It Was Colonel Weedon With a Candlestick on Sophia Street: Another “Clue” to Fredericksburg’s Past

By Kerry S. González and D. Brad Hatch

This month we are once again highlighting an artifact recovered from our Riverfront Park excavations in Fredericksburg, Virginia. The candlestick fragment pictured below is made of brass and is typical of the late Georgian/early Federal style, popular in the late-eighteenth century. This particular candlestick has been dated to circa 1795.

It is no surprise to read that candlesticks have been used for millenia with the sole purpose of holding a candle. According to Geoffrey Wills (1974) in his book Candlesticks: “a prudent eighteenth-century lady, Mrs. Whatman, noted that the first thing a housekeeper should teach her new servant is to carry her candle upright.” While the Romans are credited with creating the wicked candle, other civilizations were using similar styles of lighting for daily use or ceremonial purposes years before (candles.org 2019). These early forms of the candlestick eventually evolved into very elaborate items often made of precious metals such as gold or silver. These expensive pieces were a sign a wealth for the upper class and were used as status symbols as much as they were for lighting.

However, candles and candlesticks were not only used for lighting. During the seventeenth century the sport of ‘candle jumping’ was quite popular and often practiced at festivals (nurseryrhymesforbabies.com 2019). It reportedly involved a young girl jumping over a lit candle with the intention of trying not to extinguish the flame (nurseryrhymesforbabies.com 2019). Candles have also played a significant role in popular culture through the ages due to their ubiquity in society, particulary before the advent of electricity. The popular nursery rhyme “Jack Be Nimble” features candle jumping and may have originated as early as the seventeenth century, in relation to the sport. The continued popularity of this rhyme helps to underscore the importance of this object in society. Indeed many people still decorate their homes with candlesticks, though their function as lighting devices has declined over the past century. Nevertheless, these familiar objects are able to provide us with important information on the lifeways of people in the past, including those that lived on and near the Riverfront site in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Fredericksburg. Recovering such an embellished object from a Fredericksburg home speaks to the possible affluence of the owner and consumer practices in our early port town.

Photo 1: Brass Candlestick Fragment Recovered From Riverfront Excavations.

Photo 2: Candle Recovered from Dovetail Excavations Beside a Complete Candlestick of the Same Style and Form (Antiques.com 2019).

References:

Antiques.com

2019    Pair of Georgian Brass Candlesticks, c. 1785. Electronic document, http://www.antiques.com/classified/Decorative-Interior/Antique-Candlesticks—Holders/Antique-Pair-of-Georgian-brass-candlesticks–C–1785?fbclid=IwAR1VbZoWa9fLSH2FjT0e7uwnAH0h3ZRfXE0NfrlKn-bLz82Rsri8QaLZeGI, accessed May 2019.

Nurseryrhymesforbabies.com

2019    The History of Jack Be Nimble. Electronic document, nurseryrhymesforbabies.com, accessed May 2019.

Wills, Geoffrey

1974    Candlesticks. Clarkson N. Potter, Inc./Publisher. New York, New York.

 

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.

Dovetail Needs Your Help!

By Kerry Gonzalez

Continuing our blog series on artifacts recovered from our Riverfront Park excavations in Fredericksburg, we would like to highlight the wine bottle seal pictured below. Marking wine bottles with personalized seals were done near the end of the bottle making process. While the fully formed wine bottle was still warm the glassblower would affix a ‘glob’ of glass to the bottle and emboss it with a seal. We are asking for your help in dating this particular artifact. We know the seal recovered at the Riverfront Park site is from a bottle of Chateau Lafite that dates between 1810 and 1850. We also believe the “B&G” in relief in the center of the seal represents Barton and Guestier, a wine house in Bordeaux, France that at one time unsuccessfully attempted to acquire Lafite.   

Wine seals marked with Chateau Lafite have been found at several estates in the United States, including Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson’s desires to aquire Chateau Lafite wines were so enthusiastic that he wrote a letter to the president of bordeaux parlement, M. Pichard, on February 22, 1788, requesting 250 bottles (Hailman 2006:148).

“While passing through Bordeaux of May last year, I have the honor of appearing at your house to pay my respects and to thank you for all the kindness you showed to Mr. Barclay, our Consul (in Paris) in the unpleasant affair that happened to him in Bordeaux. In hastening to renew my thanks, I take the liberty of adding therto the request of a favor. The excellent wines named de la Fite are of your vineyard. If you have any of the 1784 vintage, and would accomadte me with 250 bottles, I would be infinitely obliged to you. If it would be possible to have them bottled and packed at your estate, it would doubtless be a guarantee that the wine was genuine, and the drawing off and so forth well done”

Now you know as much as we do about this artifact, and we hope some of you wine lovers out there have thoughts as to a specific time period for this interesting piece.  Please contact us through Facebook with any comments or suggestions!

