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!


Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas Greetings

The Gibb Archaeological Consulting (GAC) team parted for a long holiday weekend on Wednesday. We celebrated with lunch and this delectable apple pie baked by Kelley

It has been a great year working with Pete, Anne, Kelley, Scott, and the stalwart Port Tobacco Irregulars (volunteers). Interesting work is all well and good, but the warmth of comradeship, collegiality, and good humor make a wonderful team, and that is what we have: a truly great group of people.

I've already extended best holiday wishes to the GAC team, and now I wish all of our readers a peaceful and enjoyable holiday. We each face individual challenges, and our country has hit a rough spot in the road. I am convinced, however, we can deal with most ills--not all, perhaps--with hard work, mutual respect, and a bit of good will.


Thursday, December 24, 2009


BINGO! This bingo chip was mixed in with the oodles of modern artifacts that were found in Stratum 2 of Unit 83, the unit excavated inside the Swann House foundation. In light of this find, we thought it would be appropriate to delve into the history of the game.

Believe it or not, the Bingo we all know and love was actually originally called Beano, a game that was played in county fairs across the United States. This name was appropriate, as a dealer would pull numbered cards from a box, shout out the letter and number, and the players would mark their cards with beans. There are even earlier versions of this lottery-type game (as far back as 1530!) that were played in Italy, Germany, and France. It was only in 1929 that the game reached the United States, and, as the story goes, the name was changed to Bingo after a New York toy salesman named Edwin Lowe heard someone accidentally shout "bingo" instead of "beano." This fine fellow then went on to create over 6,000 bingo cards (each with a different combination of numbers) is said that he then went insane. Honestly, I am not too surprised!

Before long, the game was played in churches as a means of raising money. From there, it quickly branched out to other venues, though from personal experience I know it still is a prominent part of county fair. Presently, an estimated 90 million dollars are spent on Bingo every week in North American that's a lot of Bingo!


Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Lighting the Way

Here is another artifact found during our work at the Swann House foundation. This was found in Stratum 1 of Unit 83, which was excavated in the northeast corner of the foundation. As we have said (or perhaps you have noticed from previous blog posts), at least the first two feet of this unit were filled with rubble and modern trash. Even so, there were a few interesting artifacts in the mix, including this lamp collar. It is made from a copper alloy and is decorated with cast or molded roses and leaves. While we cannot say exactly what part of a lamp it is or when it dates to, a little bit of sleuthing in the 1902 edition of the Sears, Roebuck, and Co. catalog offers us some clues. It could be the decorative piece that attaches a bracket light to a wall, or the piece that covers the end of a glass globe attachment. As always, we welcome your ideas!


Tuesday, December 22, 2009

And the cataloging continues...

In light of the less than cooperative weather Anne and I have returned indoors to continue cataloging artifacts from the Swann House foundation. To the right you will find a small sherd of black basalt stoneware from the surface collection of the foundation, a type of ceramic I have come across only a few times at Port Tobacco.

Black basalt stoneware is in the family of English dry-bodied stoneware, which also consists of red stonewares and jasperwares. Within these three varieties there are also considerable color variations. These unglazed wares usually come in the form of teapots and the earlier wares are decorated with sprig molding (the attachment of decorative pieces of clay) or molded reliefs. The black basalt variety is fired in a reduced atmosphere (without oxygen), which results in the black coloration, while the red stonewares (see the image at left) are fired in an oxidized atmosphere, resulting in a red color. Red stonewares were made as early as the late 17th century, while black basalt stonewares were produced after 1750.

As the popularity of the red dry-bodied stoneware declined, the black basalt remained popular for tea services and vases, especially during times of mourning. Its production continued into the 20th century.

Thanks to Ivor Noel Hume and the Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum for the information.


Monday, December 21, 2009

Victorious Val

Val Hall has it right! The Mystery Artifact from last week was Westerwald stoneware, a type of Rhenish stoneware. You can read a description of the ceramic on this past Saturday's blog, written by Jim.

This week's Mystery Artifacts is an earthenware with a two-colored paste.
Click the images for a close-up. Enjoy.


Saturday, December 19, 2009

Warming the Soul with Suds

I was sorting through some artifact photographs from the 2009 excavations and found this one (left). This is a piece of Rhenish stoneware and, more specifically, a shoulder fragment from a bulbous drinking mug.

