I-Spy Returns!

We decided to swap lab day to today as it looked like rain for most of the day and tomorrow is supposed to be clear. Our first order of business was to start washing the masses of material we have been recovering from our excavations. The targets that Jolyane is investigating with her crew are providing a lot of domestic material, which suggests they are in close proximity to one of the other houses we are looking for.

We hadn’t found much yet in the Old Plaster House this year, but yesterday Mary and Sarah were digging in part of the midden, and Danny, Stephanie and Collette were digging at the face of the south wall where we know there were lots of artifacts last year, so we have started accumulating material.

We divided up half the group to wash, and half to catalogue. The purpose of cataloguing is to sort and organize the artifacts in a way that we can use them to tell us interesting information about a site. While you have seen us focus on certain artifacts and what they can tell us individually, we also look at the artifacts as a collective. When we have 12000+ artifacts, there is no way for us make sense of them unless we organise them into categories.

These categories are relatively arbitrary, and there isn’t only one way to catalogue things. Our system has been refined and modified over the years depending on the kinds of site we excavate. It is important to have a system that works with the kinds of artifacts you are finding, and it also needs to be flexible.

The first thing is to note the context and number of the thing we are cataloguing. This forms a unique identifier that we can use to trace and relocate the artifact when it is packed away in boxes. Next, we need to describe the material class of the object. So for our site, we are using these categories:

  • Glass
  • Ferrous
  • Metal
  • Ceramic
  • Brick
  • Plaster
  • Stone
  • Bone
  • Coal/Slag
  • Other

Depending on the type of site, we might have more categories, or in the case of ancient Indigenous sites, we might only have the categories of: Bone, Shell, Lithics (Stone), and Ceramic!

The next important decision when cataloguing an artifact is the material class. This is a category based on the function of the item. It allows us to group items of different materials into behaviour functions. So, for example, we have a class called Architectural, which is everything relating to the structure of a house. So within the larger category, we can group different materials in sub-categories like so, and further divide them into objects:

  • Class: Architectural
    • Material: Glass
      • Object: Window Glass
    • Material: Ferrous
      • Object: Nails
      • Object: Door hardware
    • Material: Brick
      • Object: Frogged brick
      • Object: Chimney brick
    • Material: Mortar

Another important class for us is related to Food and Beverage. This catch-all bin collects all the various types of artifacts relating to the cooking, storing, and serving of food. Within Food and Beverage, we can catalogue things like ceramic tableware, metal flatware, stoneware crocks, kitchenware like mixing bowls, along with things like metal cans and glass bottles and jars that contained food.

In particular, the glass and ceramic items are going to be our best date indicators for the site.

It is kind of a fun exercise to hold something in your hand and try and catalogue it. Today, I had some students who found it hard to make a decision about what category to put something in…the main thing is there is no real right answer, the secret is being consistent with the rules that you are using to classify stuff. I think it’s fun, but I agree its not everyone’s cup of tea: (Ceramic > Food and Beverage > Tableware)!

I have a couple I-Spy images today — we didn’t get through all of the material with some of the really fun objects, but here are some things for you to look for:

Can you find: 1. The bottom of a pipe bowl; 2. A slate pencil; 3. Part of an edgeware plate; 4. The finish to a case gin bottle.
Can you find: 1. The bottom of a pipe bowl; 2. A slate pencil; 3. Part of an edgeware plate; 4. The finish to a case gin bottle; 5. A wire nail.
Can you find: 1. An Eclectric Oil bottle; 2. A glass bottle stopper; 3. Part of a Maker's Mark; 4. A chicken bone; 5. Part of what was probably a Brown Betty teapot.
Can you find: 1. An Eclectric Oil bottle; 2. A glass bottle stopper; 3. Part of a Maker’s Mark; 4. A chicken bone; 5. Part of what was probably a Brown Betty teapot; 6. Part of a Blue Willow plate.

Tomorrow is Day Nine of the field school, and we are back out on site to see what we can get done before the weekend!

 

Artifact of the Day for May 9th, 2018 — Peterborough stoneware vessel

Such a beautiful day on site today. It’s hard to believe we have only been here for three full days! We made progress on all our open excavations, and started teaching some new skills to the students about how to map and record their excavation units. It’s looking like some thundershowers tomorrow, so we are going to head in to the lab to start processing some of the masses of artifacts we have been recovering!

