Friday, September 26, 2008

News Briefs

Yesterday, after meeting with the local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, I delivered our traveling exhibit (see below) to Charles County's administrative building in La Plata. It will remain on view in the first floor foyer for awhile, only a few feet from the exhibit prepared by Mike Sullivan and Julie King on their discovery of the first County Courthouse at Moore's Lodge. I'll be looking throughout the County for other venues for our exhibit.

Travelling exhibit in the Flowers Building at the Charles County Fair, September 2008.

As you all know, next year is the bicentennial of President Lincoln's birthday. April and I think that Port Tobacco should participate in the celebration. The Preserve America grant awarded to Charles County will fund research into the assassination plot and we hope to use this information to develop programs (e.g., signage, web pages on the Society for the Restoration of Port Tobacco's site with links to other Lincoln-related sites, etc.) that will land Port Tobacco back onto the Lincoln trail. That trail includes the Dr. Samuel Mudd House and Mary Surratt's house in Prince George's County. We also probably will be able to identify the encampments of those Federal military units that patrolled the area and that participated in the search for the Lincoln assassination conspirators.

Finally, we will be taking down our latest poll in just a few days. In the now classic modern American tradition, we have no clear majority vote, although the interest of our readers clearly is greatest in the areas of colonial Port Tobacco and the so-called Contact Period. Per my blog of the other day, we are no longer treating these subjects as separate research agendas; therefore, we do, in fact, have a clear far. We will not dismiss the Civil War (see above) or the Revolutionary War periods, but Port Tobacco has a rich, well-preserved archaeological record and we have some choice in what we will focus on. For those of you who have cast a vote, thank means a lot to us that you have these interests and we will do our best to pursue them.


Thursday, September 25, 2008

Odd Artifacts

So as I clean up the catalog I have come across some of the odd artifacts that we found during shovel test surveys and field sessions, and thought I'd share them with you.

Besides the miscellaneous pieces of plastic, metal and rubber that we come across here are a few of the more interesting ones:

- A piece of a vinyl record was found outside of Stagg Hall
- Mechanical pencils (could a past archaeologist have left it on site??!!)
- Metal springs
- Plastic "diamond" ring
- Plastic Hand - from a toy?
- Wig Curlers - interesting but still odd, especially if you've seen an advertisement for them!
- Gears to a Clock
- Lamp Chimney
- Lightening Rod Insulator
- Cast Iron Stove parts
- Keys
- Snow White Souvenir Spoon
- Eyeglasses

These are just a few of the odd but still interesting and relevant artifacts that we have found during our time in Port Tobacco. I have no doubt that we will find more in the future and honestly can't wait to see what we come across!

- Peter


Here's a few updates on the happenings with our project:

- Jim is out giving a presentation to the DAR at the courthouse in Port Tobacco today.
- Profile drawings are done.
- All artifacts have been cataloged.
- All the Aboriginal pottery as well as some other interesting artifacts (see yesterday's blog) is being pulled from the collections for closer examination.
- The catalog is being cleaned up for a better appearance
- Artifact analysis and report writing has begun.
- Stay tuned for an update on our fall digs including spending a couple days in Port Tobacco in mid October.

- Peter

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Two Sides of a Coin

The object below was recovered from Unit 21, Stratum 1, during the June field session. It is a cut silver coin that is so severely worn that only ghosts of a couple of images survive on one side...not enough to enable us to identify the country of origin, date, and value.

One quarter of a silver coin from Unit 21, Stratum 1. Approximately 0.95 inches, or 24 mm in diameter.

These are two views (obverse and reverse) of the same artifact. It would have been about 0.95 inches (24 mm) in diameter and it represents only one quarter of a coin. It was common practice to cut precious metal coins into halves, quarters, and eighths (bits) to make change at times when specie (coinage) was in short supply. In North America, that condition continued relatively unabated until the middle of the 19th century. Base metal coins (copper alloys, typically) did not have the full faith of Britain's subjects or of early American nationals. Gold and silver coins, regardless of face value or changing exchange rates, were always gold and silver and, therefore, worth something.

Chances are that this is either a Spanish coin, minted in the New World, or an English or Scottish coin. It likely dates to the 17th or 18th century. Pete found the image below of a King George III (Great Britain) 1787 shilling, but it is only one example of many types of coins and only a numismatist can narrow down the range of possibilities.

King George III 1787 shilling.

Such finds often catch the attention of excavators and visitors. This one was overlooked and merely pulled from the screen and washed without being recognized. While it comes from the plowzone overlying the earthfast building and cellar partially exposed by Pete and his crew, it isn't terribly informative because we can't relate it directly to those 18th-century features. Moreover, coins often are difficult to interpret archaeologically because they remain in circulation well after their mint dates. A 1680s coin of precious metal, say an English shilling or a Spanish two-reale, could still make the rounds of world markets in the late 18th or early 19th century. The fact that both faces of the coin that we recovered have been nearly worn away suggests that it remained in circulation for many years before its last possessor lost it.