Archaeologists recover fragments from these vessels on sites throughout the region in contexts dating from the middle of the 17th century through the first quarter of the 18th century.

Rhenish stoneware mugs (named for the region in which they were made) were relatively inexpensive, sturdy enough to survive the trip from Dutch ports to English ports to the Chesapeake, and ideally met demand for individual servings of beer.

These mugs appear on house sites as well as tavern sites. I find it interesting that the colonists saw these vessels as a necessary part of their equipage. Did they regard them the same way present-day Pilsner lovers treasure their special glasses? Were they used for drinking locally-made small beers and ciders? Imbibing minds want to know.


Friday, December 18, 2009

No News

The GAC team has been busy with other projects and preparing for the impending winter storm. Sorry, nothing to report.
The Archeological Society of Maryland board meeting has been postponed until an as yet undetermined date in January. We'll keep you apprised.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Upcoming Events

This Saturday the Archeological Society of Maryland holds its last quarterly meeting of the year. It will be held at the Odenton branch of the Anne Arundel County Library, 1325 Annapolis Road, Odenton. The meeting will run from 9 AM to 12:30 AM. We expect to announce the location of the annual field session, which had been held at Port Tobacco for the past two years.

The Society for Historical Archaeology annual conference will be held on Amelia Island, Florida, during the first full week of January. April will present her paper and I'll present a joint paper with April and Kelley. Both papers concern recent research at Port Tobacco.

On February 2, at 9:30 AM, I'll present an illustrated lecture to the Charles County Antique & Arts Association.


Tuesday, December 15, 2009


No, conferetizing probably isn't a legitimate word, but it is descriptive: members of the PTAP team will appear at two venues after the first of the new year. April and I both will attend the Society for Historical Archaeology conference on Amelia Island, Florida. We'll both talk about aspects of our work at Port Tobacco. Hopefully, we'll get those papers on the Internet.

My paper at the conference will be a joint effort with April and Kelley. We'll explore that gap between what long-time residents and local historians have figured out about the community's past and our findings over the past three years.

As I noted in an earlier blog, Pete, Anne and Kelley will collaborate on three papers at the Middle Atlantic Archaeological Conference in Ocean City, Maryland. Those papers will address some work we have been doing on aboriginal sites in the region as well as the work at Port Tobacco. Again, I expect we will post those papers eventually on my website (

Our technical reports, which are posted on the Society for the Restoration of Port Tobacco's website (, document what we have done and found. The conference papers will explore some of the ideas in those reports and analyze the data in greater depth. Eventually, we will use both sources to publish works in both scholarly and general venues. As I told a client today while driving between sites, science is a slow, methodical process. Earth-shaking news after a few weeks in the field, and with no analysis or reporting, should be suspect, even if it appears in reputable newspapers. If scientifically generated knowledge came quickly, we would have cured cancer years ago.


Monday, December 14, 2009

Laurie Doesn't Lie

Laurie is this week's winner with her guess of an oyster shell button!

So, how does one make a button out of shell? I can't say much about shell button-making in the 18th and 19th centuries...I haven't yet looked into the matter...but I have researched 20th-century shell button-making in Delaware.

Delaware, particularly south of Milford, had a 'cottage industry' in shell button-making that started at least in the 1920s and ended around 1990. The image above is one of the small factories that I visited. It had been abandoned for years and all of the machinery and materials remain inside. I also visited a household operation in a nearby barn.

South Sea bivalves (essentially clams) were imported and shipped to locals. They would drill blanks out of the shell in different sizes. Some were finished in those same factories, others were sent to Connecticut for finishing. Workers used hollow bits to drill as many blanks as possible from a shell, minimizing waste while maximizing production. The shell to the right, picked off the top of a "shell midden," is a pretty good example of the skill required of the operator. Button makers probably used a brace and bit to cut blanks prior to the advent of electrical tools, although water and steam driven mills could have supplied the power in the 19th century.

The results of all that button blank cutting were innumerable shell buttons that appear in archaeological deposits throughout the United States and small piles of shell waste around the sites of these former factories. The waste pile pictured to the right is only one of several surrounding this factory.

There is a great deal of research that can be conducted in this area, starting with detailed interviews with former button makers and distributors of materials and equipment. Then we need to document the sites, starting with the most recent, before they are destroyed, and then looking for and excavating those for which archaeological materials are all that survive.