Today’s artifact of the day is a little closer to home than some of the other ones featured. Often, we focus on the exotic imports of material from overseas, but we shouldn’t ignore the local domestic products as well, because they add to our picture of what the daily lived experience was of the people who lived in this house.

This is a little piece of a stoneware, which was the predominant houseware of the nineteenth century. Stoneware is a type of pottery that is fired at a relatively high temperature. It is not porous, which means it won’t soak up liquids. Before glass or plastic containers, a lot of foodstuffs came in stoneware vessels. These vessels could be in the shape of crocks, bottles, and jugs.

Our little fragment appears to be stamped as “Peterborough”, which suggests that this vessel was made locally, and circulated in the local economy. I did a little preliminary research and there were several companies that used stamped wares to sell their products.

One was William Croft, who made and sold ginger beer at 259 Reid St. I don’t think this comes from one of his bottles though, as his mark seems to use the “Peterboro” spelling.

Pair of stoneware bottles stamped "WM. CROFT/PETERBORO"Another, possibly better candidate is this vessel stamped J. Cameron, who was a wines and spirits merchant. The example pictured below is a 1-gallon molasses jug. Cameron likely sourced his jugs from a local potter, William Brownscombe, whose pottery was located on Murray Street (where the old YMCA is), opposite the “Old Graveyard” (which is now the Armoury/Cenotaph area). The glaze on this vessel looks very much like the “milky glaze” that Brownscombe-produced vessels had.

A newspaper ad from 1867 states that his pottery “Manufactures and keeps constantly on hand, Stone, Yellow and Rockingham Ware of every description”.

Stoneware jug stamped J Cameron

So even if our pottery piece isn’t a J. Cameron bottle, it probably was also manufactured in Peterborough, and contained some sort of foodstuff. Based on the thickness and curvature, it is probably a jug or a bottle as opposed to a crock.

We’ll keep an eye out for any more pieces in lab tomorrow that might come from our vessel that might give us more clues!

Artifact of the Day for May 8th, 2018 — Firkins, barrels, and tuns, oh my!

I am sure you have heard the phrase “More fun than a barrel of monkeys!”, but did you know how much fun that is? If you were in the UK, it would be more than 160L of fun (or 43 US gallons). Today’s artifact of the day is the hoop that bound a small cylindrical container that was originally made of wooden staves. The staves are long rotted and gone, but the hoop remains.

These barrels or casks were made by coopers, also known as barrel-makers. This is a bit limiting though, as barrels were only one type of cooperage. There were also buckets, tubs, butter churns, hogsheads, firkins, kegs, kilderkins, tierces, rundlets, puncheons, pipes, tuns, butts, pins, and beakers!

These types of containers were ubiquitous, and were used for storing liquids such as water, oil, spirits, wine, and beer. They were also used for storing butter, sugar, tobacco, flour, produce, preserved foods like salt pork and pickles, and salt. They were even used for nails, gunpowder, gold coins, and other bulk goods.

Drunkard's Cloak imageA barrel has a convex shape and bulge at the centre, which is known as the bilge. The reason why they are constructed like this is that it makes them more manoeuvrable than a cylinder. The convex shape of the bilge allows someone rolling a barrel to change directions with little friction. Barrels were the dominant form of shipping or transport container for nearly 2000 years!

I measured our little hoop and calculated the projected volume of the whole cask. I think our little cask represented here was about 20-25L, which suggests it was a pin cask, or a half-firkin. A firkin is one quarter of a barrel, which when filled with monkeys is apparently a lot of fun!

I have no idea what our little pin cask could have contained. It could have had liquor, beer, or some other consumable. It could have contained some other kind of bulk-transported food, or it might not have contained food at all!

