That’s not a knife! This is a knife. Or is it?

By: Andy Martin

Today we’re talking about one of the less-discussed pieces of the Native American/pre-contact tool kit…the knife. There has been seemingly endless amounts of ink spilled about projectile points and axes and pottery but believe me (I’ve looked) there’s a lot less out there about knives, particularly in the mid-Atlantic.

Knives would have been every bit as crucial to the pre-contact tool kit as the above-mentioned artifacts, so where are they?  The short answer is that knives are definitely present on prehistoric archaeological sites, but not necessarily in the way we think of knives today.

First off, let’s touch on an important topic. Until the bow and arrow became widespread around 1,300 years ago, your safest bet when identifying a stone tool that has been bifacially worked (flaked to a cutting edge on both sides) is to call it a “biface.” Want to get more specific? Let’s call it a hafted biface (that’s the term I dig personally). Hafted simply means attached to a handle (or haft).  The hafted bifaces shown below (Photo 1) are beautiful examples from Texas showing what we mean by hafted biface.

Photo 1: Example of Hafted Bifaces (Texas Beyond History 2020).

 

Hafted biface is a broad but useful term covering both hafted cutting tools like knives and projectile points (bifaces meant to be thrown or shot at something). To further muddy the waters, hafted bifaces are what could be called ‘long-life tools.’ Making a biface is labor and time intensive, so these tools would often have different uses over their lives. A tool might begin its life as projectile point, but due to damage or the need to perform a different task, it might then be repurposed as a knife or a drill. This is where it’s important to try and think different about the tools people used in the past. Today, a knife is a knife (except for you Simpsons fans out there when it is actually a spoon, in which case we can see you’ve played knifey/spooney before). But a tool might segway from a spear point to a knife and eventually to a drill or an awl (a small pointed tool for piercing or puncturing holes) as damage and need dictated.

So if a hafted biface can be used as both a knife or projectile point, how do we go about determining which it is?

In incredibly rare instances, it’s obvious because the hafted biface in question has been found still attached to their bone or wooden handles. Unfortunately, such finds are uncommon because soil conditions in the mid-Atlantic aren’t very conducive to preserving organic materials like wood or bone. Intact hafted tools are usually recovered from oxygen-free, muddy environments like river bottoms or bogs, or dry environments like caves. On the coastal plain, where our site was located, the chemical composition of shell middens can also preserve organic materials. So, if we aren’t finding knives still attached to their handles, how do we figure out if something is a knife or a projectile point?

Looking carefully at the edge of the tool to see how it was used is probably the best…wait for it….tool in our arsenal for determining how a hafted biface was used.  In the case of projectile points, such as arrowheads or spearheads, you see very specific types of damage such as impact fractures—cracks that result from an arrow or spear striking a target or the ground resulting in a tip or other fragment breaking off. A great example of this is the Brewerton Corner Notched projectile point in the photo below (Photo 2, center artifact). On hafted bifaces that were used as knives you tend to get very different type of damage relating to a prying or twisting motions; this damage is referred to as a “transverse fracture.” You will also see damage on the sides of the tool related to the knife being used in a sawing motion.

Photo 2: These Projectile Points Were All Recovered from a Site in Northern Delaware. From left to right, we have a possible Bare Island, a Brewerton Corner Notched, and a Poplar Island. Recent research has shown that Bare Island and Poplar Island projectile points appear to have been in use from the Late Archaic (starting about 5,000 years ago) to the Middle Woodland (ending about 1,000 years ago) periods. The Brewerton Corner Notched point has a tighter date range of 5100-4300 years ago, within the Late Archaic period.

 

Let’s take all this data and apply it to an artifact Dovetail recently found in Delaware. First a word about our hafted biface. It’s about 47.46 cm long and 14.78 cm wide, or a little longer and thicker than a golf tee (Photo 3). It’s made of jasper, a stone found in many streams and rivers in the mid-Atlantic as well as in quarry sites in both Pennsylvania and Delaware. One such quarry site in Delaware is just a few days walk from where our artifact was recovered. As seen in the photo below, it is narrow and has serrated edges on both sides of the tool. It has also been “heat treated,” as evident by the purple base. Purposefully exposing stone to heat for a long period of time makes certain stones easier to work. The Brewerton Corner notched projectile point, pictured above, is a beautiful example of a heat-treated (also referred to as thermally altered) stone tool.

