Saturday, October 10, 2009

Putting it all on the table

Now that I have finished up identifying the aboriginal pottery found at Port Tobacco this past field session, I have moved on to working with Pete on the report for the Aboriginal Locus. To refresh your memory, think of the excavation area closest to the court house...or just take a look at this photo of the massive brick rubble feature. This photo is actually of Unit 14 which was excavated during the 2008 Field Session, though there was still plenty of brick rubble to go around this year as well.

Putting together the section of the report for the Aboriginal Locus has involved a lot of drafting of units and profiles, a job that Pete has diligently worked on and recently completed. I have been working predominately on artifact analysis, which includes going through the catalog to make sense out of our finds in this area from this year and last. Analyzing the aboriginal pottery has been a large part of this task, as you probably know since in the last couple weeks I have bombarded you all with blogs about aboriginal pottery. Well, I figured today should be no different...except instead of talk of temper and snapshots of sherds I am posting a table (below) of the quantity of different types of aboriginal pottery (which you all know so well by now) found in the different strata in the Aboriginal Locus. With these data we can build on prior analyses of the aboriginal component at Port Tobacco.

Another aspect of the report will be our discussion of soil colors and textures. Hopefully we will be able to grasp how the stratigraphy in this particular area formed, or at least obtain a better understanding of the processes affecting the soils (aside from plowing).

Still, do not be fooled by this post's emphasis on aboriginal artifacts! A significant amount of historical artifacts and ceramics were also found at this locus ("only" 8,081 sherds of ceramics over the course of two years...). Many of these artifacts came out of the plow zone, but the historic element is still necessary and important to consider when compiling the report on this locus. After all, it is called the Aboriginal Locus because of the density of aboriginal artifacts found there, not because we are 100% certain that there is an intact aboriginal site in that area.

So, while tables may not be as impressive as photographs, they are crucially important in putting together a report. Plus, it is helpful for getting a better sense of exactly what we found and where.


Friday, October 9, 2009

Anne Hayward

Today we return to the much loved segment: The PTAP Team Member of the Week. Today you get an in-depth look at me!

I grew up in Philadelphia and graduated from St. Mary's College of Maryland in 2008. I worked at George Washington's Mt. Vernon before joining GAC this past April. For Jim I excavate, catalog, map in AutoCAD, and blog.

When I'm not in the dirt or in the lab, I can be found sewing, knitting, and powerlifting. I also play ice hockey, although I'm between teams right now.
I have two rescue ferrets, Rowdy and Isabelle, who cause as much destruction and mayhem as they can.

I plan to attend grad school within the next two years for archaeology.


Thursday, October 8, 2009

That's a Rap...pahannock!

Since I am certain that you all missed my aboriginal pottery review (no groans please), I have decided to discuss one more pottery type frequently found at Port Tobacco. Rappahannock wares, which are typically classified under Townsend wares, is one of the most recent aboriginal pottery types we come across. These vessels date from the Late Woodland Period into the Early Contact Period, from roughly AD950- AD1600. While this type of pottery has been mentioned before, a little bit more detail never hurts, right?

Rappahannock pottery is characterized a compact paste and is made from a fine clay. In some cases the clay is micacious; a variation likely due to differences in clays found in different locations. In the image to the left the sherd on the bottom was made from micacious clay, while the one on the top was not. Both of these sherds came from Stratum 2 of Unit 52. Shell is used as the temper, though these wares are much less porous and more refined than the earlier Mockley wares, which also have a shell temper. Actually, as I worked to identify each sherd of aboriginal pottery from the Compton field I noticed that many Rappahannock sherds resembled Moyaone sherds, except the former was tempered with shell while the latter is tempered with sand. In some cases, however, there are pieces of crushed quartz or sand as well as shell included in the paste of Rappahannock vessels.

Numerous styles of decoration are found on Rappahannock wares, including fabric-impressions, cord-impressions, punctations, incised lines or designs, and various other embellishments. The sherd to the right, also from Stratum 2 of Unit 52, is cord-impressed though this decoration is difficult to see. Please click on both images and the links for a better view.

These wares have been found across a large region, encompassing parts of Maryland, Virginia, and Delaware.

If you are familiar with other common types of aboriginal pottery types found in Maryland you may be wondering why I never discussed Potomac Creek Pottery. Well, it seems that Pete beat me to it...about a year ago. So, for some brief points concerning the identification of Potomac Creek wares take a look at his blog here. Also, feel free to revisit last week's blog on decorated wares for some other examples of Potomac Creek sherds.

Also, I took a look at the weather forecast for Port Tobacco next week. The weather for most of the week has been predicted to be sunny and brisk, so we will be accepting no lame weather excuses for not joining us down there for a bit of digging next week!


