Things are starting to wind down on site. The students have mostly finished their assessment units and we are focusing on tidying up the open exavations on the structure. The fourth-year students have finished their excavation in the second operation area.
Although we didn’t have any rain, there was a constant steady wind which meant we felt a bit flayed by the end of the day!
Here are the answers to last Thursday’s I-Spy:
Tomorrow we are in the lab, there’s a lot of cataloguing and artifact processing to be done!
What a rainy day…with several successive showers it was a bit challenging, but we prevailed. Although at one point, we abandoned Nic to the rain! [zoom in to see he doesn’t seem too bothered!]
Today’s artifact came from the basement area of the structure. Faisal and Bjorn have been doggedly removing giant boulders and buckets of mud and 1960s garbage. At the base of one of the basement walls, tucked in under some large boulders came this:
This was quite exciting as it is the only complete piece of ceramic we have recovered from the site to date!
Our piece is what is known today as pearlware, but this is a term that did not really exist back at the time this piece was new. The history of pearlware is quite interesting (and long!) but here is a brief summary:
The most inexpensive type of pottery used for tablewares in Britain in the later 1700s was something called creamware. These ceramic pieces had a creamy off-white colour clay, and a glaze that was tinted very lightly green by iron oxide. The resulting ceramic looks creamy white and even somewhat dingy. Creamware dates from approximately 1762-1800.
In an effort to produce ceramics that looked more like expensive, hard to get and very prestigious porcelain pieces from China, potters in Britain experimented with a glaze that had a small amount of cobalt added to it. This in essence worked like laundry blueing, where the blue tint cancelled out the yellow/green tint and made the ceramics appear brighter and whiter. These pieces were called China glaze if the decoration style looked like Chinese motifs or Pearl White if not. Pearlware dates to approximately 1775-1840, but is in decline after 1820.
So the glaze of this saucer gives us one clue as to its age. You can see on the underside of the saucer that where the glaze has pooled, it has a definite blue tint to it. So it falls into the pearlware category.
The second piece of information we have is the decoration style. This style is known as spongeware, because it was made by applying paint dabbed on by a sponge, and then the glaze is applied on top. Common sponge designs are diamonds, stars, daggers, flowers, scrolls, geometric shapes, and eagles.
In our particular case, there are two different sponges cut into different shapes. One forms the pattern around the outer rim of the saucer, and the other the small dots inside the rim. This type of decoration appears to have been almost exclusively destined for markets in the United States and Canada from 1820-1860. Later spongeware examples (1840-1860) have the same kind of decoration style but no longer have the pearl glaze on top.
It is estimated that only 1-2% of sponge decorated wares were marked by their manufacturers! Check out Part 1 of Maker’s Marks for a discussion of how makers marks are useful in archaeology.
Unfortunately, our piece does not have a maker’s mark, but we know that most potters who produced sponged or painted wares did not mark their wares. In addition, the sponges cut into different shapes were sold by suppliers to potteries, it is not possible to ascribe a certain shape or style of decoration to a particular potter.
Even so, there are slight temporal variations in decoration style that can help us to date a particular ceramic piece, even without a maker’s mark. Cut-sponge designs are most popular in Britain from the 1840s to the 1870s, but are introduced in the 1820s. Coupled with the pearl glaze, this suggests our piece must have been manufactured some time between 1820-1840.
Unfortunately, the problem with ceramic pieces is there is often a lag associated with them. Pieces can be kept and used for a long time after manufacture, so we don’t know how well this saucer relates to the occupation of this structure. But certainly it gives us another piece of information to add to our understanding of the site.
In looking through the washed ceramics back in the lab, I can see at least two other pieces from saucers similar to this one. Now we have a complete saucer, it’s easier to identify the little fragments!
I was excited to see this find Brianne and Raine made while excavating a test unit in the field between our operation areas. I first encountered one of these in 2015, during an excavation on the east bank side of campus. The story behind these dolls is so interesting…
Let’s go back in time to 1843. The humourist Seba Smith published a poem called “A Corpse Going to a Ball” in The Rover, a Maine newspaper. This poem was a cautionary tale against vanity, perhaps, as it was inspired by a grim tale published on February 8, 1840 in the New York Observer of a young woman who froze to death on the way to a New Year’s Eve ball on December 31, 1839.
“O, daughter dear,” her mother cried,
“This blanket ’round you fold;
It is a dreadful night tonight,
You’ll catch your death of cold.”
“O, nay! O, nay!” young Charlotte cried,
And she laughed like a gypsy queen;
“To ride in blankets muffled up,
I never would be seen.”