There is a published archaeological study of shell button-making along the Mississippi River. Manufacturers used indigenous freshwater mussels. That publication, however, is not readily available and it does address late historic button making.

Now, here is Anne's choice of mystery artifact for next week.

Above is this week's Mystery Artifact. This stoneware is also sometimes glazed with a rich purple color. Good Luck.


Sunday, December 13, 2009

Report Complete

Yep, another in the PTAP team's series of reports on our work at Port Tobacco has just been completed by Pete, Anne, and Kelley. We will probably add a few bits here and there, but I expect we will post it on the Society for the Restoration of Port Tobacco's website ( by the middle of January.

This is the first substantive analysis and report writing by the guys and I hope all of our readers will enjoy what they have prepared. Hopefully, they will collaborate on an interpretive piece for the journal Maryland Archeology in the next few months. They are collaborating on three papers that will be presented at the annual meeting of the Middle Atlantic Archaeological Conference in Ocean City later this winter.

In the meantime, the entire team will continue to provide nearly daily updates on our work and related topics. Work on the Preserve America grant-funded work continues apace and we hope to return to the Swann House site as soon as the weather permits. We will focus on the interior excavation units, seeking preserved deposits on the cellar floor.


Saturday, December 12, 2009

Cemetery Work

No work on Port Tobacco today...Laurie, Scott and I worked on delineating and mapping a cemetery in a neighboring county today. Interesting work commissioned by the church as they attempt to get a handle on how full their church yard is and where they might inter people in the future.

It may surprise many of our readers, but the vast majority of cemeteries have no maps or records of where people are buried. Those that do often have incomplete records attributable to the tenure of a particularly conscientious sexton.

Modern public cemeteries, of course, tend to have much better records. They are, after all, in the business of selling plots and perpetual care. Even so, burials often are disturbed by excavations for new ones. Hopefully our work will help this one church better administer its cemetery; not so much because of money issues, but to avoid dissension that can occur in a congregation as communicants vie for a scarce resource: a place in"God's Little Acre" in which family and friends have been buried for generations.


Thursday, December 10, 2009

Stop being such a flake

Now that we have brushed up on our flake basics, it is time to go into a little bit more detail about how Anne and I identify and catalog flakes in the lab.

The five general types of flakes are pictured above (save for flake shatter, which generally appears as a broken flake or a blocky chunk), beginning with a decortication flake and ending with tertiary flakes. The following descripions correlate with the image. The first type is called a decortication flake. This flake still has cortex, the outer surface of a stone, visible. The second type is primary, which, when viewed from the side, typically presentes a triangular cross-section (see the image to the left). These flakes usually have not been modified at all as they are the first flaked removed to set up the rest of the stone for tool-making, and are generally discarded. These primary flakes often still have generous amounts of cortex present, and as such a flake can both be a primary flake and a decortication flake. This type is followed by the secondary flake. When viewed from the side this flake is more lenticular than triangular, and is very often curved (see the image to the right). The purpose of removing this type of flake is to further shape the the stone (core) intended for tool making. The fourth type is the tertiary flake, which is a rather small flat or curved rectangular flake. This is the final type of flake removed as part of the process to shape, sharpen, or rework a tool. This type of flake is also produced when tools, such as projectile points, are being resharpened. Finally, the fifth flake type is shatter, which is debitage from stone tool production that shows no clear evidence of having the typical attributes of a flake, though it could be a broken flake. Of course, within these four types there are more specific varieties, and in some cases it is not always clear exactly which category a flake falls into.

I know that is a big chunk of information to absorb...but no worries, I do not expect you to be able to regurgitate all of that in the field! I just hope that at least some of the mystery surrounding flake identification has been solved so that next time you come across a possible flake you will have an idea of what to look for.

Have a great weekend everyone--stay warm and dry!

The mysterious flake...

While working down at Port Tobacco I have often heard a volunteer exclaim "I found a flake! least I think it's a this a flake?" as he or she holds up a small piece of quartz or quartzite found in the screen. I must admit that I have done this myself, only to puzzle later in the lab as to why I am washing so many plain old rocks. So, while I cannot promise that it will make identifying flakes any easier, I figured perhaps it was time for a blog on the mysterious and elusive flake.