Photo 3: Thermally Altered Hafted Biface Found in Delaware by Dovetail.

 

So is the artifact in Photo 3 a knife? We think it is, and this analysis comes down to use wear. First you can see the fracture on the distal (or top) end of the hafted biface and it appears to be more of a snap or transverse fracture than an impact fracture. This means that the point may have broken while it was being used to cut or pry something as opposed to striking a target or the ground. Second, the serrations and damage along the sides of the tool makes it likely that our biface is a knife. It’s possible that our knife began its life as a more traditional-looking projectile point and broke before being further worked and used as a knife.

So, the next time someone tells you “that’s not a knife, this is a knife,” you can tell them “it’s certainly a hafted biface, now let’s check the sides for use wear!”

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:

Texas Beyond History
2020    Texas Beyond History. Electronic document https://www.texasbeyondhistory.net/trans-p/images/Carved-Rock-hafted- bifaces.html, accessed May 2021.

“Poppin’ Medicine Bottles”

Featured Fragment –“Poppin’ Medicine Bottles”

By Katie Merli

Medicinal, pharmaceutical, and chemical bottles have a distinctive look to them, even today. Informative labels, child-proof closures, and even the well-known “Mr. Yuk” stickers from our youth set these bottles apart from other vessels. Physical modifications to bottles containing dangerous medicines separate them from their more innocent counterparts stashed away in the medicine cabinet. By the late 1800s, it was common for “chemical” or “poison” bottles to be brightly colored (generally cobalt blue or brilliant green), have embossed lettering/designs, or have the obvious labels of “POISON.” In case that wasn’t enough, some even sported the skull and crossbones to further get the point across. This was all done to ensure that the half-asleep person groping through their bathroom cabinet in the dark, as well as the illiterate, would understand that the contents inside were not meant for excessive or for any human to consume and should be used carefully (SHA 2021).

Two different examples of these “poison” bottles were recently found at the Heiskell-White archaeological site in downtown Fredericksburg, Virginia. One is a complete 3-inch tall, triangular shaped, cobalt blue bottle made by McCormick & Co. (yes, that McCormick). Their “Bee Brand” bottle (circa 1890s–1902) (Photo 1), with its bright color and noticeable shape, would have most likely contained laudanum (Figure 1). A tincture of opium and alcohol was used in the treatment of pain, cough, diarrhea, and a variety of other medical debilitations since the eighteenth century; this medication was relatively widespread and readily available. Less aggressive versions of laudanum are still prescribed today.

Photo 1: McCormick & Co. “Bee Bottle” Found During Excavations at the Heiskell-White Site in Fredericksburg, Virginia.

 

Figure 1: On Left: Oxalic Acid Label From Cassiday’s Drugstore, Downtown Fredericksburg On Right: McCormick & Co. Laudanum Bottle Label (www.dawnfarm.org 2014).


The second bottle found on the site has a small cylindrical shape with embossed lettering. Only a light aqua color, it is a less obvious example of a poison/medicinal bottle (Photo 2). “Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup,” made by Curtis & Perkins, was given to infants and children to help sooth teething, fussing, diarrhea, etc.; the primary ingredients being morphine and alcohol (Figure 2). With alarming dose recommendations (roughly 6 to 20 times as much as laudanum depending on the child’s age), it is no wonder that this syrup quickly became known as a “baby killer” medicine as one teaspoon contained enough morphine to kill the average child (Museum of Healthcare 2017). By 1911, the United States passed the Pure Food and Drug act, forcing Curtis & Perkins to remove morphine from their recipe and “soothing” from their label. With this change, Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup was able to be produced and used through the 1930s (Museum of Healthcare 2017).

Photo 2: Curtis & Perkins Bottle for Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup Found During Excavations at the Heiskell-White Site in Fredericksburg, Virginia.

 

Figure 2: Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup Trade Card (Museum of Healthcare 1887).

