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.

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.

Frog Legs: The Other White Meat

A Wrought Iron Frog Gig Recovered in Randolph County, North Carolina

By Kerry S. González

People have been consuming frog legs for centuries. In 2013 National Geographicreported that 10,000-year-old cooked frog bones were found in England , long before the French were first documented as eating frog legs (Zuckerman 2013). According to cookbooks from the eighteenth century frog legs were part of haute cuisine in France, while in England the idea of eating frog legs “filled the British with disgust” (Zuckerman 2013). In the Americas, frog legs were an easily obtainable source of protein, provided you lived near a water source. Any source of protein was important, especially during hard times. But how do you catch frogs for consuption? Keep reading if you would like to know more. If frogs make you squeemish maybe stop reading here.

Frogs were captured using a tool known as a “gig.” The frog gig shown below was recovered from the Trogdon-Squirrel Creek site in Randolph County, North Carolina. Dovetail Cultural Resource Group conducted data recovery excavations at the site on behalf of the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT). Work was guided by the data recovery plan authored by NCDOT (Overton 2014).

The wrought iron frog gig appears to have been modified or hastily made as evidenced through an x-ray image. The gig was heat joined likely as a repair after one of the original three tines broke (pictured below). Heat joining, or forge welding, simply refers to heating two pieces of metal and joining them to create a solid bond. Frog gigs and eel gigs often have this trident shape and were used to pierce the skin of a frog or eel for capture. Frog gigging typically occurs at night when the creatures are most active but can certainly be done during the day.

Photo 1: Wrought Iron Frog Gig Recovered From Trogdon-Squirrel Creek Site. On left is an x-ray image of the frog gig and original is on right.

 

Photo 2: Wrought Iron Frog Gig From Personal Collection of D. Brad Hatch Showing Possible Original Form.

This form of gigging, also used at times to capture fish, has been used for centuries. A watercolor painting titled The Manner of Their Fishingdone by Captain John White in 1585 illustrates Native Americans using spears and traps to catch fish (White 1585) (Figure1). While the spears used in the Mid-Atlantic during White’s time were made of a combination of bone, wood, and stone, the gig-construction method varied over the course of time. As illustrated in Hooks, Rings & Other Things (1988:155–156), there were many styles of spears which varied in shape depending on time period and purpose. The multi-pronged form, such as that found at the Trogdon Squirrel Creek site, was one of the most popular.

Next time you are at a restaurant and you are trying to decide between chicken or the steak, look to see if they offer frog legs, ‘the other white meat.’

Figure 1: The Manner of Their Fishing (White 1585).

 

Figure 2: Various Styles of Frog, Fish, and Eel Spears From the Nineteenth Century (Barnes 1988).

 

 

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:

Barnes, Frank T.
1988   Hooks, Rings & Other Things. The Christopher Publishing House, Hanover, Massachusetts.

Overton, Brian
2015  Request for Proposal: Intensive Archaeological Survey and Evaluation, Asheboro U.S. 64 Bypass. North Carolina Department of Transportation, Human Environment Section, Raleigh, North Carolina.

White, John
1585   The Manner of Their Fishing. Electronic document, http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/collection_object_details/collection_image_gallery.aspxassetId=22109001&objectId=753504&partId=1, accessed October 2018.

Zuckerman, Catherine
2013   Frog Legs: A British Innovation? Electronic document, https://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2013/11/131107-frog-legs-england-france-food-archaeology-britain-wiltshire-french-english-british/, accessed October 2018.

Making Stone Tools the Hardaway

Making Stone Tools the Hardaway: A Paleoindian Artifact from the Graceland Site, Randolph County, North Carolina

By Joe Blondino

It’s no surprise that archaeologists like old things. That’s why we get particularly excited when we find artifacts dating to the Paleoindian period, which spans from at least as early as 12,000 BC (Carr 2018, Carr and Adovasio 2002, Goodyear 2005) to approximately 8,000 BC (Ward and Davis 1999). This period represents the earliest occupation of North America, when people were settling into new environments that would ultimately shape the way their culture and technology evolved in different parts of the continent.

