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.


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

Pipes and Patriotism

Featured Fragment – Showing Irish Pride in Nineteenth Century Washington, D.C.

By Lauren McMillan, Ph.D.

For this month’s blog we have a guest author, Dr. Lauren McMillan, Assistant Professor at the University of Mary Washington and noted pipe researcher. She is going to discuss the ‘Home Rule’ tobacco pipe bowl recovered by Dovetail during a 2017 excavation in Washington, D.C.


“Home Rule” Pipe Recovered by Dovetail in Washington, D.C.


Tobacco use and its meanings in North America have evolved over the past 3,000+ years from ingestion as a religious act in the prehistoric period to the secular and habitual in the colonial and post-colonial eras. Today, smoking has a contested social meaning due to our understanding of the health risks involved with smoking, but also through a renewed (or continued) recognition among some Native American groups of the sacred nature of tobacco (Rafferty and Mann 2004; Snyder 2016). Until relatively recently, the primary way tobacco was ingested was via pipes of various forms. By the mid- to late-seventeenth century, smoking had become ubiquitous among all levels of society (Photo 1).


Photo 1: The Old Drinker. Showing Seventeenth Century Pipe in Gentleman’s Hand (Metsu 1663).


However, in the nineteenth century, pipe smoking was often associated with members of the working class (Photo 2), particularly the use of short stemmed, or “cutty,” pipes as this style of pipe could be held in the mouth by the lips alone, leaving one’s hands free to perform various tasks (Cook 1989; Fox 2016).


Photo 2: Old Man Smoking Pipe. Showing Nineteenth Century Pipe (Whistler 1859).


The pipe recovered by Dovetail in Washington, D.C.—the subject of this blog post—was stamped with a harp, clover sprigs, and the motto “Home Rule.” This type of pipe would have been mass produced in Europe and imported into the United States in the late-nineteenth century.

The Home Rule movement started in Ireland in 1870 and represented Irish independence from British Rule; this movement continued into the first two decades of the twentieth century until the passage of the Fourth Irish Home Rule Act in 1920 which gave full independence to Northern Ireland and partial rule in Southern Ireland (McCaffrey 1995). Knowledge of the Home Rule movement made its way to the United States in the late 1870s and became a prominent social and political ideology among Irish immigrants, providing a common rallying point and community bond for newly transplanted groups of people (Reckner 2001).

Clay tobacco pipes with Irish imagery of all sorts (harps, clovers, “Home Rule,” and “Erin Go Bragh”) have been recovered from archaeological sites throughout the United States, from the East Coast to the West Coast (Pheiffer 2006), but most notably in large cities in the Northeast and Middle Atlantic where there were large Irish neighborhoods in the nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. While these pipes can be used to easily identify the ethnicity of the people archaeologists are studying (“Irish people smoked pipes with Irish imagery”), they can also be used to form a more nuanced understanding of the social and political environment of late-nineteenth-century America. Paul Reckner (2001, 2004), in his research into political imagery on pipes recovered from Irish neighborhoods in New York and New Jersey, argues that people were purchasing and using these pipes as a way to not only demonstrate pride in their homeland, but also as a way to reject and resist nativist, anti-Irish rhetoric.

Beyond the obvious and explicit imagery on this pipe (“Home Rule,” harp, and clover), the placement of the motto and motifs also have meaning (McMillan 2015). These symbols were placed on the back of the bowl of the pipe, facing the smoker and not the outside world; this implies that the intended audience of the imagery was the smoker themself, not other people. Every time the smoker took a drag from the pipe, they would be face to face with these words and images. These symbols would have served to remind the smoker of their homeland, their political stances, and their place within a larger Irish community during a time when the Irish (and other immigrant populations) were facing discrimination and oppression in their new country. Might they have taken comfort and a renewed sense of purpose from not only the tobacco they were ingesting, but also the powerful and meaningful images placed on the pipe?

So, while you are celebrating St. Patrick’s Day this year (if you partake), think of people of Irish decent over the past several centuries who embraced Irish imagery daily as a reminder of their heritage, not just once a year.

For more information and images please visit


Mr. Oldham and his Guests c.1735-45 (Joseph Highmore 1692-1780).


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.


Cook, Lauren J.
1989 Tobacco-Related Material Culture and the Construction of Working Class Culture. In Interdisciplinary Investigations of the Boott Mills, Lowell, Massachusetts, Vol. III: The Boarding House System as a Way of Life, edited by Mary C. Beaudry and Stephen A. Mrozowski, pp. 209–230. Cultural Resources Management Study, No. 21, U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, North Atlantic Regional Office, Boston, Massachusetts.

Metsu, Gabriel
1663 The Old Drinker. Electronic document, https://fineartamerica.com/featured/the-old-drinker-1663-gabriel-metsu.html, accessed March 2018.

