Long Weekend I-Spy Answers

As the long weekend is drawing to a close, here’s a chance to see how you did on this week’s I-Spy!

Tray one, can you find: 1. A spinner for a fishing lure; 2. A key; 3. A "mineral knob" doorknob, 4. A spring; 5. Part of a leather shoe.
Tray one, can you find: 1. A spinner for a fishing lure; 2. A key; 3. A “mineral knob” doorknob, 4. A spring; 5. Part of a leather shoe.
Tray two, can you find: 1. A surface-mount lock; 2. A teapot lid; 3. A big and a little glass stopper; 4. A piece of Blue Willow plate; 5. A bullet casing; 6. One of the only pieces of burned glass we have found.
Tray two, can you find: 1. A surface-mount lock; 2. A teapot lid; 3. A big and a little glass stopper; 4. A piece of Blue Willow plate; 5. A bullet casing; 6. One of the only pieces of burned glass we have found.
Tray three, can you find: 1. The stem of a briar pipe; 2. The lid to a porcelain doll set; 3. Two bullet casings; 4. A clay pipe stem; 5. A brooch; 6. A piece of pottery decorated by stamping.
Tray three, can you find: 1. The stem of a briar pipe; 2. The lid to a porcelain doll set; 3. Two bullet casings; 4. A clay pipe stem; 5. A brooch; 6. A piece of pottery decorated by stamping.

We’re back on site tomorrow, so stay tuned…

Artifact of the Day for May 19th, 2017 — Batteries

We have recovered three different graphite rods from the site. Two have ridges, and one is a simple cylinder. One came from the midden, and two came from in or near the clinker pile. They have been really puzzling me since I first saw them in the field.

Now they are washed, it is easier to determine some of the details. I noticed the first one had some kind of brass or metal plate screwed in to one end. The second one had that part broken off, but it seemed to have some kind of black matter wrapped around it, that had been there a long time, as the rod has made a clear impression in the material. The outer surface of the material seemed to be made of some kind of white material.

Having these pieces of information, I started sleuthing. The invention of the internet has made finding information a lot easier in some cases, however, you have to know how to describe things correctly, and also be able to filter through immense amounts of material.

Carbon rod
Carbon rod
Second carbon rod, with associated matter and impression from the rod.
Second carbon rod, with associated matter and impression from the rod.

In the end, I am pretty confident that I know what these are, I think they are remnants of old batteries.

There were several kinds of early batteries. In 1859, the Planté lead-acid cell was invented, in the 1860s the Gravity cell/Daniell cell, and the Leclanché cell was invented in 1866. There is also a dry cell battery, which is the one we are most familiar with today.

Samson Battery, wet battery in a glass jar.
Samson Battery, wet battery in a glass jar.
Samson battery, note the shape of the graphite rod that sits in the copper sulphate solution.
Samson battery, note the shape of the graphite rod that sits in the copper sulphate solution.
Example of a Leclanche-type battery, like the Samson brand battery above.
Example of a Leclanche-type battery, like the Samson brand battery above.
Example of a modern dry-cell battery.
Example of a modern dry-cell battery.

This means these carbon rods can come from several different types of applications. These could be from a “Horseless Carriage” battery. I have found several examples of rods of the same dimensions and configuration labelled as battery rods from automobiles dating to the 1900s. Date-wise, this is not out of line with other artifacts we have recovered on site. The Canadian General Electric Company, Limited first leased and then bought the parcel in 1900, so perhaps these were lying around something to do with testing or prototypes that someone had taken and thrown out later.

Example carbon rods labelled as coming from a Horseless Carriage.
Example carbon rods labelled as coming from a Horseless Carriage.

They could also be some kind of storage system, or used to power a telephone or telegraph connection. Other batteries I found were used to power phonographs, or to store electricity from wind-power. It appears as though we might have examples of zinc-carbon and Leclanche batteries present in our assemblage.

My journey down the rabbit hole also helped me to tentatively ID another artifact we recovered. It is a porcelain tube with a bevelled lip on one end. In my searching, I found a discussion of someone testing Leclanche wet cells, and they posted a picture of used zinc, and beside it was something that looks very like what we found.

Artifact that may be part of a Leclanche cell.
Artifact we recovered that may be part of a Leclanche cell.
Used Zinc from a Leclanche cell -- see how the part on the right looks like the artifact we found?
Used Zinc from a Leclanche cell — see how the part on the bottom looks like the artifact we found?

 

 

 

 

 

The next step is to research further and see if I can narrow down a specific use for these batteries, or at the least a particular time period.

 

Another lab day, and a Thursday I-Spy!

We have come to the end of three weeks of the field school, halfway done already. I don’t know about anyone else, but the time seems to have flown by!

With Victoria Day weekend upon us, Professor Conolly decided to give the crew Friday off so they could enjoy an extra long weekend. While they are off enjoying themselves, this gives us some time to regroup and figure out what needs to happen in the last half of the course. As a result, we decided to have a lab day today instead of Friday and try and get caught up on artifact processing.

We had another visit by Marketing and Communications today. As they got to see what we do in the field, we invited them to see the lab work as well. I don’t claim to speak for them, but I think they found it very interesting and illuminating to shadow our progress.

Nic, Emily, Raine, Brianne, Jacob (behind Faisal) and Faisal are separating the washed artifacts by type of material, labelling each bag with the site name and context number.
Nic, Emily, Raine, Brianne, Jacob (behind Faisal) and Faisal are separating the washed artifacts by type of material, labelling each bag with the site name and context number.