By the 1890s, various drug advertisements, especially for children’s medicine, began to advertise their “harmless” nature as a means to avoid association with these dangerous alternatives (Sears, Robuck & Co. 1897).

Both of these medicines were easily obtained and led many people, young and old, to become addicted to the substances. Small artifacts such as these, especially when found intact, give archaeologists a sense of what the people of the time were turning to for their day to day maladies, and remind us that maybe we don’t have it quite as bad today.

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: 

Dawnfarm.org
2014    Opiates and Medicine: Where are we, America? Electronic document, https://www.dawnfarm.org/wp-content/uploads/OpiatesAndMedicineHANDOUTS_09-23-20141.pdf, accessed February 2021.

Museum of Healthcare
2017    Mrs. Winslows Soothing Syrup: The Baby Killer https://museumofhealthcare.wordpress.com/2017/07/28/mrs-winslows-soothing-syrup-the-baby-killer/, accessed February 2021.

Sears, Robuck & Co.
2007    1897 Sears Robuck & Co. Catalog, Page 39, accessed February 2021.

Society of Historical Archaeology
2021    Poison and Chemical Bottle Styles https://sha.org/bottle/medicinal.htm#Chemicals%20and%20Poisons, accessed February 2021.

 

Common Cents Archaeology

By: Joe Blondino

Most of the artifacts that archaeologists find don’t give us an exact date for when they were used or deposited on a site. Typically, artifacts are assigned a “type”, and each type has a date range that is generally accepted based on previous research. For example, the projectile points that we refer to as the “Palmer” type date to between 10,000 and 9,300 years before present (Gardner 1989), and “creamware” ceramics date to between 1762, when they were introduced by Josiah Wedgwood, and about 1820, when other wares came into fashion (Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum 2002). However, we occasionally get lucky enough to find objects with very precise dates, and perhaps the best example of this are coins, which often bear the year in which they were minted. Dovetail archaeologists had the good fortune to find such an artifact recently at the Hieskell-White archaeological site (44SP0816) in downtown Fredericksburg, Virginia. While excavating the cellar floor of the circa-1795 house, archaeologists recovered an 1822 penny, giving them a terminus post quem (“TPQ” in archaeologese) for the layer in which the coin was found (Photo 1 and Photo 2). This Latin phrase translates to “time after which,” and refers to the earliest date that a particular layer of sediment could have been deposited. This means that if a coin from 1822 was found in a certain layer, then that layer could not have been deposited earlier than 1822, or the coin couldn’t have gotten there unless there was some sort of disturbance…or time travel. In this case, the 1822 date works perfectly for the site!

Photo 1: 1822 Coin Found During Excavations in Fredericksburg, Virginia.

 

Photo 2: Second Coin Recovered From Excavation, Dating to 1808.

The coin found at the Hieskell-White site doesn’t look like a modern penny, as it is significantly larger. These are generally referred to as “large cents” to differentiate them from the modern-sized penny, which wasn’t introduced until 1857. The 1822 date happened to be easy to read on this particular example, but sometimes the date on a coin can be difficult to make out if the coin is particularly worn. In these cases, there are still other clues we can go by to narrow down a possible date range. If the date on the Heiskell-White coin hadn’t been discernible, we might still have been able to see the outline of the bust on the obverse (or “heads”) side of the coin, which would have told us that it was a “Matron Head” cent that was only minted between 1816 and 1839. This is still a tighter date range than we get from many other artifact types (Coin Collecting Guide for Beginners 2014). Some older coins from Europe may feature the likeness of the head of state at the time the coin was minted, which can give us similarly tight date ranges. So the next time you drop a coin, don’t fret—you may just be giving future archaeologists an important clue to dating their 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:

Coin Collecting Guide for Beginners
2014    United States Large Cents. Electronic document, https://www.coin-collecting-guide-for-beginners.com/large-cents.html, accessed December 2020.

Gardner, William M.
1989    An Examination of Cultural Change in the Late Pleistocene and Early Holocene (circa  to 6800 B.C.).  In Paleoindian Research in Virginia: A Synthesis, edited by J. Mark Wittkofski and Theodore R. Reinhart, pp. 5–51. Special Publication 19. Archeological Society of Virginia, Richmond.

Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum
2002    Creamware. Electronic document, https://apps.jefpat.maryland.gov/diagnostic/ColonialCeramics/Colonial%20Ware%20Descriptions/Creamware.html, accessed December 2020.

Living on a Prayer: What a Rosary Fragment Can Tell Us About the Urban Landscape in Alexandria, Virginia

By: Kerry S. González

In recent excavations in the City of Alexandria, Dovetail recovered a portion of a rosary, specifically the crucifix and a section of the antiphon. Rosaries are used in Catholicism as a form of meditative prayer, and each rosary contains three parts: the introduction or the antiphon, the five decades, and the conclusion. The introduction consists of the cross and the four beads following it, which represent the Apostles’ Creed, one Our Father, and three Hail Marys for the three divine virtues of Faith, Hope, and Charity. The next part are the five decades (10 Hail Marys said in a row), and the conclusion is the closing prayers. This artifact was found within the rubble fill of a basement, all that remains of a dwelling located at 1312 King Street.

The home itself, according to historic maps, was a two-story brick building (Figure 1). Dovetail’s recent excavations confirmed the presence of this building, which was constructed in what is known as a common bond. Additional information on the building was also obtained from the dig, such as the basement was white whitewashed, it had divided rooms, a French drain helped shed water, and a relieving arch likely held the weight of brick chimney above (Photo 1). While the architecture of the building at 1312 King Street isn’t the focus of this blog, a picture helps visualize the home and its occupants.

Figure 1: 1896 Sanborn Map Overlay (Sanborn Map Company 1891). Pink indicates brick building and yellow indicates wooden frame.

 

Photo 1: Partially Exposed Foundation Wall and Relieving Arch Associated with 1312 King Street.

The rosary pictured here has the name J.W. Comeau inscribed on the back (Photo 2). Initially it was assumed that Comeau must have resided at 1312 King Street for the rosary to have been deposited within the basement fill, but research on Mr. Comeau suggests that he actually lived across the street. A newspaper ad from 1919 infers that he lived at 1303 King Street, now part of Pacers Running, and was offering his services for painting and papering (Figure 2). He possibly worked at the Paint Shop located at 1304 King Street (see Figure 1).

 

Figure 2: 1919 Advertisement (Alexandria Gazette 1919).

While this artifact tells us little about the occupants of the site investigated by Dovetail, it nonetheless provides a link to the residents of the block as well as the City of Alexandria during the early-twentieth century. It also tells us how fill and artifacts in urban contexts often end up away from their original location. Not only is this artifact a good example of how cities have always, and continue to, change through cutting and filling episodes, it is tangible pieces such as this section of a rosary that make what we do as archaeologists and historians exciting.

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:

Alexandria Gazette
1919    “Painting and Papering” https://virginiachronicle.com/?a=d&d=AG19191202.1.5&e=——-en-20–1–txt-txIN——–, accessed November 2020.

Sanborn Map Company
1891    Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps from Alexandria, Independent Cities, Virginia. Sanborn Map Company, Aug, 1891. Map. https://www.loc.gov/item/sanborn08968_003/.

A Kookpot from Casimir

Featured Fragment –A Kookpot from Casimir

By William Liebeknecht

Our story starts in 1651 with the construction of Fort Casimir, a colonial fortification built by the West India Company in what is now New Castle, Delaware. The four-sided fort was only lightly equipped with battle gear (Figure 1). In 1654, a Swedish force attacked the fort, leading the small, unprepared Dutch garrison at Fort Casimir to surrender. In September of the following year (1655), a Dutch West India Company task force of 300 men pressured the Swedish commander to surrender the fort back to the Dutch. In 1657, the City of Amsterdam took control of the community that had developed around Fort Casmir over the years and renamed it New Amstel (Bontemantel 2011:58). This new community was once again contested, as in 1664 an English force under Sir Robert Carr conquered New Amstel and the fort changed hands again. During the assault, the fort was severely damaged by a cannon barrage from two ships. By 1671, the fort was in ruins and it was leveled by 1678, with the land passing into private hands (Heite and Heite 1986:21).

Figure 1: Virtual Model of How the Fort May Have Looked Based on Archaeological and Historical Research (Image curtesy of Archae3d 2020).