Flakes are pieces of stone that are removed from a core during the process of making stone tools. These flakes can be produced during the initial forming of the tool's shape as well as during retouching and resharpening the edges of a tool (the sort of tools we are most commonly thinking about are scrapers, knives, and projectile points). Flakes have several common traits, including a striking platform, a bulb of percussion, and fracture ripples (click on the image at left for an idea of where to find these characteristics). Not every flake will have all of these, but it will at least have one of them. Stone tool manufacture, whether performed through percussion or pressure flaking, produce five main types of flakes. Also, it is important to realize that flakes are not only removed in order to make a tool out of a core, but can also be used as tools themselves.

Check back tomorrow for a breakdown of the main types of flakes, as well as some images of flakes we have found! You know you want to...


Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Power Up

This past Saturday I became a powerlifter. I had applied this term to myself before and many of you requested my help with lifting buckets because of it; but this past Saturday it became true. Saturday was my first powerlifting competition.

The event, called the Iron Lion, took place at Penn State University in Pennsylvania. In a meet each lifter gets three attempts for three types of lifts, the Squat, the Bench Press, and the Deadlift. The lifts are judged 'good' or 'no lift' based on if the person makes the complete movement and on technical points such as depth of the squat and locked knees. The lifters are grouped by weight class, age division, and the use of certain equipment.

I lifted RAW, which means I wore only a belt for support, and did not use knee wraps or a supportive suit. For the squat, I got 3 good lifts at 167, 172, and 181 lbs. For the bench press I did 85 lbs, missed my second attempt at 93lbs, then got 93 for my third attempt. In the deadlift I got three good lifts again at 200, 214, and 231 lbs. My total for the meet, which is based on the best lift in each event, was 506lbs. My best squat and deadlift were personal bests.

Afterward, I went out to dinner with others from the meet and ate a giant dinner. I had so much fun at the meet and can't wait for the next one.

Click here to see a video of my best three lifts.


Tuesday, December 8, 2009

One, two, buckle my shoe!

This week Anne and I have continued to catalog artifacts from the four units opened in the Swann House area this fall. This means not only going through all the modern material from Unit 83, the unit within the Swann House foundation, but also washing and cataloging the artifacts that were found close to the surface while clearing off the foundation. This is quite an interesting assortment of artifacts, with Buckley-ware intermingled with modern glass bottles. One of the more unusual artifacts we found in this area was a shoe buckle made of a copper alloy.

We could tell this was a shoe buckle because of its size and the way it curves. Unfortunately, buckles are not exactly the easiest artifact to date, especially since this one has no ornamentation. Shoe buckles, particularly those of the wealthy, could be fashioned in silver, brass, and copper, and sometimes were ornately designed or encrusted in jewels. This one, however, likely belonged to someone a bit more on the "average Joe" side of wealth.

We will continue to update you with our interesting finds!


Monday, December 7, 2009

And the winner is...

Scott! Though I do suppose it is sort of by default, since he was our only reader to actually post an answer (that's ok, it still counts). The artifact of the week last week was indeed white salt-glaze, which was produced from the 1700s into the early 1800s. Aside from often being decorated with molded patterns, white salt-glaze vessels were also dipped in a brown glaze or incised. The incised lines could be filled with a brown iron oxide or a cobalt blue oxide, and were thus called Scratch-brown or Scratch-blue. White salt-glaze could be found in the form of almost any tableware, from mugs, to teapots, to dinner plates.

Now that you all had such an easy first week, here is the artifact for this Monday.

Yes, clearly this is a button...but what material is it made from? I'll give you a hint--you need to be extra careful when washing these because they are likely to dissolve into nothing! Still stumped? Check back next Monday for the answer!

Also, as for the dimensions of the garter clip posted a few days back, the decorated area was 1.25 inches by 1.25 inches. The undecorated back was by 1 inch by .88 inch.


Sunday, December 6, 2009

Looming on the Horizon

Yesterday I was thinking about Port Tobacco's loss of its port facilities as a consequence of unchecked erosion and sedimentation. One of the key questions that the PTAP team has asked of the town's archaeological and historical records is: How did the people of Port Tobacco, clearly aware of the destruction of the source of their livelihood, react? Had they considered ways in which the erosion might be slowed or halted? Did they consider means by which they might restore the creek and enhance its navigability? Evidence to date suggests that sedimentation clearly restricted commercial navigation by the late 18th century and completely destroyed it in the first half of the 19th century. This is the same period during which the country went through a 'canal craze,' with moneyed interests speculating and promoting all manner of canal ventures. The ideas and technologies were readily at hand to improve the creek.

