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.