We are starting to run out of excavation time, just when things are starting to get interesting. We are rotating crew over to BcGn-28 to excavate with the Archaeological Liaison trainees, so the burden has fallen on those who are remaining!
We have many units down below the plough zone into subsoil where we can see features. Features are evidence of activity, and in our case are popping up as linear arrangements of rocks, cedar planking, dark stains in the soil, and concentrations of mortar or other artifactual material. In a Stage 3 excavation, which was conducted at this site during the 2009 field school, once you locate a feature, you basically describe it and then stop excavating.
Now we are doing a Stage 4 excavation, which not only has excavation units four times as large as the 1x1s of a Stage 3, but also has more elaborate instructions for how to handle features. Ideally we would be opening up all the units in a 2m buffer around each feature, but we won’t have time for that this season. So, some of the features might have to wait until we return and can do a proper job of understanding them. In the meantime though, that means we have lots of documentation going on site including unit forms, planning, and photography.
We ended the day a bit early as rain was threatening. It’s looking like tomorrow will be back to the cool temps like our first week!
Today’s artifact of the day was a bit of an old friend, and the first coin found on BcGn-17 this season! Mel and Jada found an 1852 Half-Penny token in their unit. I won’t go over all the details again of this artifact, as there are two blog posts already here and here from when we found two at our 2017 and 2018 field schools.
At the time these tokens were used for currency, Ontario was known as “Canada West”.
The obverse of this coin has the coat of arms for Upper Canada, which was in use from 1792 to 1840, already obsolete by the time these tokens were issued!
Upon the creation of Upper Canada a seal for the province was authorized by royal warrant dated 28 March 1792. The obverse was described as ‘the Calumet [North American Indigenous pipe] of Peace with the Anchor and Sword of State encircled by a Crown of Olives’. Above this is a representation of the royal crown. In the upper right hand was the Union Jack, on the seal of 1817 replaced by the new Union Jack of 1801 with the St. Patrick’s Cross. Below are two cornucopia in saltire.
Motto: IMPERI . PORRECTA . MAJESTAS . CVSTODE . RERVM . CAESARE (The greatness of the empire is extended under the guardianship of the Sovereign)
Legend: SIGIL . PROV . NOS . CAN . SUP (Seal of Our province of Upper Canada).
Our coin came from the unit where the possible cedar planking is, perhaps we are getting ever closer to locating a structure. It is in medallic alignment, so we know from this it had to have been struck at the Royal Mint in London instead of at Heaton’s Mint in Birmingham. 1 500 000 were minted in 1852, and we know where three of them are now!
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.
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!
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.
We were very pleased to welcome Rob MacDonald and Katie Hull from ASI to our site today. I didn’t get a picture because I was too busy chatting with them! They also suggested a new course of interpretation for our “wall”, that it is in fact a kind of french drain. Indeed in retrospect it would make sense why the large unit above it filled with water so readily once we had breached the soil around the stones. It was still doing its job at least 150 years later! This also explains why it seemed too enormous to be a structure. A lot of archaeology is working with hypotheses but also being able to change them as new data comes to light!
As a result, we have begun to tie in some new 2x2m units at the north end of the grid closer to the well, and hopefully we will find evidence of a structure there. We have already uncovered one feature that will require further investigation tomorrow. We had thought the cedar planks identified in 2009 were in this unit, but they are actually a metre north and east of this unit. So this dark stain is actually a new feature and will require excavating all the units around it in order to have the Standards and Guidelines required 2m buffer.
Michael continued with his intrepid crew who have been learning to do Stage 3 assessment units. The current units were finished today, so he will take another bunch of students over to the other site tomorrow.
Today’s artifact of the day was half of a pair of scissors found by Alyssa, as she worked on taking her unit down another 10 centimetres.
The exact origin of scissors is a mystery, but is seems as though shears were first used in the Near East. The pivoted or cross-blade forms we think of as scissors first appeared in Rome in the first century AD. The father of modern scissors is said to be Robert Hinchcliffe, of Sheffield, England, who was the first to use steel and the first to mass-produce scissors by casting beginning in the mid 18th century.