The poem became a folk song called “Young Charlotte” or “Fair Charlotte”, which was mainly spread and popularised by a blind singer from Vermont named William Lorenzo Carter who was a contemporary of Mark Twain.
An excerpt of one version:
He stripped the mantle off her brow,
And the pale stars on her shone,
And quickly into the lighted hall,
Her helpless form was borne.
They tried all within their power,
Her life for to restore,
But Charlotte was a frozen corpse,
And is never to speak more.
Another version excerpt:
He took her hand in his, O God, ‘t was cold and hard as stone;
He tore the mantle from her brow and the cold stars on her shone.
Then quickly to the lighted hall her lifeless form he bore,
For Charlotte was a frozen corpse and a word spake never more.
Parallel to this folk song gaining popularity was the export of small porcelain dolls from Germany beginning in 1850. These were known as “Naktfrosch” which colloquially translates to “naked babies”. Made of one piece with fixed limbs, they were inexpensive to produce and came in all sorts of sizes, ranging from one inch to over 18 inches tall. Some were glazed, and some had minimal colouring like the hair and face painted. They were also known as pillar dolls or solid chinas. Some were called bathing babies, and marketed as Victorian bath toys as they were only glazed only on the front, meaning they float in water on their backs.
The popularity of the song quickly mapped on to these small immovable dolls and they began to be known as Frozen Charlottes, or in the case of some male version of the dolls, Frozen Charlies. The tiny ones cost a penny and were popular prizes, and sometimes were sold in a tiny coffin with a blanket/shroud. They were also sold undressed, which means that mothers and daughters could make little clothes for them.
In Britain, the smallest versions (called pudding dolls) were often baked into puddings or cakes as a prize at Christmastime and other holidays, similar to the baby figure incorporated into Mardi Gras King cakes.
The earlier Frozen Charlotte type dolls were manufactured until about 1914, and were replaced in the 1920s by similar bisque dolls mass-produced in Germany, Japan and the United States. The later models have many more types like aviatrix, flappers, adults, babies, and anthropomorphised animals. They generally fell out of favour in the 1940s.
We have now found parts of at least three different types of dolls this season. Two were cloth-bodied dolls with porcelain limbs and head, and now we have a Frozen Charlotte!
Here’s a little view into one of the activities our students learn during the course of the field school. They learn how to lay in and excavate a 1x1m test unit, and fill in the accompanying documentation. This is an important skill to have, as it is used widely in cultural resource management (CRM) archaeology in what is known as a Stage 3 assessment. Here’s Sam’s take on his experience. — Kate
In an ideal scenario, an archaeologist would know exactly where a site is located and would immediately begin setting up excavation units and get to work at it immediately. As Trevor and I have found out through experience, however, such is very unusually the case. In our case, we were tasked with digging to find out if something was there at all, and to achieve our goal, we needed to establish a Stage 3 test unit, one of several to be dug by the field school’s students.
Out of the four stages (numbered one through four) of the archaeological work process, Stage 3 is perhaps the most important. This is where archaeologists establish exactly what they have (or, do not have) in the area they’re looking at, how important that site and its artifacts are, and how it should be conserved and protected. While we know of our site located immediately behind the Trent University entrance sign at Nassau Mills Road and Water Street, the open field to the east gave much less an indication of the archaeological material that may lie underneath it. Thus, Trevor and I were among the first students to set out to reveal the field’s underlying secrets.
With a pre-existing grid having been mapped out previously, we marked our own one-square-metre Stage 3 test unit with pegs, peeled back the sod and began digging. At first, things seemed to come easy: the soil was loose, and easily scooped away with shovels. We even found some small artifacts, such as some glass shards, ceramic sherds and a couple cut iron nails. By the time we got about 40 cm down, however, things got tough. The soil was suddenly filled with a thick layer of small rocks, and the artifacts quickly dropped off to nothing. Soon, between the unit’s increasing depth and the large quantity of rocks, we only found progress at the sharp end of a pickaxe and the blades of trowels. We kept up hope, however, as we’d found stuff at greater depths in other units we had dug up beforehand, and kept going as best we could.
Though our progress was held up for a couple days by some unfavourable weather and a familial obligation, we were back at it today at last (May 30). Determined to find something to show for our efforts, we surged forward and got through a solid (literally) 35 cm of soil over the course of the day. As we kept digging, the rocks only seemed to get bigger, growing slowly from fist size, to requiring two hands to lift, and finally being impossible to lift or dig around. After getting to a full depth of about 87 cm, we contacted a deposit of numerous large rocks that were impossible to lift out or excavate around further, even with trowels. With no more artifacts on the way down and nothing to show a site was there, it seemed like we had, quite literally, hit rock bottom.
