Saturday, August 23, 2008

Final Lithic Analysis for the Field Survey

Okay, numbers aren't for everyone. I could sense the collective glazing over of eyes whenever we post a table with numbers. But that is often what analysis is about: quantifying finds in the hope of seeing patterns, and then trying to interpret the behaviors behind those patterns.

Anyway, below are the last two tables for the field survey, both for the South Field. Readers could check past blogs to see the numbers for the North and South fields, but basically most of the flakes recovered from those fields (92% to 95%) were quartz and represented initial stages of stone tool making.

The South Field flakes, as anticipated, are different. There is a lot more quartzite than in either of the other two fields (36% of all the flakes are quartzite as opposed to 4% to 5%), and the bulk of the recovered primary and secondary flakes from the South Field (53% and 54%, respectively) are quartzite. Only 10% of the tertiary flakes are quartzite, but 89% are quartz.

What does all this mean? I suspect that the aboriginal occupants of the South Field were using quartz to produce finished tools on-site, but they used quartzite to make what archaeologists call preforms or blanks...roughed out tools that looked like, and could serves as, knives, but were intended for further shaping into more functionally specific tools. Where did they take these quartzite preforms and what kinds of tools did they eventually make from them? Don't know; but we will try to find out with further research in and around Port Tobacco valley.

Table 1. Raw counts of flake types by material

Table 2. Proportions of flake types by material

Friday, August 22, 2008

Report From Ohio

I've been away from the blog for the last month as I moved from NY to OH for a teaching position at Heidelberg College. Much of my world is still contained in cardboard boxes but the semester begins on Monday so my focus is shifting to coursework.

Before things got too hectic, I sent an article on Port Tobacco to the editor of Maryland Archaeology. Hopefully that will come out this year to give us another venue for telling the story of this town.

Over the next two months, Pete and I will be working on a Port Tobacco paper for the CNEHA conference in October. It will focus on a spatial analysis of the town.

My teaching load will be a bit lighter in the Spring than it is this Fall so I hope to have more time then to blog. Jim and Pete have been doing an excellent job in my absence. They were born to blog! Thanks guys!


Thursday, August 21, 2008


I have a correction for yesterday's blog. We had not included a small bag of lithics recovered from the North Field in our table. The corrected values appear below.

Do they look similar to the uncorrected data? They should. The results of such an intensive surface collection effort are statistically robust; which is to say that the results are reliable and not the product of chance.

Interns Kevin McCall and Steve Hmelnicky finished the South Field lithic identifications and we'll have them posted here tomorrow.

By the way, Steve and Kevin finish their internships this week. On behalf of the PTAP team, I wish them well. Actually, I'll see both of them in my class at Stevenson University next week...a semester length course on Chesapeake Indians.


Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Lithic Reduction on the North Field Site

Intern Kevin McCall (Stevenson University) worked today on the flakes that we recovered this spring from the North Field. He'd sort the flakes into decortication, primary, secondary, tertiary, and shatter (representing different stages of reducing a pebble into a stone tool) and I'd check his identifications. Here are the results.

As was the case for the Middle Field (reported by me a week or so ago), the vast majority of the flakes are quartz and they represent all stages of stone tool making. Unlike the Middle Field assemblage, however, we recovered a large number of tertiary flakes...small flakes resulting from the final sharpening or resharpening of stone tools. We suspected this patterning during the field work because many of the flakes that we found and mapped were small quartz flakes.

In sum, we have the same use of locally available quartz pebbles that we saw for the Middle Field, but a greater focus on the final stages of tool making and maintenance are in evidence in the North Field. By the end of the week we will have counts for the South Field. It was my impression during the field study that quartzite was much more common in the South Field than in either of the other two, and that suggests a different preference for raw materials. Whether that preference was based in the quality of the stone (one more easily flaked, or knapped, than the other), the color (symbolic or spiritual significance of pink and yellow over white), or some as yet unidentified factor remains to be seen.

After reporting the South Field finds we will compare all of the fields and see what else might be learned from looking at flake types and materials.


Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Gunflint Comparison

I thought I would show side by side photographs of the quartz gunflint and one made from English flint. The English piece is broken, but the sizes and shapes are comparable. Of greater interest than shape is the edge damage, or use-wear, along the lower margins of both and along the upper margin of the quartz piece.

