Monday, October 15, 2007

A Different Type of Ceramic

Every week I have been introducing a different type of ceramic pottery, today though I am going to talk about another kind of ceramic…the tobacco pipe! Tobacco pipes have been found all over the United States in archaeological excavations and Port Tobacco is no different. The question is where did they come from and how old are they? Are they datable?

The majority of the pipes came from England and went through a variety of changes from the 17th century up through the 19th century. The styles of the pipes were different depending on who made them. The pipes were cheap and were disposed of often. Shapes and sizes of these clay tobacco pipes changed from short stemmed with large bore holes to longer stem with smaller bore holes. The holes are made when firing the clay with a piece of wire.

The common dating techniques tell us that the larger the hole the older the pipe and vice versa. It is hard to determine dates however with small fragments of pipe bowls and small stem pieces. It is rare to find whole bowls, stems or whole pipes on any site. This makes the dating process much harder.

A chart made up by J.C. Harrington gives us one way to date the pipes by using a simple drill bit set with 1/64th steps from 1/16 to 9/64 of an inch. By taking samples from several different sites Harrington gave us date ranges in 40 year increments with differing stem hole diameters for each 40 year period. Lewis Binford came up with another formula for dating pipes into a smaller range of time that is also very helpful in dating pipe stems as well. Both are useful but I won’t go into more detail about the dating for now but will say that not only can you date the pipe stems and bowls but also that we have quite a few in the lab to date! Here’s a picture of an English tobacco pipe for you to check out! Until next week…

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