Saturday, August 8, 2009

In the so-called Cemetery because I thought last year that we had encountered grave shafts...we opened seven excavation units during the May 2009 Archeological Society of Maryland Field Session, expanding on the three units from the previous year. Here is an example of the kind of archaeological feature that we found. It is a classic structural post hole and mold. The trowel lies within the hole.

This one was uncovered in Unit 29 at the base of the plowzone. Note the dark, oval discoloration near the right end--the post mold, where the wooden post had been set before the colonists backfilled the hole.

Traces of historic artifacts in the top of the hole indicate that colonists had been living at this location before they dug the hole and planted the post.

Six structural post holes in perfect alignment were uncovered during the field session. They are all large (about 3 ft to 3.5 ft long, 3 ft wide). The molds range between 0.6 ft and 0.9 ft along their longest axes indicating wooden posts of like diameter. Clearly we have exposed only one part of one wall, but a wall of what? What kind of structure does this line of posts represent?

While such features typically occur on Colonial period sites...indeed, we count on their presence and our ability to find them...the close spacing is unusual, at least on excavated Maryland sites. Note the distances between post molds, center to center. Typically archaeologists in Maryland will find posts that are spaced around 10 ft apart, perhaps 6 ft apart for the last pair at the end of the building supporting the chimney. But 4 ft apart up and down the line?

We noted a bit of fire-reddened earth between two of the post holes and some evidence of post replacement in the form of intrusive holes.

What kind of building was this? Obviously we need to excavate a larger area and expose this structure in its entirety to determine its function. Once we've cleaned, catalogued, and analyzed the recovered artifacts we might have an additional clue as to what it was used for and when. Updates anon!


Friday, August 7, 2009

Hobnobbing with Fellow Wizards

I spent the day at the beautiful home of a gracious host...Mike Charles County today. Julie King discussed the search fro Charles Lord Baltimore's "summer house" and Zachiah fort with a small group of us. Intriguing finds and even more intriguing possibilities. Charles County is well served by the team of Julie, Mike, and Scott Strickland.

I spoke a little bit about Port Tobacco and our finds, although I didn't have much to say about our recent findings because we are still in the midst of cleaning and cataloguing. Speaking of which, we have now catalogued about 100,000 artifacts from Port Tobacco over the past three years.

Barbara Heath wound up the proceedings with a report on her reanalysis of a Colonial site on Virginia's Northern Neck. I'll ask her for a copy of her report and I'll talk more about it after I've read it.

Lab day tomorrow (Saturday) at Port Tobacco, 9 AM to 3 PM. Join Scott...he enjoys the company.


Thursday, August 6, 2009


From the same context as the bone handle fragment (Stratum 2, Unit 52, Compton Field), the PTAP team recovered this bit of twisted brass wire. No, it isn't a paper clip with which some nervous or bored clerk played while anticipating the wrath of his Scrooge-like employer. This is an eye from a hook-and-eye set used on clothing...sort of a two piece button that still serves the purpose in some modern clothing.

This particular specimen is about three-eighths of an inch long.

Such clothing closures were common at least from the early 17th century onward. A few appear on virtually any extensive excavation of an American site. Because they do appear, but in small numbers, analysts have difficulty gleaning any information from hooks and eyes. As a result, one or both parts are listed in artifact catalogues and appear in some report photographs, usually grouped with a miscellany of small, unusual finds; but any further discussion generally is limited to a description of function and frequency...more than a bit like this blog.

Whether or not we can squeeze any information out of it remains to be seen when we more fully develop the context after completing the general catalog.


P.S. A note about yesterday's blog: I reported a sixth pie--blueberry--which the crew swears did not exist; however, I noticed blue stains on several articles of clothing.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Out of the Office

No work on the Port Tobacco material was undertaken for the last two days by the GAC crew...I was in Cumberland with Pete, Anne, and Kelley on another project. We came back from Cumberland with three chert flakes, some white earthenware and Shenandoah Valley pottery, a few nails, sherds of vessel and window glass, and six...yes, six...pies, all from Hepburn Orchard in Hancock. They have been cataloged as follows:
  1. Cherry Vanilla
  2. Pecan
  3. Lemon Meringue
  4. Black Cherry
  5. Dutch Apple
  6. Blueberry
As you can see from the photograph, Kelley is menacing the stack of pies which are helplessly belted into the seat. Anne cannot be trusted to protect baked goods. If I hadn't pulled over to the side of the road and reprimanded Kelley, Anne would have joined in the mass consumption of pie. Pete, sitting in the front passenger seat, panicked at first, but recovered and assisted in suppression of the rebellion.

All six pies are believed to have reached their destinations without further molestation.


PS. We are planning on having a lab day at Port Tobacco this Saturday, 9 AM to 3 PM.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Carved Bone Handle

The photograph to the right is of a small piece of mammal bone, about 1½ inches long. No, those crisscrossing lines are not natural...they are incisions intended to serve as decoration and, perhaps, to improve a user's grip on what is clearly a utensil handle.

Many European-American eating utensils, particularly knives, had bone handles prior to the widespread use of vulcanized rubber, plastic, and other materials; which is to say, from the Colonial Period through the middle of the 19th century. Some of the carvings were carefully conceived and executed, but recovered archaeological specimens tend to have simple designs. The workmanship often is crude, but charming, and long-term use smooths the rough spots.

When recovered from well-defined contexts with other materials that can be associated with a particular household, such artifacts can be used by museum curators to acquire complete specimens which they use in creating those richly detailed 'period' rooms that have been so popular in house museums throughout the 20th century.


Monday, August 3, 2009

A member of PTAP grows older...

Some many moons ago April Beisaw was born unto a world waiting for her to discover great things. Since then she has shown her true character...which is quite funny!

I've had many memorable moments with April but the funniest has to be singing bad 80's R&B songs while our interns looked on in horror as they had no clue what we were singing!

Comment on the blog and share with us a tale or two about April...

Happy Birthday April!!

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Bone Button

Stalwart catalogers, Anne and Kelley--having first dried off after a couple of hours of water screening--identified this bone button from Stratum 2 of Unit 52 (Compton Field).

Buttons such as these are fairly common on historic period sites, particularly of the 19th century. Shell buttons are also common and I will write a piece on them some time soon based on my research on shell button making in Delaware.

Both bone and shell buttons can be made with a simple lathe and drill technology. The lathing is particularly evident on the reverse side (lower image) and drilling is clearly evident in the holes on both sides. This piece is about 0.67" (17.25 mm) in diameter and 0.17" (4.25 mm) thick. The bone likely is from a large mammal and the source of the manufactured piece (i.e., domestic or imported) is uncertain. There were stores in town that sold buttons and other goods necessary for the making and maintenance of garments.

Buttons fall within that category of artifacts likely to have been lost, rather than intentionally discarded, but the fact that this item has been broken suggests that it was intentionally removed from a garment after it broke and then thrown away. That suggests that the deposit whence it was recovered represents trash disposal.