News Release, Historic St.Mary’s City
St. Mary’s City, MD- On January 10, 2020, in Boston, Massachusetts, Historic St. Mary’s City (HSMC) archaeologist Henry M. Miller received the J. C. Harrington Award from the Society for Historical Archaeology. It is the highest international award for the profession of historical archaeology. Named for J. C. “Pinky” Harrington, a founder of the field who conducted early work at Jamestown, Yorktown and other sites for the National Park Service, the award is given for scholarly contributions to the field.
Since its initiation in 1981, only 35 people have received this award. Miller began at St. Mary’s City in 1972 and later served as the museum’s Archaeology Curator and Director of Research. Beginning in 2015, he became the first Maryland Heritage Scholar.
He has also long been an Adjunct Professor of Anthropology at St. Mary’s College, teaching his first class there in 1974.
Much of Miller’s career has been devoted to early Maryland and its first capital of St. Mary’s City. His efforts have resulted in the discovery that the city was not the scattered gaggle of buildings as was assumed by historians but an elaborately planned urban place, laid out using new and sophisticated ideas of baroque planning. Among his major projects was the excavation of Chapel Field, which led to the finding of Andrew White’s 1635 wooden chapel, the impressive 1660s Brick Chapel, and an early rectory.
This work also led to the remarkable discovery of three lead coffins buried inside the brick church in 1990. The lead coffins were investigated in 1992 as part of a major scientific project involving 150 scientists, historians, chemists, and other specialists which brought international attention to St. Mary’s City and led to the identification of the coffin occupants as members of Maryland’s founding family – the Calverts.
A major part of Miller’s working life has been devoted to converting archaeological and historical findings into interpretations for the public. This involves the analysis, design, and reconstruction of 17th-century structures including the 1660s Brick Chapel, Smith’s Ordinary, Cordea’s Hope, the Print House, the Van Sweringen site, and converting the St. John’s archaeological site into a major exhibit building.
Miller has also worked on the creation of numerous exhibits at St. Mary’s as well as those at Jamestown, Colonial Williamsburg, the Maryland Historical Society, and the very successful Written in Bone exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution.
Besides decades of work in Maryland, Miller has excavated sites and conducted an analysis in Arkansas, Michigan, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia, and Ireland. The Irish work involved the first exploration of George Calvert’s Clohamon manor, established in County Wexford in southeast Ireland by Lord Baltimore in 1625. Miller also spent a year teaching and conducting research at the Centre for Medieval and Renaissance Studies at Oxford University.
Among Miller’s long term interests are the environment and food. This led to his doctoral dissertation which conducted the first large scale analysis of food remains from colonial sites in the Chesapeake region. This work not only explored the changing nature of the colonial diet over the 1600s and 1700s but yielded valuable insight into the natural environment in the early Chesapeake and how colonial activities began to change it.
One notable source of ecological evidence long ignored by archaeologists were oyster shells. Miller worked with ecologist Brett Kent and archaeologist Michael Smolek to unravel the secrets of the shells, leading to the analytic guide “Making Dead Oyster’s Talk” in 1990. Oysters are now a significant source of ecological data about the past estuarine habitats due to this effort. Miller’s food interests include colonial recipes and research on Southern Maryland’s famed stuffed ham, resulting in a Bon Appetite magazine article featuring Southern Maryland cuisine.
Miller continues to conduct research and write about Maryland history and archaeology for Historic St. Mary’s City with one book in the press and two more planned. He and his wife Carol live in Hollywood.