What’s THAT Doing HERE? Unexpected Discoveries at the Strawberry Run Site in Alexandria, Virginia

By Joe Blondino

In June 2019, Dovetail conducted an archaeological survey of a project area located along Strawberry Run in Alexandria, Virginia. At first, the project area seemed like it might not have much to offer. Most of the project area was located along the banks of a stream, a narrow and frequently inundated floodplain, and steep slopes to the uplands—none of which make particularly good places to live. However, the ravine in which it was located lies between two Civil War forts: Fort Worth to the northwest and Fort Williams to the east. Largely because of the potential for the project area to contain Civil War artifacts, a Phase I archaeological survey was conducted and included use of metal detectors, which is a proven way to locate Civil War artifacts.

Initially, the metal detector survey located only modern trash. The shovel test pits, on the other hand, produced prehistoric artifacts, including a projectile point dating to the Middle Archaic period (circa 8,000–5,500 years ago). The biggest surprise came as the crew was crossing the stream to access the western part of the project area; they looked down into the streambed and saw a large edged cobble! This was a piece of quartzite that someone in the prehistoric period had chipped into a “preform”—a roughly shaped “blank” that could later be modified into a finished stone tool (Photo 1). We spent much of the remainder of the day scouring the banks of the stream and finding a considerable number of artifacts that represented prehistoric populations taking advantage of the cobbles eroding out of the banks of the stream and using them to produce preforms. These preforms would then be carried off to be made into finished tools elsewhere. We thought we might find Civil War artifacts, but had stumbled across an entirely different type of site! Because no other sites like this were known to be located nearby, we saw this as an opportunity to learn more about prehistoric quartzite “quarrying” and recommended additional archaeological work.

Photo 1: Quartzite Biface Recovered from Site 44AX0240.

The results of the Phase II study, which involved digging additional test pits, as well as a few larger test units, revealed that prehistoric activity at the site was mostly restricted to the streambed itself, with relatively little on the adjacent floodplain. But we also got another surprise. Several of the test pits produced fired Civil War bullets. Now we have Civil War stuff on our prehistoric site! So, we got the metal detector back out. In all, we recovered eight lead projectiles including a Civil War-era Minié ball, five round balls, and two pieces of buckshot, all of which had been fired and impacted (Photo 2). This was a bit of a mystery too, as no battles were fought in the vicinity of the site, and the projectiles were all recovered from the valley floor rather than the steep valley walls, as might be expected if the site was used as a firing range with the valley walls as a backstop. We believe that the projectiles may represent unloading of firearms, as they were all of types that would have been fired from muzzle-loading weapons. Once such a firearm is loaded, it can be unloaded only through extraction using a “worm,” a corkscrew-like tool that taps into the projectile so it can be pulled out of the muzzle (Photo 3), or through discharge of the weapon. It may be the case that soldiers from one or both of the nearby forts used the Strawberry Run valley as a convenient and safe place to unload weapons by discharging them into the valley floor, perhaps during changing of guardpost personnel or when loaded weapons required maintenance.

Photo 2: Minié Ball and Round Musket Balls Recovered from Site 44AX0240.

Photo 3: Example of a ‘Pulled’ Bullet Showing Hole Where it was ‘Wormed’.

Dovetail’s work at the Strawberry Run Site is an excellent example of the kinds of unexpected discoveries that are often made in archaeology and goes to show the importance of thorough examination of all parts of the landscape. You never know what you’re going to find!

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.

While They’re “At Rest,” We’re at Work: Identifying Nineteenth-Century Coffin Hardware

By Melissa Butler

In death, as in life, mass-marketed applied ornaments allow individuals to customize their belongings. This month’s artifact is one such decoration. Dovetail Cultural Resource Group (Dovetail) recently completed an archaeological excavation and associated reinterment of several unmarked, late-nineteenth-century graves in Virginia, and coffin hardware provided clues to the identity of the interred individuals. While fancy coffins embellished with silver and lined with plush fabrics were offered to wealthy families of the 1870s–1900s, customizable prefabricated coffins were a more affordable option (Taylor & Co. 1872). Plain customizable coffins built of pine or “white wood” could be individualized with different handles and removable panels (or viewing windows) (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Customizable Coffins Using Prefabricated Coffin (Taylor & Co. 1872).