Fox, Georgia L.
2016 The Archaeology of Smoking and Tobacco. The University of Press of Florida, Gainsville.

McCaffrey, Lawrence J.
1995 The Irish Question: Two Centuries of Conflict. University Press of Kentucky, Lexington.

McMillan, Lauren K.
2015 Community Formation and the Development of a British-Atlantic Identity in the Chesapeake: An Archaeological and Historical Study of the Tobacco Pipe Trade in the Potomac River Valley ca. 1630–1730. Doctoral Dissertation, Department of Anthropology, University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

Pheiffer, Michael A.
2006 Clay Tobacco Pipes and the Fur Trade of the Pacific Northwest and Northern Plains. Phyolith Press, Ponca City, Oklahoma.

Rafferty, Sean M., and Rob Mann
2004 Introduction. In Smoking and Culture: The Archaeology of Tobacco Pipes in Eastern North American, edited by Sean M. Rafferty and Robb Mann, pp. xi–xx. The University of Tennessee Press, Knoxville.

Reckner, Paul E.
2001 Negotiating Patriotism at the Five Points: Clay Tobacco Pipes and Patriotic Imagery among Trade Unionists and Nativists in a Nineteenth-Century New York Neighborhood. Historical Archaeology 35(3):103–114.

2004 Home Rulers, Red Hands, and Radical Journalists: Clay Pipes and the Negotiation of Working-Class Irish/Irish American Identity in Late-Nineteenth-Century Paterson, New Jersey. In Smoking and Culture: The Archaeology of Tobacco Pipes in Eastern North America, edited by Sean M. Rafferty and Rob Mann, pp. 241–271. The University of Tennessee Press, Knoxville.

Snyder, Charles M.
2016 Restoring Traditional Tobacco Knowledge: Health Implications and Risk Factors of Tobacco Use and Nicotine Addiction. In Perspective on the Archaeology of Pipes, Tobacco and other Smoke plants in the Ancient Americas, edited by Elizabeth A. Bollwerk and Shannon Tushingham, pp. 183–198. Springer International Publishing, Switzerland.

McNeill Whistler, James
1859 Man Smoking a Pipe, circa 1859. Electronic document, https://www.wikiart.org/en/james-mcneill-whistler/man-smoking-a-pipe, accessed March 2018.

Highmore, Joseph
1735–1745 Mr. Oldham and His Guests. Electronic document, http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/highmore-mr-oldham-and-his-guests-n05864, accessed March 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.


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.


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

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

Featured Fragment – Cage Crinoline Fragments

By Kerry S. González

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

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


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


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


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


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


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



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


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

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

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

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

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!




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.


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

Don’t Lose Your Temper Over Pottery – You Just Have to Find the Right Cord!

Featured Fragment – Prehistoric Pottery Shred

By Dr. Mike Klien

Image Showing Albermarle-Type Prehistoric Pottery.

In honor of Archaeology Month we would like to highlight this sherd of prehistoric pottery recovered by Dovetail during a survey in Southside, Virginia. This Albermarle-type prehistoric pottery has large inclusions of crushed quartz and has an impressed design on the exterior. The design was created with cords that were wrapped around a wooden paddle to create the textured surface. These characteristics indicate that it was manufactured between about 600 and 1200 A.D. It is difficult to say much more about a single sherd, but when numerous sherds are recovered from an archaeological site, pottery provides insight into the lives of the women who made the pots (as ethnographic research has shown that woman made most of the native pottery) and social relations within and between communities. The visibility of the attributes of the pots and the importance of pots as tools for cooking and storage are keys to interpreting pottery, and hence past societies.

The temper, the rock or shell that makes the clay more workable and reduces the likelihood that the pot will crack during manufacture or use, provides information about where the pot was manufactured. For example, oyster shell occurs only near the coast, while limestone is widely available in the Shenandoah Valley, but less common east of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

The twist direction of the cords used to impress the pot, difficult to see in the pot itself and even in the cords without close inspection, is, like the way a person ties shoelaces, generally learned and not changed over the course of a life. Therefore, the twist mark provides insight into learning networks within and between settlements.

Image Showing Use of Wooden Paddle to Create Cord-Marked Impression on Pot (Texas Beyond History 2016).

Measurements of the curvature of the sherd reflect the size and shape of the pot. For example, straight walls, particularly near the rim, occur on wide-mouthed jars. In contrast, a narrow neck reduces ease of access, but enhances boiling for soups and stews, similar to putting a lid on a cooking pot. If charred remains occur on the sherd, the foods cooked in the pot can be identified, and radiocarbon dating (a way to determine the age of organic objects) can provide a relatively precise estimate of when the pot was manufactured and used.

