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.

The Tines They Are A Changing

Featured Fragment – Eighteenth-Century Forks

By Kerry S. González

Dovetail Cultural Resource Group recently installed two exhibits highlighting archaeological finds on behalf of the Delaware Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration: one at the Smyrna Rest Area in Smyrna, Delaware, and the other at the Delaware Welcome Center in Newark, Delaware. The exhibits feature artifacts recovered during the excavations at the Houston-LeCompt (7NC-F-139) and Armstrong-Rogers sites (7NC-F-135).

 

Close Up of Shelf Showing Fork on Display in Houston-LeCompt Exhibit.

 

View of Armstrong-Rogers Archaeological Exhibit.

 

This month’s blog focuses on two of those artifacts, one found at each site. We are using two similar artifacts found during our excavations in Delaware to: one, shamelessly plug the recently installed artifact exhibits on the Houston-LeCompt and Armstrong-Rogers sites; and two, highlight an artifact associated with eating, which seems appropriate considering it is Thanksgiving week.

The fork recovered from the Armstrong-Rogers site consists only of the tangs and shoulders but even these seemingly insignificant attributes provided information on its date and use. Around 1770 the shoulders of a fork became more squared and less rounded, suggesting that the fork from Armstrong-Rogers predates 1770 (Dunning 2000:38). Additionally, according to Phil Dunning (2000:38), “average-quality forks began to be made with three tines, which had previously been found only on fine cutlery.” While this fork is not displayed in the exhibit on the Armstrong-Rogers site, many other artifacts are on display and highlight the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth occupation of the site.

 

Fork Recovered from the Armstrong-Rogers Site, Conserved by the MAC Lab. Image courtesy of the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Lab (MAC Lab).

 

The fork from the Houston-LeCompt site, which can been seen in the newly installed exhibit at the Smyrna Rest Area, is a two-tined fork with a bone handle. Based on the design of the scored bone handle and rounded shoulders, as discussed above, this fork also predates 1770 (Dunning 2000).

Fork and Scored Bone Handle Recovered from the Houston-LeCompt Site, Conserved at the MAC Lab. Image courtesy of the MAC Lab.

 

During the mid-eighteenth century, forks were gaining popularity but were not used in the same manner as today. The fork’s main role was to hold the food in place while being cut with a knife. A person would then deliver the bite-sized piece using the knife into their mouth, leaving the fork with no task other than to anchor the food. According to Ivor Noël Hume (1969), as forks became more popular at the end of the eighteenth century, the knife became more rounded, all but reversing their roles.

 

The Industrious ‘Prentice Grown Rich and Sheriff of London: Industry and Idleness (Hogarth 1747).

 

When you sit down to dinner this Holiday season and pick up your trusty three- or four-tined fork, think of how far we have come since the eighteenth century. And if your holiday travels take you through Delaware and you happen to pass by one of the above-mentioned rest areas, please stop by and take a peek at our exhibits!

http://www.visitdelaware.com/listings/smyrna-rest-stop-and-information-center/381/

http://www.visitdelaware.com/listings/delaware-welcome-center/2029/

 

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: 

Dunning, Phil
2000    Composite Table Cutlery from 1700 to 1930. In Studies in Material Culture, edited by Karlis  Karklin, pp. 32–45.  The Society for Historical Archaeology, California University Press, California, Pennsylvania.

Hogarth, William
1747    The Industrious ‘Prentice Grown Rich and Sheriff of London: Industry and Idleness (Plate 8). Metropolitan Museum of Art, https://www.metmuseum.org/art/
collection/search/398593, accessed November 2017.

Noël Hume, Ivor
1969    A Guide to Artifacts of Colonial America. Vintage Books, New York

Musical Musings

Featured Fragment – Instrument Fragments of Houston-LeCompt

By Kerry S. González

Concertina and Harmonica Reeds from Site 7NC-F-139 Top row: concertina reeds Bottom row: harmonica reeds

In the summer of 2012 Dovetail Cultural Resource Group conducted a large-scale excavation at the Houston-LeCompt site in Middletown, Delaware 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, some of which have been discussed in previous blog posts (See April 2016, December 2015, and January 2015). A total of seven artifacts relating to free-reed musical instruments were recovered from the site, representing a concertina and a harmonica. The identifications of the instrument fragments were made based on size and thickness of each artifact and in consultation with professional musicians. The four harmonica fragments consist of one plate and one reed. Both concertina reed fragments have intact rivets.