As I mulled over these issues, it occurred to me that today's residents of Port Tobacco confront a different kind of challenge, different in its causes and likely outcomes, but no less destructive of a way of life. What are they doing about it? That challenge is real estate development. A new subdivision is planned for the Rose Hill estate just north of town and development of the Ellerslie property west of town has been abandoned, but probably only for a short while. Locust Grove, south of town, already has been developed and the residential subdivision of Mulberry Grove, also south of town, has been planned for several years.

Port Tobacco may well find itself squeezed between a series of suburban subdivisions, with all of the disadvantages--and advantages--of a denser population. Nothing can prevent the process: men and women make decisions about their property and how it will be used, within such constraints as various jurisdictions impose. Regulations will not stop development, they will only shape the outcomes. So, the residents of Port Tobacco now face new problems that will substantially and irreversibly change their town and way of life. The PTAP team can document their efforts as part of the town's centuries of unfolding history: we cannot, and should not, determine their response to this latest of social, political, and economic challenges.


Saturday, December 5, 2009

Turtle Soup

Yesterday's blog mentioned some turtle carapace (upper shell) and parapace (lower shell) that the team recovered from the Swann House site. We suspect that these remains are from a meal, turtle soup having been a popular dish in the 18th century. The picture illustrates some of those remains. Unfortunately, there is no scale (we'll try to get better about that...the blog on that possible garter clip also lacked a scale).

April...the teams expert on all things turtle...will attempt an identification from the images that we sent her. If the material appears to be food remains, we will post additional information, including an 18th-century recipe.


Friday, December 4, 2009

Working out in the open

Hey folks! Sorry for the late blog today--we were out in the field working on another project and there was some confusion as to who was responsible for the blog!

As such, while I do not have any pictures, an interesting artifact we have been finding is turtle carapace. Quite a few pieces of this inner structure of a turtle shell have come from the units excavated in the Swann many, that this likely was not a wondering turtle or two that happened to die in this area. Rather, from the looks of it someone was enjoying some turtle soup! We have sent photos of the carapace to the great Dr. Biesaw, who hopefully will be able to give us a full identification of the species. I will be sure to let you all know what she has to say.

Have a great weekend!


Thursday, December 3, 2009

Fancy Support System

We are still processing the boat load of artifacts from the units in and around the foundation uncovered in the Swann Locus last month. One beautiful object is this copper alloy clasp with blue, white and black enamel and star decorations. The decorated front piece is attached by a hinge to the plain piece to fold over and perhaps hide the strap.

After looking long and hard online and in old Sears, Roebuck, & Co. catalogs, I may have a lead. This buckle could be part of the hardware for garters. It would help to tighten and hold the garter straps attached to a garter belt. It is quite ornate for something that is hidden under clothing, but the example from the Sears, Roebuck catalog is sterling silver and described as having "very fancy, raised ornamentation."

This is only a theory on my part and other possibilities include belt buckle and suspenders clamp. Anyone with ideas, feel free to comment.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

C.B.'s fork? spoon? knife?

The past few days in the lab we have been hard at work washing, rebagging, and cataloging the artifacts recovered from units in the area of the Swann foundation. So far the content of the material has been quite varied, with with everything from bifaces to modern junk. One of the nicer items taken from Stratum 2 of Unit 81 is this bone utensil handle. While we do not know if it was originally a fork, spoon, or knife, it was clearly very dear to someone, as suggested by the carved initials "C.B."

You may wonder why someone would carve his or her initials into the handle of a utensil...well, so do we! Perhaps C.B. labeled his spoon simply to mark ownership in a time when utensils were less common, or perhaps he was a frequent traveler who liked to keep track of his personal spoon. Since the intitials are not carved very neatly, I am not inclined to believe this handle belonged to a very wealthy individual who would likely have taken great care in personalizing an item, such as the wine bottle seal we found this year. Of course this is just speculation, as for all we know the owner of the handle could have carved his initials just for the heck of it...a motive that would be very difficult to discern from just looking at the handle!


Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Pulled In

While excavating the Midden, we found a nice cluster of artifacts. One of them was this drawer pull made of a copper alloy, possibly brass . It has molded, floral decorations. This type of pull is called a bail handle, as opposed to a pendant or loop handle. The shape of the pull, thick with a bulging central area was most popular from about 1750 to 1800. The style of the face plate, which we did not find, can further narrow the date window.