Barrels were also used as punishment. The “Drunkard’s Cloak” was a punishment for being inebriated in public in the UK and Germany, and there are documentary sources from the US Civil War that recount the practice of making thieves wear a barrel with “thief” written on it as punishment:

While we were standing in the snow, hearing the abuse of Major Beal, some poor ragged Confederate prisoners were marched by with what was designated as barrel shirts, with the word “thief” written in large letters pasted on the back of each barrel, and a squad of little drummer boys following beating the drums. The mode of wearing the barrel shirts was to take an ordinary flour barrel, cut a hole through the bottom large enough for the head to go through, with arm-holes on the right and left, through which the arms were to be placed. This was put on the poor fellow, resting on his shoulders, his head and arms coming through as indicated above; thus they were made to march around for so many hours and so many days. Now, what do you suppose they had stolen? Why, something to eat. Yes, they had stolen cabbage leaves and other things from slop barrels, which was a violation of the rules of the prison.

At some point, the punishment aspect of the barrel became entwined with the idea of poverty, and we had the appearance of the “Bankruptcy Barrel”, where a person is in such dire financial straits they have literally ‘lost their shirt’ and has to wear a barrel instead of clothes.

Archie Comics No 131 cover showing Betty wearing a barrel, and Veronica wearing a dress made of 1000 dollar bill

And finally, who could forget poor the poor Duke of Clarence, who was drowned in a butt of malmsey!

If your last name is Cooper, Tonnelier, Tonnellier, Varelas, Bødker, Faßbinder, Böttcher, Fässler, Keiper, Kuiper, Cuypers, Mucenieks, Kádár, Bodnár,  Bednarz, Bednarski, Bednarczyk, Bednář, Dogaru, Butnaru, Bondarenko, Bondar, Bodner, Tanoeiro, Toneleiro, Cubero, Bačvar, Bottai, or Bacvarovski, you probably have an ancestor somewhere who made barrels!

The invention of pallet-based logistics and containerization in the late 20th and early 21st century was the downfall of using barrels for the transportation of bulk goods. They still live on, however, as an integral component to the aging of wines, spirits, and ales.

Artifact of the Day for May 7th, 2018 — (Another) 1852 Half-Penny Token

Today’s artifact of the day was a very surprising find! Almost exactly a year ago, we found another 1852 Half-Penny Token. I won’t repeat all the interesting information found in that post, but continue with some other interesting background to this coin.

The pound was divided into 240 pence, 60 of which, or 120 half-pence, were nominally equal to one dollar. In Canada, due to the coin shortage, these were represented by the only Canadian coins known at the time, which were these copper tokens issued by certain banks. By 1854, there was a lot of legislative grumbling about if a decimal currency should be adopted, and what changes to the system would arise from the switch.

Coins and currency were touchy subjects, as demonstrated in this passage from a comment in the appendix to the thirteenth volume of the Journals of the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada, which summarises the first session of the 5th Provincial Parliament of Canada from 5th September 1854 to 30th May 1855:

“Mr. Adam Ainslie, of Galt, complains (see his reply to the Committee’s Circular) that our progress in currency matters is slow. It is but a few years since, in the British Exchequer, the perplexing and barbarous custom in use before the Norman Conquest, of keeping the Accounts by Roman numbers, was steadily upheld. Now, however, Arabic numerals and the English tongue are permitted. Mr. Ainslie (see his answer, page 54) is of opinion, that, “While every petty state in Europe, and Republic in South America, can boast of a Currency of its own, it is at once marvellous and humiliating to think that a country filling so large a space in the Map of the World as Canada, possessed of a soil so fertile, such boundless and valuable forests, such magnificent inland seas, such noble rivers, such illimitable water power, such an extensive commerce, and containing such an enterprising and energetic population, with powers of self-government, should not (with the exception of the Penny-token of the Upper Canada Bank, and the Sou de Bas-Canada) have a single coin, it can call its own.”

I am struck while reading this of the colonial mindset of the Euro-Canadian settlers, who have broken the land down into resources to be consumed and land to be taken. In 1852, Charles Perry had bought the land that would make up the Nassau Mills complex. In 1854, when the above debate was taking place was when Perry’s Red Mill at Nassau first fired up its saws, the rushing Otonabee both the source of the motive power for the gang saws and also the vehicle to get the timber down from the highlands.

The fact then that this token, part of a larger economic system based on extraction and exploitation of Canadian resources was not “our own” is a reminder that the ties of globalism stretch deep into the past.