References:

Hailman, John

2006    Thomas Jefferson on Wine. University Press of Mississippi, Jackson.

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.

Jaw Harp Found in Fredericksburg

Music To Our Ears Mouths: A Jaw Harp Found in Fredericksburg

By: Kerry Gonzalez

This month’s blog will continue our series on Dovetail’s recent excavations at the Riverfront Park in Fredericksburg, Virginia where over 10,000 artifacts were recovered. Many of these artifacts were personal items, one of which is the focus of this blog. Recovered from an area where a late-eighteenth-century brick duplex once stood at the corner of Hanover and Sophia Streets, this jaw harp speaks to the leisurely activities that took place at the site during the early-nineteenth century.

The iron alloy jaw harp, or “Jew’s harp” as they are often referred to, was identified after a series of x-ray images were taken on over 1,500 metal artifacts recovered during the project (Photo 1). X-ray is often used by archaeologists to help identify severely corroded pieces recovered during a dig. Prior to the x-ray, the team was unable to decipher the use of this iron object.

Photo 1: Top: Highly Corroded Jaw Harp. Bottom: X-ray image of jaw harp confirming identification.

This type of musical instrument is a fairly common find on archaeological sites, with the earliest discovery from Inner Mongolia dating to the eighth and fifth centuries B.C. (Elizabeth Morgan 2008). A 1,700-year-old jaw harp was also recovered from the Altai Mountains in Russia (National Geographic 2018). The Russian mouth harp had a distinctive three-tined shape unlike the more ubiquitous bow-shaped jaw harps seen today (Photo 2). While the shape of the jaw harp may have changed, the manner in which it was played varied little.

By placing the frame against their front teeth and flicking the spring, players can create a distinctive twanging sound. Different notes can be played by altering the shape of the player’s mouth. (Mackinac State Historic Parks 2018).

Photo 2: Image of Intact Jaw Harps (Worthpoint 2019).

In a thesis published on this very topic, Deirdre Anne Elizabeth Morgan (2008) asserts that the mouth harp plays an important and interesting role in courtship and procreation especially in southeastern Asia. It is suggested that the shape of the mouth-played instrument has symbology related to procreation and it may “possess an innately erotic character” (Bakx 1998). It is further suggested that because this instrument is solely played with the mouth it provides a focal point for suitors trying to lure a mate through both their mouth and their musical prowess (Elizabeth Morgan 2008).

Finding musical instruments on sites helps archaeologists understand the vernacular lifestyle of occupants and illustrates how music often helped provide a mental break from their day-to-day activities and create a comforting sense of place.

 

References:

Bakx, Phons

1998    The Jew’s harp and the Hindu God Shiva: Into the Symbolism of Procreation. The Thoughts’ Dispeller Booklet Series 1. Stichting/Foundation Antropodium, Middleburg.

Elizabeth Morgan, Deirdre Anne

2006    Organs and Bodies: The Jew’s Harp and the Anthropology of Musical Instruments. Electronic document, https://facultystaff.richmond.edu/~amcgraw/gamelan/ubc_
2008_fall_morgan_deirdre-libre.pdf, accessed March 2019.

Mackinac State Historic Parks

2018    Jaw Harps. Electronic document, https://www.mackinacparks.com/jaw-harps/, accessed March 2019.

National Geographic

2018    1,700-Year-Old Musical Instrument Found, and It Still Works. Electronic document, https://news.nationalgeographic.com/2018/01/ancient-musical-instrum
ent-mouth-jaw-harp-siberia-russia-spd/, accessed March 2019.

 

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.

When Building Fragments Come Together: Foundations at the Fredericksburg Riverfront Park

By Kerri Barile

One of the most exciting finds on an archaeological site are the remains of a building or structure—evidence of people modifying their natural world to create a controlled space. Whether it is a dwelling, store, barn, or other building, the activity of using tools to create construction materials and combining these fragments to craft shelter is one of the hallmarks of humanity. During the Riverfront Park data recovery in Fredericksburg, Virginia, Dovetail Cultural Resource Group found not one but five foundations, each a unique symbol of the city’s evolution (Photo 1). The archaeological work was done at the request of the City of Fredericksburg prior to park development. This blog is the first of several that will focus 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. Future blogs will take the next step and describe the thousands of artifacts once used by area inhabitants and recovered during this incredible dig.