Also in the midden, nestled close to the drawer pull, was a rim piece from a Mid-Atlantic Slipware vessel. This ceramic dates to the mid-19th century.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Can you identify the artifact?

Every Monday (if possible, given our varying lab/field schedule), we will post a brief description and picture of an artifact for you, our loyal reader, to identify! The following week we will post the answer, along with another object. If you get stumped do not fret, but e-mail one of us or comment and we will see if we can provide some additional hints. However, since this is the first week we will start you all off easy.

This stoneware is immediately identifiable by its gray to white coloring and its "orange peel" pitted surface. While some vessels of this type were slipped, others were decorated with molded patterns such as barley, basketweave, or diaper and dot.

See? This should be very least for this week! Tune in next Monday for the answer!


Sunday, November 29, 2009


Greetings all...I hope our readers have had a delightful holiday weekend. I apologize for the lack of a posting yesterday...the crew scattered for the weekend and Scott and I were conducting an archaeological survey for an unrelated project.

This being something of an anniversary edition blog...our 800th...and this November being the third year of my involvement in Port Tobacco, I thought I would summarize the PTAP team's accomplishments:
  1. Close-interval shovel testing and detailed mapping of the entire core of the village, resulting in accurate and precise inventory of archaeological sites in town.
  2. Thorough surface collection of the three cultivated fields between Port Tobacco and Warehouse Point, resulting in the accurate and precise mapping of a dozen 18th-century domestic sites and early prehistoric aboriginal sites.
  3. Test excavations at several loci in town, resulting in the identification of portions of the Wade House, the 1860 jail, the Swann House, and several 18th-century house sites that we have not yet associated with specific households.
  4. Exploration of a Contact period site represented by European trade items and aboriginal pottery and projectile points.
  5. Investigation and mapping of a Union encampment just outside of the town.
  6. Development of large databases that include land title, census, and newspaper data.
  7. Processing and cataloguing of 128,249 artifacts representing cultural periods from early prehistory through the early 20th century.
  8. Production of detailed technical reports upon the conclusion of each major field effort, most of which can be downloaded from the website of the Society for the Restoration of Port Tobacco ( A report on this spring's Archeological Society of Maryland field session is nearly complete and also will be made available from the Society's website.
  9. A group of people who are immensely proud of their efforts and the results of those efforts.
Of course, there is a great deal of work left undone. In terms of excavation and analysis, we have only scratched the surface. As long as property owners continue to grant us access to their land, and as long as volunteers continue to aid the effort, we will continue to explore what may be the best preserved Colonial town site in Maryland.


Friday, November 27, 2009

The softer side of Jim

Jim's dogs

The chap you know as Dr. James G. Gibb is a complex man with a complex past. A New Yorker by birth, Jim received his academic training in the State University of New York system, beginning at Stony Brook and finishing at Binghamton. His migration to Maryland occurred after some time spent working in the desert Southwest. This period of Jim's life is shrouded in mystery, probably for good reason.

Yes, Jim Gibb is an accomplished archaeologist but he is more than that. Jim's passion is sharing the past with others. He has always been active in historical and archaeological societies and gives so many public presentations that some believe he has sent robotic clones to one side of Maryland while he himself is on the other side. Jim doesn't stop there, after all there are 24 hours in a day! Jim is known for his work with volunteers and students, offering internship and mentorship opportunities whenever he can. Everyone at PTAP, staff and volunteers alike, have learned a lot from this archaeological sensei.

These are things most of us probably already knew. However there is another side of Jim that we don't all get to see....a softer side you might say.

Jim is an accomplished guitar player...Jim is a lover of animals, especially his three current dogs...Jim is also as elusive as Bigfoot and the El Chupacabra when it comes to photographing him in his natural environment! But if you look really close at the photograph below you can just barely make out the elusive archaeologist trying to blend into the foliage.

"A wise man once said that a true scholar never grows older, he just grows wiser. Of course that wise man is now dead."

- Peter

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Turkey Day!

Today we thought it would be inappropriate to discuss any topic unrelated to Thanksgiving, which means nothing but pies, turkeys, parades, and football. As such, I present you with a brief lesson on...the turkey.

