Each day on site we decide upon the Artifact of the Day, which is voted on by the students. Other notable finds that didn’t make the cut were a carved bone knife handle, a porcelain doll’s leg, and a pocket watch case.
Today’s artifact was a bit of a surprise, to say the least. It is what is known as a ‘tinnie’, which is a general term for a commemorative medal, badge, or pin made from a non-precious metal such as tin, aluminum, zinc, or even plastic.
These articles were meant to be worn on clothing, and were commonly given away or sold at public events to build and reinforce group cohesiveness. The “golden age” of the tinnie was around the Second World War, and USSR and the Nazi party in particular were the most prolific producers of these items.
This particular example is made from aluminum, and is to commemorate the Tag der Deutschen Seefahrt [Day of German Seafaring], a nautical event which occurred in Hamburg, Germany on May 25-26, 1935.
To contextualise this artifact, and what the symbolism means, we can break it down into elements:
The design features the national emblem of Nazi Germany, the Reichsadler [Imperial Eagle], an eagle holding a wreath with a swastika in the center.
The motto SEEFAHRT IST NOT is really interesting. This concept was first attributed by Plutarch to the Roman military leader Pompey (Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus). As Plutarch relates, Pompey was in charge of organizing Rome’s supply of grain from other parts of the Empire. During a severe storm, the sailors coming from Africa did not want to set out due to the danger. Pompey then told them “navigare necesse est, vivere non est necesse” [to sail is necessary; to live is not necessary].
Johann Kinau published a novel under the pseudonym Gorch Fock in 1913 called “Seefahrt ist Not!”, which can be both translated as “seafaring is necessary” but also ambiguously as “seafaring is hardship”. This novel describes the life of the deep sea fishermen of his home island. Fock died on the cruiser SMS Wiesbaden in the Battle of Jutland in 1916. This motto was then taken by the Nazi party and heavily featured as a propaganda concept.
Johann Kinau was born in the fishing village of Finkenwerder, which is now part of Hamburg, Germany.
The ship depicted is likely the Gorch Fock class Nazi tall ship the Horst Wessel, launched 1936. The eponymous ship for the class, the Gorch Fock was launched 3 May 1933, and was the main training vessel for the German Reichsmarine. It is argued that the ship depicted on the badge can’t be the Gorch Fock, because there is an eagle decoration on the prow that the Horst Wessel had but the Gorch Fock did not.
The Horst Wessel was captured by the United States at the end of Word War II. It is now known as the USCG Eagle, and the US Coast guard trains all their cadets on this ship to this day.
Although I was able to uncover a bit of information about this day badge, these questions now remain: who owned this piece; how did it arrive in Nassau Mills from Germany; and how does it relate to the structure we are excavating?
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