It is difficult to imagine daily living without scissors. Opening packages and letters, cutting out recipes, cutting thread and cord, making clothes, slipcovers and home accessories, cutting cuticle, trimming nails, hair cutting, picking flowers, darning, cutting samples, patching, cutting out paper dolls, metal work, and upholstery are just a few of the few familiar, everyday things which scissors accomplish, but which their absence would cause drudgery.
J. Wiss and Sons Co. 1948
We can group scissors into categories based on types and time period they are from, and in particular this grouping is based on size and blade-to-handle proportions. In addition, certain blade forms are diagnostic for certain activities, but it must be acknowledged that these differences might be difficult to identify in more multipurpose forms.
Even though scissors might have an intended function, they are often employed in actual functions that can raise the ire of the owner, as anyone who has borrowed fabric scissors and used them on paper can attest!
Often scissors were tin or silver plated in order to make them appear silvery in appearance. If our scissors were ever plated, that has long disappeared. We can tell, however, that they were made from iron or steel and not brass or silver.
They measure approximately 3.5-4″ long, which based on a brief search of 19th century scissor ads could fit in the “ladies scissor”, “pocket scissor”, or embroidery types.
Scissors are also featured in folklore and superstition. For example, it was thought that if a pregnant woman slept with a pair of scissors under her pillow towards the end of her pregnancy, it would “cut the cord” and prompt labour. Hanging scissors by one bow so they open to form a cross is supposed to keep evil spirits out of your home. You aren’t supposed to hand scissors to a friend either, because they will sever the relationship!
I would be very excited if we find more household or sewing related tools on site, and maybe the other half of these scissors will appear at some point and help us to narrow down their function.
Doda, H. 2021. Scissors, Embellishment, and Womanhood. Acadiensis 50(1): 62-95.
Clay smoking pipe fragments are a common sight on 19th century archaeological sites. They can be viewed as an essential element of study because of several characteristics. First of all, they were relatively inexpensive and suited to mass production (you may consider them ubiquitous from the 17th to the 19th centuries). Second, they were relatively brittle and short lived, lasting about a year or two until they were discarded. Third, like many artifacts, they vary over time in style and appearance (some forms can be dated to a 20 or 30 year time span) and are often marked with the maker’s stamp.
Pipe stems could be used for more than smoking. Broken pipe stems were sometimes refashioned as whistles. In Colonial Williamsburg, an 18th century walkway was discovered containing over 15,000 pipe stems used as paving material. There’s also evidence they were used as murder weapons at least twice!
Looking at the assemblage of pipes recovered from a site can add to the interpretation. At the very least, they might suggest a reasonable range of occupation for the site, or highlight areas of the site that might be from different contexts. The source of the pipes might tell us about the trade networks the occupants of the site were part of, on local to global scales. If we found more complete pipes with bowls present, that might tell us about the socioeconomic status of the smokers on the site. Pipes from very finely worked complicated moulds and which had undergone more finishing treatments before sale presumably would be more expensive than a rough, plain pipe to purchase. The designs on the bowls might also tell us about the messages the individuals wanted to convey through their smoking. These were visible artifacts used in social contexts, so pipe decoration was a way to silently make a statement about patriotism, affiliations, likes, beliefs, or political leanings.
On a sultry evening in….1864, I was seated on my veranda in Sandwich, watching the vapours from my favourite TD pipe as they gently ascended and assumed various forms…”
— William Baby, 1896
Pipe designs were often pirated by other makers, the most famous example is the “TD” pipe, where the initials TD are found on the bowl. The TD bears almost no relationship to the maker, it transcended being a maker’s mark to being its own sort of pipe, the TD pipe, which was made by many different manufacturers.
We have been finding a fair number of pipe fragments, so we decided today to make them the focus of the artifact of the day. We do have some makers marks present on the pipes we are finding, which will help us narrow down their source and manufacturing date.
Common makers that we have found so far are:
Manufacture Date Range
Tho. White & Co.
We haven’t found many bowl fragments with decoration yet, but today we did find one fragment with a vine cleverly integrated into the bowl mould seam. We also found a bowl with a fragment of an anchor design, which does not match any of the known maker anchor designs I could find. We have also found some with fine fluting and other sorts of linear designs.
Most of the bowl fragments we have recovered are black on the interior, which tells us the pipes were broken after they had been used for smoking.