While it might seem like we have little to show for our efforts and just wasted a bunch of time and effort, both of these could not be further from the truth. Sometimes, in archaeology, it’s what you don’t have, rather than what you do have, that makes a difference. Knowing something is not there tells you that it’s time to rethink your methods and try digging someplace else to find what you’re looking for. Though it may not seem like much, I find solace and satisfaction in knowing that this is an archaeological achievement.
I don’t know what we’re trying to find out here away from our main site, but if Trevor and I could at least confirm where it isn’t, I hope my fellow students have some better luck confirming where it is. Regardless, wherever I go to dig next, I know the allure of the unknown will drive me to discover what lies (or doesn’t) beneath our feet. That’s the draw of archaeology: you never know what’s hiding underground.
Due to the rain, we spent May 25th in the lab, and the students began learning how to catalogue artifacts systematically. This involves dividing the cleaned artifacts into types of material such as glass, metal, bone, ceramics, plastics, brick, etc. and then further subdividing these categories into groups of material. This is where we really can start to see the kinds of artifacts they have recovered and try to think about what they can tell us about the site we are excavating in terms of what the site was used for, when it was used, and who was using it.
On Friday, we headed back out to site, and continued work there. We are at a point now where we need to start documenting the walls we have uncovered. This involves drawing plans that are to scale on graph paper, and also photographing them so we can enter those photos into computer software that will let us do photogrammetry with them.
Photogrammetry is using photographs to measure the distance between objects when surveying or mapping. Here is a site detailing how photogrammetry can be very useful for archaeological excavation.
Not everyone was planning today, however, as there is still a lot of excavation that needs to be done. Bjorn and Faisal have been working steadily at removing bulldozed fill from a section of what be believe is a basement to the structure.
We haven’t been recovering as many artifacts lately due to the phase of where we are in the excavations, but here is an interesting I-Spy tray!
We had a day in the lab today, due to the steady rain. Here’s another blog post from one of our undergraduates taking the Advanced Field Methods course. We’ll be back out on site tomorrow! –Kate
Archaeology isn’t just about pulling ‘artifacts’ from the ground or uncovering ‘features’. Its also about cataloging and contextualizing. Digging is great fun, everyone gets a rush when they locate an artifact, even some of the smallest sherds of glass or ceramic can excite an archaeologist in the field. But what happens when those artifacts are removed from their excavation location? Well, that’s when the real work begins.
In lab we do the bagging, tagging, washing, sorting, cataloging, sub-categorizing, and the recording of each artifact’s details, attributes, and we record the counts of each category and their associated sub-categories.
In the field it’s easy to locate a hundred of something and not even be aware. It isn’t actually until you head into the lab that you realise you collected over 20 sherds of glass from one broken bottle.
Just take a look at Raine, overwhelmed by green glass sherds, all of which seemed part of the same bottle until we looked at the glass in the light, at which time it was determined that all but two of the sherds were from the same bottle.
All in all, archaeology is much more than simply playing in the dirt. It requires in-depth recording from start to finish, both in the field and in lab. It also requires research on dates, typologies, makers, and so much more.
All in all, archaeology is not just for those who like getting dirty, it’s for the organised, the imaginative, those who love puzzles, people who like drawing, and there’s even room for those who enjoy data entry. After all, as anthropology is holistic in nature, it only makes sense that archaeology also be all encompassing.
It was a busy day on site today! We had a visit from Rory MacKay, a historian and archaeologist who is working on an upcoming book about the history of Algonquin Park. We also had a visit from Dr Michael Eamon, who brought some visiting academics from a university in Queensland, Australia to see our research project in action. Thanks for coming by, it was lovely to have visitors!
It’s hard to believe we have only been in the field for a couple of weeks. All of a sudden, it looks like a proper site. We didn’t even know if there was a south wall when we started because of all the material on top of it, and now it has been beautifully excavated, primarily by Don, Jacob and Brianne.
Today’s Artifact of the Day comes from Nic and Emily’s excavation area. It’s a pocket watch chain!
A lot of archaeology is consumed with telling time. Most often it relates to determining how old something is, or the order in which things happened. Today, our artifact of the day really has something to do with time!
