By Denise Chow / nbcnews.com

Buried underground in the middle of an open field, roughly a half-mile inland from St. Mary’s River, archaeologists have discovered the remains of Maryland’s earliest colonial site, a 387-year-old fort that was erected by European settlers in 1634.

The site, known as St. Mary’s Fort, was the fourth English colony established in the United States and was home to approximately 150 settlers. The recent discovery is the culmination of a decadeslong search and could reveal intriguing new details about the first wave of European colonists in Maryland and those who were there before them, said archaeologist Travis Parno, director of research and collections for Historic St. Mary’s City, where the fort is located.

“There are a lot of cross-colonial and cross-cultural things that we can learn,” Parno said. “Not just how we compare to other places, but how the colony expanded and those really complicated social and political relationships between Native populations and the colonists, and also between different groups of Native peoples.”

Parno said early excavations have indicated the site is well preserved. The fort was constructed of wood, which means that unlike with stone, brick and other types of masonry that can be uncovered, archaeologists instead have to look for clues in what remains in the soil.

“It’s kind of a mixture of art and science because you have to excavate and look at stains in the soil left behind by wood that was there in the past,” Parno said.

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