The exact location of the fort had been in question since it faded from memory and the town of New Castle expanded over the past three centuries. Formal archaeological studies to locate the fort were completed in 1986 (Heite and Heite 1989) and again in 2012 (Leach et al. 2013). Seeking to find confirmation of the fort’s location and design, the New Castle Historical Society (NCHS) obtained a grant from the American Battlefield Protection Program to complete additional studies. A three-firm project team—South River Heritage Consulting, Dovetail Cultural Resources Group, and Archae 3D—led the 2020 efforts to further investigate the fort site. The team also included a host of volunteers, visiting archaeologists and retired archaeologists with an interest in the project, including New Holland Foundation archaeologist Hans van Westing (Catts et al. 2020).

The fort was four sided with bastions at the corners and a moat or ditch surrounding the exterior walls for added protection. Much to the delight of the team, the eastern dry moat/ditch was firmly located and defined during the archaeological survey. Approximately 10 percent of the moat was sampled revealing several nearly complete Dutch red-bodied earthenware ceramic vessels (kookpan, kookkan, and stoofpan). Small pieces of “vetro a fili” glass, majolica and faience earthenware plate, yellow brick, red roof tiles, tobacco pipes, food remains, and a lead shot were found in the moat. Overall more than 950 artifacts were recovered—most relating to the period of the fort’s occupation

One of the more interesting finds was a red-bodied earthenware vessel known as a kookpot recovered from the fill of the moat. The kookpot (formerly referred to by archaeologists as grape or grapen; see Janowitz and Schaefer 2020), kookkan, and stoofpan forms exhibit three feet, a single handle, and a spout (Schaeffer 1994:78–79). Hurst et al. (1986:130) describe these vessels as composed of a hard, red clay with fine quartz sand temper that range in color from brown to orange and red (Photo 1). The clear lead glaze that coats the outside ranges from yellow to greenish brown. While the name implies that these vessels were used in cooking, there is no evidence of burning or sooting on the bases of these objects, so they were likely cracked or broken in transport to the fort and never used in food preparation or exposed to a heat source. The size of the broken sherds of this vessel found in the moat and the fact that they mend indicate that they were discarded right away and not thrown in later when the fort was leveled. Once an insignificant utilitarian object, that was never likely even used, has shed an incredible amount of data on this pivotal Delaware site.

Photo 1: Prayer Before the Meal. Note the red-bodied earthenware kookpot on the ground that the dog is licking (Steen 1667-1671).

Photo 2: Mended Kookpot Recovered During Excavations at Fort Casimir.

Click here to view the 3d model of the fort created by Archae3d https://sketchfab.com/3d-models/model-of-fort-casimir-97ce934cdaa34f8db0321c9a063271e1

 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:

Bontemantel, Hans
2011    New Netherland Papers, C. 1650 -1660, From the Collected Papers of Hans Bontemantel, Director of the Amsterdam Chamber of the West India Company, Held by the New York Public Library. Translated by Dingman Veersteeg, edited by Martha Dickinson Shattuck. New Netherland Research Center and the New Netherland Institute. Electronic document,  https://www.newnetherlandinstitute.org/research/online-publications/the-new-netherlandpapers-of-hans-bontemantel/, accessed May 2020,

Catts, Wade P., William Liebeknecht, Kevin C. Bradley,  Brian Crane, Kerry González, and P. Brad Hatch
2020    “…The soldiers never stopping until they stormed ye fort….” Report on the Archaeological Survey of the Battle for Fort Casimir (7NC-E-105E) City of New Castle, Delaware American Battlefield Protection Program Grant GA 2287-016-007 Prepared for New Castle Historical Society 30 Market Street New Castle, Delaware.

Heite, Edward, F. and Louise Heite
1986    Fort Elfsborg, 1643; A Background Study of the Fort Elsinboro Point or Fort Elfsborg, Elsinboro Township, Salem County, New Jersey and New Castle County, Delaware. Philadelphia District, Corps of Engineers. Manuscript on file at the Delaware State Historic Preservation Office.

