A Kookpot from Casimir

Featured Fragment –A Kookpot from Casimir

By William Liebeknecht

Our story starts in 1651 with the construction of Fort Casimir, a colonial fortification built by the West India Company in what is now New Castle, Delaware. The four-sided fort was only lightly equipped with battle gear (Figure 1). In 1654, a Swedish force attacked the fort, leading the small, unprepared Dutch garrison at Fort Casimir to surrender. In September of the following year (1655), a Dutch West India Company task force of 300 men pressured the Swedish commander to surrender the fort back to the Dutch. In 1657, the City of Amsterdam took control of the community that had developed around Fort Casmir over the years and renamed it New Amstel (Bontemantel 2011:58). This new community was once again contested, as in 1664 an English force under Sir Robert Carr conquered New Amstel and the fort changed hands again. During the assault, the fort was severely damaged by a cannon barrage from two ships. By 1671, the fort was in ruins and it was leveled by 1678, with the land passing into private hands (Heite and Heite 1986:21).

Figure 1: Virtual Model of How the Fort May Have Looked Based on Archaeological and Historical Research (Image curtesy of Archae3d 2020).

The exact location of the fort had been in question since it faded from memory and the town of New Castle expanded over the past three centuries. Formal archaeological studies to locate the fort were completed in 1986 (Heite and Heite 1989) and again in 2012 (Leach et al. 2013). Seeking to find confirmation of the fort’s location and design, the New Castle Historical Society (NCHS) obtained a grant from the American Battlefield Protection Program to complete additional studies. A three-firm project team—South River Heritage Consulting, Dovetail Cultural Resources Group, and Archae 3D—led the 2020 efforts to further investigate the fort site. The team also included a host of volunteers, visiting archaeologists and retired archaeologists with an interest in the project, including New Holland Foundation archaeologist Hans van Westing (Catts et al. 2020).

The fort was four sided with bastions at the corners and a moat or ditch surrounding the exterior walls for added protection. Much to the delight of the team, the eastern dry moat/ditch was firmly located and defined during the archaeological survey. Approximately 10 percent of the moat was sampled revealing several nearly complete Dutch red-bodied earthenware ceramic vessels (kookpan, kookkan, and stoofpan). Small pieces of “vetro a fili” glass, majolica and faience earthenware plate, yellow brick, red roof tiles, tobacco pipes, food remains, and a lead shot were found in the moat. Overall more than 950 artifacts were recovered—most relating to the period of the fort’s occupation

One of the more interesting finds was a red-bodied earthenware vessel known as a kookpot recovered from the fill of the moat. The kookpot (formerly referred to by archaeologists as grape or grapen; see Janowitz and Schaefer 2020), kookkan, and stoofpan forms exhibit three feet, a single handle, and a spout (Schaeffer 1994:78–79). Hurst et al. (1986:130) describe these vessels as composed of a hard, red clay with fine quartz sand temper that range in color from brown to orange and red (Photo 1). The clear lead glaze that coats the outside ranges from yellow to greenish brown. While the name implies that these vessels were used in cooking, there is no evidence of burning or sooting on the bases of these objects, so they were likely cracked or broken in transport to the fort and never used in food preparation or exposed to a heat source. The size of the broken sherds of this vessel found in the moat and the fact that they mend indicate that they were discarded right away and not thrown in later when the fort was leveled. Once an insignificant utilitarian object, that was never likely even used, has shed an incredible amount of data on this pivotal Delaware site.

Photo 1: Prayer Before the Meal. Note the red-bodied earthenware kookpot on the ground that the dog is licking (Steen 1667-1671).

Photo 2: Mended Kookpot Recovered During Excavations at Fort Casimir.

