Field school by the numbers

Hello, just a quick update post.

Term has started and with it a whole other set of things to occupy our time, but we are still plugging away at the analysis from the site. In some ways this is my favourite part of the process, because you really get to see the overall picture and patterns. This is like a giant jigsaw puzzle where you don’t have the box lid to tell you what the picture should look like!

I have finished the rough catalogue and thought I would share some of the details with you. We recovered 19,928 artifacts from the structure. There are still catalogues to be done from the other two areas we excavated, so this total will increase!

Everyone always asks about nails, and yes, they were pretty ubiquitous. We found 6,643 nails. 3,785 of them are square or cut nails, 2,593 are wire nails, and six were hand-wrought. The distribution of the different types of nails is what we were expecting. The hand-wrought nails are generally the oldest, and usually date to the early 1800s. They are replaced by machine-made square or cut nails, which are the standard type of nail until the end of the 1800s. The modern wire nail was developed around 1880, and becomes the dominant style of nail by about 1910. While the percentages of the nail types we recovered generally mesh with what we know about this structure, we also need to take into account where the nails were found. Interestingly, most of the wire nails came from what appears to be a deposit of slag, coal, and clinker which overlaid part of the structure. This suggests that event occurred more recently in time.

We didn’t find as much glass or ceramics as I was expecting. Out of the 5,589 pieces of glass recovered, the majority (3,606) was window glass. Now, window glass is the artifact type most likely to make people roll their eyes and ask why on earth would we keep it. While it doesn’t tell us a whole lot, it can tell us some important things. First of all, it tells us that there were windows present. This sounds kind of obvious, but it can be an important clue in reconstructing the function of a building. While we don’t calculate the surface area of all the glass recovered (that would be pretty maddening), the relative amount of glass can sometimes give us a sense of the size of windows in a structure, although with the big caveat that windows do break and get replaced!

The glass bottles and jars we found are also interesting, and can usually give good indication of time period, as they are usually thrown away after the contents have been used. Someone who lived here was a big fan of Dr SN Thomas’ Eclectric Oil. We also found parts of canning jars, food jars, and cordial bottles. There weren’t a lot of alcohol bottles though, which is surprising. Other glass comes from things like oil lamp chimneys and cosmetics containers.

We recovered 2,414 pieces of ceramic, of which 2,239 pieces represent household goods like kitchenware (mixing bowls, jugs), tableware (plates, cups and dishes) or utilitarian ware (crocks, pottery jugs and bottles). There were also fragments of at least three porcelain dolls. One of the most precise maker’s marks came from the spittoon, as its mark dates to between 1909-1916. I found this piece quite interesting, as the mark indicates this piece was manufactured some time after 1909, imported from Germany to Indiana, and then made its way to be discarded in Peterborough probably some time before 1913.

While ceramics and glass are usually pretty good sources of dating information, some artifacts like coins even have dates right on them, like the 1852 Bank of Canada Half-Penny Token, and the 1882 Victorian Large Cent.  There are also some things in the catalogue that didn’t make it into the Artifact of the Day posts like shell casings (five), combs and lice combs (21), and buttons (104).

What’s next? Now the rough catalogue has been done, we will be going back through and looking at the artifacts by categories and also by their location in the excavations to get a sense of how many of certain types of artifacts there are and where they came from in the site. This will help with our interpretations of the occupation of this structure, and hopefully highlight some changes in time. We also need to generate statistics of the proportions of certain types of artifacts, and photograph some of the examples which are considered diagnostic or the best examples of their types.

Then we move on to maps and the report!