Saturday, September 19, 2009

Perplexing Points

Anne came across the two projectile points pictured to the right yesterday while cataloging the Braley collection. The collection contains materials excavated from Port Tobacco's village green by avocational archaeologists in the early 1970s. This is the same collection that PTAP borrowed from J. Patterson Park & Museum and for which Carol recently discovered the excavation notes in the files of the Society for the Restoration of Port Tobacco. (The material that Pete has been trying to make sense of.)

The two projectile points (both quartz) are intriguing because of the types that they represent. The side-notched point on the left (a) could be a less than typical example of a reconditioned Susquehanna broadspear, a common point type in the Susquehanna drainage that dates to the Late Archaic-Transitional period, in the neighborhood of 1,000 BC. But it also has qualities that suggests a less than typical example of a Hardaway-Dalton point, a late Paleoindian type that may date to around 8,000 BC.

The triangular point on the right (b) easily fits the mold of a Levanna (northern variant) or Yadkin (southern variant) point, early Late Woodland types dating to around AD 1,000. But the base is so deeply concave as to suggest a variant of the Hardaway-Dalton point, again a very early style.

The uncertainty points up a continuing problem in East Coast archaeology...many of the projectile points for regions within this larger cultural-historical area have been described and classified on the basis of surface finds, with very early pieces lying along side of relatively recent pieces. Uncertainty is exacerbated by the widespread use of intractable quartz which, at times, seems to have rewarded stone tool makers, or knappers, with caricatures of what they had hoped to make. Well-stratified deposits along the Atlantic coast are uncommon, although the late Joffre Coe conducted and reported amazingly well-layered deposits in central North Carolina that he excavated in the 1940s. Point styles tend to be consistent within a particular layer, suggesting that they were made by one people who shared a common understanding of what was an appropriate shape for a projectile point.

Archaeologists do find single-component sites (deposits representing one period based on the similarity of artifact finds) in this region, and that is nearly as good. A well-stratified site can be understood as a series of stacked single component sites that have the added benefit of demonstrating which point style is earlier or later than those in adjoining layers. Unfortunately, there just haven't been enough well-excavated, well-reported sites--single-component or stratified multiple-component--to help us to more definitively describe point types.

In Maryland, much of the focus has been on identifying and recording site locations rather than on intensive exploration of well-preserved sites. Ironically, the paucity of data from well-excavated sites makes it difficult to understand collections from well-collected surface sites and, I think, hinders the conservation of these important sites.


Friday, September 18, 2009

Elsie Picyk

Without a doubt, one of the biggest supporters of the Port Tobacco Archaeological Project has been Elsie Picyk. If there is dirt to be moved, either out of a unit or off of an artifact, she is likely to be in the thick of it. Elsie has also taken a lead role in conducting archival research on the people and place of Port Tobacco, building on the work of previous generations of scholars.

Elsie has long been enamored with old things: canals, railroads, her husband George. (Sorry about that George...I lack discipline.) The photograph to the right shows Elsie visiting one of the locks on the Lehigh Canal near White Haven, Pennsylvania. These structures are simple in concept, but monumental in scale and difficult to build.

The other photograph shows Elsie facing down a speeding locomotive at Steamtown, Pennsylvania. "Big Boy' is another example of American engineering of the 19th century: simple in concept, monumental in scale and complex in construction.

When Elsie isn't delving into America's industrial and Colonial pasts, she is cooking and, until recently, growing grapes from which she made her own wine.

Elsie is an integral part of the Port Tobacco Archaeological Project, as well as of the new Charles County Archaeological Society, bringing lots of energy and good cheer. Thank you Elsie: folks like you make it extra special fun to come to work.


Thursday, September 17, 2009

Suspicious Spoons and Mysterious Marks

As Anne and I continued to wash and sort the Port Tobacco artifacts from the 1970's we came across a piece of metal that resembled either a shoe horn or the handle from a ladle. After another look we quickly decided that we were dealing with a handle, possibly from a spoon, but have had difficulty finding much information beyond that...perhaps some of our loyal readers will be able to help?

The spoon is made of a type of pewter alloy called Britannia Metal which consists of tin, antimony, and copper. So far we have been able to discern some of the writing and marks stamped into the handle. The stamped mark is of a crown with the words "BEST BRITANNIA" above it and "METAL" below it. Farther down the handle there are two words. One reads "IRMINGHAM," which could be Birmingham, and the other cannot be deciphered save for a few indeterminate letters. This information has yet to help us discover the date and origin of the spoon, though it has enabled us to do a bit of research into pewter production and different types of marks.

Some of the types of marks that are found on silver and pewter utensils are hallmarks, maker's marks, quality marks, and date marks. The hallmark denotes the town or location of the assay office. Maker's marks are exactly what they sound like, with some companies using a name and others using a stamped symbol. Date marks are letters used to denote the year when the item was made in order to identify the head assayer was at the time of the item's production in case an issue of quality arose. Quality marks were introduced later and confirm the silver content of a vessel or utensil. Initially we were searching for the Birmingham hallmark based off of the letters on the handle, however, the crown mark on the handle is more likely a hallmark of Sheffield, leading us to more confusion.

Any ideas or information on this lost ladle would be greatly appreciated!