Custom coffin or casket options in the late-nineteenth century were abundant. Decorative ornaments down to the last details could be selected from catalogs by the undertaker or family members, including handles, studs, thumbscrews and coffin plates (also known as name plates). Common themes among these symbolic decorations and coffin plates include wishes for the occupant’s rest and peace and expressions of familial relationships. They could also include religious motifs, express brotherhood in a fraternal organization, like the International Order of Odd Fellows, or be engraved with the occupant’s name or date of death (Springate 2016:43).

In our recent excavation, one such coffin plate helped to provide a date range for the deceased’s burial (Photo 1).  The “At Rest” plate shown below is actually two separate pieces; the text sits atop a universal base (Figure 2). The same piece was available in the Columbus Casket Company’s 1882 catalog (Columbus Coffin Company 1882). While no price is listed for the plate in the Columbus Casket Company catalog, a similarly sized, white metal plate cost $1.90 in another contemporary catalog (W. S. Carr & Company 1880–1910). Though the plate is featured in an 1882 catalog, it was likely that this style was in use for several years before and after the publication of the catalog. Matching an artifact such as this plate to a catalog helps to narrow down the date of burial, and therefore give archaeologists and researchers a better chance to identify those interred in unmarked graves—giving a name to the unknown.

Photo 1: “At Rest” Coffin Plate.

Figure 2: Interchangeable Coffin Plates (Columbus Coffin Company 1882).

References
Columbus Coffin Company
1882 Illustrated Catalogue of Wood and Cloth Covered Coffins and Caskets, Undertakers’ Hardware and Sundries, Robes, Linings, and General Supplies. Columbus Coffin Company. Columbus, Ohio..

Springate, Megan E.
2016 Coffin Hardware in Nineteenth-Century America. Routledge. Electronic document, https://play.google.com/books/reader?id=59VmDAAAQBAJ&pg=GBS.SA2-PA7.w.1.0.173, accessed June 2020.

Taylor & Co.
1872 Illustrated Catalogue of Coffins, Caskets, Etc. Taylor & Co., New York, New York.

W. S. Carr & Company The
1880–1910 Price List of Undertakers’ Hardware. W. S. Carr & Company, Baltimore, Maryland.

Coins, Balls, Bats, and Bases: A Few Fragments on Fredericksburg’s Ties to America’s National Game

By Kerri S. Barile

On February 22, 1936, over 3,000 people gathered on the banks of the Rappahannock River in Fredericksburg and Stafford County, Virginia, to witness history. Former Major Leaguer Walter “Big Train” Johnson attempted to recreate George Washington’s monumental feat of throwing a coin across the river (Photo 1). Many believed that this small metal fragment, a silver dollar, could not sail across the water; they said that the Washington story was a fabrication. But was it? If anyone could recreate this throw, it was Johnson—an All Star pitcher and a member of the very first class inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. From Washington’s boyhood home in Stafford County, Ferry Farm, Johnson launched the coin in the air and successfully landed the object on the opposite shore near Fredericksburg’s City Dock (Barile 2020:28; Richmond Times-Dispatch 1936). This act secured the place of two American legends.

Photo 1: Walter Johnson Posing in Throwing Motion on the Banks of the Rappahannock River as He Prepares for his Toss (Baseball History Comes Alive 2019).

The story of Walter Johnson’s coin toss across the Rappahannock River is just one of many incredible historical tales uncovered during recent research on the history of baseball in Fredericksburg. Commissioned by the Fredericksburg Nationals (the FredNats, an affiliate of the Washington Nationals), Dovetail Cultural Resource Group (Dovetail) and the Fredericksburg Area Museum partnered together to complete extensive research on America’s greatest pastime in the Fredericksburg region. From local Native Americans playing a game called “chunkey” to Civil War soldiers engaging in the game of baseball when not on the battlefield, ball games have a vast history in the community. Fredericksburg’s first baseball club was founded in 1866 (The Fredericksburg Ledger 1866:3) (Figure 1), and our first professional team was established in 1908, the White Sox (The Daily Star 1908:3) (Photo 2). The data derived from the research is being used to create a History Pavilion at the new FredNats stadium to share the significant history of baseball with all patrons. The History Pavilion will open in late May 2020. A corresponding exhibit containing an amazing collection of baseball memorabilia is being created at the Fredericksburg Area Museum. Dovetail is honored to be part of this project.

