Syphilis, Small Pox, and Scurvy! Oh My!

Featured Fragment – Riverfront Bottle

By Kerry González 

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Hand-finished bottle recovered by the Dovetail team

Dovetail Cultural Resource Group recovered this hand-finished bottle from a Civil War context (shown to the left) during an excavation in October 2015. The site, 44SP0069-0001, is located in the City of Fredericksburg and dates to the mid-eighteenth through early-twentieth century. The finish on this bottle is hand tooled, and the bottle itself was mouth blown into a dip mold and displays an intact cork. As part of the laboratory process, Dovetail x-rayed the bottle (shown below), which revealed the presence of residue of the original concoction within the bottle. Ruth Armitage of Eastern Michigan University’s chemistry department then analyzed the contents of this artifact along with student, Mishka Repaska. They found traces of turpentine, mercury, and possibly animal fat within the sealed bottle. Given the presence of mercury, along with the shape of the bottle, it is believed to be representative of a patent medicine.

This is not an uncommon find on an archaeological site as patent medicines were prolific throughout the nineteenth century. During this time most recipes were not patented and were usually nothing more than a couple of extracts with high doses of alcohol (Hagley 2016). Producing and selling these medicines was a major industry in America during the nineteenth century, all claiming to cure numerous kinds of ailments (Hagley 2016). Although the exact use of this particular medicine is not known, Civil War soldiers often carried similar bottles with them to cure a variety of ailments such as syphilis, diarrhea, small pox and scurvy.

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X-rayed bottle revealing residue

 

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Image capturing the devastating effect of syphilis during the Civil War. Lowry 1994

 

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Image capturing the devastating effect of syphilis during the Civil War. Lowry 1994

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Informative Links:
http://www.hagley.org/online_exhibits/patentmed/history//history.html 

Image(s) Source:
Lowry, Thomas P.
The Story the Soldiers Wouldn’t Tell: Sex in the Civil War. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 1994.

Greenfield Token

Featured Fragment – Political Puzzler

By Kerry S. González

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Top Row: Token recovered by Dovetail during excavations at Greenfield Plantation. Bottom Row: token in mint condition showing intact ferrotype.

During the winter of 2015 and 2016 Dovetail conducted archaeological excavations on Greenfield Plantation in Botetourt County, Virginia. Over 3,000 artifacts were recovered as part of this study, many of which were personal in nature. For this month’s blog post we would like to highlight one of the more interesting pieces. Within a subfloor pit, located on the interior of a slave cabin, a political token was recovered from the pit fill. This particular token bears a date of 1860 with the faces and names of presidential candidate Stephen Douglas and his running mate, Hershel Johnson. These tokens were typically pierced and suspended from clothing or the body, not unlike political buttons worn today. The images on either side of the token are ferrotypes, a type of photograph developed on a thin piece of metal coated with a lacquer or enamel. While the ferrotype is masked by corrosion, a quick internet search revealed what is under the rust.

While finding an artifact that is a direct reflection of someone’s political standing is interesting, what is even more intriguing is finding political paraphernalia related to a candidate that was complicit in the expansion of slavery within an enslaved context. Was this artifact repurposed by the enslaved individuals or did the artifact originate from a part of the site not associated with the enslaved laborers? If so, how did the token end up amongst soil within the slave cabin? This raises questions about the meaning of artifacts and the association of artifacts with the people living in the building. Was it their belonging found within the soil? Why would an enslaved individual even possess a political token when they did not have the right to vote?

A token similar to the one recovered by Dovetail was found by Stantec in December 2015 (for the full story on the token found by Stantec follow the link below). This piece also dated from the 1860 election and was found in a domestic context. These finds are particularly significant during our nation’s current political climate. Both artifacts, along with the political cartoon shown below, are illustrations on how very little has changed in the political arena since the nineteenth century. While viewpoints and policies have altered, ‘Politicking’ is timeless.

