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.

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.

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!

 

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“I’ll Skip My Turn Thanks!”

Featured Fragment – Civil War-Era Tourniquet Clamp from Henrico County, Virginia

By Kerry S. González

For hundreds of years the tourniquet has been used on extremities, primarily arms and legs, in an effort to stop hemorrhaging during an amputation. For this month’s blog post we are highlighting a Civil War-era tourniquet found during a recent archaeological survey in Henrico County, Virginia.  This device is composed of cast brass with “Brinkerhoff” stamped on the handle. Leather fragments, representing the no-longer-extant strap, are present as well.

Civil War-Era Tourniquet Recovered by Dovetail Staff During a Recent Archaeological Survey in Henrico County, Virginia.

Van Wyck Brinkerhoff was a minor supplier of surgical instruments and medical sets during the Civil War and the tourniquet recovered by Dovetail was likely part of a larger set which would have included a bone saw, knives, bone forceps etc. (Echols and Arbittier 2016). The surgical set shown below (missing a tourniquet and forceps) was made by Brinkerhoff between 1860 and 1862 and illustrates the number of tools needed to perform an amputation.

Civil War-Era Brinkerhoff Amputation Set (Medical and Surgical Antiques n.d.).

According to Robert L. Mabry’s article, Tourniquet Use on the Battlefield (2006), the tourniquet is fundamentally unchanged from its original form when it was first used on the battlefield in 1674 (Mabry 2006). However, prior to this, Hans Von Gersdoff, a German surgeon, was a proponent for the use of tight bands around an amputation site, as illustrated in his book Feldtbuch der Wundtartzney (Field Book of Surgery) published in 1517 (Mabry 2006). Over the years, the tourniquet evolved as surgeons tried to find safer and more effective ways to reduce blood flow during an amputation while at the same time reducing the risk of causing nerve or tissue damage to the limb. In 1718 Jean Louis Petit created a tourniquet which included a strap and a screw device, similar to the one recovered by Dovetail, which could be tightened around the appendage thus negating the need for an assistant to hold the tourniquet in place (Welling and Rich 2012).

During the Civil War amputations were a common procedure as the Minié Ball, a widely-used bullet in rifles during the war, caused terrible damage to the body. An 1879 description gives grim details of the extent of the damages caused by these projectiles: “bones are ground almost to power muscles, ligaments, and tendons torn away, and the parts otherwise so mutilated, that loss of life, certainly of limb, is almost an inevitable consequence” (Helmuth 1879).

Approximately 60,000 amputations were performed during the Civil War, some done with no anesthesia (U.S. Library of Medicine 2013). This left soldiers fearful of the surgeons, especially the younger, more inexperienced doctors who were overly enthusiastic to perform amputations. These zealous surgeons, nicknamed “butchers” by the soldiers, were sometimes criticized by the more experienced doctors and were accused of using the battlefield as a way to improve their skills instead of having the patient’s best interest in mind (U.S. Library of Medicine 2013).

Amputation Being Performed in a Hospital Tent, Gettysburg (Tipton 1868–1925).

Unfortunately, many amputations during the Civil War resulted in infection from lack of sterilization which inevitably lead to death. Tourniquets continued to be used on and off the battlefield to help stop the flow of blood on an open wound or to perform an amputation. A historical account from World War II states that, once again, tourniquets were being misused, sometimes resulting in unnecessary amputation. “Soldiers—whether medical or non-medical—regularly misused tourniquets. They applied them unnecessarily; left them unloosened for too long; and occasionally evacuated patients with tourniquets concealed by blankets or clothing, and hence not discovered until the limb was doomed” (Welling and Rich 2012). A modern version of the tourniquet is still used today but with much greater care and awareness on the part of the medical professional administering the device.

 

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: 

Echols, Michael, and Doug Arbittier
2014    Archaeological Data Recovery Plan: Site 31Rd1426, Randolph County, North Carolina. North Carolina Department of Transportation Human Environment Section, Raleigh, North Carolina.

Helmuth, William Tod
1879   A System of Surgery. Hahnemann Publishing House, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Mabry, Robert
2006   Tourniquet Use on the Battlefield. Electronic document, https://academic.oup.com/milmed/article/171/5/352/4577893, accessed May 2018.

Medical and Surgical Antiques
n.d.   The Civil War Period Amputation and Surgical Sets Collection. Electronic document, http://medicalandsurgicalantiques.com/the-civil-war-period-collection.html, accessed May 2018.