Elaborate decoration typically occurs only on the rim of pots. Because there is no functional importance of the decoration, examination of decoration on many pots serves as a window into social relations within individual communities and across regions. So, while fragments of pottery are often grouped together and used to estimate the date of sites, close analysis of the individual attributes can provide insight into many aspects of life in societies.

For more detailed information on the manufacture and use of similar pots, visit these websites:




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.


Texas Beyond History
2016 Making Cordmarked Pottery. http://www.texasbeyondhistory.net/villagers/cordmarked/images/cord-main2.jpg, accessed October 2017.

The “Clear” Benefit of Bottle Glass. And Wire Nails. And Sewer Pipes….

Featured Fragment – One Person’s Trash

By Kerry S. González

One of the questions we get asked most often with our work revolves around artifact ownership. In many states, all artifacts recovered from private land during Section 106 review rightfully belong to the person who owned the property at the time they are excavated (ACHP 2009). As such, coordination with landowners is essential. Dovetail works with the landowners to assure that their artifacts are returned to them, but what is retrieved often isn’t what they expect.

The conversation with property owners usually begins like this:

Archaeologist: “Would you like to keep the artifacts found on your property or would you like to donate them to the state repository?”

Landowner: “Yes, I would like to keep them. How many whole bottles did you find? What is the collection worth?”

Archaeologist: “Actually we only found small fragments of clear glass and while the collection has research potential it does not have any monetary value.”

Landowner: “I would like to donate the collection.”

A large percentage of the population believes that during an archaeological excavation only complete objects of monetary worth are recovered. The reality is, we find and collect broken stuff. We dig up people’s trash from the past, most of which is not desirable to anyone but an archaeologist who has spent days/weeks/months digging in the dirt to find it. But as the saying goes, “one person’s trash is another person’s treasure.” As archaeologists we love the broken bits and use these fragments of dishes, bottles, smoking pipes, jewelry, etc. to piece together information on the people that lived in a particular area.

Many of the artifacts we typically find date to the late-nineteenth to early-twentieth century, when large-scale commercial manufacturing allowed for faster production of items like glass, nails, and plastics. Faster and easier production meant that they were more affordable. This, in turn, made those items more readily available to consumers and thus seen as more disposable.

Typically, for this blog we like to highlight a particularly interesting object or collection of artifacts. However, in an effort to show what standard finds are during survey work, please enjoy the pictures below showing the types of artifacts we most commonly see. Are they worth a fortune? No. But are they invaluable to our understanding of our past? Absolutely….


Top row from left: White clay pipe stem, clear lead-glazed redware, two whiteware plate fragments. Bottom row from left, ungalvanized wire nail, machine cut nail, collection of window glass.


From left: Red automobile tail light fragments, clear vessel glass, and collection of clear bottle glass.



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.


2017 ACHP 2009,  http://www.achp.gov/docs/ACHP%20ARCHAEOLOGY%20GUIDANCE.pdf, accessed September 2017.

History Buttoned Up

Featured Fragment – Huntley House Button

By Kerry S. González

In 2016 Dovetail conducted an archaeological excavation at the Historic Huntley House in Fairfax County, Virginia. This work was completed at the request of the Fairfax County Park Authority as part of their Huntley Tenant House Rehabilitation Project. Dovetail surveyed portions of the property surrounding the tenant house as well as the interior of the building. This was a unique case where the floorboards of the tenant house had been removed prior to the installation of new flooring, revealing the soils below the dwelling and allowing archaeological access to an often-hidden living surface. Dovetail’s excavations inside the house primarily focused on the builder’s trench (an excavated trench for the placement of a brick or stone foundation) in the southwest room of the building. Of the numerous artifacts recovered during this excavation, one was instrumental in determining a possible construction date for the building.

View of the Huntley Tenant House.


View of Southwestern Room of the Huntley Tenant House.


A copper-alloy U.S. great coat button (pictured below) was recovered from the builder’s trench within the southwest room. This coat button dates to the 1830s and 1840s and was potentially dropped by someone involved in the construction of the home. This date proved extremely useful for interpretation as the previous estimated date of construction was circa 1880.


1830s–1840s Great Coat Button with Inset Showing 1830s Great Coat (USHistory.com 2017).


The presence of this button and other artifacts suggested an antebellum construction date for the dwelling. Also key to dating the structure was the lack of Civil War-era material within the builder’s trench. The Huntley House property “was the scene of a large encampment of Union troops during the Civil War” (Bierce 2002:6; cf. also John Miner and Associates 2003:67–75). Earlier excavation near the tenant house recovered many Civil War-specific artifacts and post-1860 materials across the yard. If the tenant house were constructed after 1880, some artifacts dating to the 1860–1880 period likely would have been dug up during the building’s construction and thus end up in the builder’s trench. The builder’s trench, though, only contained artifacts that predate this period. The tenant house, therefore, potentially dates to the circa 1825–1862 Mason family ownership of the Huntley House property, rather than having been built after the Civil War, as previously thought (National Park Service 1972). This excavation, along with other studies on the property, highlights Fairfax County Park Authority’s dedication to history and the importance of having professionals present during renovations on historic properties.


