Unusual Finds Along Chesapeake Bay

By Sharon Brubaker

Long, long ago, when dinosaurs roamed the earth and the skies were pierced with cries of enormous birds, something was happening geologically just below the water. Unusual formations in the silt and mud began to take shape that would, millions of years later, reveal themselves and wash up on the shores of the Chesapeake Bay. These “formations,” resembling hollow rock balls, tubes, ocarinas, and more avant-garde shapes, are created from sand, clay, and iron oxide.DSC_0555.jpgWhen my family and I first moved to the shores of the upper Chesapeake and roamed the beaches in search of beach glass, we also began to find peculiar, round, metal-like objects.  We felt certain they were a type of ammunition for guns used during the Revolutionary War because George Washington had munitions created in the Principio Iron Works just a heron’s flight across the bay, near the port of Charlestown.

Being new to the area and excited to show our finds to our neighbors, our newly found friends chuckled and told us that the strange formations were called ‘pop rocks,” small hollow stones of which our neighbors would toss into beach fires and watch them explode. Another neighbor told us that the formations (are) derived from ‘Indian paint pots” and that Native American tribes used the iron oxide inside the stones to paint their faces. But it was not until we met another neighbor, and now long-time friend, Alice Lundgren, that the mystery was solved. The formations, in all their various shapes, are known as “concretions.”

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Alice has a collection of well over a thousand concretions ranging in size from a quarter of an inch to about twelve inches, all of which she has gathered from the bay. Alice was a true inspiration to my family and me, and we soon joined forces to not only hunt for sea glass, but to eagerly search for concretions. These unusual rock formations date back to the late Cretaceous and Eocene eras.  Even more fascinating than the “pop rocks” are tubular rocks. The tubular concretions are iron oxide formations that reflect a pipe-like structure.

When we go exploring along our nearby beach, Alice, a seasoned concretion seeker, has the ability to spot the stone tubes instantly, yet the rest of us are not so fortunate, as the finds appear camouflaged to the untrained eye. Some of the concretions boast unique shapes, such as small cups, snowmen, and acorns while the tubular concretions often resemble coral, branches, and even small musical pipes (although they do not carry a tune))! Similar to sea glass, each concretion seems to carry its own story and personality.

Having been formed millions of years ago from sedimentary rock, concretions have been significant and mystical to many cultures. Some cultures believe them to be holy stones while other cultures believe the stones bring luck, or perhaps represent the divine feminine. However, theories of modern science suggest the concretions are fossils or meteorites.

As beachcombers, we are treasure-hunters.  We are always seeking the next great find. The Shard of the Year Contest, which is one of the highlights of the North American Sea Glass Association’s annual Festival, would be ideal opportunity to view both natural and manmade treasures (this year’s North American Sea Glass Festival will be held in Wildwood, New Jersey on October 27 – 28).

*Many thanks to Alice Lundgren for sharing her collection of concretions, and to Meredith Keating and Brandon Boas for their photography.

 

 

Meet NASGA’s 2015 Sea Glass Festival Lecturer, Patricia Samford

The North American Sea Glass Association’s 10th Annual Sea Glass Festival in Ocean City, Maryland will be held August 29-30th, 2015 and will feature three lectures on Saturday.  Each of the lectures will offer attendees a unique look into the historical significance of objects found along the region’s DelMarVa shorelines, and we’ll also have a lecture on Greek Sea Glass.

Patricia Samford, Director, MAC Lab
Patricia Samford, Director, MAC Lab

The first lecturer featured is Patricia Samford, from the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Lab (MAC Lab) located in southern Maryland.  The MAC Lab is a state-of-the-art archaeological research, conservation, and curation facility located at Jefferson Patterson Park & Museum, the State Museum of Archaeology, in southern Maryland. The MAC Lab serves as a clearinghouse for archaeological collections recovered from land-based and underwater projects conducted by State and Federal agencies throughout Maryland.

