Saturday, June 19, 2010

Crockery Update

Technical difficulties yesterday prevented me from blogging on the crock we found. Big thanks to Kelley for getting it done!

The archaeologist who helped out is Barbara Magid of the Alexandria Archaeology Museum. Another big thanks to her for the information about Benedict C. Milburn and the Wilkes Street Pottery. I'm quite sure there are many other connections between Port Tobacco and Alexandria and I hope we can explore these in the future.

As for the piece shown yesterday, there is one more piece of information to add. Underneath the maker's mark is a sideways no. 1 (click on yesterday's image for a better look). It's a measurement mark standing for 1 gallon.

- Peter

Friday, June 18, 2010

What a load of crock!

Hi all,
Perhaps you remember the blog from last week with a photo of me excavating a stoneware crock? Well, we have the piece all cleaned up and ready to be presented! I hope the suspense wasn't to much for you all.

The name on this piece of American Gray Stoneware is "B.C. MILBURN," and below the name is the abbreviation "ALEXA." Click on the image to get a close-up of the words. Well, Pete did a bit of sleuthing and got in touch with an archaeologist down in Alexandria to see if he could gather some information on this Milburn character, and sure enough, he did!

Benedict C. Milburn started out in St. Mary's County, but traveled to Alexandria (abbreviated ALEXA on this vessel) to apprentice with a potter, as did his predecessor at Wilkes Street, John Swann. It is possible that the two worked together as early as 1822, with Milburn taking over operations in 1833, and finally purchasing the business in 1841. The mark on this crock, with Alexandria abbreviated, was the mark Milburn used from 1847 until he died in 1867, giving us a nice narrow date range! Many of Milburn's works were decorated with brushed cobalt in a slip-trailing technique, creating elaborate patterns. The designs vary from intricate works to more general designs, such as the blue vine on our crock. This type of decoration on stoneware faded following the Civil War, likely due to the cost of materials and labor.

Milburn's stoneware traveled far and wide in the mid-Atlantic and has been found in southern Pennsylvania and West Virgina. Port Tobacco, Maryland may be significantly closer to Alexandria, but we still are happy that this crock found its way here! It shows that in the mid-1800s there was a Port Tobacco-Alexandria connection, not to mention it is nice to find such a large piece! Over the next week we hope to work on mending this vessel, as there is a good chance we have most if not all of it. We will be sure to keep you posted.

Remember to come to Port Tobacco tomorrow for some washing, 9-3, if you have the time and interest!

Have a great weekend!


Thursday, June 17, 2010

Buttons, Beads, Thimbles, and...???

Hi folks!

This lovely Thursday finds the PTAP crew diligently working in the lab, washing and cataloging the seemingly infinite supply of artifacts from our excavations at Burch House. For today's blog I thought I would put up a couple of pictures of some of our interesting small finds.

The category of small finds would not be complete without the inclusion of buttons! Those of you out in the field have probably noticed that we have been coming across a lot of buttons while screening, as well as beads, thimbles, clothing pins, buckles, and clasps. It seems to me that there was a lot of crafty stuff going on...perhaps Mrs. Burch made a bit of money working as a seamstress?

To the left are two different examples of bone buttons we have been finding. The one on the far left is a bone disc with a single hole. It clearly is a button...but I am not sure how a button with a single hole was affixed to clothing. Any ideas? This type of button is typical of the 18th and 19th century. This broad range of dates is not super helpful for dating-generally it is quite difficult to date individual buttons, an exception being those from military uniforms which often have particular designs. The second button is also bone, but has an area on the back where a metal loop was attached in order to sew the button to a coat.

As for the beads, it seems highly unlikely that they were trade beads given their design and the context in which they were found. Many of them were from more recently deposited soils, and were not in strata containing aboriginal material. I actually have been quite surprised by how few aboriginal artifacts we have been finding around the Burch House, given the number of flakes and fire-cracked rock found during other excavations at Port Tobacco. Many of the beads we have found are small round glass beads, often being black or blue in color, as is the one to the right.

The thimbles we have found are all similar. They are made from a copper alloy unlike older thimbles which were often made of brass, are undecorated, and are average in size (meaning they look very similar to modern thimbles!) I will try to get a picture of one of them up tomorrow or next week.

Of course, we have no definite evidence that someone living in Burch House was a seamstress, I am merely speculating such based on the artifacts. On that note, I leave you with a an artifact so mysterious, not even we can figure it out! My bet is that it is some sort of finger guard that would be used during quilting or sewing-what do you all think? Click on the images to the left and right for a close-up!

Not to worry, we are saving plenty of artifacts for our volunteers to wash on Saturday!


Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Talking with Oysters

Back in March, we excavated buckets and buckets of oyster shell, many large and intact, from around the Swann House foundation. We brought a single bucket back to the lab in order to measure and catalog the shells. By doing this we can extrapolate information about all of the oyster. We first measure the dimensions of the shell to get height/length ratio (on left). This ratio can tell us about the environment the shell grew in. Short, squat oysters have a low ratio and formed on hard packed sand. Tall oysters have a high ratio and grew packed together in soft mud. Then we look for evidence of parasites, such as bore holes from sponges and Polychaete Worms (on right). The type of parasite activity reveals the salinity of the water the shell was in. Finally, we note attachments to the shells, like other oysters or barnacles. All of this information together will help us learn where the oysters around the Swann House came from and what their aquatic environment was like. The shells can also tell us the oysters' age and how intensely the bivalve population was being harvested.
We used Dr. Brett Kent's book, Making Dead Oysters Talk, as a guide and for the images.
Click on the image for a closer look.


Monday, June 14, 2010

Buttons Away!

Washing artifacts this Saturday was very exciting. You'll be seeing some of the larger and more intact pieces in blogs to come. Today's item is a military button from the units near the Burch House. Steve Lohr recognized the stylized "A" and "3" on it as belonging to the 3rd Artillery in the War of 1812. This button was made by manufacturer Levenworth, Hayden, & Scovill between 1813 and 1814.

PS. We'll be digging at the Burch House only on Tuesday this week. We will have the regularly scheduled lab on Saturday.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Other Adventures

Scott, Laurie, and I are just back from an expedition to Maryland's Eastern Shore where Scott's company, Grave Concerns, had been awarded a contract to document a cemetery as part of a general restoration effort. We had reason to be both disgusted and elated.

The photograph shows one of several concrete vaults that vandals had broken in to, apparently for the sole purpose of stealing skulls.

The upside is that we were there to assist a grass roots organization--the Friends and Family of Asbury & Green Chappel, Inc.--that is dedicated to the restoration of the cemetery. Over the past couple of years they have acquired the half-acre site west of St. Michaels, Maryland, cleared brush, raised funds, and researched this African American Methodist Episcopal Church site and burial ground. They are amazing.

We should have a report and detailed map prepared shortly for the organization.

Regarding April's posting Friday in which she noted at least three Port Tobacco alumni in or on their way to graduate school, I add the name of Tom Forhan who has finished the first year of the two-year master's program at the University of Maryland at College Park. He will be joined in the academy this fall by: Peter Quantock (University of Denver), Kelley Walter (College of William & Mary), and Valerie Hall (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign). Wouldn't mind going back to school myself.