iron artifacts include nails and nail fragments, a knife blade, a possible furniture or architectural fragment, and numerous pieces of unidentified iron. Seventy-nine wrought nails or nail fragments were recovered, all in advanced stages of deterioration. Two nails appear to have been deliberately clinched, which suggests that these artifacts had been driven into boards and then bent or folded over for extra holding power and safety.

A buckle fragment of unidentified metal was also recovered.

Glass artifacts include colonial bottle fragments (including two nearly complete case bottle kick-ups), three beads, and four buttons with remnant metal shanks. One of these buttons has a white, star-shaped white glass inlay on its upper surface, and is identical to buttons recovered from the Burle's Town Land Site (18AN826). A similar button is depicted in a mid-16th-century portrait of an English woman, but it is unclear if the button recovered from the Posey site was used by the site's occupants as a clothing fastener.

Bone artifacts include fragments of a bone comb and a bone needle fragment. The bone comb pieces come from the same object. A relatively large number of tubular (peake) and disk (roanoke) shell beads were also recovered from the site as a result of the effort to collect and water-screen column samples from the plow zone. Several bead blanks provide evidence that shell beads were probably being manufactured on site.

Although the animal bone recovered from the Posey Site was considerably fragmented, and much of it had been recovered from plow- and Navy-disturbed contexts, samples were submitted for zooarchaeological analysis. David Landon fount that the assemblage contains a wide range of species representing many of the resources in the rich environment of the Chesapeake Bay estuary—fish, shellfish, aquatic and land turtles, terrestrial mammals (especially deer), and semi-aquatic mammals. However, bird bones are absent from the assemblage. When compared with faunal assemblages recovered from pre-1600 Indigenous sites, the Posey site faunal assemblage is similar to these collections—aquatic and terrestrial mammals, turtles, and fish, but few birds. When compared with assemblages recovered from contemporary sites occupied by the Chesapeake English, however, the differences are striking. The only European domesticate in the assemblage consists of a few small fragments of pig bone, an animal that could have been easily acquired through trade or retaliation for crop damage.

Grace Brush of Johns Hopkins University collected and analyzed two soil cores from Mattawoman Creek near the site. Both were as interesting for what they did not reveal about the site as much as for what they suggested. Both cores were dominated by pine and wetland species, and there was no distinction between pre- and post-colonial vegetation, as has been seen in other areas. There was no evidence of deforestation or other effects on wetland species caused by European agricultural practices, even in the later 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries. In part this may be due to the difficulty of distinguishing ragweed from marsh elder pollen; still ragweed (or marsh elder) pollen is present throughout these cores, the dates of which range back to approximately the mid- to late 14th century.


Barse, William P. 1985. A Preliminary Archaeological Reconnaissance Survey of the Naval Ordnance Station, Indian Head, Maryland, Volume I: Cornwallis Neck, Bullitt Neck and Thoroughfare Island. Draft report prepared for the Department of the Navy, Chesapeake Division, Naval Facilities Command.

Brush, Grace S. 1997. Pollen Study of Two Sediment Cores from Mattawoman Creek, Maryland. Prepared for the Department of Research, Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum, St. Leonard.

Galke, Laura J. 2004. Perspectives on the Use of European Material Culture at Two Mid-to-Late 17th-Century Native American Sites in the Chesapeake. North American Archaeologist 25(1):91-113.

Harmon, James M. 1999. Archaeological Investigations at the Posey Site (18CH281) and 18CH282, Indian Head Division, Naval Surface Warfare Center, Charles County, Maryland. Draft manuscript on file, Maryland Archaeological Conservation Laboratory, Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum, St. Leonard.

Katz, Gregory, and Charles LeeDecker. 2012. Phase I Survey for Riverwater Line Replacement at the Posey Site (18CH281), Naval Support Facility Indian Head, Charles County, Maryland. Ms. on file, Maryland Archaeological Conservation Laboratory, Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum, St. Leonard.

Landon, David B., and Andrea Shapiro. 1998. Analysis of Faunal Remains from the Posey Site (18CH281). Prepared for the Department of Research, Maryland Archaeological Conservation Laboratory, Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum, St. Leonard.

Posey, Calvert R., Sr. n.d. Matiwataquamend: An Indian Village on the Indian Head Peninsula of the Mattawoman Creek. Ms. on file, Maryland Archaeological Conservation Laboratory, Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum, St. Leonard.

What You Need To Know To Use This Collection

  • The Posey site was occupied from c. 1650 until 1690.
  • The site was discovered during a chemical explosion.
  • Excavations were undertaken at the site in 1985, 1966, and 2012.
  • Efforts were made in 1996 to use the 1985 grid. No points were left behind in 1985 so the grid fit is approximate.
  • Materials from the 2012 excavations are not included in the database.
  • Plow zone was recovered and screened through 1/4-inch mesh and window screen.

Further Information About the Collection

The Posey Site archaeological collection is owned by the U.S. Navy and curated by the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Laboratory. For more information about the collection and collection access, contact Sara Rivers Cofield, Federal Collections Manager, at 410-586-8589; email Sara.Rivers-Cofield@md.gov.

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