 

NASGA: Patricia, thank you for participating in the North American Sea Glass Association’s 10th Annual Sea Glass Festival in Ocean City, both as a presenter, and as a Shard ID expert on Saturday and Sunday.  We’re excited to have you join us this year. 

 NASGA: You’ve studied both land and marine archaeology, specializing in ceramics and pottery. What is your favorite part about doing what you do?

 The Maryland Archaeological Conservation Lab, where I work, has over 8 million archaeological artifacts from across the state.  Ceramics and glass make up a good portion of the collections from sites that date after European contact.  Having those collections at my fingertips and being able to share them with the public through our Diagnostic Artifacts in Maryland website (http://www.jefpat.org/diagnostic/index.htm) is one of my favorite parts of my job.

NASGA: Is there a favorite beach that you like to frequent and refer to it as “your beach?”

My favorite beaches would have to be those of the Outer Banks of North Carolina.  I have not found that much sea glass there, but I am intrigued by all the shipwrecks off these shores, often referred to as “the graveyard of the Atlantic”.

MAC Lab Director Patricia Samford shows CSM President Brad Gottfried a canoe dating to 210 A.D. which is currently in the freeze drier to preserve it. The canoe has been soaked in a special solution that helps the cells retain their shape during the freeze-drying process. The vacuum removes the moisture as vapor through sublimation. The canoe will be weighed weekly and when the canoe's weight stabilizes the freeze drying is complete.
MAC Lab Director Patricia Samford shows College of Southern Maryland President Brad Gottfried a canoe dating to 210 A.D. which is currently in the freeze drier to preserve it. The canoe has been soaked in a special solution that helps the cells retain their shape during the freeze-drying process. The vacuum removes the moisture as vapor through sublimation. The canoe will be weighed weekly and when the canoe’s weight stabilizes the freeze drying is complete.                                                                    Photo Credits: College of Southern Maryland

NASGA: You’ve traveled to many different places and walked many beaches during your travels. Where is your favorite place to collect?

I will be traveling to Scotland this summer and I look forward to beachcombing in the Outer Hebrides.  I hear that British sea glass is a rare treat!

 NASGA: Do you have any beaches on your “bucket list?” 

 I would love to visit Glass Beach near Fort Bragg, California.  The photographs I have seen of this beach are amazing.

 

NASGA: Do you have a memorable beach-combing experience you can share with us?   And what did you find?

 This was not beachcombing per se, but I lived in a small town in North Carolina on a tidal creek.  A nor’easter blew the water out of the creek and a friend and I were able to walk out on the creek bottom and pick up pieces of pottery from the 1700 and early 1800s, when the townspeople used the creek as their trash dump.

 NASGA: Aside from collecting and aside from your expert experiences, what are some of your other interests or hobbies? 

 I love to travel and have quite a few countries I would like to visit (not all of them with beaches!).  I also enjoy reading about the past and imagining what life was like to past generations.

 NASGA: Thank you for sharing your story.  We’re looking forward to the Ocean City festival and your presentation and expertise in ceramics and pottery. 

Patricia Samford’s Lecture Information:                                                                         Beyond Sea Glass: Identifying Sea Pottery
Saturday, August 29th   1pm – 2PM
Patricia Samford, Director, Maryland Archaeological Conservation Lab, Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum, St. Leonard, Maryland

Patricia Samford

Tucked away amongst the fragments of beautiful beach glass you have picked up over the years, there are probably more than a few fragments of pottery as well. Have you ever wondered how to identify and date them? If so, be sure to attend a talk given by Maryland Archaeological Conservation Lab Director, Patricia Samford. Using examples of colonial and post-colonial pottery from the Lab’s collections, Dr. Samford will provide tips for identifying and dating your pieces based on paste color, hardness and decoration. Patricia will also be on hand all weekend long as a Shard ID expert. Attendees are welcome to bring their sea pottery for identification.