The other mode of tobacco consumption common at this time was chewing tobacco (which has a whole range of artifacts associated with that practice). By the early 20th century, the most popular means of tobacco consumption was cigarettes. After World War 1, clay pipes fall in popularity in favour of briar or meershaum pipes for those who still preferred smoking tobacco with a pipe.
We are looking forward to seeing what the pipes can tell us from the excavation. Once all the pipes are cleaned, we might be able to identify even more marks that are currently obscured by dirt. We have pipes from several of the other Nassau Mills sites we have excavated to compare assemblages and maybe discover something interesting through comparison.
In the frenzy of the site opening and getting our exavation units laid out, we haven’t really had a chance to designate an artifact of the day since we chose the metal gilt button. By popular choice, today’s artifact of the day was a very large metal spike or perhaps a piece of bar stock iron. It doesn’t appear to have had a head, or it has been broken off. The end is shaped and rounded, and it is square in crosss-section. This artifact was located in a unit that we have lain in to overlay the 2009 exavation grid. Somewhere lurking under the surface we hope to relocate some cedar planks. Perhaps this spike is related in some way to those planks.
Most of the students have finished the top 10 centimetres of their 2×2 units and are moving on to layers underneath. It is exciting to see what is hidden under the soil. The students are also practicing good excavation skills like keeping nicely vertical unit walls, and how to rely on their shovels for most of the work, and only switch to trowels when tidying up a layer. Another important part of the excavation process is filling in the correct forms to record the information gathered as the layer is removed.
Another important skill our students have been developing is recognising artifacts when they are in the screen. As buckets of dirt are emptied and shaken through the mesh, the next step is to sort through what is left and pick out any artifacts from the remaining dirt, roots and stones.
These artifacts need to go into a bag labelled with the unit number, so we know not only where they came from but in which layer. This will help us to reconstruct past activity on the site later when analysing the artifacts and excavation details.
Meanwhile, James and Michael revisited OA1, which has dried up a lot since last week. As they were trowelling around to see if they could locate the wall rocks which we think must be there, suddenly a void opened up and in the hole beneath we could see rocks laid closely together and some water lurking below the surface.
The Wellies have painstakingly cleared back the earth from the top course of rocks at the well, and I think were pretty pleased to deal with that pesky wire fence! They are set to begin drawing a plan of the rocks before they move on to excavating the well in the following days.
James tried out a new drone today, and managed to get some great overhead pictures of the excavation. Compared to the slapdash, hurriedly-rigged solutions we used to try to get overhead views of the excavation units, having drones available is amazing!
It was a beautiful day to be on site, and we will see you tomorrow!
The artifact of the day was discovered by Michelle during pedestrian survey of the field in which our site is located. It is a shanked button, with what looks like an embossed decoration and traces of gilt on the face. Based on the size, I think it is probably a coat button.
All-metal buttons were some of the first commercially manufactured buttons, and first became popular in the 1760s. These buttons were a key component of men’s fashion, and were often plated or gilded base metals, to make them look like more expensive silver or gold buttons. Earlier buttons were often made out of pewter, but that falls out of popularity around the 1830s. Another popular choice was iron, but based on the verdigris we can see (and no rust), I am guessing our button is probably made of brass or copper.
Metal buttons were at their peak in the late 18th and early 19th century, and adorned clothing items like coats, waistcoats, breeches and shoes. Of possible interest to us is the fact that gilded buttons were de rigeur from the 1830s to the 1850s. Gilt buttons were made by brushing a metal button with a mixture of gold and mercury, which was then fired to set the gilding.
There was no guarantee that your fancy gilded buttons weren’t some cut-rate imitation, as some manufacturers would short the approved 1/96th ounce of gold per 1 inch button. The Metal Button Act of Parliament (1796) required manufacturers to stamp identification marks on the backs of buttons so that buyers knew what they were getting. Gilt buttons meant they had the approved amount of gold, but if a button was stamped “Double Gilt” or “Treble Gilt” it meant it has double or triple the legal minimum of gold applied to the button, and thus presumably would wear better and deserve the higher price.
Anno Regni GEORGII III. tricesimo sexto. An Act to regulate the making and vending of Metal Buttons; and to prevent the Purchasers thereof from being deceived in the real Quality of such Buttons.