Quartz (left) and English (right) gunflints from Port Tobacco. The quartz piece is almost certainly aboriginal. The English piece also might have been used by the Indians.

Repeated strikes with, or pressure applied to, the working edge of each tool created a very fine serrated edge. The result is an unintended byproduct and not a result of design. Repeated use required re-shaping of the piece, removing the evidence of use-wear and resulting in a steeper edged gunflint. Eventually, the user simply discarded the worn gunflint.

Gunflints show up regularly, though not in large numbers, on colonial period sites, as does lead shot of various calibers. Continental flints, distinguished by their brown or honey-like color, generally are attributed to French sources. They tend to be very well made and often appear on sites dating to the Revolutionary War, the French being the Continental Army's principal supplier of arms. As an important node in the Army's supply network...especially during the early years of the Revolution...we might expect Port Tobacco to yield quite a few gunflints, but probably few of the French type since Port Tobacco, Charles County, and Maryland as a whole played a much reduced role in supplying the Army until the eve of the great victory at Yorktown. Some French and Dutch flints, however, may show up in connection with mid-17th century Indian and colonial sites, especially for the 1640s and 1650s when English trade restrictions on the colony were not well enforced.


Monday, August 18, 2008

Busman's Holiday

Pete and I shirked our duties today and went over to a site on the Eastern Shore of Maryland near Chestertown. We spent the day working with a bunch of volunteers...avocational and professional...excavating at the Greib Site (18KE83). We were excavating one-meter units around a cellar hole that had been previously excavated by the land owner and noted Chesapeake architectural historian Henry C. Forman.

We recovered bone, lots of burned daub, and a number of late 17th and early 18th-century artifacts.

It is great to take a break from time to time and see new sites, work with different people who have different ways of doing things, and just all around having a good time with people who enjoy this kind of work. Pete and I thank the staff of the Maryland Historical Trust staff, and especially Bruce Thompson, for letting us share in the fun of discovery on their project.

Yes, we'll be back at work tomorrow.

By the way, I don't have the exact date, but it seems like the birthday of our esteemed, if absent colleague, Dr. April M. Beisaw, is sometime around now. Happy birthday April!


Sunday, August 17, 2008

Aboriginal Gunflint?

While we were surface collecting the plowed fields in April, I picked up a piece of quartz at the north edge of the North Field. If looked to me exactly like a gunflint...that shaped piece of flint held in the clamp of a flintlock. When the hammer drops the flint hits a piece of steel, thereby emitting a spark that ignites a small quantity of gunpowder in a pan. That gunpowder, acting like a fuse, ignites the powder in the barrel and discharges the shot.

Ventral and dorsal surfaces of a possible gunflint made from locally available quartz. Size: approximately 0.9 inches long and wide, 0.3 inches thick.

Gunflints during the Colonial period typically were made from a grey to black English flint from spalls struck off of large nodules or quarried blocks. Some flints made of Continental flint, usually honey-colored, were imported. These were professionally made from long blade flakes and snapped into roughly one-inch lengths.

Colonists often made gunflints from nodules of English flint that arrived in the holds of ships as ballast. When the ships laded tobacco, grain, and other goods in the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries, the merchants discarded their stone ballast, often in violation of Colonial laws that prohibited the practice because it impeded navigation. English flint occurs in chalk deposits and is not indigenous to North America. The name 'Chalk Point' is not uncommon in the Chesapeake region and, at least in some cases, may derive from the discovery of ballast loads of chalk and flint.

Indians acquired firearms, shot, and powder from the colonists; again, sometimes in violation of Colonial laws. Stephen Potter, in his book Commoners, Tribute, and Chiefs (University of Virginia, 1993, p. 204) notes that gunflints made by Indians have been found on Contact period sites, no doubt replacing English flints that were lost or worn and for which replacements were not readily available.

This one piece from Port Tobacco is a potentially very interesting find, especially given the interest in finding the Indian village of Portobaco that appears on John Smith's map, published in 1612.

John Smith map of 1612. Portobaco is circled in red just above the center of the image.

I will try to prepare scale drawings for a future posting so that readers can decide for themselves whether or not this is a gunflint or a very small aboriginal scraper that was used in preparing hides or shaping wood. I think a few accompanying illustrations of known European gunflints will assuage most doubters.