Kelley and Anne

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


Today Anne and I delved into the artifacts from the 1970's excavations. While washing quite a few pipe stems, two in particular caught our eyes and we decided to investigate. The stem on the bottom is a mouthpiece with molded bands and dots. There is also a stamped "16.18.2" above an "N," and on the opposite side there are the letters "ARD" above an "O." While interesting, these markings did not offer much of an identification. That was when the second pipe stem came in handy. This stem (on the top in the pictures) also had molded dots and bands, as well as complete words rather than only letters. On one side it reads "61920 CHAMBER STREET NEW YORK." Clearly this was an address...but for what? The opposite side made it clear with the words "TRY LORILLARD'S TOBACCO." With this information we were equipped for a bit of historical sleuthing.

The company that produced these pipes is called Lorillard's Tobacco (though I suppose the stamped words made that obvious). The company was started in 1760 by an 18 year-old French fellow named Pierre Lorillard. He set up shop in New York City at 161820 Chamber Street. Roughly 30 years later his two sons, Peter and George Lorillard, would take over the company, later moving it to the banks of the Bronx River. The Lorillard Company can claim numerous firsts in the American Tobacco Industry including the first newspaper advertising campaign in 1787, and the first nationwide distribution of tobacco products in 1830 when post offices around the country began to stock Lorillard products. The Lorillard Tobacco company continues to operate today as the oldest tobacco company in America.

While we were not successful in finding an exact date for this pipe within Lorillard's long manufacturing history, its design offers some clues as to its likely age. Pipes with stamped molding were not made until the second half of the 18th century and into the 19th century. This only helped narrow the age range slightly, so we turned to the borehole as another source of information. The majority of boreholes measure at 5/64ths were made from 1710-1750, before the Lorillard's Company started. However, borehole diameters of 5/64th in. are also found in a significant number of pipes made between 1750-1800. As such it is likely that we can place our two pipe stems within this range of dates.

We will continue to keep you posted about interesting finds from the 1970's!

Kelley and Anne

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Decoding the Past: The 1970's Excavations

Earlier this summer, we came across some notes on earlier excavations at Port Tobacco. More specifically, notes from the excavations around the St. Charles Hotel and the Village Green from the early 1970's.

We knew that these excavations were done by advocational archaeologists. We also knew that there were artifacts, an artifact catalog, and notes taken during the excavations. We've even seen some of the recovered artifacts. What we didn't know was where all the notes and artifacts went! And once we found them, could we read them? That last part is becoming easier as I reread and reread and redraw the notes and drawings. However, it does take me back to my field school where at the end of our second day, we were given notes from a previous years' excavation and told to answer a series of questions given only the notes from the excavation team. Needless to say, it was nearly impossible with some of them.

My point? Good note taking is crucial! (Hhmmmm...I think I've heard that before!)

While there is much missing from these notes, I believe we have enough to get a general overview of what was done and where, and quite possibly decipher the labels on the artifacts from the courthouse!

Once I get a better handle on all of this, I will post again with some analysis.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Just Bead It!

Today Kelley and I tackled the trash pit artifacts. All the soil from this feature was water screened and floated in order to find the smallest items. We found this purple glass bead among the fish scales and minute gravel. The photo above was taken by a digital microscope at 10x magnification. The bead is 3 mm in diameter and most likely wound. Wound beads were made by twirling a strand of glass around a wire until the desired thickness is reached. Two of the sides are flattened, possibly from the cooling process during manufacture. We have not yet pin-pointed a date, but this could be a trade bead, as other trade beads have previously been found at Port Tobacco.

Trade beads were made in Europe and brought over by explorers and colonists to give to the Native Americans in exchange for food and other supplies. The most highly prized beads in many areas were blue and white. Most wound trade beads date from the end of the 17th century. The size of our bead makes it a crow bead, rather than a seed bead, which are less than 2mm in diameter, or a pony bead, more than 4mm.

The exisitance of this bead, if it is in fact a trade bead, is another indication that Port Tobacco has a Contact Period component. This will require further investigation of the context in which this bead was found.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Gotta light?

We take matches and propane lighters for granted, but what if--in the Colonial period--you wanted to start a fire or light a pipe? Well, if lucky, there would be a fire in a neighbor's hearth from which you could borrow an ember. Otherwise, you start from scratch, or rather, from a strike-a-light.

Several weeks ago, while working on a project in southern Prince George's County, Maryland...a half hour or so north of Port Tobacco...the GAC team recovered a very small flake of what appeared to be English flint (pictured at right). It is only three-quarters of an inch long, about a half inch wide, and about 0.15 inches thick. The magnified images clearly show that small flakes were removed from around the edges on both sides.

I think these flake removals were unintentional, or a byproduct of striking this small flake on a piece of iron or steel, the resulting sparks lighting a bit of tinder with which to start a fire.

Since I was taking pictures of the flake with my digital microscope anyway, I amped the magnification to 200 diameters to see if there were any fossil radiolaria (plankton) or sponge spicules in the matrix. These fossil invertebrates commonly occur in sedimentary flints and cherts. There were none to be found, but I did identify several minute bits of iron, one of which appears in the right-most image. It may be possible to identify the source of this stone, or at least to verify that it is English flint rather than a North American chert. We did find some other Colonial or Early Republic artifacts around this find.