Metal Button Act of Parliament (1796 c. 60)
Further analysis after a gentle cleaning in the lab will be able to tell us if we have any text on the back, and if the button was cast, or stamped and a brazed shank added. We might also be able to better determine what the design is on the face of the button.
Today’s artifact of the day is quite interesting, I think, and provides opportunity for all sorts of musings. It’s part of a black glass button that was found beside the north wall of the structure in a layer that had other domestic refuse. We’re still trying to sort out how that layer of material got there, and how it relates to the structure, the basement addition, and the midden, but hold that thought and let’s dive into what this particular artifact can tell us.
Glass is an amazing substance that is worthy of many posts itself, but in a nutshell:
Glass is made from a mixture of silica sand, soda, and limestone.
By heating and mixing these materials together, you end up with a smooth paste that can be molded and shaped into a variety of forms.
The natural colour of glass is a pale aqua colour. By adding metal oxides, the glassmaker can change the colour of glass.
While one goal was to develop a recipe that was truly colourless, another goal was the development of colour recipes that resulted in glass that could be cut to resemble gemstones.
One gemstone in particular that was much copied was Jet. Jet is the fossilised remains of a certain kind of pine tree that lived 150 to 180 million years ago in areas that are now Spain and the coast of England. These two coastlines used to be much closer together, separated only by a narrow band of water. Over time, trees were washed out to sea and were buried in iron-rich muck at the bottom of the ocean. The iron went into the wood, and eventually pressure and time compressed these layers of iron-soaked wood into a mineral known as Jet.
English Jet is prized as the best kind of Jet, and it is also known as Whitby Jet, as it is mined near Whitby, UK. Monks at the Whitby Abbey adorned their crosses and rosaries with carved Jet. Commercial mining of jet from the cliffs began in the early 19th century, and it became very popular with fashionable women for jewelry and fashion.
Another little tangent here, for backstory. Men’s clothing changed fits in the 19th century. Instead of the earlier looser, heavily embroidered or woven jackets or coats with large buttons, tailors performed their magic in shaping woolen cloth to closely conform to the body. Buttons became much smaller and were usually made of gilded metal.
Women’s clothing follows another pattern. Pre-1820, most fashionable women’s dresses didn’t have buttons. Think of Regency fashions and Jane Austen films. The waist was just under the bosom (Empire waist) and the dress fell straight to the ground. This form changed to a lower waist closer to the natural waist, and a much more constricted body. A fashionable woman would employ a lady’s maid to do up the dozens of tiny hook-and-eye fastenings of these dresses.
Post 1840, Queen Victoria set a new fashion in the adoption of more sombre colours like dark blue, black, brown, and green. She also popularised high-necked dresses, and two-piece dress sets where there was a bodice and separate jacket, and a long, wide, skirt. These bodices and jackets were fastened with tiny buttons.
How does Jet enter into this fashion? Well, I mentioned above that Jet had been prized since medieval times as decoration and ornaments.
Intricate mourning customs and symbology meant black was a very popular colour.
The new fashion for buttoned dresses was another factor, and finally, Queen Victoria’s adoption of lavish jet mourning jewelry and jet beaded embroidered clothing, and carved jet buttons after the death of her beloved Prince Albert in 1861 catapulted jet into the stratosphere of fashion.
It was obligatory in court circles to wear black gem/Jet buttons, and as court set the fashions of the day, the masses would follow suit. Jet was very expensive, but some enterprising glassmakers tinkered with various black glass recipes floating around and developed something that looked quite a lot like Jet, but cost a fraction of the price. Even better, items could be industrially produced by moulding or casting, instead of laboriously hand-carving each individual piece of Jet, or making each individual glass button using lampwork techniques.
So now we know why Jet buttons and black glass buttons were fashionable, let’s turn to what is on the button. Picture buttons date to approximately the 1860s onwards. Our button has what appears to be a cockatrice, and indeed, some judicious internet browsing meant I was able to find a match.
What is a cockatrice? Well, it’s a kind of dragon-like monster that hatched out of a seven-year-old rooster’s egg that had been hatched by a toad. This beast had the head, chest and legs of a rooster, a serpent tail with a poisoned barb and wings. It is usually represented as being covered in feathers or scales.
