Hidden in a line of trees just off the Pawpaw Trail sits an old wooden fencepost, rotten with age but still wrapped with barbed wire. No longer in use, this lone piece of fence serves now to remind us of the pastures where farmers felled trees and put up their livestock in the decades before this landscape became Piscataway Park.
Such evidence of human interaction with the landscape has greatly informed our knowledge of this significant place. Since the mid-nineteenth century, a number of archaeologists have explored the areas surrounding Piscataway Park. One 1980 National Park Service report recounts 24 archaeological investigations of the Piscataway Creek area, as people have attempted to piece together this landscape’s past through fragments of stone or bone or clay or glass. What can these unearthed objects tell us about the countless people who have called this place their home?
There were the stone projectile points that trace human interaction with what is now southern Prince George’s County back tens of thousands of years. There were the copper bells, glass beads, and other European trade materials that follow exploration and occupation into the state. And there were the food remains that reveal the hickory, holly, and hackberry that grew in this soil; the squirrel, turkey, and deer that roamed these forests; the freshwater mussels and brackish-dwelling oysters that lined the beds of local waterways; and the sturgeon that swam in the Potomac River.
On a walk through Piscataway Park, what do you see that people before you saw? And what will you leave behind? Whether it is by sitting underneath a centuries-old tree or stumbling upon a decades-old fencepost, the powerful place that surrounds us tells a deep history of land shaping people and people shaping the land.
Trail Treks is a monthly column that explores the walking trails in Piscataway Park. This year, we will highlight the Pawpaw Trail, which is located at the western end of our grounds and leads through a mature forest. Look for more reflections from the Pawpaw Trail as 2012 progresses.