Oh, yeah; if you are wondering about the coin's current value...I don't know and it is unethical for archaeologists to value archaeological finds. It is okay, however, for us to bet, and I bet this thing is worth as much as the silver of which it is made, calculated in terms of weight and purity. In other words, probably not very much.


Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The World in a Bead

During our June field session with the Archeological Society of Maryland, the PTAP team found what we called a Contact Period site, the evidence being this small glass trade bead (see below). Barrel-shaped and only about 3/8ths of an inch long and a little less than that in diameter (9.5 by 9 mm), green on the interior with bands of green, red, and white on the exterior, this is a classic artifact representing exchange between Europeans and Indians. Associated with Late Woodland pottery (Potomac Creek) and a serrated triangular projectile point in a nearby block of excavation units, there is no doubt that we have an Indian site that was occupied after, and possibly before as well, the arrival of Europeans. Pete has already written about a different trade bead recovered last year next to the Burch House, suggesting an extensive occupation.

Glass trade bead recovered from Unit 13, Stratum 3.

Following common archaeological usage, we referred to this component of the site as Contact Period. The term always bothered me a suggests that Indians and Europeans confronted one another momentarily and then, what? No more Indians, that's what. They disappear from the research agenda. Yet Indians undeniably still live in the Chesapeake region and, while the State of Maryland has not legally recognized any of the descendants of those who first met the colonists, Virginia has. Indians whose families have lived in Southern Maryland for centuries survive and especially their history from the 17th century to the present warrants scholarly study as much as that of any group, perhaps more so because they have received so little of the scholarly attention that other cultural groups take for granted.

The term 'contact' is not solely responsible for scholarly oversight, but it plays a part. Following some ideas put forth by archaeologist Stephen Silliman a few years ago (American Antiquity 70[1]: 55-74, 2005), I propose that we question the use of the concept and, instead, think about colonialism as a process of which Indians were a part. We can look at how local bands confronted colonialism through resistance and acquiescence, surviving racism and retaining or rediscovering their identities. Perhaps we can find the cultural continuity through archaeological remains that links Maryland's current Indian populations with those recorded by John Smith 400 years ago.


Monday, September 22, 2008

Oyster Houses

Oyster houses were just one of the many types of restaurants one could happen upon on the east coast of the United States. When Hudson came up the Hudson river in New Amsterdam (New York) even he commented on the abundance of oysters available. They have been enjoyed and written about ever since. One particular quote that I like comes from Eleanor Clark in her book The Oysters of Locmariaquer in 1959, "Obviously, if you don't love life, you can't enjoy an oyster." (taken from The Big Oyster by Mark Kurlansky, 2006)

Archaeology has uncovered vast oyster shell middens in the Chesapeake area and elsewhere. In New York some of these shells date to over 6000 years old! It was thought for years that Native Americans would eat oysters during time of famine and bad crops. That may be the case, but in order to satisfy the amount of food one deer it would take over 50,000 oysters!

It is much more likely that oysters were a delicacy for the Native Americans as well.

Now what does this have to do with Port Tobacco? Well, if you've been on any of our archaeological digs you would know that we come across hundreds of oyster shells every time we go out.

In the 19th century, the American people were enveloped in an oyster craze. In every town there were oyster parlors, oyster cellars, oyster saloons, oyster bars, oyster houses, oyster stalls and oyster lunchrooms. The oyster houses were very popular amongst the best class of people in the city. They were also popular amongst tourists because they knew they would get the choicest seafood, cooked and served in the best style.

There were several of these "oyster houses" in Port Tobacco. James A Swann owned and ran one sometime between 1860 and his death in 1871. There was an ad in the PT Times advertising his lot for sale along with the "oyster house". A question I have is if they were so popular in port towns and the shells don't decompose, why aren't we finding higher concentrations in small locales instead of scattered remains? Were they chewed up by plows when tobacco took over the town? Or have we just not found them yet?

Thanks again to Elsie who gave me the information on James A Swann.

- Peter

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Church Area0001

Church Area0001
Originally uploaded by Port Tobacco Archaeological Project

As I consider further the Colonial cemetery that we uncovered in June and the prospects of finding the Anglican church, it seems prudent to reevaluate some of our shovel test pit data from last October. Afterall, it was on the basis of that data that we suspected a cemetery and that we identified other promising locations for finding intact archaeological remains.

This map (click on it for a larger image) shows the three units that uncovered the four graves and paling fence ditch, as well as the shovel tests that we excavated the previous year. (The squares to the right tested the aboriginal locus and the Wade House/Centennial Hotel locus.) I drew circles around each of the shovel tests that yielded large quantities of brick rubble (over 150 ounces) and the squares represent shovel tests that produced a larger than average number of handwrought and indeterminate type nails (eight or more per unit).

The nail and brick clusters are north and south of the cemetery area, and slightly east. Both clusters warrant additional testing with 5 ft by 5 ft excavation units and, of course, we should further expose graveshafts and follow the fence ditch; all with property owner's permission. Hopefully we can start the effort in late October or November, funding permitted.