 

 

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Any distributions of blog content, including text or images, should reference this blog in full citation. Data contained herein is the property of Dovetail Cultural Resource Group and its affiliates.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/as-presidential-race-heats-up-an-interesting-archaeological-discovery-is-made/2016/03/08/632c0252-e0c2-11e5-846c-10191d1fc4ec_story.html

 

Time For Tea

Featured Fragment – Mended Pearlware Tea Bowl

By Kerry S. González

Tea Bowl

Pearlware Tea Bowl

Several hundreds of years before tea was being consumed in the Americas (and even Britain), it was widely consumed in Asia. European traders residing in Asia during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries adopted the habit of daily tea drinking, and tea quickly found its way to Britain. Starting in the late-seventeenth and early-eighteenth century, tea began to be defined as “a feminized drink.” Its role in defining the domestic sphere and the concept of womanhood grew stronger as the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries wore on (Gray 2013:25). The association became so close that, eventually, women were compared to china, and “china came to stand as a metaphor for virtue” (Gray 2013:28). This same ideology was brought to the Americas, where tea quickly became a beverage staple.


The importance of tea to early American households was highlighted at the Houston-LeCompt site in New Castle County, Delaware, a site investigated on behalf of Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT) and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). A total of 107 fragments of teacups, tea saucers, and teapots was recovered from the site, serving as an indication of its roll in daily consumption patterns. The time range associated with pearlware (circa 1775−1840), the most common type of teaware recovered (n=57), likely associates these artifacts with the Houston family occupation (1780s–1820).


Decorated pearlwares from the Houston-LeCompt site exhibited a range of designs, though blue decoration predominated in different decorative patterns. The Houstons likely purchased individual pieces rather than sets of pearlware to fill out their tea set. Prior to the mid-nineteenth century, pattern books that marketed pearlware to the mid-range market illustrated designs individually, rather than as sets. Only the most elaborate, and therefore expensive, designs were marketed as sets, primarily to the upper class, and research and the archaeological investigations have proven that the Houston’s were not upper-class citizens. While it was possible to put together matching sets, it does not appear that middle-class consumers regarded matching sets as essential.


The tea bowl recovered from the Houston-LeCompt site (pictured above) is an early type of pearlware known as China Glaze with cobalt hand painting in a Chinese House motif. It is similar to the tea bowl being used in a 1725 painting entitled “An English Family at Tea” by Joseph Van Aken (pictured below). Although not all fragments from this tea bowl were recovered during the dig, the mending completed by Dovetail’s archaeological lab illustrates the vessel’s form and decoration. The pattern is a direct imitation of more expensive porcelains of the period. While the Houstons may not have assembled matching sets or imported porcelains, they still aspired to a more refined and fashionable aesthetic.

English Family At Tea

Van Aken, Joseph. An English Family at Tea. 1725.

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References:

Gray, Annie
2013 ‘The Proud Air of an Unwilling Slave’: Tea, Women, and Domesticity, c. 1700–1900. Springer Publishing. New York, New York.

Mystery Medal

Featured Fragment – Braehead Manor Medallion

By Kerry S. Gonzalez

Overview of Medallion Showing Both Sides

Overview of Medallion Showing Both Sides

Our past blog posts typically include interesting details on an artifact that we find particularly notable. However, for this post we are going to highlight an artifact that we know very little about in hopes of receiving some feedback from our esteemed readers. Dovetail archaeologists found the medallion pictured here in December 2014, while conducting a Phase I archaeological survey at the Braehead property in Fredericksburg, Virginia. Braehead was constructed in 1859 as the manor house of the Howison family. Today, it sits along Lee Drive right in the center of the Fredericksburg-Spotsylvania National Military Park. One of the home’s claims to fame is that General Robert E. Lee had breakfast at this house during the Battle of Fredericksburg in 1862.

