While They’re “At Rest,” We’re at Work: Identifying Nineteenth-Century Coffin Hardware

By Melissa Butler

In death, as in life, mass-marketed applied ornaments allow individuals to customize their belongings. This month’s artifact is one such decoration. Dovetail Cultural Resource Group (Dovetail) recently completed an archaeological excavation and associated reinterment of several unmarked, late-nineteenth-century graves in Virginia, and coffin hardware provided clues to the identity of the interred individuals. While fancy coffins embellished with silver and lined with plush fabrics were offered to wealthy families of the 1870s–1900s, customizable prefabricated coffins were a more affordable option (Taylor & Co. 1872). Plain customizable coffins built of pine or “white wood” could be individualized with different handles and removable panels (or viewing windows) (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Customizable Coffins Using Prefabricated Coffin (Taylor & Co. 1872).

Custom coffin or casket options in the late-nineteenth century were abundant. Decorative ornaments down to the last details could be selected from catalogs by the undertaker or family members, including handles, studs, thumbscrews and coffin plates (also known as name plates). Common themes among these symbolic decorations and coffin plates include wishes for the occupant’s rest and peace and expressions of familial relationships. They could also include religious motifs, express brotherhood in a fraternal organization, like the International Order of Odd Fellows, or be engraved with the occupant’s name or date of death (Springate 2016:43).

In our recent excavation, one such coffin plate helped to provide a date range for the deceased’s burial (Photo 1).  The “At Rest” plate shown below is actually two separate pieces; the text sits atop a universal base (Figure 2). The same piece was available in the Columbus Casket Company’s 1882 catalog (Columbus Coffin Company 1882). While no price is listed for the plate in the Columbus Casket Company catalog, a similarly sized, white metal plate cost $1.90 in another contemporary catalog (W. S. Carr & Company 1880–1910). Though the plate is featured in an 1882 catalog, it was likely that this style was in use for several years before and after the publication of the catalog. Matching an artifact such as this plate to a catalog helps to narrow down the date of burial, and therefore give archaeologists and researchers a better chance to identify those interred in unmarked graves—giving a name to the unknown.

Photo 1: “At Rest” Coffin Plate.

Figure 2: Interchangeable Coffin Plates (Columbus Coffin Company 1882).

References
Columbus Coffin Company
1882 Illustrated Catalogue of Wood and Cloth Covered Coffins and Caskets, Undertakers’ Hardware and Sundries, Robes, Linings, and General Supplies. Columbus Coffin Company. Columbus, Ohio..

Springate, Megan E.
2016 Coffin Hardware in Nineteenth-Century America. Routledge. Electronic document, https://play.google.com/books/reader?id=59VmDAAAQBAJ&pg=GBS.SA2-PA7.w.1.0.173, accessed June 2020.

Taylor & Co.
1872 Illustrated Catalogue of Coffins, Caskets, Etc. Taylor & Co., New York, New York.

W. S. Carr & Company The
1880–1910 Price List of Undertakers’ Hardware. W. S. Carr & Company, Baltimore, Maryland.

Let’s Shed a Little Light on this Blog: A Civil War-Era Sticking Tommy Candle Holder

By D. Brad Hatch

This month’s post highlights an object recovered from a Civil War battlefield and campsite in Virginia. Rather than being associated with fighting, however, this object speaks to the daily lives of soldiers during the war. The object is a cast iron candle holder with a short spike extending from its base (Photo 1). Known as a “sticking tommy” this candle holder could be used in a variety of settings by pounding the spike into any soft material, creating a makeshift candlestick wherever extra light might be needed. While the “sticking” part of the name is fairly obvious based on the object’s function, the “tommy” part is less clear. The word “tommy” may be related in some way to “tommyknockers” who were mythical Welsh creatures similar to leprechauns who wore miner’s outfits and were known as mischief makers among miners (Figure 1). A variation of the “sticking tommy” related to mining was particularly popular in the middle of the nineteenth century, perhaps leading to the colloquial name of this device. Unlike the Civil War example, miner’s candle holders had long, horizontal spikes that allowed the candle to sit out further from the wall in addition to sometimes having hooks that would allow the candle to be suspended (Figure 2).

Photo 1: Sticking Tommy Recovered by Dovetail.

Figure 1: Depiction of a Tommyknocker (Outta The Way! 2020).