For September we will look at a Paleoindian artifact that continues our series highlighting materials recovered from the Asheboro Bypass Project in Randolph County, North Carolina. Among the sites identified during this project was the Graceland site (31RD1568). Dovetail Cultural Resource Group conducted excavations at this site on behalf of the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT), guided by the Scope of Work authored by NCDOT (Overton 2015) and coordination between Dovetail, NCDOT, and the North Carolina Office of State Archaeology. The majority of the 3,661 artifacts recovered from the site date to the Morrow Mountain and Guilford phases of the Middle Archaic period, spanning a date range from approximately 5,000 to 3,000 BC (Blondino and Proper 2018). However, a Hardaway side-notched point dating to the late Paleoindian period indicates that the site was being used much earlier. Excavations at the Slade site in southeastern Virginia suggest a date range of 8,250–8,050 BC for the Hardaway phase (McAvoy and McAvoy 1997), making these points approximately 10,000 years old!

Hardaway side-notch point photo

Hardaway side-notched point from the Graceland site.

The Hardaway point from the Graceland site is made of a metavolcanic rock common to this part of North Carolina and quarried by the prehistoric occupants of the site as a material from which to make projectile points and other stone tools. The site itself is located on a slight slope near a natural drainage which channels surface water during heavy rain. As a result, there is more erosion here than in nearby areas, exposing the bedrock and making it easier to get to. The distribution of artifacts across the site suggests that people were obtaining stone from near the drainage, where it could be found closer to the surface, and then taking it up to the flatter land above to work it into tools. Prehistoric people would visit sites like this when their stone toolkit was in need of rejuvenation. Stone tools like projectile points and knives can be re-sharpened, but this process removes material, and eventually the tool is too small to be used and simply must be replaced. It is likely that this was the case with the Graceland Hardaway point. You might notice from the photograph that the point is a little lopsided- if you look at the tip of the point, it is not directly above the center of the base. This often happens because the point has been re-sharpened more on one side than on the other, perhaps because it was being used more as a knife than as a projectile point. When its owner visited the Graceland site during the late Paleoindian period, they may have made themselves a new point (or a few of them), and simply discarded this one, only to have Dovetail archaeologists find it again 10,000 years later. Now that’s doing things the Hardaway!

Graceland Excavation Site - Image

Excavations at the Graceland site. The Hardaway point was recovered from the excavation unit under the canopy on the right.

 

 

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:

Blondino, Joseph R. and Earl E. Proper
2018    Addendum: Archaeological Survey and Testing of Newly Defined Areas of Potential Effects for the Asheboro Bypass, Randolph County, North Carolina. Dovetail Cultural Resource Group, Fredericksburg, Virginia.

Carr, Kurt
2018    Peopling of the Middle Atlantic: A Review of Paleoindian Research. In Middle Atlantic Prehistory: Foundations and Practice, edited by Heather A. Wholey, and Carole L. Nash, pp. 219–260. Rowman & Littlefield, Lanham, Maryland.

Carr, K.W., and J.M. Adovasio
2002    Paleoindians in Pennsylvania. In Ice Age Peoples of Pennsylvania, edited by Kurt Carr and James Adovasio, pp. 1–50. Recent Research in Pennsylvania Archaeology, No. 2. Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

Goodyear, Albert C.
2005    Evidence of Pre-Clovis Sites in the Eastern United States. In Paleoamerican Origins: Beyond Clovis, pp. 103–112. Center for the Study of the First Americans, Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas.

McAvoy, Joseph M. and Lynn D. McAvoy
1997    Archaeological Investigations of Site 44SX202, Cactus Hill, Sussex County. Virginia Department of Historic Resources Research Report Series n. 8, Richmond, Virginia.

Overton, Brian
2015    Request for Proposal: Intensive Archaeological Survey and Evaluation, Asheboro U.S. 64 Bypass. North Carolina Department of Transportation, Human Environment Section, Raleigh, North Carolina.