Photo 1: Adriana Moss Excavates a Brick Foundation at the Riverfront Park.

The first European settlement on the Fredericksburg riverfront occurred early in the community’s history. Even before the town had a formal street system, dwellings were being erected along the riverbanks. One of the earliest was a home that we now call the Rowe-Goolrick House, located at the southern end of the proposed park. Built in the mid-eighteenth century, this two-story, three-bay home did not face today’s street grid but rather the original town ferry lane, which ceased use shortly after the home was constructed. The foundation of the house was fashioned of local Aquia sandstone, forming a basement and support system for the frame structure above. The home was demolished in 1973 to make way for a parking lot. During the Riverfront data recovery, Dovetail uncovered the northeast corner of the foundation, still in pristine condition (Photo 2). Possible original support posts were even found in place in the basement fill. Dendrochronology (tree ring dating) is being done on these supports to date these incredible building fragments.

Photo 2: The Rowe-Goolrick House in 1933 (left) (Library of Congress 1933) and the Home’s Stone Foundation (right), Found under a Parking Lot.

On the opposite side of the park, in the northern segment near Hanover Street, the team uncovered not one but two incredible foundations. Each featured handmade brick with sand temper made in wooden molds; the foundations were fastened with mud mortar. In the northwest corner was the foundation of a one-story, four-bay brick duplex at 717–719 Sophia Street built around 1780. Interestingly, this home had a central chimney that serviced both sides of the double dwelling—a feature usually seen in New England (Photo 3). In the northeast corner was the brick foundation of the circa 1832 Ferneyhough ice house, a public ice facility. This feature measured over 30 feet in length, dug into a subsoil of very dense clay (so dense that the backhoe could not penetrate the soils) (Photo 4). Excavation of this clay with hand tools to adequately lay the deep foundation would have been incredibly challenging!

Photo 3: Brick Duplex at 717–719 Sophia Street in 1927 (left) (Library of Congress 1927) and the Building’s Foundation and Central Chimney Base Uncovered During the Dig (right).

Photo 4: The West Wall of the Ferneyhough Ice House Discovered 4 Feet Below Ground.

In the middle of the park, archaeologists found the brick foundation of a postbellum home once located at 713 Sophia Street and an antebellum duplex that once stood at 701–703 Sophia Street (Photo 5). Both of these buildings had a timber-frame structural system sitting on brick, stone, and wooden pier foundations. Each was in use for only 50 to 75 years before they were demolished, reflecting the transitory nature of life along the river where repeated flooding and changing transportation needs rendered an ever-changing landscape. All of the buildings found in the park area were someone’s home, someone’s work, someone’s life. When joined, these fragments come together to tell the story of so many who once walked in our footsteps and dwelled at our doors.

Photo 5: The Fredericksburg Riverfront Park Around 1920. From left to right: brick duplex at 717–719 Sophia Street; home at 713 Sophia Street; Home at 705 Sophia Street (not excavated during current fieldwork); and wood duplex at 701–703 Sophia Street (Shibley 1976:137).

 

References:

Library of Congress

1927    Cabin, Water Street, Fredericksburg, Virginia. Frances Benjamin Johnson Collection. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2008675923/, accessed July 2013.

1933    House, 607 Sophia Street, Fredericksburg, Fredericksburg, Virginia. Historic American Building Survey. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/va0925.photos.165656p/, accessed July 2013.

Shibley, Ronald E.

1976    Historic Fredericksburg: A Pictorial History. The Donning Company/Publishers, Inc., Norfolk, Virginia.

 

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.

Coming Unglued: The Importance of Reversibility in Artifact Conservation

By Reagan Andersen

In this month’s blog, we are highlighting a whiteware basin with a flow blue Scinde pattern from the mid-nineteenth century. The object was brought to the Dovetail lab by a curious owner from Stafford County.  The vessel had once been broken into several large pieces that someone had attempted to glue back together (Photo 1). With permission from the owner, the archaeology lab at Dovetail conserved the bowl in a more appropriate and safe manner. Through a step-by-step analysis, this blog will discuss the conservation methods utilized to preserve the bowl’s integrity.

Photo 1: The Basin Before Conservation Efforts Began. Notice the giant glob of glue put in place of a missing sherd!