Figure 1: Organization of the First Fredericksburg Baseball Club in 1866 (The Fredericksburg Ledger 1866:3).

 

Photo 2: The Fredericksburg White Sox in 1924 (The Daily Star 1924).

Whether it is a fragment of metal in the form of a coin thrown across the Rappahannock or a fragment of leather from a nineteenth-century baseball used in town, the research and artifacts related to this topic are vast and inspiring. We invite you to read more about the History Pavilion here. A brief video on the Walter Johnson coin toss can be found here. We give our profound thanks to the FredNats for their support of this project, as well as Germanna Community College—the incredibly generous donor who made this project possible.

References
Barile, Kerri S.
2020    “An Ideal Stage for the Great National Game”: A Research Compendium of Baseball in Fredericksburg (Year 1). Dovetail Cultural Resource Group and Fredericksburg Area Museum, Fredericksburg, Virginia.

Baseball History Comes Alive
2019    Special Washington’s Birthday Feature: “I Cannot Tell A Lie…But I Can Sure      Stretch the Truth!” Electronic document, https://www.baseballhistorycomesalive.com/special–washington-birthday-feature-i-cannot-tell-a-liebut-i-can-Sure-stretch-the-truth/, accessed January 2020.

Daily Star, The [Fredericksburg, Virginia]
1908    “Help the Ball Team.” July 3. Page 3.
1924    “Fredericksburg White Sox.” 18 August.

Fredericksburg Ledger, The [Fredericksburg, Virginia]
1866    “Base Ball Club.” 2 November. Page 3.

Richmond Times-Dispatch [Richmond, Virginia]
1936    “Fredericksburg, Feb 22.” 23 February. Page 17.

Let’s Shed a Little Light on this Blog: A Civil War-Era Sticking Tommy Candle Holder

By D. Brad Hatch

This month’s post highlights an object recovered from a Civil War battlefield and campsite in Virginia. Rather than being associated with fighting, however, this object speaks to the daily lives of soldiers during the war. The object is a cast iron candle holder with a short spike extending from its base (Photo 1). Known as a “sticking tommy” this candle holder could be used in a variety of settings by pounding the spike into any soft material, creating a makeshift candlestick wherever extra light might be needed. While the “sticking” part of the name is fairly obvious based on the object’s function, the “tommy” part is less clear. The word “tommy” may be related in some way to “tommyknockers” who were mythical Welsh creatures similar to leprechauns who wore miner’s outfits and were known as mischief makers among miners (Figure 1). A variation of the “sticking tommy” related to mining was particularly popular in the middle of the nineteenth century, perhaps leading to the colloquial name of this device. Unlike the Civil War example, miner’s candle holders had long, horizontal spikes that allowed the candle to sit out further from the wall in addition to sometimes having hooks that would allow the candle to be suspended (Figure 2).

Photo 1: Sticking Tommy Recovered by Dovetail.

Figure 1: Depiction of a Tommyknocker (Outta The Way! 2020).

Published material discussing the history of this type of candle holder is generally scarce, likely due to their plain and utilitarian nature. However, similar wrought iron examples pre-dating the nineteenth century extend far back in history for as long as iron working and a need for portable lighting were aligned (see Figure 2). Clearly, we can only speculate what the soldier who owned this “sticking tommy” used its light for. However, some of the common evening activities requiring candlelight would have included reading, writing letters, sewing, routine equipment maintenance, and other leisure activities, such as whittling. Rather than gathering around a larger campfire, the “sticking tommy” would have allowed soldiers a more private and individual space in which to work, perhaps underscoring the personal nature of the activities that may have been associated with its use. Additionally, it could have provided needed light in smaller quantities, making it more difficult for enemy troops to ascertain positions and troop strength through campfires. Ultimately, this small object helps to illuminate the more mundane and routine aspects of life for soldiers during the Civil War that occupied the majority of their time.