I did a little browsing and there are three main interpretations of this beast. One is that it represents the infidelity of Pride, and another possibility is to avert the evil eye. The heraldic interpretation means “terror to beholders”, which kind of parallels the evil-eye aversion meaning.
So by wearing buttons with the image of the cockatrice, was this chosen to remind a woman about the evils of Pride? Or was it a bit of a talisman, where the dress will avert the evil eye?
Who knows, but it is fun to think about! I also looked to see in slang if cockatrice meant anything, and in a 1905 book A Dictionary of Slang and Colloquial English which is abridged from a seven-volume(!) work by John S. Farmer and W.E. Henley, I found that cockatrice had this meaning: 1. A common prostitute ; also a mistress or ‘keep ‘ (1600). 2. A baby.
Unless there was some sort of secret uniform to denote prostitutes or a mistress, I find it unlikely that this meaning was secretly encoded into these buttons!
As I mentioned above, the peak production of black glass buttons came after the death of Prince Albert in 1861 and lasted until the end of the Edwardian era (c. 1910). By the 1880s, the market was completely saturated with black glass buttons, and people began to get tired of the sombre dark colours and crave the new brightly coloured textiles available. As a result, brightly coloured glass buttons became increasingly popular, and black glass buttons steeply declined in production post-1910. So likely our button comes somewhere between 1860 and the early 1900s.
As a final note of interest, I am sure that our cockatrice image is referencing some famous painting or sculpture as I have found several other versions made of different materials. It’s as if it is a meme of the time. Anyone know what it is referencing?
Today as we were washing more artifacts from that area, we did find at least three other black glass buttons, but none of them were picture buttons like this one, they just had faceted designs on them to catch the light and sparkle like real Jet.
The time is slipping away, we can’t believe we are almost to the last week! Lots of split groups today, as we tackle the to-do list of things to wrap up before the end of field school.
Anthony and Joel were conscripted to help with Jolyane’s crew, and at the Arch Centre we broke into washing groups and cataloguing groups. It was mayhem for a bit as we discovered and fixed some procedural errors, but we got everything sorted out and are on track to finish everything by the end of next week.
Here’s a super-size I-Spy to take us into the last week of this year’s field school.
We are coming to the close of the third week of the field school! Only two weeks remaining.
Everyone worked really hard and completed their assessment units (motivated perhaps by James who suggested that if they were all completed the students could have Friday off!).
Now on to today’s artifact of the day!
Marit found it in the midden, and we believe it to be a snuff bottle. Certainly the handful of tobacco tags and the spittoon suggest use of chewing tobacco at this site. The dozens of fragments of white kaolin pipes, and several Bakelite pipe mouthpieces tell us also that some people were smoking tobacco on the site.
Today’s find suggests yet another use of tobacco, this time consumed through the nose! Snuff is finely ground tobacco that was “snuffed” through the nose. Snuff-taking by the Taino and Carib Indigenous peoples in the Lesser Antilles was first observed in the 15th century by a Franciscan monk travelling on Columbus’s second voyage. He brought snuff back to Spain and the practice soon spread throughout Europe, in particular by the French ambassador Jean Nicot (where we get the name nicotine from!).
Snuff was often flavoured with fruit, spices, floral oils, or menthol.
The name snuff comes from the Dutch, who called it snuif and were using it by about 1560. It quickly became an important luxury commodity. It didn’t really catch on to colonial use in the Americas, although American aristocracy took up the habit, modelled after the English style of snuff use. The use of snuff in England gradually became more common during the next 150 years. Unlike Spain, at that time there were few mills in the country to grind the tobacco leaf into powder, and users therefore made up their own daily supply – so as to keep it fresh.
British royalty were big fans of snuff—King George III’s wife was known as “Snuffy Charlotte” and had an entire room at Windsor Castle devoted to her snuff stock. In 1843, Queen Victoria once gave a golden snuffbox to a French butcher who served her “particularly fine beef” on a visit to King Louis Philippe of France.
Snuff grew in popularity after the Great Plague of London, as it was believed to have valuable medicinal properties. Despite its popularity, the practice was not accepted everywhere. Writings by Pope Urban VIII in the 17th century ban the use of snuff in churches and threaten excommunication for snuff-takers.