The first step was to remove the adhesive that had been used to refit the bowl when it originally broke. In order to do this, we had to first determine what type of glue was used and how, or if, it could be removed. With its black color, we believed the adhesive to be JB Weld—a high-temperature epoxy adhesive that is not removable. In order to get a clearer answer, we took the bowl to the Virginia Department of Historic Resources (DHR) in Richmond and with the help of Katherine Ridgway, a conservator at DHR, we received great news. It was not JB Weld, but just a normal, removable, adhesive that had been painted over with either black paint or sharpie in an attempt to blend in with the dark blue pattern.  We quickly got to work removing the black paint and as much of the glue as possible with just cotton balls and acetone. However, the adhesive was not budging. The next step was to put the bowl into an acetone chamber, where the bowl is placed in a bag or container along with acetone-filled jars so that the acetone vapors can break down the adhesive and allow for separation (Photo 2). After a few weeks of being in the acetone chamber, the pieces had finally fallen apart and it was time to start removing the leftover residue and begin re-mending. In order to remove the excess residue we soaked the sherds in acetone and then used scalpels to peel the adhesive off of the fragments.

Photo 2: The Basin After Removal of Adhesive, But Before Acetone Chamber.

To re-mend the basin, we used Paraloid B-72: a clear, thermoplastic resin that is commonly used in conservation and restoration. It is more flexible than most other adhesives and, most importantly, it is dissolvable in acetone! It is highly important that whatever was done to the basin must be reversible; this is true with all conservation and restoration work. In the lab at Dovetail, we regularly use B-72 for labeling artifacts and mending ceramics or glass.

After several months of work, the bowl was finally finished (Photo 3). We hope to continue restoration by filling in the damaged, colorless areas with compatible paint colors. So, next time you break your grandmother’s favorite dinner plate, ask an archaeologist to repair it for you!

Photo 3: The Finished Basin.

 

 

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A “Killer” Artifact for Babies

A Partial Bone Disc Recovered from the Houston-LeCompt Site

By Sara Rivers Cofield and Kerry S. González

This month we are going to revisit an artifact that Dovetail recovered from their data recovery excavations at the Houston-LeCompt site in New Castle County, Delaware. This work was sponsored by the Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT) and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) as part of the DelDOT Route 301 study. Thousands of artifacts were recovered during the fieldwork, some of which have been discussed in previous blog posts (see April 2016, December 2015, January 2015, and March 2017). For this blog, we not only have a guest author, Sara Rivers-Cofield, Federal Curator at the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Laboratory (MAC Lab), but we are unabashedly highlighting an artifact we misidentified in 2013.

When Sara took on an analysis of the clothing-related artifacts from the Houston-LeCompt site in 2014, she photographed this partial bone disc (Photo 1) because she thought it might have been a button mold. One-holed bone discs were often used for making thread- or cloth-covered buttons in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, but the holes for such buttons were usually much smaller. For that reason, this artifact was not included in Sara’s subsequent analysis and report.

Photo 1: Partial bone disc from the Houston-LeCompt site
(Test Unit 80, Feature 18, Strat. I, Lev. 2).

 

As it turns out, leaving the artifact out of the clothing analysis was the right decision. Earlier this year Sara was researching artifacts online when she stumbled across an Australian archaeological report showing several similar discs labeled as “bone feeding bottle nipple guards” (Stocks 2013:79, 110, 161, 184). It was an “aha” moment because she had seen nineteenth-century baby bottles that had long tubes with a nipple at the end (Photo 2). The bottles are famous for having been difficult to clean and therefore a perfect breeding ground for bacteria that led to illness and death for many infants. As a result, the bottles were nicknamed “murder bottles” and eventually were removed from the market (Baby Bottle Museum 2016). By the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century, other materials like rubber and celluloid were available for bottle nipples, however according to the 1902 and 1908 Sears, Roebuck Catalogs some guards were still made of bone (Figures 1-2).

Photo 2: Many babies were photographed with their bottles, perhaps to keep them happy and still for the photo session (Parent24 2018).

 

Figure 1: Disc-shaped nipple guards can be seen on bottles, nipple shields, and teething rings in the 1902 Sears, Roebuck Catalog. The description of the glass nipple shield specifies that the guard is made of bone (Sears, Roebuck Co. 1902:454).

 

Figure 2: Two teething rings/pacifiers featured in the 1908 Sears, Roebuck Catalog specify that the nipple guard is made of bone (Schroeder 1971:794).

 

It was exciting to have a lead on that tricky bone disc that she remembered from Houston-LeCompt. Not long after this discovery, Sara found a complete bone guard in a collection from the City of Baltimore that had just been delivered to the MAC Lab, and this example even has a rubber lining remaining in the ring (Photo 3). No doubt there are many more of these in collections that have never been properly identified.