Tipton, W.H.
1868–1925   Amputation Being Performed in a Hospital Tent, Gettysburg. Glass Negatives of ‘Tipton’s Photographic Views of the Battle of Gettysburg and other Photographs of General Interest”, 1868–1925. Available online https://catalog.archives.gov/id/520201, accessed May 2018.

U.S. Library of Medicine
2013   Maimed Men. Electronic document, https://www.nlm.nih.gov/exhibition/lifeandlimb/maimedmen.html, accessed May 2018.

Welling, David R., and Norman M. Rich
2012   A Brief History of the Tourniquet. Electronic document, https://www.jvascsurg.org/article/S0741-5214(11)02470-0/pdf?code=ymva-site, accessed May 2018.

When Wearing a Cage Was All the Rage: Crinoline and Hoop Skirts in the 19th Century

Featured Fragment – Cage Crinoline Fragments

By Kerry S. González

In January 2017, Dovetail conducted excavations at the site of a proposed Riverfront Park in Fredericksburg, Virginia. This was the third time Dovetail visited the area along Sophia Street in downtown Fredericksburg—reflecting its abundant prehistoric and historic activity. Over 10,000 artifacts were recovered from the three separate excavations, but for this month’s blog we are highlighting the cage crinoline fragments that were recovered from a feature identified as a Civil War trench (for more on the trench see our blog from January 2017).

The cage crinoline fragments recovered during the excavations were made of an iron alloy with some fragments sheathed in a copper alloy (see below). The cage crinoline became popular in the mid-nineteenth century, and by 1856, W.S. Thomson received a patent for the metal-caged crinoline (Thomas 2014).

 

Sample of Cage Crinoline Fragments Recovered From the Riverfront Park Site.

 

The purpose of the cage crinoline was to create a structure for the fabric of a woman’s skirt that was laid over top of the structural system. This cage was constructed of wire hoops and woven tapes, and the metal wire hoops were used to create the cage “that supported the ever-widening hems without the extra weight of layered petticoats” (Rivers Cofield 2015). The hoops were held in place by white metal alloy tubes that cinched around the wire hoops. However, the space created under the skirt by the cage made pantaloons, essentially baggy pants, vital for the virtue of the wearer to remain intact as well as to help keep the legs warm.

 

Image of Circa 1858 Cage Crinoline (The Metropolitan Museum of Art 2017: Accession number C.I.45.79.10).

 

Example of Wrapped Wire Hoops and Metal Attachment Tubes (Rivers Cofield 2015).

 

The small fragments recovered from the Riverfront Park site displayed a typical composition, with the ferrous metal hoop fragments and copper alloy tubes very apparent. This type of artifact is a great example of a ‘small find’ that could be easily misidentified, especially considering the fragmentary nature of the object. It is our hope that this blog can shed some light on this type of artifact and help lead to more accurate archaeological identifications.

 

 

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: 

Victoriana Magazine
2016   The Crinoline or Hoop Skirt. Online documentation. http://www.victoriana.com/Victorian-Fashion/crinoline.htm, accessed December 2017.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art
2017   Cage Crinoline, Accession Number C.I.45.79.10. Electronic document, http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/104430, accessed March 2017.

Rivers Cofield, Sara
2015   Houston-LeCompt Personal Adornment. Appendix I of the Archaeological Data Recovery at the Houston-LeCompt Site (7NC-F-139;N-14517), New Castle County, Delaware. Dovetail Cultural Resource Group, Fredericksburg, Virginia.

Thomas, Pauline W.
2014   Crinoline Fashion History. Electronic document, http://www.fashion-era.com/crinolines.htm, accessed March 2017.

“I Ain’t Gonna Study War No More, Down by the Riverside….”

Featured Fragment – Archaeology in Downtown Fredericksburg

By Joe Blondino and Dr. Kerri Barile

In January 2017, the City of Fredericksburg sponsored an archaeological dig at the site of the new Riverfront Park on Sophia Street in the downtown historic district. The site (44SP0069-1) was first explored in August 2013 during preliminary studies as part of the City’s park planning initiative. The archaeological survey, conducted by Dovetail, uncovered the foundations of 14 buildings, including several 18th and 19th century homes, a pre-Civil War ice house, privies, and a possible slave quarter. A portion of the site was accidentally disturbed during area construction in the fall 2015, exposing archaeological features and human remains. The City and Dovetail conducted additional work on the site in October 2015 to conduct salvage excavations on the disturbed features. The remains of a probable antebellum slave quarter and the backyard of the circa 1750 Rowe-Goolrick House (the foundation of which is now under a nearby parking lot) were uncovered, as well as Civil War trenches and a stone boundary wall.  The Rowe-Goolrick House, like many dwellings in town, was used as a hospital during the 1862 Battle of Fredericksburg, and the human remains found during the dig may have belonged to Union soldiers who died while under treatment at the hospital. DNA analysis and other scientific techniques are currently being employed to possibly identify the lineage of the remains.