By the 1700s, the use of snuff peaked in England during the reign of Queen Anne. At this time, domestic production of ready-made snuff blends was well underway in England, although home-blending was still quite common. A Mrs Margaret Thompson of Burlington Gardens, who died in 1776 stipulated in her will:
I desire that all my handkerchiefs that I may have unwashed at the time of my decease, after they have been got together by my old and trusty servant, Sarah Stuart, be put by her, and by her alone, at the bottom of my coffin, which I desire may be made large enough for that purpose, together with a quantity of the best Scotch snuff (in which she knoweth I had the greatest delight) as will cover my deceased body; and this I desire more especially as it is usual to put flowers into the coffins of departed friends, and nothing can be so precious and fragrant to me than that precious powder.
She went on to request that Ms Stuart walk in front of her pallbearers, scattering snuff into the crowd and on their path. The pallbearers were to be the “six greatest snuff-takers in St James”, and were asked to dress in brown instead of black, and take snuff freely as they liked.
Snuff was seen as less common than smoking tobacco, and thus was the tobacco product of choice among the elite. By Victorian times, snuff was often used in snake oil claims, such as published in a London Weekly journal called The Gentlewoman, which claimed taking a particular kind of Portugese snuff would cure poor vision and allow one to read without spectacles!
By the mid-1850s, snuff boxes and associated formality had been somewhat rejected in the North American colonies. Instead, new traditions such as dipping a twig into the ground tobacco and depositing an amount in the cheek (a precursor to dipping tobacco, which is essentially moist snuff) were popular. The mid-nineteenth century invention of cigarettes though was the main death knell to snuff.
Our artifact is a small metal bottle with an embossed design. Snuff became stale very quickly, so it was common for a snuff box or bottle to only have enough for a day or two’s use.
It appears to have been made by stamping out each side and crimping them together at the seam. It looks like it was plated in some kind of shiny metal, which has mostly worn off.
A small neck was inserted into the bottle, and presumably there was a stopper of some kind, which is missing. The bottle does have what looks like ground vegetative matter still inside! It’s interesting that we found this artifact on site, I have some thoughts about what it could mean:
it could have belonged to someone who practiced snuff-taking past the mid-nineteenth century decline
it could have been someone who was following the more aristocratic idea of snuff compared to smoking to set themselves apart
or, it is just a family momento that was curated past the popularity of snuff
or, this could suggest the person was recently from Europe, where snuff-taking was still popular for longer
We’ll never know for certain, but certainly an interesting find!
Heavier rain than expected drove us into the lab today, which was probably a good thing as we had a massive backlog of artifact washing to tackle. We had Marit join us again today to help with artifact processing.
I am happy to say our crew are superstars and we managed to record all the material we washed last lab day, and we have every single artifact recovered to date washed and drying on racks awaiting cataloguing. Hooray! It was also a good time to sort out some context issues and so Dan and Nic started to draw the Harris Matrix of stratigraphy for the site.
This discovery of this bone toothbrush sparked a lot of questions (and disgusted reactions) about dental hygiene in the past. I couldn’t resist a photo of Charlotte cleaning a toothbrush with a toothbrush, how meta is that?
While people have rinsed their mouths with water, wine, or vinegar or used rags to clean their teeth for millennia, the first “toothbrushes” were sticks that would be chewed on at one end to split the wood fibres into a brush-like end that could be used to clean the teeth.
The other end was often sharpened into a point to make a tooth pick. The next innovation was choosing aromatic or nice-tasting sticks that would be pleasingly astringent or flavourful. Toothbrushes similar to what we use today were made of bamboo and hog bristles and used for centuries in China, but for whatever reason they just didn’t catch on in the West.
Toothpaste in collapsible tubes was not available until the 1890s and didn’t surpass tooth powder in popularity until nearly 1920.
There are several recipes for tooth powders from the 18th and 19th century, but I don’t know if you would want to follow some of these recipes. Some were so caustic it was only recommended that they be used every few months! Others use chemicals like borax which we think of more as a laundry additive as opposed to a tooth-whitener. Still others had abrasives like chalk, charcoal and pulverised brick!