Ward, H. Trawick, and R.P. Stephen Davis Jr.
1999    Time Before History: The Archaeology of North Carolina. The University of North Caroloina Press, Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

Turning and Burning

Turning and Burning: Locally Made Pottery from the Trogdon-Squirrel Creek Assemblage

By D. Brad Hatch

July continues our series of posts highlighting the artifacts recovered from the Trogdon-Squirrel Creek site (31Rd1426/1426**) in Randolph County, North Carolina. Dovetail Cultural Resource Group conducted data recovery excavations at this site on behalf of the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT), guided by the data recovery plan authored by NCDOT (Overton 2014). Of the over 8,000 ceramic sherds recovered from the Trogdon-Squirrel Creek site, nearly half (3,826) were made in North Carolina. These locally produced wares underscore the importance of the ceramic industry to the economy of piedmont North Carolina and the reliance of residents on locally manufactured goods. This blog post focuses on some of the wares whose makers can be identified in order to illustrate the number of potters in the region and how far people would go to buy their goods. For a more detailed treatment of these ceramics click here.

Marked, or otherwise identifiable, wares from at least six different potters were identified in the collection gathered from the site (Table; Photos 1–7). Dates of production for these potters, when they were not known from historical references, were estimated by adding 20 years to their birth date and extending the span to the date of their death. While the production span for some of these wares may be slightly shorter or longer, they are probably not exceedingly different. The majority of these potters began production prior to 1850. However, most had a production range that extended through the latter half of the nineteenth century. Notably, all of these potters had kilns in Randolph County during at least some portion of their career. Jacob Craven had at least three kilns during his lifetime, one of which was in Randolph County, while the remaining two were located just south of the county line in Moore County. All of the kilns used by these potters during their periods of production were located within 14 miles (22.5 km) of the Trogdon-Squirrel Creek site and half were within 10 miles (16.1 km) (Figure).

PotterKiln LocationDate of Production
Jacob D. CravenRandolph and Moore Counties, NCca. 1847-1895
Enoch S. CravenRandolph County, NCca. 1830-1893
William N. CravenRandolph County, NC1842-1857
Nathan B. DicksRandolph County, NCca. 1875-1918
Alfred L. MoodyRandolph County, NCca. 1880-1924
Chester WebsterRandolph County, NCca. 1840-1882
Table: Identified Potters Represented in the Trogdon-Squirrel Creek Assemblage.

A brief glimpse of this extraordinary grouping of locally made ceramics from the Trogdon-Squirrel Creek site provides important insight into the development of the ceramic industry in Randolph County from approximately 1840 to the early-twentieth century, a period when the potting tradition in this region was flourishing. It also suggests that local residents were paramount in supporting these artisans throughout history, allowing potters and their families to put down roots and prosper in the region. As a result, many of the descendants of the potters identified in this assemblage still produce ceramic wares in the area and pottery production remains an important aspect of the economy in the North Carolina piedmont.

Photo 1: Locally Made Coarse Earthenware Jar Fragment with Sine Wave Decoration, Attributed to Nathan Dicks.

Photo 1: Locally Made Coarse Earthenware Jar Fragment with Sine Wave Decoration, Attributed to Nathan Dicks.

Photo 2: Locally Made Earthenware Chamber Pot with N.B. Dicks Mark.

Photo 2: Locally Made Earthenware Chamber Pot with N.B. Dicks Mark.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo 3: Locally Made Stoneware Jug with W.N. Craven Mark.

Photo 3: Locally Made Stoneware Jug with W.N. Craven Mark.

Photo 4: Locally Made Stoneware Pot with E.S. Craven Mark.

Photo 4: Locally Made Stoneware Pot with E.S. Craven Mark.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo 5: Locally Made Stoneware Jug or Pitcher with J.D. Craven and Capacity Mark.

Photo 5: Locally Made Stoneware Jug or Pitcher with J.D. Craven and Capacity Mark.