Now that we can recognize these bone discs for what they are, it is possible to connect the Houston-LeCompt site to an interesting era in the history of parenthood when new bottles were designed to make parents’ lives easier by letting babies feed themselves. How awful it must have been for parents to realize that their adoption of these convenient feeders could have such deadly consequences.

This artifact is just one example of the importance of retaining archaeological collections. Human beings have made an amazingly diverse array of products, and it just isn’t possible for any one archaeologist to know about them all. Archaeology is an ongoing learning process that keeps going once the initial written report is finished.

 

Photo 3: Complete nipple guard with surviving rubber in the center. From the Albemarle Rowhouse site (18BC50/40H-292).

 

 

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:

Baby Bottle Museum
2016   Murder Bottles: Baby feeding bottles that could kill. Electronic document, http://www.babybottle-museum.co.uk/murder-bottles/, accessed November 2018.

Parent24
2018    Timeline: From ‘killer bottles’ to baby cages, weird and wonderful baby gadgets from the past, electronic document, https://www.parent24.com/Baby/Fun/timeline-from-killer-bottles-to-baby-cages-here-are-baby-gadgets-from-the-past-20180522. Accessed August 2018.

Schroeder, Joseph J., Jr, editor
1971    Sears, Roebuck & Co. 1908, Catalogue No. 117: A Treasured Replica from the Archives of History. DBI Books, Inc., Northfield, Illinois.

Sears, Roebuck Co.
1902    The 1902 Edition of the Sears, Roebuck Catalogue. 1986 Edited reprint by Bounty Books, Crown Publishers, Inc., New York, New York.

Stocks, Robyn
2013    Miscellaneous, Organics and Non-structural Metals Report: Darling Quarter, Darling Harbor. Vol. 3, Section 8.2 of the Casey & Lowe Darling Harbor report. Electronic document, http://www.caseyandlowe.com.au/pdf/darlingquarter/DarlingQuarter_Volume_3_Section_8.2_Misc_Report_Part1.pdf, accessed November 2018.

A Brush with a Hog

A Brush with a Hog: Cleaning Your Teeth in the Nineteenth Century

By Kerry Gonzalez

In 2018, archaeologists from the Maryland Department of Transportation State Highway Administration (MDOT SHA), Applied Archaeology and History Associates, Inc., and Dovetail Cultural Resource Group worked on four sites along Frederick Road (MD 144) in Howard County, Maryland. The survey is part of a stewardship initiative by MDOT SHA to explore the history and development of the MD 144 corridor, known historically as the Baltimore and Frederick-Town Turnpike and the National Road. As part of this work, Dovetail will be processing the field and artifact data, as well as producing a final report on four sites. While the archival research and data analysis is ongoing, the site appears to be a mid nineteenth century dwelling that may have served as a store.

This month’s blog highlights a bone toothbrush recovered from the Poplar Springs excavations (Photo 1 and Photo 2). Mid- to late nineteenth century examples like this one, once contained animal hair bristles held in place by copper alloy wiring (Photo 2). While hog bristles were the preferred hair for toothbrushes, horse and badger hair were also used at various times (Pittman 2018).

Bone Toothbrush Fragment image

Photo 1: Bone Toothbrush Fragment Recovered From Excavations at Poplar Springs Site.

Close up of toothbrush - Image

Photo 2: Image Taken with Microscope Showing Intact Bristles and Copper Wire.

Mid-to-Late 19th Century Bone Toothbrush - Image

Photo 3: Mid-to Late-Nineteenth Century Bone Toothbrush Recovered From Clagett’s Brewery (18BC38) in Maryland (JefPat 2018).

 

The first bristled toothbrush was invented during the Tang Dynasty (AD 619–907) in China (Library of Congress 2013). While the bone or bamboo toothbrush with hog bristles was used throughout China during and after the Tang Dynasty, it was some time before this invention reached Europe. Prior to this, Europeans would clean their teeth (if they chose to do so) with a rag or chew stick (Samford 2002). It was not until 1780 that William Addis reportedly invented what we know today as the toothbrush. The legend says:

Addis became involved in a dispute that got out of control, and was thrown into Newgate prison, charged with starting a riot. Languishing in a dark and dank jail cell, Addis had time on his hands, and a foul-tasting mouth. The story has it that he spied a broom in a corner of a room, and was struck with inspiration. Retrieving a bone from the jail cell floor, he somehow drilled holes into it and obtained bristles from a sympathetic jailer. [Museum of Everyday Life n.d.]