Figure 2: On Left : Wrought Iron “Sticking Tommy” Likely Dating to the Eighteenth Century. On right: “Sticking Tommy” of the Type Typically Used in Mining (Barnes 1988:126).

References
Barnes, Frank T.
1988    Hooks, Rings & Other Things: An Illustrated Index of New England Iron, 1660-1860. The Christopher Publishing House, Hanover, Massachusetts.

Outta The Way!
2020    The Tommyknockers. Electronic document, http://outtaway.blogspot.com/2011/10/tommyknockers.html, accessed January 2020.

An Artifact as Stubborn as a Donkey: We Need Your Help?

By Kerry S. González

For our last blog of 2019 we are once again revisiting artifacts recovered from the Trogdon-Squirrel Creek site, a mid- to late-nineteenth-century domestic site in Randolph County, North Carolina. On behalf of the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT), Dovetail conducted data recovery excavations at the site, guided by the data recovery plan authored by NCDOT (Overton 2014).

This blog, unlike most others, is putting the role of identification on our readers in the hopes of discovering the purpose of the small copper alloy object pictured below.  Artifacts such as these are often classified as ‘small finds’ as they are, well, small and imply a personal connection.

Photo 1: Small Metal Donkey Recovered From the Trogdon-Squirrel Creek Site.

 

A total of three of these tiny metal objects were found at the site. They are composed of a thin sheet metal with two very short prongs on the back. Initially we thought they were some type of charm affixed to a piece of leather associated with horse tack, but the composition of the artifact would not allow for the puncture of a hard material like leather.

They were found in conjunction with mid- to late-nineteenth-century artifacts such as prosser buttons, locally made ceramics (turningandburning), a frog gig (wrought-iron-frog-gig), and milk glass mason jar lid liners. Given the context in which these little items were found they are thought to date to a similar time period.

Now you know as much as we do on these interesting small finds. If you have some thoughts on identification please email our Lab Manager at kgonzalez@dovetailcrg.com.

Overton, Brian
2014    Archaeological Data Recovery Plan: Site 31Rd1426, Randolph County, North Carolina. North Carolina Department of Transportation Human Environment Section, Raleigh, North Carolina.

The HumunGIS Importance of Mapping Data at Archaeological Sites

Featured Fragment – HumunGIS Importance of GIS

By D. Brad Hatch and Emily Calhoun

Since this past Wednesday (November 13, 2019) was Geographic Information System (GIS) Day, we’ve decided to dedicate this week’s blog to highlighting how archaeologists use GIS as a tool to better understand and interpret archaeological sites. We use GIS (through the computer program ArcGIS) to link archaeological data to specific geographic locations. Once we can link our data geographically across an area, we can begin to tease out patterns in the data that might not have been noticed otherwise. To provide an example of the archaeological application of GIS we will be returning to the Trogdon-Squirrel Creek site in Randolph County, North Carolina, which was the subject of a number of previous blog posts, including posts on eyewear, frog gigs, pottery, and more. On behalf of the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT), Dovetail Cultural Resource Group conducted data recovery excavations at the site, guided by the data recovery plan authored by NCDOT (Overton 2014).

Archaeologists have demonstrated that plow zone artifact and soil chemical distributions have the potential to reveal important aspects about the use of space on sites (e.g., Fesler 2010; King and Miller 1987; King 1988; Pogue 1988b; Wilkins 2009). Artifact data for spatial analysis at the Trogdon-Squirrel Creek site were collected through the excavation of 80 2 x 2-foot (0.6 x 0.6-m) test units; soil chemical data was collected using the systematic method of taking a sample every 20 feet (6.1 m) on grid across the site. Analysts plotted artifact and soil chemical distributions using ArcGIS, revealing significant patterns for several artifact types and soil chemicals. ArcGIS plots patterns by creating contour maps of distributions. Essentially the computer program takes the raw artifact or soil data and connects locations with similar values to create lines. These lines represent values or counts, which when plotted geographically can show how values change across a site. Where there is little change in value, the lines are spaced farther apart. Where the values rise or fall rapidly, the lines are closer together. The resulting map is similar to a topographic map, which plots changes in elevation.