The medallion was found while metal detecting on the property. One side of the medallion features a man holding a staff with a two-horned animal at his side. The reverse shows a spread eagle similar to the eagle on Poland’s crest. Originally, the man on the obverse was thought to be St. Hubert, patron saint of hunters, metalworkers, mathematicians, and opticians, but further examination revealed that this item did not picture a saint. Images of St. Hubert always portray a stag bearing a cross between his antlers, which is absent on this medal. The beast shown in the image below is clearly a two-horned animal such as a goat or ram with no cross between the horns.

A great deal of research and consultation went into this small item, but as of this post, it is still unknown if this artifact dates to the Civil War use of the property. Did a soldier carry this piece into battle, possibly as an heirloom item? Was it lost by a passerby prior to the original occupation of the property in the 1850s? Or was it lost at a later date?

Intrigued? We are too. If you have seen something similar, please contact Kerry González at kgonzalez@dovetailcrg.com.

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Braehead Manor

 

Close Up

Close-up of the Medal Showing Two-horned Animal on Man’s Left Side

 

Close Up Detail

Close-up of Obverse Showing More Detail

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http://www.braeheadmanor.com/

A Wooden Well in Action

Featured Fragment – The Armstrong-Rogers Well Pump

By Joseph Blondino and Kerry S. Gonzalez

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“Old Woman at Pump” from Picturesque Views of Rural Occupations in Early-Nineteenth Century England

During a data recovery at the Armstrong-Rogers site, a mid-eighteenth through late-nineteenth century domestic site in Delaware, Dovetail Cultural Resource Group excavated a unique well pump. The remains included several wooden components used to draw water from the well. The octagonal-shaped pump shaft or tube consisted of a hickory log approximately 7.5 feet long by 1 foot in diameter with a hole bored through its center. Two wooden “collars” roughly elliptical in shape with a hole in the center to hold the pump tube sat at the bottom of the well shaft and served as the pump seating, keeping the pump tube in place. The pump was operated by a lever that raised and lowered a valve through the pump tube which drew water through the lower portion of the wooden tube. Each pump would bring more and more water until a near-continuous flow could be easily maintained.

The imagery shown in this post displays the wooden pump positioned in the well shaft and how water was pumped through the well to reach the spigot at the ground surface. These marvelous illustrations were created by Brian Crane of Versar and sponsored by the Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT) as part of the DelDOT Route 301 study. DelDOT has been a notable proponent of alternative studies to thoroughly understand the materials that have resulted from the Route 301 work. This joint effort between DelDOT, Dovetail and Versar is a great example of an increased quality and quantity of data that can come from archaeologists working together. It also highlights how understanding historic technology can be a crucial component when interpreting archaeological material.

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Illustration by Brian Crane, Versar. Sponsored by the Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT)

 

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Illustration by Brian Crane, Versar. Sponsored by the Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT)

 

 

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What’s in the Attic?

Featured Fragment – Archaeology in historic Salubria’s attic

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Historic Salubria

On August 23, 2011, 5.8-magnitude earthquake struck central Virginia with its epicenter in Louisa County. The earthquake caused massive damage to eighteenth-century Salubria, a Georgian home located in Culpeper County, Virginia and owned by The Memorial Foundation of the Germanna Colonies In Virginia, Inc. (The Foundation).

The damage caused by the 2011 earthquake required extensive repairs to the original roof truss system, roof cladding, and chimneys. Prior to installation of associated new attic flooring, Dovetail Cultural Resource Group, at the request of The Foundation, was hired to remove the detritus that had accumulated on the attic “floor” over the years. Because the process involved hand removal of soil, dust, and other materials through careful, controlled digging, the project was termed an “archaeological excavation” despite its location two stories above the ground surface.

Using the building’s structural system, Dovetail laid in a “grid” to divide the attic into 12 sections. All artifacts were bagged by section to examine the deposition of the artifacts. More than 12,000 artifacts were recovered from the attic, including over 350 pieces of cloth of varying size and material, nails, personal items, and paper.

Dovetail archaeologist hard at work!

Dovetail archaeologist hard at work!