Wild turkeys are native to the forests of North America, where fossils from ancient turkey ancestors dating to the early Miocene (about 23 million years ago) have been found. The majestic modern turkey is characterized by a massive wattle and a snood--that goofy piece of skin that hangs down from the top of the beak. An interesting fact about this fine bird is that Benjamin Franklin supposedly wanted to make the Wild Turkey, not the Bald Eagle, the national bird of the United States. Of course, the turkey you will be eating today is likely a domestic turkey, but that does not mean you should not show it some of the admiration one of our forefathers did for its wild cousin! That is unless you are Jim, in which case I hope your tofurkey is delicious.

Port Tobacco, if I recall correctly, is actually home to a couple of Wild Turkeys. Perhaps you recall their loud gobbles waking you up in the morning during the Field Session?

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!


Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Three Faces of Lady Liberty: The Matron

Our foundation unit artifacts continue to produce. This is a Coronet Matron Head Cent, which was circulated between 1816 and 1839. Engraved by Robert Scot, it has the head of Liberty wearing a crown surrounded by six-pointed stars. The coin we have has the usual 13 stars, but a mistake in 1817 gave some of these coins 15. This Liberty is rather more robust than others and scholars in the 1950's commented that she “resembled the head of an obese ward boss instead of a lady”, and that it is “probably the ugliest head of Ms. Liberty ever to appear on a U.S. coin.” Most Matron coins also have the regular dentilled rim, but some 1834 coins have a beaded rim. Our coin, however, is so worn that both the date and any definition on the rim is gone. (top image)

The Matron Cent can be Brown, Red-Brown, or Red. The latter being the most rare and most expensive.

Have a great Thanksgiving Weekend!


Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Oops! Slipware!

We are finishing up the report writing for the 2009 Field Session. I took several photographs of the artifacts from the Compton field to include. Represented in the photos was one of my favorite ceramics: Staffordshire Slipware. 82 pieces were excavated from the Compton field this year, 75 of those from the Aboriginal Locus alone.

A refined form of Staffordshire Slipware,called Toft-ware, was made in mid-1700's , but it is rare to find this archaeologically. In the last quarter of the 17th century, Staffordshire Slipware became a utilitarian ceramic for less affluent households and taverns.

Staffordshire Slipware is an earthenware with a buff to pink paste. The vessel is coated with white slip and brown slip. The slips are then mixed or combed to create the designs. Sometimes the second slip is applied in thin lines and dots. Finally, the vessel is coated with clear lead glaze that makes the white slip look yellow. Over time, the decorations became cruder and the lines thicker.


Monday, November 23, 2009

The moment you have all been waiting for...

As promised (multiple times...) I present to you the completed Swann House foundation drawing! After many hours of scanning, hatching, moving, rotating, and joining these walls we have a completed drawing of the foundation, which certainly will be an excellent reference now that we are far from the field (and judging by the weather, now that the foundation is soggy and possibly flooded). So, please enjoy, and click on the image for an up-close view.
We will be in the office for the rest of the week, so expect more posts about the interesting assortment of artifacts that came out of the soil in the areas around and inside the Swann House foundation.


Friday, November 20, 2009

Furca Ostrea...

oyster fork
....Latin for oyster fork.Can you believe there was a time when people didn't use forks?! They used a knife for solids and a spoon liquids!! Or even worse...their hands!! How very uncivilized!! (note the sarcasm in my voice)

The fork seen here is a small three pronged fork, most likely an oyster fork found in Unit 80 during our search for the Swann House. Now, it could also be a fish fork, fruit fork, or strawberry fork. We're guessing oyster fork. Oyster forks are made to follow the shape of the shell so it is easier to lift the meat from the shell. Surely if James Swann ran an oyster house, he would have had this handy utensil, wouldn't he?

One of the earliest dinner forks is attributed to Constantinople in 400 A.D.; it can be seen in the Dumbarton Oaks collection in Washington, D.C. Northern Europeans long considered forks to be unmanly or devilish. Early forks ranged from 2 to 4 prongs with the 4 prong fork being the most common "dinner fork" that we use today.

Today, depending on need, a set of flatware may contain five forks: dinner fork, fish fork, luncheon fork, salad or dessert fork, and seafood fork.

My head is spinning from the idea of having to go through "dinner etiquette" in order to figure out which one to use...I am all for going back to eating with our hands...just seems easier!