Wednesday, October 7, 2009

When Tobacco was King

Today I took photos for a new sign going in at Port Tobacco. This sign will focus on trade and the presence of European goods in Port Tobacco. It is important that the artifacts displayed are readily recognizable to all members of the public. Possible artifacts to be included are: the piece of Spanish coin, the 3D rendering of the tin-glazed bowl, and tobacco pipes. Pipes were made in several countries including the U.S., but tobacco itself was used as currency in trade all over the world.

The Chesapeake was largely settled by tobacco farmers in the 17th century with many planning to make their fortune and return to England. The worth of goods, services, court fees, and even people's labor were all described in terms of pounds of tobacco. When demand across the globe was high, farmers grew rich. It was often more economical to grow raw tobacco and buy goods from Europe than it was to devote time and resources to manufacturing them in the colonies. Even tobacco itself was imported back to the Americas after it was processed into smoking tobacco.

However, the system eventually broke down. Next season's crop of tobacco was often pledged to a merchant in exchange for this year's goods. Tobacco also used up the nutrients in the soil quickly. Rather than resting an area or planting other crops to rejuvenate the soil, farmers purchased more land. These practices sunk many planters deep into debt that lasted generations. Farmer's tried to make more money to pay off the debts by growing more tobacco, but the market became glutted. In the 1660's, the glut, plus other factors such as regulations on shipping and importing tobacco, taxes, merchants' manipulation of prices, and the drop-off in demand, caused the price of tobacco to fall to the point where farmer's could not make a living.

A cycle of boom and bust developed over decades. Tobacco continued to be grown in the Chesapeake, but each boom was a little less enriching than the last.


Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Back in the Field

Relace your boots, sharpen your trowel, give your steady squeeze a peck on the cheek, and head for Port Tobacco. We will return on October 12 (Columbus Day), meeting at the courthouse at 9 AM. Our target: the James A. Swann house.

The map to the right was drawn by Bob and Janet Curts sometime in the late 1960s or early 1970s. They collected a number of artifacts off of the field between the hedgerow and the creek and they noted the location of "old house foundations." Scott and I looked at this area in May and decided then that this is the likely location of the Swan House site, barely 30 ft from where Pete and his stalwarts excavated during the ASM field session.

The Jamieson family, owners of the field along the creek, have given us permission to continue working on their land: I'm very grateful for their generosity.

Weather permitting, I expect that we will be working on the site through the week, taking a break on Saturday for ASM 's annual meeting, and possibly resuming on Sunday. All are welcome to participate. Wear sturdy shoes or boots and digging clothes. You might bring lunch...we'll supply water. There are sanitary facilities on site.


Monday, October 5, 2009

3D: The Saga Continues

After languishing at home with the Super Cold/Flu for a week, I'm back! Waiting for me was a mid-19th century teacup that needed to be rebuilt via AutoCAD. I used the same process as before (see previous blog for September 21, 2009), sketching, scanning, tracing, and rendering. The images above are the original (left), the 'wire' image (center), and the rendered image (right). The wire image did not appear in previous blog about 3D imaging. This is the working surface in AutoCAD. I have not yet added the floral decorations to the rendered image. There was also most likely a handle on this teacup, which has not yet been found.


Sunday, October 4, 2009

Pigeon-holed Artifacts

This past Wednesday I went into the attic of the Port Tobacco courthouse. We have long-known that there were artifacts in the attic and that some of them had cryptic numbers on them or on the packages in which some were placed. I had planned to remove these materials and bring them back to Annapolis where we could properly catalog and package them.

In a dazzling display of keen observation, I realized that the cabinets in which the artifacts were stored were hand-me-downs from the Smithsonian Institution. (There were name plates on each saying Smithsonian Institution.) Each was numbered, one number on the left door and the next on the right. There must of been at least six of these large white cabinets in the attic because the numbering system went up to 12.

The cabinets I could peek into with the aide of a flashlight--the attic is as dim, dusty, and moldy as any, and more so then most--have an array of artifacts placed in pigeon holes like packages at a post office. Alas, there was no postal worker to explain what was in each package and whence it came. Clearly, though, there were far more than I could conveniently remove, package, and transport by myself. It also occurred to me that the two boxes of artifacts loaned to us by the Maryland Archaeological Conservation laboratory were grouped by tray numbers, lacking any other evidence of provenience.

Could the numbers on the bags from the MAC lab refer to the pigeon holes? Was it safe to remove objects without keeping careful records of which cabinet and pigeon hole they were taken from? The collections in the attic pose a problem and one not easily addressed....even with the generous help of our volunteers, it would cost several thousand dollars to remove, clean, catalog, and repackage the material, not including the costs of trying to figure out whence each item was excavated.

Well, at least now we know there is a problem and have some sense of the scale. Every solution starts with identifying the problem that needs to be solved.