Artifact(s) of the Day for May 15th, 2023 — Marvellous metal!

We have a bit of a three-way tie today for artifact of the day. So instead, I have decided to feature all three of them.

The first artifact is a bit enigmatic. All we can see is that it is a strap of ferrous metal, with two nails driven through. On of the nails is quite curved at the end, perhaps intentionally, or from hammering it in to some kind of surface that caused it to roll while it was being driven in. The other nail, however, is straight. We don’t know if this strip was originally flat and has been bent after discard such as by being caught by a plough. It might have also been wrapped around a piece of wood. It is pretty corroded, but after cleaning we might be able to discern some more details that might help us to better interpret its function.

Lorna and Abigail found this artifact on top of a pile of stones that we think connects to the drain.

Next up is a straight pin. I was really excited to see this find because this is one of those artifacts that pretty much screams that a site is a domestic context. Straight pins have been around for a very long time, thousands of years! They were first made of bone or wood, and then metal. While we associate them now with holding fabric together while it is being sewn, straight pins used to be used by men and women for all sorts of purposes. Before fasteners like buttons or zippers were common, straight pins were used to attach the various components of dress together, and to arrange folds and tucks to customise the fit of a garment to the wearer (for which we are now thankful for safety pins!). They were used to pin together pages before paper clips or staples were invented, and in any application where folds or tucks in blankets, veils, mantles, etc. needed to be fixed temporarily.

Early pins were formed by drawing wire through a plate of steadily smaller holes to make it thinner until the desired thickness was reached. This wire would be cut in pieces and a head would be formed by wrapping a loop of wire around the end and soldering it in place. These wrapped heads were sometimes rough and would catch on clothing or scratch. Later pins were made all in one piece by stamping the end of the wire shaft into a die to form the head.

Once we have some time in the lab, we can determine if this piece is made of brass or some other metal, and look more closely at the head to see how it was made. Pins usually fall through screens as they are so small, so it was great luck to find this one!

A straight pin found by Kyla.

And last but not least, we have part of the handle of a piece of what is probably pewter flatware with a linear break. Pewter is an alloy of zinc, lead and tin. Our piece is shaped in the fiddle pattern, which was pretty popular in the eighteenth and nineteeth century. Interestingly, there are some hints of marks on the back side of this artifact. These are mimicing the hallmarks found on silver and silverplate flatware. Unfortunately since all we have is a bit of the handle, we don’t know if this was a spoon or a fork! I am hopeful that under a microscope we can maybe see the marks a little better to figure out what is there.

The handle from a piece of pewter flatware found by Mel and Jada.

Monday multiplication

I need to take some photographs of the artifacts of the day for today, so look for a catch-up post on that tomorrow!

Today started a new phase of our field school, as the archaeological liaison trainees started things up at their site BcGn-28 for their two weeks of excavation. Michael will be overseeing things there, and he took some of the field school students with previous experience to assist. The goal is to cycle members of the crew between sites so they have a chance to work on an Indigenous site as well as the historical site. What this meant today was that poor James was the point person ferrying equipment and forms between sites as necessary!

We decided to stake in four new units at the north end of our excavations at BcGn-17. We still haven’t found any conclusive evidence of a structure, nor have we found a privy or a proper midden or garbage dump for the site as of yet. We do have some features visible in some of the 2×2 units but no idea what is happening around those. It is very difficult with the checkerboard pattern to determine the relationship of features to surrounding units. The advantage of the checkerboard style excavation is that we can see a larger extent for the same effort, but the downside is that we have a very imperfect idea of how the bits we can see relate to each other. We are chasing a structure, and now that we are pretty sure the “wall” is actually a drain, we are very eager to know (a) what the drain is draining, and (b) where the heck is the log cabin/privy/midden for the site?!

Lots going on today–opening new units, cleaning units for recording, and continuing excavation of open units.

Of course, as Muphy’s Law operates especially on archaeological sites, the new units we wanted to open were located smack dab in the middle of backdirt piles, so the first order of business was shovelling the overburden back to make room. We then staked out the new units using our friend the Pythagorean theorem (it really is useful, your math teacher was right!).

While the new units were being opened, we still had a lot of cleaning and mapping/planning of the open units going on as well. I didn’t have a chance to take a lot of photographs because I was the field director on site for most of the day and the questions kept me hopping!

James showing Josh how to plan a unit.

With three (maybe four!) new units opened up, this is a bit ambitious as we only have a maximum of about 7 days left for excavation, assuming we don’t have any rain days. Our crew is willing though, and they are getting faster at digging every day so I think we can pull it off. Even if we don’t find the structure this season, at least we will know where it isn’t!