Published material discussing the history of this type of candle holder is generally scarce, likely due to their plain and utilitarian nature. However, similar wrought iron examples pre-dating the nineteenth century extend far back in history for as long as iron working and a need for portable lighting were aligned (see Figure 2). Clearly, we can only speculate what the soldier who owned this “sticking tommy” used its light for. However, some of the common evening activities requiring candlelight would have included reading, writing letters, sewing, routine equipment maintenance, and other leisure activities, such as whittling. Rather than gathering around a larger campfire, the “sticking tommy” would have allowed soldiers a more private and individual space in which to work, perhaps underscoring the personal nature of the activities that may have been associated with its use. Additionally, it could have provided needed light in smaller quantities, making it more difficult for enemy troops to ascertain positions and troop strength through campfires. Ultimately, this small object helps to illuminate the more mundane and routine aspects of life for soldiers during the Civil War that occupied the majority of their time.

Figure 2: On Left : Wrought Iron “Sticking Tommy” Likely Dating to the Eighteenth Century. On right: “Sticking Tommy” of the Type Typically Used in Mining (Barnes 1988:126).

References
Barnes, Frank T.
1988    Hooks, Rings & Other Things: An Illustrated Index of New England Iron, 1660-1860. The Christopher Publishing House, Hanover, Massachusetts.

Outta The Way!
2020    The Tommyknockers. Electronic document, http://outtaway.blogspot.com/2011/10/tommyknockers.html, accessed January 2020.

An Artifact as Stubborn as a Donkey: We Need Your Help?

By Kerry S. González

For our last blog of 2019 we are once again revisiting artifacts recovered from the Trogdon-Squirrel Creek site, a mid- to late-nineteenth-century domestic site in Randolph County, North Carolina. On behalf of the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT), Dovetail conducted data recovery excavations at the site, guided by the data recovery plan authored by NCDOT (Overton 2014).

This blog, unlike most others, is putting the role of identification on our readers in the hopes of discovering the purpose of the small copper alloy object pictured below.  Artifacts such as these are often classified as ‘small finds’ as they are, well, small and imply a personal connection.

Photo 1: Small Metal Donkey Recovered From the Trogdon-Squirrel Creek Site.

 

A total of three of these tiny metal objects were found at the site. They are composed of a thin sheet metal with two very short prongs on the back. Initially we thought they were some type of charm affixed to a piece of leather associated with horse tack, but the composition of the artifact would not allow for the puncture of a hard material like leather.

They were found in conjunction with mid- to late-nineteenth-century artifacts such as prosser buttons, locally made ceramics (turningandburning), a frog gig (wrought-iron-frog-gig), and milk glass mason jar lid liners. Given the context in which these little items were found they are thought to date to a similar time period.

Now you know as much as we do on these interesting small finds. If you have some thoughts on identification please email our Lab Manager at kgonzalez@dovetailcrg.com.

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

The HumunGIS Importance of Mapping Data at Archaeological Sites

Featured Fragment – HumunGIS Importance of GIS

By D. Brad Hatch and Emily Calhoun

Since this past Wednesday (November 13, 2019) was Geographic Information System (GIS) Day, we’ve decided to dedicate this week’s blog to highlighting how archaeologists use GIS as a tool to better understand and interpret archaeological sites. We use GIS (through the computer program ArcGIS) to link archaeological data to specific geographic locations. Once we can link our data geographically across an area, we can begin to tease out patterns in the data that might not have been noticed otherwise. To provide an example of the archaeological application of GIS we will be returning to the Trogdon-Squirrel Creek site in Randolph County, North Carolina, which was the subject of a number of previous blog posts, including posts on eyewear, frog gigs, pottery, and more. On behalf of the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT), Dovetail Cultural Resource Group conducted data recovery excavations at the site, guided by the data recovery plan authored by NCDOT (Overton 2014).

Archaeologists have demonstrated that plow zone artifact and soil chemical distributions have the potential to reveal important aspects about the use of space on sites (e.g., Fesler 2010; King and Miller 1987; King 1988; Pogue 1988b; Wilkins 2009). Artifact data for spatial analysis at the Trogdon-Squirrel Creek site were collected through the excavation of 80 2 x 2-foot (0.6 x 0.6-m) test units; soil chemical data was collected using the systematic method of taking a sample every 20 feet (6.1 m) on grid across the site. Analysts plotted artifact and soil chemical distributions using ArcGIS, revealing significant patterns for several artifact types and soil chemicals. ArcGIS plots patterns by creating contour maps of distributions. Essentially the computer program takes the raw artifact or soil data and connects locations with similar values to create lines. These lines represent values or counts, which when plotted geographically can show how values change across a site. Where there is little change in value, the lines are spaced farther apart. Where the values rise or fall rapidly, the lines are closer together. The resulting map is similar to a topographic map, which plots changes in elevation.