I think most students in my classes now use their phones as a way of telling time, instead of a watch. Pocket watches were the first wearable tech! Up until the start of the 20th century, the pocket watch was the main way people kept track of time.
1943 marks the end of the use of the pocket watch in a professional environment. In that year, the British navy issued Waltham pocket watches with black dials and radium-coated numbers for visibility in the dark, in anticipation of the D-Day invasion. The Canadian navy also ordered the same for their sailors.
Pocket watches always make me think of the White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland.
An essential furnishing relating to the pocket watch was the strap or chain attached to it that allowed it to be anchored to clothing, usually a waistcoat, lapel or belt loop. This prevented the watch from being easily stolen or dropped.
The latter part of the nineteenth century saw the first attempts of standardizing time, not only for creation of time zones but also because of ever increasing need of precise time measurements in many scientific experiments and public transportation systems. For example the Great Kipton Train Wreck of 1891 happened because of train engineer watches were 4 minutes out of sync.
A popular style was the Albert chain, supposedly named after a style of chain worn by Prince Albert (1819-1861), consort to Queen Victoria.
The Albert chain often has a small pendant called a fob or drop (similar to a charm bracelet) that could be exotic coins, medals, or symbols or coats of arms of fraternal organizations.
The double Albert has two symmetrical lengths of chain draped between each vest pocket, one attached to a watch, the other to a small item like a match case or pocket knife. Also suspended from the T-bar in the middle is a fob or drop with a medal or token.
So why did such a ubiquitous and useful object fall into decline? The big drawback to pocket watches are they are impractical to consult when one is on the go. Like distracted driving today, fumbling around in a pocket while riding a horse or driving a car or bicycle could cause disaster.
So intrepid sporting folk of the nineteenth century began to fashion wristlets, which were essentially leather straps that secured a pocket watch around the wearer’s wrist. Parallel to this was the development of beautiful, delicate watch faces and formal watches, worn by women as jewellery.
Wristlets meant that time became accessible through a quick glance instead of an ostentatious perfomance of drawing a watch out of a pocket. But they didn’t catch on at first, mainly because they were too closely linked to women’s fashions and were thought to be silly and effeminate.
This changed during World War I. Officers in the field quickly appreciated the advantages of easily accessible time, which was instrumental in implementing new forms of attack such as an opening barrage of gunfire to shock and stun the enemy, followed immediately by a coordinated onrush of soldiers. Wristlets became trench watches, which had large, round faces, heavy black numbers on brilliant white porcelain faces, and radium coated numbers that glowed in the dark.
Suddenly, wristlets were seen as manly. By the 1930s, they were known as wristwatches, instead of wristlets. By 1935, 85 percent of the watches made in the United States were wristwatches, compared to only 15 percent in 1920.
Glanceability (ability to quickly see time without obviously turning to look at a clock) and visibility (luxury brands) meant wristwatches became really important signals of efficiency and status by the 1950s.
Nowadays, however, the access to time is everywhere. We have clocks on our phones, microwaves, coffeemakers, computer monitors. Most people can get along just fine without wearing a watch to tell time!
While not on par with some of our previous AotDs, today’s find is still quite interesting! While this isn’t technically an artifact, because it hasn’t been modified by humans, it certainly is a long way from its natural habitat!
This artifact was found in the trench at the southern wall of the structure. Other artifacts found with it today include some blue edgeware ceramic pieces that date to approximately 1840s-1860s. While this is not definitive proof that the shell is this old, it does suggest that it is not recent in origin.
Strombus pugilis is a kind of sea snail, that lives on sandy and muddy sea bottoms, and its range is Bermuda, southeastern Florida, the Caribbean Sea, and southwards to Brazil. Because there is not much of a flare on the outer lip of this specimen (called alation), it was probably a juvenile individual. It could also potentially be a Strombus alatus, which, depending on who you follow is either a variant population of Strombus pugilis, or a closely related subspecies. Strombus alatus lives in slightly more northern distributions, from North Carolina, Florida, Gulf of Mexico, Louisiana, and Texas down to the east coast of Mexico.
Marine shell from the Gulf of Mexico has been found included in burials thousands of years old in Peterborough County. This indicates First Nations groups had thriving trade networks with more southern populations over millennia. Could this have been a nineteenth-century find of a much older shell?
If not this old, could this shell be a souvenir brought back from a sea voyage? A well-travelled relative’s gift? Part of a Cabinet of Curiosities?
While we’ll probably never know how an ocean snail from the tropics ended up buried beside a wall in nineteenth-century Nassau Mills, it’s fun to think about, isn’t it?