Toothbrushes were being mass-produced across Europe by the 1840s, and by 1857 the first U.S. patent was filed by H.N. Wadsworth. This patent outlines how the new and improved angle of the bristles “keeps the gums healthy and vigorous” among other things (Samford 2002). However, while toothbrushes likely cleaned better than the previously used rag or stick, the bristles often broke off leaving sharp ends that punctured the fragile gum tissue and thus led to nasty oral infections. Animal hair continued to be used in toothbrushes until 1938 when the first toothbrush with nylon bristles was presented to the market (Pittman 2018). The bristles on this new and improved toothbrush were still very coarse and it was not until the 1950s that softer bristles were introduced.  So, while you are brushing your teeth tonight, be thankful that the toothbrush was invented and that you are not using a chew stick or rag to clean your teeth.

 

 

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:

Museum of Everyday Life
n.d.      Prison, Suicide, & the Cold-Climate Hog. Electronic document, http://museumofeverydaylife.org/exhibitions-collections/previous-exhibitions/toothbrush-from-twig-to-bristle-in-all-its-expedient-beauty/a-visual-history-of-the-toothbrush. Accessed August 2018.

Library of Congress
2013    “Who Invented the Toothbrush and When Was it Invented?” Everyday Mysteries:  Fun Science Facts from the Library of Congress.  Website accessed February 23, 2017 at http://www.loc.gov/rr/scitech/mysteries/tooth.html.

Pittman, Bill
2018    Thomas Jefferson’s Toothbrush. Electronic document, http://www.history.org/history/teaching/enewsletter/may03/iotm.cfm. Accessed August 2018.

Samford, Patricia
2002    Bone Handled Toothbrushes. Electronic document, https://www.jefpat.org/diagnostic/SmallFinds/Toothbrushes/index-BoneHandledToothbrushes.html, accessed August 2018.

More than Just Another Brick in the Wall

Featured Fragment – A Mysterious Artifact from the Squirrel Creek Site

By D. Brad Hatch, Ph.D.

This month’s blog continues our series highlighting the artifacts recovered from the Squirrel Creek site in Randolph County, North Carolina. 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 artifact discussed below initially appeared to be one of the most unassuming in the collection, but in the end, was one of the most confounding for us in terms of its use.

During the excavations around a standing stone chimney, archaeologists recovered a cast iron block measuring 8.5 inches long by 3 inches tall by 4.5 inches wide and weighing 24.5 pounds (Figure 1). This object, known in the field as the “iron brick” due to its size and shape, was discovered in a layer of fill that extended into the western hearth and appeared to have been pushed up against the chimney sometime during one of the logging episodes that occurred on the property in the twentieth century, after the site’s occupancy (Figure 2). The purpose of the object was the focus of much speculation on site and continues to be, even now.

Figure 1: Iron Block Recovered from the Squirrel Creek Site.

 

Figure 2: View of the Western Hearth where the Iron Block was Found.

Based upon its association with the hearth, several hypotheses have been put forth relating its use to heat or food. Some have suggested that it could have been used as a source of heat. Having been heated in the fire, the iron block could have been placed in a container to act as a foot, bed, or food warmer. Another hypothesis is that it could have been used a small anvil for light metal working in or around the house. Perhaps the best-documented hypotheses for the use of this object comes from one of the descendants of a previous owner of the site.

Hal Pugh is the fourth great grandson of Samuel Trogdon, who owned the property on which the site is located in the late-eighteenth century, approximately 30 years before the dwelling at the site was constructed. Mr. Pugh was consulted extensively, both during and after the excavation, due to his expertise on North Carolina pottery (more on this to come in a future post). However, when he saw the iron block, he immediately recognized a similar object passed down through his family (Figure 3).

Figure 3: Pugh Family Iron Block (Courtesy of Hal Pugh).

According to Mr. Pugh, the cast iron block in his possession is 6.25 inches long by 2.25 inches tall by 5 inches wide. This block sat “on my grandparent’s hearth… [and] they used it as a base for cracking nuts…(usually walnuts and hickory nuts). My dad said they kept it on the fireplace hearth. He said they would sit around the fire in the fireplace in the fall & winter, crack the nuts and throw the shells in the fire. When they got through any smaller fragments of nutshells left over were simply swept in the fire.”

Considering that the iron block at the Squirrel Creek site was found in the hearth as well as the familial and local connections of the block in Mr. Pugh’s collection, it seems logical that both objects served similar purposes. Unfortunately, we have not found any other examples of an object like this in North Carolina or elsewhere, so we have been unable to confirm this interpretation. It is our hope that this post has shed a little light on this unique object and the process of artifact interpretation, and it may encourage other people to come forward with similar artifacts for comparison. If you have seen one of these, please let us know (Figures 4 and 5). You can contact me at bhatch@dovetailcrg.com.