Dovetail used ArcGIS to plot domestic artifacts across the site. In this case, the most illustrative domestic materials included ceramics and animal bone (Figures 1 and 2). The distribution of ceramics revealed two concentrations of artifacts. The first, and most distinct, occurred off of the southeast corner of the dwelling. This concentration of ceramics is indicative of increased refuse disposal and activity in this portion of the site, which likely stemmed from the traffic between the dwelling and the outbuilding located to the southeast. The second concentration, which is less intense and smaller in size, occurred near the southwest corner of the dwelling. This small peak, which was also noted in the distribution of architectural artifacts, likely represents a disposal area near a window or at the edge of the backyard where refuse was conveniently deposited. Overall, the ceramic distribution matches other historic artifact distributions, indicating that the northern yard was kept relatively free of refuse and that the southern yard functioned as a disposal and work space.

Figure 1: Distribution Map of All Ceramics.

 

Figure 2: Distribution Map of Bone.

Soil chemicals often provide archaeologists with important additional evidence about activity at sites when more traditional artifact types are not present. Different chemicals are associated with different activities. For example, phosphorus is generally interpreted as representing organic refuse, calcium tends to represent bone and shell, and potassium and magnesium are interpreted as representing ash or burning (McCoy 2016:25–26; Pogue 1988a:3; Wilkins 2009:20). At this site the distribution of phosphorus tended to concentrate near the dwelling and an outbuilding (Figure 3). Specifically, the primary area of high phosphorus concentration occurred in a heavily used area between the two buildings. This general pattern coincides with the historic artifact distributions on site, and is almost certainly related to the disposal of domestic refuse. Dovetail archaeologists concluded, based on the high phosphorous signature, that the outbuilding was likely a detached kitchen. Refuse discarded from the outbuilding was also noted down the hill, to the east, as well as between the outbuilding and the dwelling. There are also two small peaks of high phosphorus concentration located to the north of the dwelling. These peaks are associated with the locations of two tree stumps.

Figure 3: Distribution Map of Phosphorus.

As you can see, the application of GIS-based mapping of artifact and soil chemical distributions at the Trogdon-Squirrel Creek site was vital to our interpretation of the site. In this case the computation tools within the ArcGIS program helped to reveal activity areas. These GIS-generated maps even helped to define the location of an outbuilding, likely a kitchen. Without this analytical tool archaeologists may have overlooked the kitchen, because no foundation or obvious architectural feature marked its location. Archaeologists have many analytical tools in their toolbelts, but GIS is definitely one of the most powerful for analyzing past landscapes!

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

References:
Fesler, Garrett
2010     Excavation the Spaces and Interpreting the Places of Enslaved Africans and Their Descendants. In Cabin, Quarter, Plantation: Architecture and Landscapes of North American Slavery, edited by Clifton Ellis and Rebecca Ginsburg, pp. 27–49. Yale University Press, New Haven, Connecticut.

King, Julia A.
1988     A Comparative Midden Analysis of a Household and inn in St. Mary’s City, Maryland. Historical Archaeology 22(2):17−39.

King, Julia A., and Henry M. Miller
1987     The View from the Midden: An Analysis of Midden Distribution and Composition at the van Sweringen Site, St. Mary’s City, Maryland. Historical Archaeology 21(2):37−59.

McCoy, Curtis A.
2016     Colluvial Deposition of Anthropogenic Soils at the Ripley Site, Ripley, NY. Master’s Thesis, Department of Anthropology/Archaeology, Mercyhurst University, Erie, Pennsylvania.

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

Pogue, Dennis J.
1988a     Anthrosols and the Analysis of Archaeological Sites in a Plowed Context: The King’s Reach Site. Northeast Historical Archaeology 17:1–15.

1988b     Spatial Analysis of the King’s Reach Plantation Homelot, Ca. 1690−1715. Historical Archaeology 22(2):40–56.

Wilkins, Andrew P.
2009     Identifying 18th Century Hidden Landscapes at Stratford Hall Plantation Using Portable X-Ray Fluorescence Phosphorus Readings on Plowzone Samples. Master’s Thesis, Department of Anthropology/Historical Archaeology, University of Massachusetts, Boston, Massachusetts.

50th Blog!

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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.

 

 

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.

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.