Dovetail used ArcGIS to plot domestic artifacts across the site. In this case, the most illustrative domestic materials included ceramics and animal bone (Figures 1 and 2). The distribution of ceramics revealed two concentrations of artifacts. The first, and most distinct, occurred off of the southeast corner of the dwelling. This concentration of ceramics is indicative of increased refuse disposal and activity in this portion of the site, which likely stemmed from the traffic between the dwelling and the outbuilding located to the southeast. The second concentration, which is less intense and smaller in size, occurred near the southwest corner of the dwelling. This small peak, which was also noted in the distribution of architectural artifacts, likely represents a disposal area near a window or at the edge of the backyard where refuse was conveniently deposited. Overall, the ceramic distribution matches other historic artifact distributions, indicating that the northern yard was kept relatively free of refuse and that the southern yard functioned as a disposal and work space.

Figure 1: Distribution Map of All Ceramics.

 

Figure 2: Distribution Map of Bone.

Soil chemicals often provide archaeologists with important additional evidence about activity at sites when more traditional artifact types are not present. Different chemicals are associated with different activities. For example, phosphorus is generally interpreted as representing organic refuse, calcium tends to represent bone and shell, and potassium and magnesium are interpreted as representing ash or burning (McCoy 2016:25–26; Pogue 1988a:3; Wilkins 2009:20). At this site the distribution of phosphorus tended to concentrate near the dwelling and an outbuilding (Figure 3). Specifically, the primary area of high phosphorus concentration occurred in a heavily used area between the two buildings. This general pattern coincides with the historic artifact distributions on site, and is almost certainly related to the disposal of domestic refuse. Dovetail archaeologists concluded, based on the high phosphorous signature, that the outbuilding was likely a detached kitchen. Refuse discarded from the outbuilding was also noted down the hill, to the east, as well as between the outbuilding and the dwelling. There are also two small peaks of high phosphorus concentration located to the north of the dwelling. These peaks are associated with the locations of two tree stumps.

Figure 3: Distribution Map of Phosphorus.

As you can see, the application of GIS-based mapping of artifact and soil chemical distributions at the Trogdon-Squirrel Creek site was vital to our interpretation of the site. In this case the computation tools within the ArcGIS program helped to reveal activity areas. These GIS-generated maps even helped to define the location of an outbuilding, likely a kitchen. Without this analytical tool archaeologists may have overlooked the kitchen, because no foundation or obvious architectural feature marked its location. Archaeologists have many analytical tools in their toolbelts, but GIS is definitely one of the most powerful for analyzing past landscapes!

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.

References:
Fesler, Garrett
2010     Excavation the Spaces and Interpreting the Places of Enslaved Africans and Their Descendants. In Cabin, Quarter, Plantation: Architecture and Landscapes of North American Slavery, edited by Clifton Ellis and Rebecca Ginsburg, pp. 27–49. Yale University Press, New Haven, Connecticut.

King, Julia A.
1988     A Comparative Midden Analysis of a Household and inn in St. Mary’s City, Maryland. Historical Archaeology 22(2):17−39.

King, Julia A., and Henry M. Miller
1987     The View from the Midden: An Analysis of Midden Distribution and Composition at the van Sweringen Site, St. Mary’s City, Maryland. Historical Archaeology 21(2):37−59.

McCoy, Curtis A.
2016     Colluvial Deposition of Anthropogenic Soils at the Ripley Site, Ripley, NY. Master’s Thesis, Department of Anthropology/Archaeology, Mercyhurst University, Erie, Pennsylvania.

Overton, Brian
2014     Archaeological Data Recovery Plan: Site 31Rd1426, Randolph County, North Carolina. North Carolina Department of Transportation Human Environment Section, Raleigh, North Carolina.

