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.