Both the harmonica and concertina are small portable instruments, which likely made them more desirable to some. The harmonica is a relatively young instrument, as it was not invented until the second half of the nineteenth century in Germany. By the 1890s, the harmonica was being mass produced and sold by many catalog stores such as Sears and Roebuck (Public Broadcasting System [PBS] 2001). The concertina was developed during the early-nineteenth century. It remained popular through the nineteenth century but its allure rapidly faded during the early-twentieth century. Mass production of other instruments such as the piano and accordion aided in the decline in popularity of the concertina. Archival research has shown that the residents of the Houston-LeCompt site in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century were tenant farmers—individuals who traveled from parcel to parcel renting land and planting crops to support their family. Finding fragments of small musical instruments at the site helps archaeologists understand the sometimes-transient lifestyle of these individuals. Although they called many areas home, music often helped provide a mental break from their day-to-day activities and create a comforting sense of place.

 

concertina2

Girl in Kentucky playing the Anglo concertina, ca. 1920

 

harmonica

Harmonica player

 

 

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:

Public Broadcasting System (PBS)
2001    American Roots Series. Instruments & Innovations. Electronic document, http://www.pbs.org/americanrootsmusic/pbs_arm_ii_harmonica.html, accessed December 2014.

Time For Tea

Featured Fragment – Mended Pearlware Tea Bowl

By Kerry S. González

Tea Bowl

Pearlware Tea Bowl

Several hundreds of years before tea was being consumed in the Americas (and even Britain), it was widely consumed in Asia. European traders residing in Asia during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries adopted the habit of daily tea drinking, and tea quickly found its way to Britain. Starting in the late-seventeenth and early-eighteenth century, tea began to be defined as “a feminized drink.” Its role in defining the domestic sphere and the concept of womanhood grew stronger as the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries wore on (Gray 2013:25). The association became so close that, eventually, women were compared to china, and “china came to stand as a metaphor for virtue” (Gray 2013:28). This same ideology was brought to the Americas, where tea quickly became a beverage staple.


The importance of tea to early American households was highlighted at the Houston-LeCompt site in New Castle County, Delaware, a site investigated on behalf of Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT) and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). A total of 107 fragments of teacups, tea saucers, and teapots was recovered from the site, serving as an indication of its roll in daily consumption patterns. The time range associated with pearlware (circa 1775−1840), the most common type of teaware recovered (n=57), likely associates these artifacts with the Houston family occupation (1780s–1820).


Decorated pearlwares from the Houston-LeCompt site exhibited a range of designs, though blue decoration predominated in different decorative patterns. The Houstons likely purchased individual pieces rather than sets of pearlware to fill out their tea set. Prior to the mid-nineteenth century, pattern books that marketed pearlware to the mid-range market illustrated designs individually, rather than as sets. Only the most elaborate, and therefore expensive, designs were marketed as sets, primarily to the upper class, and research and the archaeological investigations have proven that the Houston’s were not upper-class citizens. While it was possible to put together matching sets, it does not appear that middle-class consumers regarded matching sets as essential.


The tea bowl recovered from the Houston-LeCompt site (pictured above) is an early type of pearlware known as China Glaze with cobalt hand painting in a Chinese House motif. It is similar to the tea bowl being used in a 1725 painting entitled “An English Family at Tea” by Joseph Van Aken (pictured below). Although not all fragments from this tea bowl were recovered during the dig, the mending completed by Dovetail’s archaeological lab illustrates the vessel’s form and decoration. The pattern is a direct imitation of more expensive porcelains of the period. While the Houstons may not have assembled matching sets or imported porcelains, they still aspired to a more refined and fashionable aesthetic.

English Family At Tea

Van Aken, Joseph. An English Family at Tea. 1725.

Any distributions of blog content, including text or images, should reference this blog in full citation. Data contained herein is the property of Dovetail Cultural Resource Group and its affiliates.

References:

Gray, Annie
2013 ‘The Proud Air of an Unwilling Slave’: Tea, Women, and Domesticity, c. 1700–1900. Springer Publishing. New York, New York.