Higgins (18AN489)

The Higgins Site (18AN489) is a multi-component prehistoric site located near the Baltimore-Washington International Airport in Anne Arundel County, Maryland. This site is especially important because of a surviving intact Paleoindian deposit, one of the few from this era in the state. The site was also occupied throughout the Archaic Period into the Early Woodland Period.

Twenty-six features and sealed levels were excavated at the Higgins Site, spanning approximately 9,000 years and adding valuable information about the earliest phases of Native American life in the Middle Atlantic region. The Paleoindian remains at 18AN489 are highly significant because they represent the only excavated sample from an undisturbed subsurface context in Maryland’s Western Shore region. In addition, few sites containing intact remains from the Archaic Period have been excavated in this area. The materials from the Higgins Site have the potential to yield important data about the processes of site formation and function, environmental adaptation, and prehistoric subsistence, settlement, and technology in Maryland.

The Higgins Site had been known among collectors for many years. Professional archaeologists examined the site beginning in 1978, prior to construction at the Baltimore-Washington International Airport (BWI). During the Phase I project conducted by Dennis C. Curry and Spencer O. Geasey of the Maryland Geological Survey, 43 shovel tests were excavated, revealing intact deposits below the plow zone.

In 1987 and 1988, the Maryland Geological Survey conducted Phase II excavations to determine site boundaries more precisely and to test the integrity and nature of the deposits. One hundred seventy-six shovel tests, measuring 50 cm in diameter, were excavated to sterile subsoil. Soil was screened through ¼-inch mesh, and all artifacts were collected by stratigraphic level. Seven one-by-one-meter test units were subsequently excavated, with placement based on the distribution of selected artifact types and soil anomalies in the shovel tests. Vertical control consisted of 5cm arbitrary levels within natural stratigraphy. Tools, cores, and fire-cracked rock were pedestalled and piece-plotted. The Phase II investigations demonstrated the presence of at least three significant, intact, sub-plow zone deposits within the seven acre project area.

Phase III excavations were conducted in 1988 by Carol Ebright. A total of 221 square meters were excavated in three blocks, exposing activity areas from different prehistoric occupations. Since clear evidence of stratification was not found in the Phase II test units, the thickness of levels within natural stratigraphy was increased to 10cm intervals. All blocks were excavated in one-by-one meter square units, and all artifacts, except flakes, were pedestalled and recorded within their 10 centimeter level.

Once subsoil was encountered, each unit was divided and excavated in fifty-by-fifty centimeter quadrants. All soil was screened through ¼-inch mesh and excavated to the base of cultural deposits. Due to leached sandy soil and lack of organic preservation, features were identified by clusters of artifacts, not changes in soil color. Phase III investigations uncovered numerous occupation areas, some with subsurface features, from the Paleoindian through the Early Woodland Periods.

Additional Phase I and II testing was conducted at the Higgins Site in 1992. The goal of these investigations was to determine if intact portions of the Higgins Site existed east of a nearby highway, and to evaluate vertical and horizontal integrity in that area.

Within a 5.5 acre parcel, shovel tests 50 centimeters in diameter were excavated at 15 meter intervals into sterile subsoil and screened through ¼-inch mesh. Eight test units were placed in areas where the 89 shovel test pits suggested concentrations of prehistoric artifacts. As with the Phase III investigation, all subsoil was removed in 10 cm arbitrary levels in the test units. Excavations revealed intact prehistoric deposits dating from the Early and Middle Archaic and the Terminal Archaic/Early Woodland Transition periods.

(Edited from Archaeological Collections in Maryland)


  • Ebright, Carol A.
  • 1992. Early Native American Prehistory on the Maryland Western Shore: Archeological Investigations at the Higgins Site. 3 vols. MGS File Report No. 250.
  • Ebright, Carol A.
  • 1993. Phase I and II Archeological Testing on the Eastern Portion of the Higgins Site, Amtrak Parking Expansion at BWI Airport, Anne Arundel County, Maryland. SHA Archeological Report No. 72.

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