Pogue, Dennis J.
1988a     Anthrosols and the Analysis of Archaeological Sites in a Plowed Context: The King’s Reach Site. Northeast Historical Archaeology 17:1–15.

1988b     Spatial Analysis of the King’s Reach Plantation Homelot, Ca. 1690−1715. Historical Archaeology 22(2):40–56.

Wilkins, Andrew P.
2009     Identifying 18th Century Hidden Landscapes at Stratford Hall Plantation Using Portable X-Ray Fluorescence Phosphorus Readings on Plowzone Samples. Master’s Thesis, Department of Anthropology/Historical Archaeology, University of Massachusetts, Boston, Massachusetts.

One Shell of an Artifact: Monetaria annulus as Evidence of Fredericksburg’s Global Economic Connections

Featured Fragment – Cowrie Shell

By D. Brad Hatch

This month’s artifact began its life somewhere in the Indian or Pacific Ocean, likely made its way to the west coast of Africa, crossed the Atlantic, then traveled up the Rappahannock River before ending up in Fredericksburg. The object, a small cowrie shell, was recovered during Dovetail Cultural Resource Group’s 2019 excavations at the intersection of Hanover and Sophia Streets (Photo 1). Discovered in the cellar fill of the first print shop in Fredericksburg, established in the early 1840s in a 1790s-built dwelling, this shell likely dates to the eighteenth century, when this area of the town was a center of trans-Atlantic trade.

Photo 1: Cowrie Shell Recovered From Dovetail Excavations.

 

Cowries are a type of marine gastropod, similar to snails, that live primarily in the warm waters of the Indian and Pacific Oceans (Photo 2). They are generally small, measuring less than about 2 inches in length and comprise several species. The cowrie recovered by Dovetail is a Monetaria annulus, commonly known as the “ring cowrie” due to orange ring on its exterior surface.

Photo 2: Living Monetaria annulus Specimen (Wikipedia 2019).

Often found in association with archaeological contexts associated with enslaved individuals, many archaeologists have viewed these shells as indicators of African identity or spiritual practices on sites, referred to as “Africanisms,” because of the significant use of cowries as money in Africa during the historic period. However, recent research on the distribution of these shells by Barbara Heath suggests that they may be less of a sign of African identity and more of a byproduct of the economy of the trans-Atlantic slave trade (Heath 2016).

Rather than shells being brought to North America on the bodies of enslaved Africans as adornment such as necklaces, Heath argues that the vast majority of cowries recovered from archaeological contexts in Virginia were shells that could not be used for trade in Africa (Heath 2016:36). This is supported by the fact that the vast majority of cowries recovered archaeologically are Monetaria annulus, which were seen as inferior by African traders compared to Monetaria moneta (Heath 2016:36). These “seconds” would have been offloaded in the colonies, particularly during the height of the slave trade in the eighteenth century, explaining their high concentrations in port towns and the areas immediately surrounding them.

The cowrie recovered from the intersection of Sophia and Hanover Streets supports this line of reasoning and illustrates the trans-Atlantic connections in this part of Fredericksburg during the eighteenth century. This portion of the town would have been heavily focused on maritime trade in the eighteenth century, with warehouses just across Sophia Street along the waterfront and the original ferry landing and wharf only about one block away. With this in mind, it is easy to imagine this discarded shell finding its way into a refuse pile and eventually becoming incorporated into the fill for the print shop cellar when it was abandoned. Though still perhaps occasionally used by enslaved people as currency (Heath 2016:37), cowries in the context of port towns and their surroundings serve as better indicators of trans-Atlantic trade and economic strategies than they do of African identity or spiritual practices. The story of this small object therefore serves to underscore the importance of understanding the archaeological and historical context of the artifacts that we excavate.

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.

References: 

Heath, Barbara J.
2016     Cowrie Shells, Global Trade, and Local Exchange: Piecing Together the Evidence for Colonial Virginia. Historical Archaeology 50(2):17–46.

Wikipedia
2019     Monetaria annulus. Electronic document, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monetaria_annulus, accessed October 2019.