Figure 4: Pugh Family Iron Block. Dog for scale (Courtesy of Hal Pugh).

 

Figure 5: Iron Block Recovered from the Squirrel Creek Site. Dog for scale.

 

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: 

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

Let’s get ‘fired’ up!

Featured Fragment – Cast Iron Andirons

By Kerry S. González

In October 2016 Dovetail Cultural Resource Group conducted data recovery excavations at a multi-component site with the primary core representing an early-nineteenth through early-twentieth century domestic occupation (31RD1426&1426**) located in Randolph County, North Carolina. The project was completed on behalf of the North Carolina Department of Transportation, in compliance with their Data Recovery Plan, and the overall Phase III assemblage contained nearly 25,000 artifacts. This blog is the first in a series of entries highlighting the plethora and variety of objects recovered from the site.

The first artifacts discussed in this series are a pair of cast iron andirons, sometimes referred to as fire dogs. These form a matching pair but neither is complete however they mirror the pair shown in the image below.  They are in different stages of corrosion and were recovered from separate contexts approximately 20 feet apart on either side of the central chimney once associated with a standing dwelling.

Andirons Recovered From Site 31Rd1426/1426**.

 

Image Showing Complete Set of Andirons in the Same Style as Those Recovered From Site 31Rd1426/1426** (Wiles 2017).

Andirons were used in fireplaces to elevate large burning logs. This allowed oxygen to easily circulate around the logs and feed the flames, rendering a more efficiently burning fire. Because fireplaces often served two purposes, heating a room and as a heat source for cooking, it was important to have a constant fire in the hearth; this was greatly aided by the andirons.

Eastman Johnson Painting “The New Bonnet” Showing Andiron in Similar Style to the Ones Recovered From Site (The Metropolitan Museum of Art [MET] 2017).

Andirons have been used in fireplaces for centuries. For those with means, andirons were often highly embellished and served in both their utilitarian capacity and as an interior decoration.  The practice of using andirons as a canvass for artistic expression began during the medieval period when blacksmiths began adding embellishments to andirons. For example, an andiron from the fourteenth century was forged with a serpent head extending from the top (Apartment Therapy 2018). Throughout the Renaissance period and into the eighteenth century, andirons continued to be designed with motifs such as ancient Greek and Roman statuary or molded in the form of animals. An elaborate set of andirons on display at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston were reportedly used by Marie Antoinette at Hameau de la Reine, the Queen’s rustic retreat, located in the park of the Chateau de Versailles. These andirons display two goats eating grapes from a central urn. Beneath the goats is a relief of cupids and grape vines (Museum of Fine Arts Boston 2018).

French Andirons (Museum of Fine Arts Boston 2018).

While decorative andirons clearly reflected the tastes of their owners, the andirons found at site 31RD1426&1426**—although plain—speak volumes. The occupants of the site were tenant farmers who eked out a meager existence in the North Carolina Piedmont but they still sought technological items that helped to render a more efficient (and warmer!) household.

So, as you are sitting in your home this winter trying to stay warm, contemplate the possible shapes and styles of andirons and what you may have commissioned if you had the monetary freedom to do so.

 

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: 

Apartment Therapy
2018    Quick History: Andirons. Electronic document, https://www.apartmenttherapy.com/quick-history-andironsretrospe-149729, accessed January 2018.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art
2017    The New Bonnet, Accession Number 25.110.11. Electronic document, https://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/25.110.11/, accessed January 2018.

Museum of Fine Arts Boston
2108   French Andirons. Accession Number 27.521.1-2.11. Electronic document, http://www.mfa.org/collections/object/andiron-505383, accessed January 2018.

Wiles, Tom
2017   Repurposed fireplace andirons holds planter box. In Pinterest [Personal Page]. Electronic document, https://www.pinterest.com/pin/314266880220703842/, accessed June 2017

A is for Artifact

Featured Fragment – Marriott Alphabet Cup

By Kerry S. González and Dr. Kerri S. Barile

For this month’s blog we are reaching way back into the archives to one of Dovetail’s first large-scale projects. In early 2006, the City of Fredericksburg and the Inns of Fredericksburg LLC employed Dovetail to investigate the history of a lot on the corner of Caroline and Charlotte streets in Fredericksburg, Virginia, now the location of the Courtyard by Marriott. The study, completed over the course of several months, uncovered more than 300 years of layered occupational history, a common occurrence on urban archaeological sites (Photo 1). These included: 1) part of the foundation of Roger Dixon’s early- to mid-eighteenth-century store; 2) the rear section of the circa 1773–1832 Indian Queen Tavern; 3) a rear work area associated with the Indian Queen; 4) a late-1830s Servant Quarter built over both the eighteenth-century building and the Tavern; 5) an 1840s brick alley wall; and 6) an early-twentieth-century porch stoop. All told, over 70,000 artifacts were retrieved during Dovetail’s excavation, two of which will be highlighted in this post.