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.


Bierce, C. Richard
2002   Historic Structure Report. Schaffer, Wilson, Sarver, and Gray, Reston, Virginia.

John Milner and Associates, Inc. (JMA)
2003   Historic Huntley: Cultural Landscape Report. JMA, Charlottesville, Virginia.

National Park Service (NPS)
1972   National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form. United States Department of the Interior. Electronic document, http://www.dhr.virginia.gov/registers/Counties/Fairfax/029-   0117_Huntley_1972_Final_Nomination.pdf, accessed June 2016.

2017   M1832 Enlisted Greatcoat, http://www.ushist.com/mexican_war/us_military/uniforms/qm-3350_greatcoat_m1832_mexican-war-us.shtml, accessed August 2017.

A Different Kind of Shot Glass

Featured Fragment – Glass Syringe Plunger

By Joe Blondino

In June 2017, Dovetail conducted excavations on the grounds of Tudor Place, a historic Federal-style mansion in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, D.C. The excavations focused on an area immediately west of the main house known as the west service yard. This portion of the property currently contains a gazebo, ornamental arbors, a smokehouse (later used as a pigeon coop), and a patio area. Because Tudor Place staff has plans to renovate the structures and landscaping in this portion of the yard, Dovetail was asked to conduct archaeological investigations to ensure that no significant archaeological deposits would be disturbed. This was also an excellent opportunity to learn more about land use in this part of the Tudor Place property.

Among the 1,255 artifacts recovered during Dovetail’s excavations was a glass syringe plunger—the portion of a syringe that pushed liquid down the tube and through the needle or nozzle; it also helped to create the suction to draw fluid up into the body of the syringe. Prior to the 1950s, medical syringes were made of glass as opposed to the plastic examples we are used to seeing today. Kind of gives new meaning to the term “shot glass!”


Figure 1: Glass syringe plunger found at Tudor Place.


The medical use of syringes has a fairly long history, dating back to the 1st century A.D., when they are described by Celsus in his comprehensive treatise on medicine, “De Medicina.” At this time, syringes were used for suction rather than for injection, and Celsus describes using them to remove discharge from patients’ ears (Feldmann 1999). By the seventeenth century, experimentation with intravenous injections was taking place, although the equipment used was large and cumbersome compared to modern syringes, with one early apparatus described as being no more than a “quill attached to a small bladder” (Macht 1916:857). These types of devices required the doctor or surgeon to make a separate incision through which to insert the apparatus. In 1844, an Irish surgeon named Francis Rynd invented a hollow needle for hypodermic administration of drugs using a gravity-fed system, and in 1853, Alexander Wood began using hollow, pointed needles which could easily pierce the skin with little pain or bleeding. In the same year, Charles Pravaz independently developed a needle and syringe that would become the prototype for modern equivalents (Macht 1916).


Figure 2: A glass syringe without a needle attached (eBay 2017).


The question is, what is a syringe doing at Tudor Place? Well, the history of the property shows that it might not be such an unexpected find after all. It turns out that Dr. Armistead Peter operated a medical practice out of the east wing of Tudor Place from 1867 until 1882. Dr. Peter was a fairly well-known physician in Washington and, being versed in the latest medical developments and treatment procedures, would likely have used syringes like the one invented by Pravaz. During this time, one of the most common uses of syringes was for the injection of morphine and related drugs, and Dr. Peter may have used the syringe recovered by Dovetail to treat pain in one of his patients. Of course, since we don’t know for sure that this was a hypodermic syringe with a needle, it is also possible that it was used for some other purpose such as irrigating a wound or draining fluid from an infected area. Although we may never know exactly how this syringe was used or why part of the device was deposited along the edge of the west yard, this rather unusual artifact certainly injected a little excitement into our excavations!


Figure 3: Dr. Armistead Peter. Image courtesy of Tudor Place.


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.


2017   Electronic document, http://www.ebay.com/itm/Antique-Wood-Cased-Glass-Doctor-Medical-Syringe-Glass-Plunger-Original-RARE-/142428023312, accessed July 13, 2017.

Feldmann, H.
1999   2000-year history of the ear syringe and its relationship to the enema. Images from the history of otorhinolaryngology, represented by instruments from the collection of the Ingolstadt Medical History Museum. Laryngorhinootologie 78(8):462‒467.

Macht, David I.
1916   The History of Intravenous and Subcutaneous Administration of Drugs. Journal of the American Medical Association LXVI:856‒860.