 

Hindsite is 20/20: A Look at Historic Eyewear

Featured Fragment – Historic Eyewear

By Kerry S. González

We’ve decided to continue our series highlighting the artifacts recovered from the Trogdon-Squirrel Creek site in Randolph County, North Carolina for the month of September. On behalf of the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT), Dovetail Cultural Resource Group conducted data recovery excavations at the site, guided by the data recovery plan authored by NCDOT (Overton 2014).

The artifacts pictured below are eye glass lens fragments dating to the early-twentieth century (Photo 1). Both lenses are round as opposed to earlier styles that were more ovoid. The lens on the right is made of crown glass with a diamond-beveled edge and was concavo-convex in design, placing it in the 1900–1930-time period (John Tull, personal communication 2017). Furthermore, the lens was tested with a Topcon Lensmeter, a machine that determines the strength of a prescription. This particular lens gave a reading of +4 indicating that the owner of the glasses was moderately farsighted. The second lens was too scratched to provide a prescription reading but given its shape it likely dates from 1900–1930 as well.

 

Photo 1: Eye Glass Lenses Recovered From Trogdon-Squirrel Creek Site.


 

According to several sources, the Romans are credited with using a form of magnified glass to see small items at a larger scale (allabouteyes.com 2019). However, it wasn’t until the 1200s that we see the first evidence of wearable glasses (allabouteyes.com 2019). The first written reference to eyeglasses is in a book titled De iride (“On the Rainbow”) by Robert Grosseteste (circa 1235) (OpticianU 2018). The book mentions using a lens to “read the smallest letters at incredible distances” (OpticianU 2018). Reportedly, these “primitive glass-blown lenses were set into wooden or leather frames (or occasionally, frames made from animal horn) and then held before the face or perched on the nose” and were primarily used by monks for reading, as cited in Archives of Ophthalmology (2002) (Figure 1).

 

Figure 1: La Mer des Histoires (Letocha and Dreyfus 2002).


 

It wasn’t until the 1700s that eyewear began to improve and from this point on eyeglasses evolved at a rapid pace (allabouteyes.com 2019). While Benjamin Franklin is often credited for inventing bifocals in 1784 when he glued his distance glasses and reading glasses on top of each other, some historians believe he is unduly credited with this invention due to his historic importance (OpticianU 2018). By the late-nineteenth century glasses were being mass produced and advertised in places like the Sears & Roebuck catalog where one could even give themselves an eye exam to determine the strength of glasses needed (Figure 2).

 

Figure 2: Sears & Roebuck Eyeglass Advertisement (Sears, Roebuck and Catalogue Company 1897).


 

It is artifacts like these eyeglass fragments that really speak to the occupants of a site. They are tangible and relatable to the young and old, especially when you hold up a lens and see through the eyes of its owner 100 years ago.

 

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.

References: 

Allabouteyes.com
2019 See Into The Past: The Fascinating History of Eyeglasses. Electronic document, https://allabouteyes.com/see-past-fascinating-history-eyeglasses, accessed September 2019.

Letocha, J., and M. Dreyfus
2002 Archives of ophthalmology 2002. Early Prints Depicting Eyeglasses (Figure 4). Electronic document, https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/Early-prints-depicting-eyeglasses.-Letocha-Dreyfus/f952e6a9a6509a4da61e6e48b1e61a6d91331818, accessed September 2019.

OpticianU
2018 Eyeglass History – Seeing Through the Ages. Electronic document, https://www.op
ticiantraining.com/eyeglass-history-vision-through-the-ages/, accessed, September 2019.

Overton, Brian
2014 Archaeological Data Recovery Plan: Site 31Rd1426, Randolph County, North Carolina. North Carolina Department of Transportation Human Environment Section, Raleigh, North Carolina.

Sears, Roebuck and Company Catalogue
1897 The Sears, Roebuck Catalogue. Sears, Roebuck and Company. Skyhorse Publishing, Inc., New York, New York.

Syphilis, Small Pox, and Scurvy! Oh My!

Featured Fragment – Riverfront Bottle

By Kerry González 

Image

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.

X-ray1_cropped

X-rayed bottle revealing residue

 

1

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

 

2

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

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.

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

token_both_final

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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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