1852 Half-Penny Token
1852 Half-Penny Token

This particular coin, unlike the other one we found last year, is in coin alignment, which means the face and obverse are facing different directions. That means that this coin was struck at Heaton’s Mint in Birmingham, UK, whereas our other token was struck at the Royal Mint in London. Another interesting thing you will notice is that this coin has been pierced, probably because it was on a chain or string as a lucky piece. Unlucky for the person who lost it, but lucky for us!

Site Opening

It was our first full day on site today, and it was a beautiful day. We laid in some new excavation units (one of course, was under the backdirt pile from last year!). Our first goals for this field season are to uncover the north wall, join two partially excavated trenches in the south wall, and finally to figure out if the fill inside the eastern half of the structure is sterile and how the eastern wall was constructed.

We had several visitors, which was a great chance for some of our crew to talk about what we are doing with the public. We are very pleased with the day’s progress, and the site is coming alive again, it doesn’t look quite so forlorn. Here are some pictures from the day:

Collette records field notes while Brooke and Joel work at clearing Context 4 from the interior of the structure.
Collette records field notes while Brooke and Joel work at clearing Context 4 from the interior of the structure.
Wayne, Anthony, Jodie, Katie, Caedda, Dan, and Sarah work at removing the sod from the new trench laid in over Wall 13.
Wayne, Jodie, Caedda, Dan, and Sarah work at removing the sod from the new trench laid in over Wall 13.
Danny is working at removing Context 7 from the western portion of the south wall. This will join up two of our open excavation units from last year.
Danny is working at removing Context 7 from the western portion of the south wall. This will join up two of our open excavation units from last year.
Mary working at the western extent of the new southern trench.
Mary working at the western extent of the new southern trench.
Charlotte spent part of the day working the screen for Context 7, and found some great artifacts today!
Charlotte spent part of the day working the screen for Context 7, and found some great artifacts today!
Dan, Anthony, Jodie, Nic, Caedda and Stephanie were hard at work opening up the new trench. Not many artifacts today but that will change, promise!
Dan, Anthony, Jodie, Nic, Caedda and Stephanie were part of the crew assigned to opening up the new trench. Not many artifacts today but that will change, promise!
Jodie and Katie kept the buckets empty with their dedicated screening!
Jodie and Katie kept the buckets empty with their dedicated screening!
North wall trench underway, it will be great to see the full extent of how the structure wall and the basement wall relate to each other.
North wall trench underway, it will be great to see the full extent of how the structure wall and the basement wall relate to each other.
We're official, Dan and James put our sign back up.
We’re official, Dan and James put our sign back up.
Afternoon break was a welcome respite for everyone.
Afternoon break was a welcome respite for everyone.
Afternoon break was a chance for everyone to see what kinds of artifacts were being found at each area of the site.
Afternoon break was also a chance for everyone to see what kinds of artifacts were being found at each area of the site.
End of the day debrief session.
End of the day debrief session…see you tomorrow!

Something new — GPR

We decided to try something new this year, and we have rented a GPR (ground-penetrating radar) unit to survey the field around the main excavation site.

Ground-penetrating radar is a remote sensing method that is not just useful for archaeology. In fact, it is often used for things like locating gas or electrical services, voids, cracks, rock, ice and fresh water and changes in material properties.

David, Andrea, Jolyane, Brianne and Raine (not pictured) are in charge of this exploration.
David, Andrea, Brianne and Raine (not pictured) are assisting graduate student Jolyane (centre-right), who is in charge of this exploration.

The unit consists of a transmitter which emits high-frequency radio waves into the ground. These waves behave in different ways depending on the materials they encounter. For example, they may be reflected, scattered, or refracted. The unit also has a receiving antenna which listens for the return of the signal and the variation in the signal compared to the original signal that was transmitted. The processor unit compares the two signals and then generates a kind of map that you can interpret to read what is going on underground. The depth that can be “seen” under the ground surface depends on the electrical conductivity of the ground, the radiated power and the frequency of the transmission.

We know from historical documentary evidence that there were many structures in this immediate area that are no longer visible. We are hoping that the GPR will give us some targets that we can then explore through traditional excavation. The advantage to this method is we can peer under the surface without having to disturb it, and that helps us to be more efficient and strategic in our excavations.