The thousands of pieces of paper found in the attic are a direct reflection of both the humans who lived at Salubria and the animals who carried the goods to the attic. One of the most remarkable intact paper fragments was a personal letter from 1862! This haunting letter speaks of the first student death at Farmville Female College (Longwood University) and speaks of the demise and death of Molly Priott (see transcription below the letter).

Front of letter from the Farmville Female College.

Front of letter from the Farmville Female College.

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Back of letter from the Farmville Female College.

 

The death of our dear Mollie is as great a shock to us as it can possibly be to you my precious friend – we did not know the poor child was sick until Sunday when we all thought she had neuralgia, at a late hour last night the Dr. pronounced her disease congestion of the brain – her mother at 10 o’clock last night, no later when I left her, did not seem to apprehend any danger – at five this morning word came to me that she was dying. I went hastily up…[unreadable]

the children, half conscious, half unconscious, of their loss. – I have just left her, little May and I being the last to look upon the loved face of mine the last kiss upon her brow. The coffin is closed and we can not see her more until we all go home where you and we will live again with our beloved.

We have service in the chapel this evening at six, and Mr. Preot goes with the corpse to Petersburg to-night. Write to Mrs. P or come to see her to-morrow. – I feel so obliged to you for your sympathy, it is the first death in our school and keenly felt by Mr. [La chonde] and myself.

I hope to see you soon. – God bless you, my dear, dear friend and be to you all He has promised. Love to you mother and the children –

Tuesday 14th Jan, 1862, Truly and fondly your friend

R…

The 12,000-plus artifacts found during the excavation shed light on the lives of the residents of Salubria. Because this type of “excavation” is rare, these fragile, perishable artifacts are typically lost. This was truly a unique and amazing, albeit filthy, experience for Dovetail!

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Dr. Kerri Barile, Dovetail’s president, after a day in the attic!

Any distributions of blog content, including text or images, should reference this blog in full citation. Data contained herein is the property of Dovetail Cultural Resource Group and its affiliates.

To learn more about Salubria, or Germanna Castle, visit http://germanna.org/.

Digging by the River

Featured Fragment—Riverfront Park

During the summer of 2013 Dovetail conducted excavations at the Riverfront Park in Fredericksburg, Virginia. Many cultural features were identified, including a large icehouse which served the residents of Fredericksburg. While excavation of this feature produced a plethora of artifacts, one particular piece of ceramic is highlighted in this blog to showcase how archaeologists use tiny fragments to look at the bigger picture and determine, in many cases, the type of vessel the piece originated from. Below is a small fragment of an overglazed printed creamware which was popular beginning in the 1760s. This particular piece is printed with a Corinthian column and even though only a small portion of the column is visible, archaeolgoists were able to identify the motif once depicted on the vessel. The ‘classical ruins’ motif was found on bowls as well as trenchers and was a direct reflection of the neoclassical revival being embraced by everyone beginning in the mid-eighteenth century (Kaktins 2015). Surviving pieces can still be found today on auction websites.

This type of research and analysis is a common component of archaeological work. Knowing how artifacts relate to a site and its occupants, is key to understanding site history as well as overarching historic patterns.

full platter Creamware copy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Any distributions of blog content, including text or images, should reference this blog in full citation. Data contained herein is the property of Dovetail Cultural Resource Group and its affiliates.

Within the Dirt

Featured Fragment—Archeobotanical Studies

In the summer of 2014 Dovetail Cultural Resource Group conducted a Phase III excavation on a late-eighteenth century site in Fredericksburg, Virginia. While this site produced an abundance of artifacts—noteworthy on their own and the subject of a previous ‘Featured Fragment’ blog—Dovetail also recovered many non-traditional artifacts intermixed with the ceramics and glass at the site. As part of the data recovered, Dovetail collected soil samples that were analyzed by archeobotanical consultant Justine McKnight of Archeobotony. Samples were taken from all features including a borrow pit and several post holes associated with a former post-in-ground building.

