A University of Maryland archaeological team has uncovered traces of a very early log road deep under an Annapolis street – the first ever found in the city and perhaps one of the oldest such finds in the Washington, D.C. area. The discovery comes in the midst of Annapolis’ 300th anniversary.
“We’re getting a very rare glimpse of the Annapolis waterfront as it existed 300 years ago,” says University of Maryland archaeologist Mark Leone, who directs the Archaeology in Annapolis project. “Very little of the city survives intact from the first quarter of the 18th century, and almost nothing from the late 17th century. These log roads existed in a number of places, but very few have survived so long. No others have been found in Annapolis and none of comparable age in Maryland.”
The logs were discovered four feet under Fleet Street in the Annapolis Historic District, once the site of the city’s early waterfront. The city Department of Public Works is paying for the Fleet/Cornhill archaeological excavation ahead of a project to lay underground utility cables.
“Wood rots fast, but this was a marshy area so the logs became waterlogged,” Leone says. “That’s what saved them. The road was probably designed to help people and freight maneuver through the mud.”
The road consists of six parallel, shaped logs, each about an inch and a half apart.
The logs are flat on the top and sides, curved on the bottom. So far about three feet worth of road has been discovered, and the researchers hope to continue their excavation to see how far it extends.
“It is truly serendipitous to uncover another piece of our city’s beginnings just as we celebrate our 300th birthday,” says Annapolis Mayor Ellen Moyer, one of the main partners with the University of Maryland in the archaeological work in the historic district. “These artifacts are important because they help us visualize what this area looked like around the time of the city’s charter. They create a vivid image.”
The Maryland archaeologists date the corduroy road to at least the early 18th century, based on pottery discovered nearby. But local Annapolis historians Tony Lindauer and Jane McWilliams say it could be even older.
“This pathway may date back as far as 1684 when Annapolis was a settlement, not a city,” says McWilliams. “A town plan was drawn up in that year, though no map of it survives, only a few cryptic sentences. But based on existing documentary evidence, it is possible that today’s Fleet Street corresponds with a road on the 1684 town plan. I can’t say with certainty that what the archaeologists have found dates from these very early years, but I believe the potential is strong enough for everyone involved to give it serious attention. Further research and excavation is definitely warranted.”
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