A ground-penetrating radargram collected on a historic cemetery in Alabama, USA. Hyperbolic arrivals (arrows) indicate the presence of diffractors buried beneath the surface, possibly associated with human burials. Reflections from soil layering are also present (dashed lines). (Wikipedia Commons)
A ground-penetrating radargram collected on a historic cemetery in Alabama, USA. Hyperbolic arrivals (arrows) indicate the presence of diffractors buried beneath the surface, possibly associated with human burials. Reflections from soil layering are also present (dashed lines). (Wikipedia Commons)

Jolyane is a graduate student in the Department of Anthropology. She’s with us this season to supervise a crew to collect the GPR data and then to conduct some test excavations at the areas where we think there are targets. We are looking forward to seeing her results!

Here’s a little preview of the first grid they collected. The image above is an example of the recording of a line walked on the ground. While we certainly could wander around looking at individual lines, we instead have constructed 25m x 25m grids, where we have stacked lines in slices of the grid. These individual lines are then stitched together and we can look at them from a top-down perspective to see the hot spots which might indicate a buried archaeological feature.

GPR grid data, the large diagonal line you see at the midpoint of the screen running from left to right is an old road which is now buried under the lawn.
GPR grid data, the large diffuse diagonal line of mostly turquoise you see at the midpoint of the screen running from left to right is an old road which is now buried under the lawn. We have no idea what that red/orange line running from centre bottom to upper right is. 

Stay tuned, and we’ll follow along with the GPR team the rest of the season.

We’re officially on site as of Monday, so see you then!

We’re back!

We’re kicking off a new season of exploring the area around Nassau Mills!

This year we have nineteen students registered, a big group, but we have some great staff who will be helping our students as they learn about field methods.

We have big plans this year, so I hope you enjoy following along with us as we discover some more of the site’s secrets. We started on May 1st, with an orientation meeting, some presentations about archaeology in the Kawarthas, and an overview of our work last summer at the site. Then we took advantage of the beautiful weather and went for a walking tour around campus. James pointed out traces of the past cultural landscapes that still persist if you know how to look for them. We managed to successfully avoid surly geese, and ended up at the site for a brief walk around.

Wednesday, students spent half of the day with Dr Marit Munson, who kindly agreed to give our students a crash course on the material culture we will be encountering on the site. The rest of the day, James took the students out on site to learn how to construct sketch maps of an area using compasses and pacing to estimate distance. We were going to run out and buy compasses, but this is the 21st century, and if you have a smartphone, you have a compass!

Dr Marit Munson, lecturing on historic artifact types.
Dr Marit Munson, lecturing on historic artifact types.

Today, we decided to see how much we could fit in before the projected rain, so we met on site and divided into smaller groups. Some teams worked on clearing up the site from the winter, and others worked on their sketch maps. It started drizzling a bit, but we persevered and the site is looking fantastic for Monday!

Our crew this year is amazing, they not only managed to demolish the backdirt piles, they raked, and we managed a clean trowel back for most of the site as well. We are so pleased, and it means we will be able to dive right in on Monday.

Here are a few candid snaps from our day:

Attack the backdirt pile that 2017 us put on the part of the site we need to excavate this year (d'oh!)!
Dan, Brooke, Mary, Collette, Nic, Charlotte, Emma and Danny (l-r) attack the backdirt pile that 2017 us put on the part of the site we need to excavate this year (d’oh!)!
Dan is a designated rock-monster!
Dan is a designated rock-monster!  (Everyone is laughing because someone said “Welcome to the Gun Show”.)
Mapping is serious business! (clockwise from lower left) Anthony, Joel, Stephanie, Caedda and Sarah.
Mapping is serious business! (clockwise from lower left) Anthony, (most of) Joel, Stephanie, Caedda and Sarah.
Also we have intrepid mappers Wayne and Katie!
Also we have intrepid mappers Wayne and Katie!
James helping with the sketch maps.
James helping with the sketch maps.

Tomorrow looks like rain, so we are going to spend the morning in the lab processing our finds from today, and also learning about the Standards and Guidelines for Consultant Archaeologists.