Pete and Anne

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Health and Beauty

We began photographing the artifacts that Pete mentioned in yesterdays blog. The Ban Deodorant container has an aluminum lid, but the base is white milk glass. Embossing on the bottom reads, "Bristol-Myers Co. Contains Aluminum Chlorhydroxide. Net Wgt.1.05OZ. New York, N.Y."
We have not yet tried to open the container, but it is heavy for its size. Who knows how much product might be left.

Several small machine-made bottles with screw-top threading also came from the unit inside the foundation. The brown glass bottle is embossed on the bottom with "L-60 23" and is warped, possibly a mistake made during manufacture. The small glass bottle has a square base with an embossed "2" on it.

The larger colorless bottle is Duraglass, made by Owens Illinois Glass Company based in Toledo, Ohio. The bottom of the bottle has an
"I" with an oval. This mark was introduced in 1954 and by 1958 most Owens Illinois bottles used this mark. The side has graduated volume marks in half ccs. This was probably a medicine bottle.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Trash or Treasure?

Anne and I started to wash the artifacts from the Swann Site today. We already have told you about one of the great finds last week. Before we get to the smaller finds, we took a couple buckets full of odds and ends type artifacts to try and clean them off to see what we had come up with.

The results were less than mystifying but still interesting.

Before Ban came out with the all new "roll on" deodorant in 1992, they at one point came in a aluminum can much like those that hold chewing tobacco today. We found several of these cans in our trash filled unit.

Other things of note...

old paint cans
a hairbrush
bleach bottles
glass medicine bottles
Kraft mayonnaise lid
beer bottles
a lock

...all interesting things which we will research, photograph and catalog once they dry. Pictures to come tomorrow!

- Peter

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

...Stand By...

Today we did yet more report writing and Auto-CAD mapping. Stayed tuned for much more exciting events tomorrow!

Monday, November 16, 2009

And two of our crew members age another year...

Happy birthday to our crew members Jim and Anne! As of today, Anne has graced the earth with her presence for 24 years, and, as of Friday, Jim has...well, I wouldn't use the word "graced," but perhaps "annoyed" his staff and the rest of the world for another year. Of course, I'm kidding...mostly.

Here are photos of these two folks working down at Port Tobacco...or at least doing a fine job pretending to work.

So, from the rest of the crew, happy birthday! Here's to many more years of successful digging!


Saturday, November 14, 2009

More on Eroded Site

Thursday I wrote about a highly eroded site that the GAC team tested in a Southern Maryland county. I thought that I would add a bit more on the subject. I continue to be cagey about the site and where it is located because we are in the middle of a process. In any case, the specific location is irrelevant to the point.

In the map to the above you can see the site 18PR996 on top of a knoll and several artifacts that were recovered from the plowed surface some months ago. I noted in the earlier blog that we surface collected, shovel tested, metal detected, and excavated five 3 ft by 3 ft units. We exposed and excavated the very bottom portion of a pit with some ash in its fill. Clearly, at least one foot, and possibly several feet, of soil has been lost over the past couple of centuries, and especially during the 20th century.

In the photograph to the right, you can see the artifacts that we collected during all phases of field work. This isn't a sample...apart from some small brick fragments and some oyster shell fragments, this is everything we recovered. In fact, the probable fuel line (#5) and the bolt (#3) are machine parts, likely from a 20th-century tractor.

Clearly there was a house on the site, but surely it was built with more than a few nails (#s 1, 2, 4, and 7) and furnished with more than a few bits of ceramic (#s 6, 7, and 8).

Identifying the locations of these early 19th-century house sites has research value, but we are unlikely to get much more information out of them...they are lost.


Friday, November 13, 2009

Foundation Mapping Continues...sort of

Hey folks,

Sorry for the late blog post on this rainy, windy day. After trekking back from Port Tobacco I was set to finish up the mapping of the Swann House foundation, but was foiled by technology in the form of an uncooperative AutoCAD program. I was, however, able to complete the south wall--please click on the image below for a better look. I promise a complete, high-quality, drawing of the foundation by the middle of next week.

Also to look forward to over the next couple weeks are updates about the excavations done at Port Tobacco that were funded through a Preserve American grant. One of the areas included in this is the site where April and her minions...I mean, enthusiastic students, searched for the Indian King hotel. Perhaps some of our volunteers would remember this area better as the one full of tin-glazed ceramics.

Wishing everyone a wonderful weekend (stay dry!)