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.

 

 

HD_StephenMother1860CandI.preview

 

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.

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:

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.

manor

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

well-image_old-lady_webpage

“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.

Well-Images_merge_small

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

 

cutaway-valves_merge_small

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.

back

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.