Photo 1: Overview of the Marriott Excavation Area Showing the Many Foundations Exposed During the Archaeology Study.

The two artifacts presented in this blog are from an alphabet cup, an uncommon find on archaeological sites. These two fragments represent two sides of one brown transfer print whiteware cup. Alphabet Wares were most commonly produced on plates, with cups seemingly being less favorable to potters. They were first made in England beginning in the late-eighteenth century with production continuing throughout the twentieth century (kovels.com). These vessels were made for children with the intent of teaching them their A,B,Cs. As seen in Photo 2 the alphabet letters on the cup found at the Marriott site are printed in a large, easy to read format. Alphabet Ware plates typically had decorated centers with scenes appealing to a child, such as animals or children’s activities. Cups were decorated with similar childlike motifs like the example shown in Photo 3 that depicts a lazy day on the river.

Photo 2: Alphabet Ware Cup Fragments Recovered During Marriott Excavation Decorated with a Brown Transfer Print and Daisy Motif.

 

Photo 3: Nineteenth-Century Brown Transfer Printed Cup with Boat Motif on Complete Cup Representing the Same Design on the Cup Found During the Marriott Excavations (Ebay 2017).

This semi-hands-on learning style was not unique to Alphabet Ware or even the late-eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. During medieval times and through the eighteenth century, children used what is known as a hornbook (Figure 1 and Photo 4). A hornbook was a paddle-shaped piece of wood with a piece of parchment or paper containing a lesson affixed to the board. The parchment or paper was mounted in a frame and covered with a very thin piece of horn or mica to keep the parchment intact and safe from a child’s dirty hands. The handle portion was purely to make holding the learning device easier for both the child and the instructor, be it a parent, nanny, or tutor. The lessons typically consisted of letters (sometimes both upper and lowercase) above Arabic numbers followed by the Lord’s Prayer.

According to Moya Cove (2006), the eighteenth-century learning style known as the ‘gingerbread method’ was a direct result of the phonic-based hornbook. In a move away from the monotony of learning letters from a board, teachers and parents alike strove to revive learning by making letters out of gingerbread (Cove 2006). However, years prior to making actual letters from gingerbread dough, baked goods decorated with letters were sold in open market stalls (faqs.org 2006).

Regardless of when and how children learned their letters, the idea of integrating learning into daily life and activities has remained a constant throughout history. Today, homes with children likely have more educational aides than can ever be used. And to think, 200 years ago, simple gingerbread dough and a cup with letters was more than enough. Perhaps they also practiced letters with a stick in the dirt but they certainly managed without all the bells and whistles we have in 2017.

 For more information on Alphabet Wares visit the Diagnostic Artifacts in Maryland Webpage which has an excellent article on this type of ceramic and date ranges for the various styles.

Figure 1: ‘Miss Campion’ Holding a Hornbook, 1661 (thenonist.com 2003).

 

Photo 4: Typical Hornbooks (thenonist.com 2003).

 

 

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: 

Cove, Moya
2006    Sounds Familiar: The Historic of Phonics Teaching. In, Phonics: Practice, Research and Policy, edited by Maureen Lewis and Sue Ellis, pp. 105–112. Paul Chapman Publishing, Thousand Oak, California.

Ebay
2017    Staffordshire Alphabet ABC Mug. http://www.ebay.com/itm/Staffordshire-Alphabet-ABC-Mug-4-boys-and-a-row-boat-/141806025511, accessed May 2017.

faqs.org
2006    ABC Books. On-line documentation. http://www.faqs.org/childhood/A-Ar/ABC-Books.html, accessed May 2017.

Kovels.com
2011    ABC Plates; Collectors’ Concerns. http://www.kovels.com/20009070881
63/Collectors-Concerns/abc-plate.html, accessed 2011.

Thenonist.com
2003    The Humble Hornbook. On-line documentation. http://thenonist.com/index.php/
thenonist/permalink/the_humble_hornbook/, accessed May 2017.