Saturday, December 8, 2007

Wacky Find of the Week

We haven't done a 'Wacky Find of the Week' before, and we probably will not make a habit of it, but here we go.

Volunteers Carol, Elsie and Phil tolerated some very cold, windy, and snowy weather this past week, along with April, Pete, Scott, and me. In partial reward, we found the spoon pictured above. Very likely it belonged to one of the Barbour children...we found it in a shovel test pit (#418) in front of Stagg Hall.

The photograph does not do it justice, but it is a Snow White Spoon, the sleepy princess appearing at the top of the obverse side and the seven dwarf's on both sides of the handle. Bashful, Sneezy, and Doc are on the obverse side, Grumpy, Happy, Dopey and Sleepy on the reverse. The spoon is marked "1847 Rogers Bros" and bears the copyright mark of WD (Walt Disney).

This is a highly significant find. As soon as we figure out why, we will let you know. Anyone care to research it and find out when it was made (not 1847, obviously)?


Friday, December 7, 2007

Limits of Shovel Testing

Tuesday the team was shovel testing in front of the Chimney House and Stagg Hall. While screening the soil from STP 409, they recovered a Lincoln cent, then a Late Archaic projectile point, and then another Lincoln cent. Sometime during the process they also recovered a sherd of British Brown stoneware.

The pennies are dated 1942 and 1948. The point is several thousand years old, and the ceramic sherd is an 18th-century import (probably from before the American Revolution). Together this group of objects illustrates one of the principal limitations of digging shovel test pits that are less than 1½-ft in diameter: we can't control for stratigraphy. That is, we aren't sure whether these four artifacts came from one layer of soil or several, nor do we know if the point came from the lowest portion of the soil profile, the sherd from the middle, and the two pennies from the upper. We can be sure that they represent aboriginal, 18th-century Euro-American, and 1940s occupation of the immediate vicinity.

We do not know whether the layers of soil representing those occupations retain their integrity; that is, whether or not they have been disturbed by utility installation, cultivation, or driveway construction. That is why we need to dig larger units (3 ft by 3 ft, or 5 ft by 5 ft) in which we can carefully remove one layer, or stratum, at a time and collect the artifacts separately for each. Hopefully, we will begin digging such larger units in the Spring.


Thursday, December 6, 2007

Back to the Lab!

April has defrosted and is winging her way back to Binghamton. We spent a productive day in the laboratory. Scott finished all of the washing for our brief foray into the north part of town and April and I launched another grant application in hopes of funding the project next year. April also polished up our artifact catalogue a bit more and I started on the report for our work in the south part of town. Friday I will share some of our findings, informally, with the Board of the Society for the Restoration of Port Tobacco...just a few slides, artifacts, and some comments on where we are on this incredible voyage. Starting next week I should be sharing with everybody the findings of the analyses as we work through our data.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Report from the Field

First the good news: There was no wind out at Port Tobacco today. The last two days saw gusts up to 40mph and we were exhausted from trying to stay upright.
Now the bad news: There was a constant wet snow today which turned us into muddy frozen popsicles. I could not feel my toes for most of the day. I was happy to get home and discover they were still attached.

We completed the shovel test pit survey of the front yard of Stagg Hall. We recovered more fire cracked rock and other evidence of a prehistoric occupation of this area. We also encountered a large number of tobacco pipe stems and stoneware near the village square, possibly suggestive of the location of an 18th century tavern.

We then moved into the rear yard of the Chimney House in an attempt to identify the location of Atzerodt's carriage shop. The artifact density was relatively low in the rear yard but what we did find was mainly architectural debris. The findings are inconclusive at this point but once the artifacts are washed and analyzed we may have a better idea of what was located there.

We have decided to cancel fieldwork for tomorrow. The site is a muddy mess and it will take a few days for the soils to dry out. We will still be working, just in the comforts of the Gibb Archaeological Consulting headquaters. The last three days have produced an artifact assemblage that needs to be processed and Jim and I have more grant applications to work on.


Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Lynching at Port Tobacco

The crew has been working in the front yards of the Chimney House and Stagg Hall for the past two days and we are making exciting finds. I'll leave the details of this effort to Jim and April to blog about. While having lunch yesterday in the court house (it was cold!), Jim and I discussed the fact that many of the notables from Port Tobacco were not the most savory type. Being a port town, by nature, it attracted not only wealthy merchants and land owners, but also a large array of scaliwags as well. George Atzerodt is perhaps the most notorious along with those responsible for the beatings of Josiah Henson and his father as well as other slaves. Today I reference you to a mob lynching that took place in 1896. Joseph Cocking was held in the Port Tobacco jail awaiting trial for the murder of his wife and sister-in-law. A mob of about 30 people, masked and some dressed in women's clothing, removed Cocking from the jail and hung him from a nearby bridge. There are several speculations about the reason for this. Some say it was because the mob wanted to save the tax payer the expense of a trial. Maybe it was because they just didn't like him anyway. We'll never know.

We are looking forward to two more days in the field and can hopefully finish the yards of Stagg Hall and Chimney House. I just found out today that Atzerodt's carriage shop was located directly behind the Chimney House. I'll let you know if we find any supporting evidence.

Report from the Field

Scott should be providing another blog on the people of Port Tobacco today but here is a quick report from the field to keep you updated.

It was another cold day at Port Tobacco. We continued our shovel test pit survey at Chimney House and Stagg Hall. We recovered artifacts from a wide range of time periods. One STP contained a quartz projectile point along with two pennies from the 1940s. Another had a fragment of incised prehistoric pottery. The Native American occupation of the site may have been much more significant than we had thought.


Monday, December 3, 2007

Report from the Field

It was chilly and windy but such trivial matters can't stop the Port Tobacco Archaeological Project! We extended our mapping grid to the Chimney House with the total station and flagged the locations for our shovel test pits. As is usual at Port Tobacco, every shovel test pit revealed its own unique history. Scott's team encountered two STPS with about 40 pounds of brick rubble in each. My team had one STP filled with plaster and another filled with large oyster shells. The other STPS excavated today contained a bit of everything, from tin-glazed earthenwares to yellowware.

This is our first official foray into the north part of Port Tobacco so we are a bit short on interpretation until we have a chance to do more research. For now we will just say that the artifacts recovered today are likely the remnants of the row of businesses that fronted on the north side of the village square.

The team will be back at the site tomorrow, regardless of what Mother Nature throws our way. Wednesday may be a different matter. With snow/sleet/rain forcasted, we may need to spend that day in the lab.


Sunday, December 2, 2007

Tomorrow's Target

Synchronize watches: our target tomorrow is the Chimney House just to the right of the courthouse, at 9:30AM.
No: it doesn't look like this today. The picture was taken in the late 1930s, I think, when it was owned by the renowned avocational archaeologist, Alice L. L. Ferguson. It was surrounded by tobacco and apparently abandoned and deteriorated at the time.