Saturday, January 2, 2010

Annual Conference

Next week both April and I will participate in the annual meeting of the Society for Historical Archaeology. We will be giving papers on Port Tobacco.

The GAC crew will be working through the week and will post daily blogs. Until then, enjoy your holiday weekend.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Happy New Year! Or, is it?

During the Colonial period, British Americans celebrated January 1 as the first day of the new year. In what can only be assumed to have been an attempt to confuse future scholars, they also celebrated March 25 as the first of the new year.

This holdover from the Julian calendar marked the Feast of the Annunciation, the day on which Mary was told of the impending birth of Jesus. Also called the Incarnation of Jesus and Lady Day, March 25 may have been observed more as the administrative beginning of the new year. In Colonial Maryland all landholders were required to pay their semiannual quit rents to Lord Baltimore on the feast days of the Annunciation and Michaelmas (September 29). Acts of the General Assembly and other legal documents were dated, for example, March 24, 1660/1 on one day and those on the next day would be dated March 25, 1661. The first year indicated the Old Style (sometimes expressed as March 24, 1660 OS) and the second year represented the New Style. Britain, including British America, maintained this system until 1752.

Although Brits at the time probably took all of this in stride, this awkward system can confuse the modern scholar. If a document is dated February 11, 1660, without any other qualifiers, was it written in 1660 or 1661?

The 21st century is not without its calendrical confusions. Archaeologists might refer to 1660 as AD 1660 (Anno Domini, the conventional form), 1660 CE (Common Era, an attempt to minimize Western European-Christian myopia), or a radiocarbon equivalent expressed in years before the present (yBP). Add to that the various systems employed by cultures around the world (the Jewish and Chinese systems are most familiar to Westerners, but there are many more), and it is a wonder we all know what we are talking about when referring to past events. Meanings, however, generally can be inferred from context and calendrical systems are so rich in historical and cultural meaning that it is a great shame when any system is lost.

Perhaps every day is the beginning of a new year for some culture and should be treated as such by all of us.


Thursday, December 31, 2009

Bottom's Up!

In the spirit of New Year's Eve, I thought I would highlight a ceramic type that most commonly took the form of a tankard, since I am sure many folks will be out tonight welcoming in the New Year with friends, fireworks, and a tasty beverage! Manganese Mottled is a type of earthenware with a buff to gray paste and a distinct lead glaze, with some variation in color (as is the case with many ceramic types). This ware was produced in England from the late 17th century into the mid-18th century. The glaze is best for identifying this type, as although it ranges from a yellowish-brown to yellow or red, the glaze pools in slightly grooved or banded areas, resulting in darker specks. These darker specks can streak horizontal or vertical, and their mottling with the lighter glaze is what gave this ceramic the second half of its name (please click the images for a better view of this characteristic). As for the "Manganese" part, it was thought that Manganese was used to color the glaze, and, despite more recent investigations have shown that Manganese may not have been used, the name has stuck. We have found numerous sherds of this ware at Port Tobacco, but I have opted to use the images from the Jefferson Patterson website as the mottling is much more visible on the larger sherds they have photographed.

So, as you raise your glass to toast the new year tonight imagine that the folks down in Port Tobacco in 1710 or so doing the same...except with a Manganese Mottled tankard!

Thanks to Jefferson Patterson for the info and the images.

I wish you all a safe and fun night.

Postscript from Jim:
Yes, no doubt the early colonists did raise a glass or two, or three, to celebrate the new year, but they did so on the evening of March 24 and on March 25, the first day of the year on the old calendar. More on that tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Program Note

A brief public service announcement:
On Sunday, January 17, from 2 PM until 4PM I will be at the Northeast Community Center in Chesapeake Beach, Calvert County, Maryland, talking about the Drum Point Railroad (1868-1890). This is a project I did back in 1990 with Paula Mask, although updated with some new material. All are welcome.

The Chesapeake Beach Railway Museum is sponsoring the presentation.


Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Transfer Prints

The technique of transfer printing was first developed around 1783 in Staffordshire, England. The process entailed inking an engraved copper plate to transfer the pattern to tissue paper which was then applied to a ceramic vessel. This allowed potters to quickly achieve complex decorations.

The elements within the designs can be broken down into motifs and dated. Color can also be used to date a transfer print ceramic. Cobalt was the first additive used, from the 1780s to the 1820s, because other colors tended to bleed. Other colors were introduced as technology improved. Black was among the first colors other than blue to be used. Maker's marks on the base of ceramics were often printed in black. After that came brown, purple, green, red, and lavender.

Printed wares were popular until around 1850 and then again around 1870, until the use of decals became popular in the early 1900s.

Transfer print decorations are found most often on whiteware, pearlware, and ironstone. Less often, they appear on creamware. When trying to identify transfer print ceramic sherds, a close look will reveal that the pattern is made up of the pinpoint dots that were part of the original design on the tissue paper.

For more information on and photos of Transfer Print Ceramics, click here to go to the Jefferson Patterson Park website.

(photo from


Monday, December 28, 2009

Befuddled by baffling Buckley

Not many guesses on last week's blog? (Elsie scored!) I hope it was not because the ceramic was particularly difficult to identify...but due to the fact that all of our readers were stuffing themselves with turkey, pie, cookies, or other holiday treats. Well, as many of you probably know, this ceramic is known as Buckley-ware. It is an English-made ceramic that dates to the mid 17th-19th centuries. These wares are less common in sites dating to after the American Revolution, when the importation of British goods slowed. The color of the paste varies from a light red and yellow to a dark purple with yellow swirls, and may contain inclusions of sand. These dark lead-glazed vessels came in many forms for cooking, storage, and table use.

This week's artifact is one you have probably come across if you have ever worked at a prehistoric site. Any ideas? For bonus points identify the type of material as well as the artifact!