Click here to view the 3d model of the fort created by Archae3d https://sketchfab.com/3d-models/model-of-fort-casimir-97ce934cdaa34f8db0321c9a063271e1

 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:

Bontemantel, Hans
2011    New Netherland Papers, C. 1650 -1660, From the Collected Papers of Hans Bontemantel, Director of the Amsterdam Chamber of the West India Company, Held by the New York Public Library. Translated by Dingman Veersteeg, edited by Martha Dickinson Shattuck. New Netherland Research Center and the New Netherland Institute. Electronic document,  https://www.newnetherlandinstitute.org/research/online-publications/the-new-netherlandpapers-of-hans-bontemantel/, accessed May 2020,

Catts, Wade P., William Liebeknecht, Kevin C. Bradley,  Brian Crane, Kerry González, and P. Brad Hatch
2020    “…The soldiers never stopping until they stormed ye fort….” Report on the Archaeological Survey of the Battle for Fort Casimir (7NC-E-105E) City of New Castle, Delaware American Battlefield Protection Program Grant GA 2287-016-007 Prepared for New Castle Historical Society 30 Market Street New Castle, Delaware.

Heite, Edward, F. and Louise Heite
1986    Fort Elfsborg, 1643; A Background Study of the Fort Elsinboro Point or Fort Elfsborg, Elsinboro Township, Salem County, New Jersey and New Castle County, Delaware. Philadelphia District, Corps of Engineers. Manuscript on file at the Delaware State Historic Preservation Office.

1989    Report of Phase I Archaeological and Historical Investigations at the site of Fort Casimir, New Castle, Delaware. Prepared for the Trustees at New Castle Common. Manuscript on file at the Delaware State Historic Preservation Office.

Hurst, John G., David S. Neal, and H.J.E Van Beuningen
1986    Pottery Produced and Traded in North-West Europe 1350-1650. Rotterdam Papers VI. Stichting ‘Het Nederlandse Geruiksvoorwerp’, Rotterdam.

Janowitz, Meta and Richard G. Schaefer
2020    By Any Other Name: Kookpotten or Grapen? Little Pots, Big Stories. In The Archaeology of New Netherland: Uncovering a Forgotten World, edited by Craig Lukezic and John P. McCarthy. University Press of Florida, Gainesville.

Leach, Peter, Wade P. Catts, and Craig Lukezic
2013    “The starting Point in the Historic of New Castle”: Geophysics and the Exploratory Archaeology at the site of Fort Casimir (7NC-E-105E), City of New Castle, Delaware. John Milner associates. On file at the Delaware Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs, Dover.

Schaefer, Richard Gerhard
1994    A typology of seventeenth-century Dutch ceramics and its implications for American historical archaeology. Ph.D. dissertation, University of Pennsylvania.

Steen, Jan
1667-1671   Prayer Before the Meal. Philadelphia Museum of Art. www.philamuseum.org/collections/permanent/102302.html, accessed September 2020.

Every Woman Needs a Little Black Dress

By Kerry S. González and Sara Rivers Cofield

In the late winter of 2020, PQ (Pre-Quarantine), Dovetail conducted an archaeological excavation of a family cemetery associated with a branch of the Embrey family in Stafford, Virginia. The small plot contained the graves of 16 individuals. While analysis of the remains is ongoing we wanted to highlight a particularly interesting item recovered during the excavations.

The fabric fragment pictured below is from the burial dress of Jane Embrey (Photo 1). Jane lived in Stafford County, Virginia, and died at the age of 30 in 1893 from consumption (tuberculosis). Her obituary reads: “Death in Stafford. Miss Jane W. Embrey, daughter of the late Lieutenant Richard Embrey, who was a gallant Confederate soldier, died of consumption, yesterday at 12 o’clock at the residence of her uncle, Mr. Granville Embrey, in Stafford, aged about thirty years” (Fredericksburg Star 1893).

Photo 1: Remains of Jane’s Dress. Note fragment of intact copper alloy pin from broach by the collar noted by white arrow.