A 19th century London Times advertisement promised an assortment of wonderful results for those who used tooth powder:
For the TEETH. Patronized and used by his Royal Highness the Duke of Kent. TROTTER’s ORIENTAL DENTIFRICE, or ASIATIC TOOTH POWDER, had been for 20 years acknowledged by the most respectable Medical authorities, used by many, and recommended. The Powder cleanses and beautifies the teeth, sweetens the breath, posses no acid that can erode the enamel, and puts a beautiful polish on the teeth. From its astringency, it strengthens the gums, eradicates the scurvy (which often proves the destruction of a whole set of teeth), preserves sound teeth from decay, secures decayed teeth from becoming worse, fastens those which are loose, and proves the happy means of preventing their being drawn.
Tooth powder was often applied using rags until the first commercial toothbrush was made around 1780 by William Addis of Clerkenwald, UK. William Addis was a ragpicker by trade, which means he collected rags and cloth scraps which were then pulped and used to make high-quality paper, which was sold to scriveners and bookmakers.
History says he was arrested in 1770 for rioting in Spitalfields and thrown into Newgate prison, and while there decided that cleaning his teeth using a rag and some brick dust was not the best way. He saved a piece of bone from his prison slops, drilled holes in one end, and was inspired by watching the charwomen sweeping to get some bristles from his Keepers and thread them through the holes and glue them in place.
Now I think this story is pretty ridiculous, mainly because of access to drills and lengths of bone (which could be potential shivs!), and wire, and glue, and boar bristles while in prison! Nevertheless, when released he began to manufacture toothbrushes from a workshop in Whitechapel and later on Radnor St., Hoxton. While apparently there were 53 individual steps to manufacturing each toothbrush, here is a brief summary:
Addis would source the bone for the handles from lengths of the shaft of bullock or ox thigh bones purchased from butchers (the ends of the bones were sawn off and sold to make buttons!). Once boiled and bleached, they were cut into strips of different sizes (he was a master of marketing and had big ones for Men, smaller ones for Ladies, smaller still for Children, and an even teenier one called Tom Thumb). From there, the head and neck would be carved into shape, and the head drilled with holes for the bristles.
Badger hair was the mark of a true conoisseur, but Addis also imported boar and sow bristles from Russia, Bulgaria, France and Poland.
At this point, the blanks were sent out to be filled with bristles as piecework. He would contract to women working from their homes in Whitechapel and Spitalfields, and pay them only for each piece that passed his standards. This meant the burden of cost for tools, time, and materials was on the women workers up front, and they did not get paid unless the goods were deemed perfect.
It is no surprise that he quickly became exceedingly rich, and there were Addis family members running the Addis and Wisdom brands in the UK until the late 1990s. A pretty good run!
Even though Addis was the first commercial toothbrush, others quickly jumped on the bandwagon and registered their own patent designs.
In general early toothbrushes all had cattle bone handles, and bored holes in the head. Bristles were held in place with a thin wire. The wire was either seated into grooves carved into the back of the head that would be filled by wax, or was fished through holes drilled into the top of the head. These holes were first drilled by hand, so they will tend to not fall in a regular, ordered pattern, and often the holes vary in size and shape.
Another way that toothbrushes can tell us about time is the shape of the handle in relation to the head and neck. Some researchers have created a typology, or system of sorting the shape of toothbrushes in relation to their rough time period of popularity.
Early toothbrushes are often “cranked”, which means they are either convex or concave. Convex cranking is when the horizontally-held brush has the head angling away from the user’s face. This was most common up until 1884, but drops out of favour by the 1920s. Concave cranking is rarely seen before 1884. Brushes with no cranking appear as early as 1840, but most appear to have been manufactured post-1870. Our piece is not cranked at all.
Shortages in the availability of boar bristles caused by the war between China (the leading source of bristles) and Japan was solved by the invention of nylon in 1937 at the DuPont Laboratories. This quickly became the bristle of choice and we no longer have badger, horsehair, or boar bristle toothbrushes! Funnily enough, the Addis company was in on this deal and secured the licensing rights to make nylon and polymer bristles in the UK.
The final death knell of bone handled toothbrushes appears to have been World War II. Wartime rationing meant that bones were kept in the home to be boiled down to extract every possible ounce of goodness out of them.
So next time you are brushing your teeth, think a little about the lowly toothbrush and how far we have come!