Photo 6: Locally Made Stoneware Vessel with A.L. Moody Mark.

Photo 6: Locally Made Stoneware Vessel with A.L. Moody Mark.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo 7: Locally Made Stoneware Jug with Bird Decoration Attributed to Chester Webster.

Photo 7: Locally Made Stoneware Jug with Bird Decoration Attributed to Chester Webster.

 

Figure: Map Showing Location of Kilns for Identified Potters in Relation to the Trogdon-Squirrel Creek Site.

Figure: Map Showing Location of Kilns for Identified Potters in Relation to the Trogdon-Squirrel Creek Site.

 

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.

Check out Jefferson Patterson Park’s Diagnostic Artifacts webpage for more images of stonewares recovered from the Trogdon-Squirrel Creek Site.

Discussions with local North Carolina potters, scholars, and collectors of North Carolina pottery were instrumental in the identification of the locally produced wares from the Trogdon-Squirrel Creek site. Specifically, I would like to express my gratitude to Hal Pugh and Eleanor Minnock-Pugh of New Salem Pottery, Mary Farrell of Westmoore Pottery, and Tommy Cranford. 

A Not So Perfect Match

Featured Fragment – Nineteenth-Century Table Settings

By D. Brad Hatch, Ph.D. and Kerry S. González

This month’s blog continues our series highlighting the artifacts recovered from the Trogdon-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 grouping of artifacts highlighted in Photo 1 were chosen to reflect ceramic consumption patterns at the site. While analyzing and processing the assemblage Dovetail staff decided to do a mock-up of a nineteenth-century table setting, mostly with artifacts recovered from the site. [Note: The kerosene lamp is a reproduction however several pieces of glass from the chimney of a similar lamp were recovered at the Trogdon-Squirrel Creek site.] The photograph below was taken in the basement of Belle Grove Plantation, birthplace of President James Madison, which provided a historically accurate setting for our recreation.

Photo 1: Nineteenth-Century Table Setting Recreated with Artifacts Recovered from the Trogdon-Squirrel Creek Site. Note blue-edged plates.

 

The primary purpose of staging this photograph was to highlight that matched sets in a table setting, like we have today, were not always the norm. What we learned from analyzing the collection was that the inhabitants of the Trogdon-Squirrel Creek site appear to have chosen decorated refined earthenwares from various decorative categories (transfer printed, hand painted, and dipt/edged wares) (Photo 2). The assemblage illustrated that there was a stronger preference for the less-expensive decorative types (edged wares) which was mixed with a lower density of more expensive ceramics that were transfer printed.

Perhaps the most important factor influencing ceramic use at the site was socioeconomic status. Based on historical and archaeological evidence, the inhabitants of the Trogdon-Squirrel Creek site appear to have been lower-middling to middling in terms of their status. In a general sense, the known status of the site occupants appears to correlate well with their respective decorative ceramic assemblages.

Photo 2: Sample of Various Decorative Motifs Recovered From Trogdon-Squirrel Creek Site. From left: brown transfer print, hand painted, and dipt.

 

The fact that many of the transfer printed vessels from the Trogdon-Squirrel Creek site were mismatched underscores the economic constraints of the site inhabitants, since they were unable to make the large capital outlays necessary to purchase full sets of these costly wares. While the majority of the transfer printed ware in the assemblage were decorated with blue ink, suggesting at least an attempt to match the color palette, there were also black, red, and brown printed vessels. Residents at the Trogdon-Squirrel Creek site do appear to have possessed matching, or at least almost matched, place settings of blue-edged wares. These cheaper wares would have been less of a financial burden, but still would have allowed the site occupants to display their knowledge of fashionable dining practices.

Keep this in mind the next time you are out shopping for new dishes. Perhaps you don’t need to worry about everything matching and instead just keep with a similar color palette. In fact, there are several articles available online that give a step by step guide on how to mismatch your tables wares which suggest picking a color or playing with different shapes.

 

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.

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.

 

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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.