One sample in particular showed that the wood from a post had rotted before it burned, indicating that the structure may have been in very poor condition by the time the site was abandoned around 1795 (McKnight 2014:8). The poor condition of the post is not surprising since it was made of white oak, which tends to be much less resistant to rot than cedar or black locust (Carson et al. 1981:156). However, white oak, from which the post was constructed, fared much better than red or black oak (Carson et al. 1981:156). The fact that a high amount of possible bark was recovered from this feature may also indicate that the post bottoms were left undressed as a form of protection against rot, which has been seen in other eighteenth-century buildings such as Cedar Park in Maryland (Carson et al. 1981:189).

The meticulous archeobotanical studies conducted by Justine McKnight with Archeobotany provided another layer of information on the site that not only told researchers the type of wood being used in the buildings, but also possibly preferred methods of construction and the demise of the dwelling.

http://www.archeobotany.com/

 

Other archeobotantical samples from the site, a peach pit and a sumac seed.

Other archeobotantical samples from the site, a peach pit and a sumac seed (front and back).

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Glowing Glass Discovery

Featured Fragment—Vaseline Glass

In a recent excavation Dovetail Cultural Resource group found several fragments of what is known as Vaseline glass. This glass ranges in color from yellow to green and was manufactured from the 1840s to 1940. What is interesting about this type of glass is it was made with Uranium, which is the reason for its distinctive color. This type of glass was produced until WWII at which time the shortage of Uranium put an end to its production. What is the best way to identify Vaseline glass? If put under a black light, the glass will light up. The Uranium makes the glass emit radiation and glow, or a Geiger counter can be used to determine whether it is radioactive. The vessel found by Dovetail registered at 0.15 milliroentgens per hour. Is this a dangerous level? No, the amount put out by this type of glass is small and not harmful.

Image of Vaseline Glass. On left: yellow tumbler base and body fragment. One right: tumbler under black light.

Image of Vaseline Glass. On left: yellow tumbler base and body fragment. One right: tumbler under black light.

 

Joe Blondino using Geiger counter on Vaseline glass.

Joe Blondino using Geiger counter on Vaseline glass.

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Informative links:

http://www.vaselineglass.org/?page_id=56

A Toast to the King!

Featured Fragment–Fall Hill Avenue Finds

By Kerry S. González

During Phase III excavations for the Virginia Department of Transportation’s Fall Hill Avenue Expansion Project in Fredericksburg, Virginia, a small family-sized punch bowl with evidence of ceramic mending was recovered. Punch was widely popular during the eighteenth century as the act of punch drinking bordered on the ceremonial. Punch drinking was a social event which often reinforced feelings of hospitality among the drinkers. This was often accompanied by toasts to the hosts, guests and even the king. Although inventories from 1645 to 1800 in York County, Virginia examined by Eleanor Breen shows only six out of 100 persons owned a punch bowl during that period, archaeological evidence suggests the number is much higher. An analysis of the ceramic assemblage from the Phase II and III excavations at the site determined that two tin glazed punch bowls were present in the collection. One of which showed evidence of repair.

It appears that the mended punch bowl likely functioned post-repair. The mend holes are near the rim and would likely have allowed for continued use. Furthermore, the punchbowl displayed an upside-down Chinoiserie motif on the exterior as well as a decorated interior. The upside-down motif is a result of the Georgian social habit of storing vessels upside down in a cupboard or shelf. This allowed the pattern to be more visible when on display, but consequently concealed when used. Taken together (the mending and the upside-down motif), it appears that the punch bowl primarily served as a show piece indicating that the occupants of the site were well aware of, and participated in, contemporary practices of displaying social status.

Close up of mend holes on tin-glazed punch bowl recovered from Fall Hill excavations.

Mended tin-glazed punch bowl fragments recovered from Fall Hill excavations.

Complete tin-glazed punch bowl showing upside down motif similar pattern on fragments recovered from Fall Hill excavations.

 

 

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