1989    Report of Phase I Archaeological and Historical Investigations at the site of Fort Casimir, New Castle, Delaware. Prepared for the Trustees at New Castle Common. Manuscript on file at the Delaware State Historic Preservation Office.

Hurst, John G., David S. Neal, and H.J.E Van Beuningen
1986    Pottery Produced and Traded in North-West Europe 1350-1650. Rotterdam Papers VI. Stichting ‘Het Nederlandse Geruiksvoorwerp’, Rotterdam.

Janowitz, Meta and Richard G. Schaefer
2020    By Any Other Name: Kookpotten or Grapen? Little Pots, Big Stories. In The Archaeology of New Netherland: Uncovering a Forgotten World, edited by Craig Lukezic and John P. McCarthy. University Press of Florida, Gainesville.

Leach, Peter, Wade P. Catts, and Craig Lukezic
2013    “The starting Point in the Historic of New Castle”: Geophysics and the Exploratory Archaeology at the site of Fort Casimir (7NC-E-105E), City of New Castle, Delaware. John Milner associates. On file at the Delaware Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs, Dover.

Schaefer, Richard Gerhard
1994    A typology of seventeenth-century Dutch ceramics and its implications for American historical archaeology. Ph.D. dissertation, University of Pennsylvania.

Steen, Jan
1667-1671   Prayer Before the Meal. Philadelphia Museum of Art. www.philamuseum.org/collections/permanent/102302.html, accessed September 2020.

Every Woman Needs a Little Black Dress

By Kerry S. González and Sara Rivers Cofield

In the late winter of 2020, PQ (Pre-Quarantine), Dovetail conducted an archaeological excavation of a family cemetery associated with a branch of the Embrey family in Stafford, Virginia. The small plot contained the graves of 16 individuals. While analysis of the remains is ongoing we wanted to highlight a particularly interesting item recovered during the excavations.

The fabric fragment pictured below is from the burial dress of Jane Embrey (Photo 1). Jane lived in Stafford County, Virginia, and died at the age of 30 in 1893 from consumption (tuberculosis). Her obituary reads: “Death in Stafford. Miss Jane W. Embrey, daughter of the late Lieutenant Richard Embrey, who was a gallant Confederate soldier, died of consumption, yesterday at 12 o’clock at the residence of her uncle, Mr. Granville Embrey, in Stafford, aged about thirty years” (Fredericksburg Star 1893).

Photo 1: Remains of Jane’s Dress. Note fragment of intact copper alloy pin from broach by the collar noted by white arrow.

Jane was buried in a black dress with decorative black bead work (Photo 2) with over 3,000 tiny black beads recovered during the excavation and lab analysis. This style of dress and bead work was extremely popular in the Victorian, mourning-obsessed culture of the late-nineteenth century and was affordable and widely available through retail stores and mail order catalogs such as Montgomery Ward & Co. and Sears Roebuck (Photo 3).

Photo 2: Example of a Dress with a Style and Beaded Decoration Similar to the Garment in which Jane Embrey was Buried (Etsy.com 2020).

 

Photo 3: Montgomery Ward & Co. Catalog Showing Bead Trimmings That Could Be Applied to Garments (Montgomery Ward & Co. 1895).

 

Jane Embrey also wore the standard foundation garments for the period, including a corset equipped with an iron busk and copper alloy slot-and-stud closures (Photo 4). It might seem excessive to bury a lady in her corset, but without it her dress might not fit properly, as the corset defined and molded ladies’ bodies to create the popular small-waisted silhouette of the period. To be dressed in a nice black gown without a corset at the time would be the equivalent of having a woman today wear a closely fitting dress without a bra, control-top hose, or other shapewear that provides support or otherwise smooths out the figure in keeping with current styles. The corset ensured that Miss Embrey was spared the indignity of an ill-fitting bodice in her final rest. She was interred also wearing a number of accessories, including a paste jewelry hair pin and broach (Photo 5).

Photo 4: Full Corset Typical of the Late-Nineteenth Century (From Authors Collection).

 

Photo 5: Materials Found During Excavation of Jane’s Burial. Top row: paste jewel broach and hairpin. Bottom row: iron busk and copper alloy slot-and-stud closures.