Jane was buried in a black dress with decorative black bead work (Photo 2) with over 3,000 tiny black beads recovered during the excavation and lab analysis. This style of dress and bead work was extremely popular in the Victorian, mourning-obsessed culture of the late-nineteenth century and was affordable and widely available through retail stores and mail order catalogs such as Montgomery Ward & Co. and Sears Roebuck (Photo 3).

Photo 2: Example of a Dress with a Style and Beaded Decoration Similar to the Garment in which Jane Embrey was Buried (Etsy.com 2020).

 

Photo 3: Montgomery Ward & Co. Catalog Showing Bead Trimmings That Could Be Applied to Garments (Montgomery Ward & Co. 1895).

 

Jane Embrey also wore the standard foundation garments for the period, including a corset equipped with an iron busk and copper alloy slot-and-stud closures (Photo 4). It might seem excessive to bury a lady in her corset, but without it her dress might not fit properly, as the corset defined and molded ladies’ bodies to create the popular small-waisted silhouette of the period. To be dressed in a nice black gown without a corset at the time would be the equivalent of having a woman today wear a closely fitting dress without a bra, control-top hose, or other shapewear that provides support or otherwise smooths out the figure in keeping with current styles. The corset ensured that Miss Embrey was spared the indignity of an ill-fitting bodice in her final rest. She was interred also wearing a number of accessories, including a paste jewelry hair pin and broach (Photo 5).

Photo 4: Full Corset Typical of the Late-Nineteenth Century (From Authors Collection).

 

Photo 5: Materials Found During Excavation of Jane’s Burial. Top row: paste jewel broach and hairpin. Bottom row: iron busk and copper alloy slot-and-stud closures.

 

While we don’t know much about Jane, the few items we recovered, coupled with the archival data gathered as part of our ongoing research effort, offer details previously unknown to her descendants. Through our work at the site, Dovetail was able to determine her approximate height, how she wore her hair, and how she died, and many other tiny details that would have been otherwise unknown to her family some 125 years after her death.

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:

Etsy
2020    1880 Bodice and Split Skirt. https://www.etsy.com/listing/521905056/1880-victorian-bodice-and-split-skirt, accessed August 2020

Fredericksburg Star (Fredericksburg, Virginia)
1893    Death in Stafford. 1 July: 1893

Montgomery Ward & Co.
1895    Montgomery & Ward Co.: Catalogue and Buyers’ Guide. 2008 Facsimile. Skyhorse Publishing, New York, New York.

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.

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.

50th Blog!

This month celebrates our 50th blog post and in honor of this anniversary we will be revisiting our top three most-popular blogs. To see which blogs made the cut, please follow the links below.

To date, our most popular blog, reaching almost 7,000 people on Facebook with over 30 post shares, was our March 2019 post: Music to Our Ears Mouths: A Jaw Harp Found in Fredericksburg. This blog focused on an artifact that was recovered from the Riverfront Park project focusing on the utility of x-radiography as a tool for identifying highly corroded artifacts. The jaw harp was found within the interior of the brick duplex once located at the corner of Hanover and Sophia streets.

Coming in second was our January 2019 post: Coming Unglued: The Importance of Reversibility in Artifact Conservation. This blog highlighted a poorly mended, mid-nineteenth century whiteware basin with a flow blue Scinde pattern. The object was brought to the Dovetail lab by a Stafford County resident. The vessel was repaired by a family member using an unknown adhesive which was then painted black. At the request of the owner, the archaeology lab at Dovetail not only removed the non-archival adhesive used to mend the basin but also repaired the object using archivally-stable materials.

Lastly, our third most popular entry was our February 2019 blog: When Building Fragments Come Together: Foundations at the Fredericksburg Riverfront Park. This blog was the first of several that focused on the results of our January/February 2019 data recovery at the Riverfront Park. We thought we would set the scene for upcoming installments by discussing the buildings that once dotted the landscape and noting the importance of architectural studies on historic sites.

It’s easy to see that local history wins when it comes to popularity as top three blogs are quite similar! If you have a favorite blog that did not make the top three, send us your feedback!

 

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.