Riverfront Park site (44SP0069-1) overview

As plans for the new Riverfront Park are developed, additional archaeological work is being conducted on the site as part of the City’s commitment to historic preservation and archaeological study. Dovetail returned to the site in January 2017 to complete the excavations of the disturbance area begun in 2015. The goal was to further explore the building foundations, back yard area, and Civil War trenches that were found during the earlier work. The team also wants to assure that all human remains possibly buried in the area are removed and properly treated. As of the authoring of this blog, Dovetail has identified a section of a Civil War-era entrenchment as well as archaeological features related to the 18th century occupation of the area, such as post holes and refuse pits.

Artifacts recovered during the excavations also highlight the 18th and 19th century activities of the lot. Fragments of ceramics, nails, bottle glass, and personal items such as smoking pipe fragments and shoe buckles have been recovered. Particular artifacts of note include three Burnside carbine cartridges and a lid to a cast iron Dutch oven (pictured below). The Burnside cartridges almost certainly relate to Civil War activity on the site. The .54 caliber Burnside carbine was designed in the mid-1850s by Ambrose Burnside, who would later lead the Federal Army during the Battle of Fredericksburg. The breech-loading Burnside carbine, being relatively small and quick to load, was used primarily by Union Cavalry. However, with tens of thousands of them issued to Federal troops, they were not an uncommon weapon and captured Burnsides could have been used by Confederates as well. Although it is not definitively a military object, the Dutch oven lid is consistent with cookware that would have been used by groups of soldiers preparing and consuming communal meals.

Recovered Burnside carbine cartridges

Recovered Burnside carbine cartridges

Information gleaned from the work will be presented in a report, at public talks, and in interpretive panels to be mounted at the site as part of the park design. The success of the archaeological project relies on the teamwork of many groups—the City of Fredericksburg, Rhodeside & Harwell (park designers), Downey & Scott (construction managers), Dovetail, and others. Partnership, coordination, and communication have assured that this notable site is explored and the history of this area is shared with future generations.

Dovetail archaeologists, Stephen Mohs, uncovering a dutch oven lid

 

intact dutch oven

Example of an intact dutch oven

 

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History Well-Preserved

Featured Fragment – Nineteenth-Century Pickle Bottles

By Kerry González 

photo-merge_final

Gothic Revival style shown in the design of the pickle bottle

Recent excavations by Dovetail, conducted on behalf of Stafford County, recovered two cathedral-style pickle bottles (displayed below). They were located within two separate trash pits at a Civil War-era encampment in the town of Falmouth in Stafford County, occupied between 1862 and 1863. The area is now part of Pratt Park.

Bottles such as these were often used to hold foods that had been preserved through drying, smoking, pickling, etc. (Society for Historical Archaeology [SHA] 2016). This process, developed by M. Nicolas Appert, began during the Napoleonic War era as a means to help the military store foods for longer periods of time (SHA 2016). Appert’s process, formalized in 1809, began with direct heat which killed the bacteria in the food. This was followed up by the installation of an airtight seal over the mouth of the vessel to avoid additional contamination. Oddly, scientists of the time, Appert included, did not fully understand how or why the process of heating and sealing of a container preserved perishables for long periods of time; they just knew it worked (SHA 2016).

The ornate pint-sized bottles shown here exhibit a wide mouth, which allowed for bulky and large foods, such as pickles, to be packed and removed easily. The design of the bottle features beautiful elongated cathedral windows; it is a reflection of the Gothic Revival style en vogue during the mid-nineteenth century in America (SHA 2016). This revival not only affected the style of bottles of the time but architecture as well. Houses reflective of Gothic Revival style often feature steeply pitched roofs with a central cross gable lined with decorated vergeboards (ornate trimwork lining the roof eaves), a one-story entry or full-width porch, and windows with Gothic detailing, including drip molds, pointed arch (lancet), or false shaping (McAlester 2013 267–268). Clearly it was a popular motif and one that extended to even the most seemingly ordinary of objects—the humble pickle jar.

picklebottlepicklebottle2_reverse

 

 

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:

Society for Historical Archaeology
2016 Society for Historical Archaeology Historic Glass Bottle Identification & Information Website. https://sha.org/bottle/index.htm, accessed September 2016.

McAlester,Virginia Salvage
2013 A Field Guide to American Houses. Alfred A.Knopf, 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.