 

While we don’t know much about Jane, the few items we recovered, coupled with the archival data gathered as part of our ongoing research effort, offer details previously unknown to her descendants. Through our work at the site, Dovetail was able to determine her approximate height, how she wore her hair, and how she died, and many other tiny details that would have been otherwise unknown to her family some 125 years after her death.

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:

Etsy
2020    1880 Bodice and Split Skirt. https://www.etsy.com/listing/521905056/1880-victorian-bodice-and-split-skirt, accessed August 2020

Fredericksburg Star (Fredericksburg, Virginia)
1893    Death in Stafford. 1 July: 1893

Montgomery Ward & Co.
1895    Montgomery & Ward Co.: Catalogue and Buyers’ Guide. 2008 Facsimile. Skyhorse Publishing, New York, New York.

What’s THAT Doing HERE? Unexpected Discoveries at the Strawberry Run Site in Alexandria, Virginia

By Joe Blondino

In June 2019, Dovetail conducted an archaeological survey of a project area located along Strawberry Run in Alexandria, Virginia. At first, the project area seemed like it might not have much to offer. Most of the project area was located along the banks of a stream, a narrow and frequently inundated floodplain, and steep slopes to the uplands—none of which make particularly good places to live. However, the ravine in which it was located lies between two Civil War forts: Fort Worth to the northwest and Fort Williams to the east. Largely because of the potential for the project area to contain Civil War artifacts, a Phase I archaeological survey was conducted and included use of metal detectors, which is a proven way to locate Civil War artifacts.

Initially, the metal detector survey located only modern trash. The shovel test pits, on the other hand, produced prehistoric artifacts, including a projectile point dating to the Middle Archaic period (circa 8,000–5,500 years ago). The biggest surprise came as the crew was crossing the stream to access the western part of the project area; they looked down into the streambed and saw a large edged cobble! This was a piece of quartzite that someone in the prehistoric period had chipped into a “preform”—a roughly shaped “blank” that could later be modified into a finished stone tool (Photo 1). We spent much of the remainder of the day scouring the banks of the stream and finding a considerable number of artifacts that represented prehistoric populations taking advantage of the cobbles eroding out of the banks of the stream and using them to produce preforms. These preforms would then be carried off to be made into finished tools elsewhere. We thought we might find Civil War artifacts, but had stumbled across an entirely different type of site! Because no other sites like this were known to be located nearby, we saw this as an opportunity to learn more about prehistoric quartzite “quarrying” and recommended additional archaeological work.

Photo 1: Quartzite Biface Recovered from Site 44AX0240.

The results of the Phase II study, which involved digging additional test pits, as well as a few larger test units, revealed that prehistoric activity at the site was mostly restricted to the streambed itself, with relatively little on the adjacent floodplain. But we also got another surprise. Several of the test pits produced fired Civil War bullets. Now we have Civil War stuff on our prehistoric site! So, we got the metal detector back out. In all, we recovered eight lead projectiles including a Civil War-era Minié ball, five round balls, and two pieces of buckshot, all of which had been fired and impacted (Photo 2). This was a bit of a mystery too, as no battles were fought in the vicinity of the site, and the projectiles were all recovered from the valley floor rather than the steep valley walls, as might be expected if the site was used as a firing range with the valley walls as a backstop. We believe that the projectiles may represent unloading of firearms, as they were all of types that would have been fired from muzzle-loading weapons. Once such a firearm is loaded, it can be unloaded only through extraction using a “worm,” a corkscrew-like tool that taps into the projectile so it can be pulled out of the muzzle (Photo 3), or through discharge of the weapon. It may be the case that soldiers from one or both of the nearby forts used the Strawberry Run valley as a convenient and safe place to unload weapons by discharging them into the valley floor, perhaps during changing of guardpost personnel or when loaded weapons required maintenance.

Photo 2: Minié Ball and Round Musket Balls Recovered from Site 44AX0240.

Photo 3: Example of a ‘Pulled’ Bullet Showing Hole Where it was ‘Wormed’.

Dovetail’s work at the Strawberry Run Site is an excellent example of the kinds of unexpected discoveries that are often made in archaeology and goes to show the importance of thorough examination of all parts of the landscape. You never know what you’re going to find!

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.

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.