Today in lab was more artifact washing, and bagging by material type, being exceedingly careful to make sure material excavated from the same context stays together. You can spend ages painstakingly excavating a site and have it all come crashing down if you don’t take care to keep the integrity of the material intact. Mixing artifacts across contexts means the interpretive potential they can give you is almost worthless.

Don, Bjorn, Kendra, Shannon, and Marielle are busy washing artifacts.
Don, Bjorn, Kendra, Shannon, and Marielle are busy washing artifacts.

In a site like ours, where there has been so much mixture and disturbance over a long time period, clues as to the location of certain types or ages of material is going to be crucial in giving us an interpretive backbone for the site.

Trevor spent some time designing a database to record the context information of the different parts of site we have been excavating. Each time we excavate a portion of the site, it is transformed into a paper record. From there, we transfer the information from paper to a digital format. Sam also started digitising aerial photos of the site and area around the site to create a site map.

Trevor, Sam, and Dr Conolly are working on GIS, mapping, and database tasks for the site.
Trevor, Sam, and Professor Conolly are working on GIS, mapping, and database tasks for the site.

Selena began photographing representative samples of the artifacts to include in the reports we need to submit to the Ministry of Tourism, Culture, and Sport. At this point we have managed to wash all the material excavated to date, and most of it has been bagged by context. The next task is to start looking at the different material types and cataloguing the artifacts we have recovered.

Here is some I-Spy to head into the long weekend!

Tray one, can you find: 1. A spinner for a fishing lure; 2. A key; 3. A "mineral knob" doorknob, 4. A spring; 5. Part of a leather shoe.
Tray one, can you find: 1. A spinner for a fishing lure; 2. A key; 3. A “mineral knob” doorknob, 4. A spring; 5. Part of a leather shoe.
Tray two, can you find: 1. A surface-mount lock; 2. A teapot lid; 3. A big and a little glass stopper; 4. A piece of Blue Willow plate; 5. A bullet casing; 6. One of the only pieces of burned glass we have found.
Tray two, can you find: 1. A surface-mount lock; 2. A teapot lid; 3. A big and a little glass stopper; 4. A piece of Blue Willow plate; 5. A bullet casing; 6. One of the only pieces of burned glass we have found.
Tray three, can you find: 1. The stem of a briar pipe; 2. The lid to a porcelain doll set; 3. Two bullet casings; 4. A clay pipe stem; 5. A brooch; 6. A piece of pottery decorated by stamping.
Tray three, can you find: 1. The stem of a briar pipe; 2. The lid to a porcelain doll set; 3. Two bullet casings; 4. A clay pipe stem; 5. A brooch; 6. A piece of pottery decorated by stamping.

Check back tomorrow for a posting about an interesting artifact I discovered in lab today.

 

Artifact of the Day for May 17th, 2017 — The North Wall

To date, we have been featuring artifacts of the day that are easily understandable as artifacts. Artifacts are things made or modified by humans, so, the coins, buttons, nails, ceramics, glass etc. that we have been finding are all artifacts.

Today’s artifact is a wall! We don’t normally consider things like houses or walls or roads to be artifacts but they are. In fact, we can think of a house as an assemblage of various artifacts that have been combined into a new thing, that just happens to be hard to take into the lab to analyse!

Why is this wall so exciting?

Well, we have made a huge amount of progress on parts of the site. For the most part, the students have been broken into smaller task groups and are working away on particular areas of the site. We are extremely pleased with their progress to date. Even with all this progress, however, there are still some major questions about what is going on with this site!

For example, we have uncovered many walls, but the relationship between these walls and the artifacts around them is still unclear. As we excavate, theories about the site are constantly being created, tested and revised. One big question we have had is if the northern-most wall extends to the west of the visible rectangular area we have already uncovered.

This is very important to find out, as it will tell us which parts of the site were likely outside the structure and which were likely inside. There are several competing theories operating at the moment, and it is quite satisfying to find proof of something that is based on a hunch or impression.

We have bits of walls popping out here and there, but no clear link between them. So, one task today was for Emily and Nic to work on a 2-metre-square excavation unit situated around the known north-west corner of the wall. One hypothesis was that the wall extended to the west, suggesting the structure encompassed a larger area. The competing hypothesis was that the wall ended at the corner visible, and thus the area to the west was actually space outside a structure.

Emily at the start of the day, in the 2x2m excavation unit. This photo is looking north, and the rocks to the lower right you see is the known back wall to structure 1.
Emily at the start of the day, in the 2x2m excavation unit. This photo is looking north, and the rocks to the lower right you see is the known back wall to structure 1.

As Emily and Nic worked on their excavation, they learned at some point, a layer of orange sandy soil has been bulldozed around over the edges of the site. We found evidence of this in other areas we have excavated, and we know it has something to do with levelling the surrounding area to construct a playing field.

Under the layer of orange sand was a layer of dark greyish brown soil, which has artifacts in it like nails, glass, ceramics, a horse bit, and other metal fastenings. Excitingly, they also found evidence of a course of stones in line with the known wall.

Emily and Nic are excited to show you their wall! This photo is looking east.
Emily and Nic are excited to show you their wall! This photo is looking east.

You can see the known wall behind and to the right of where Emily is standing. It is no longer in line with the buried wall, because at some point, the stones on the known wall have slumped over to the south. Emily is standing outside the structure, and Nic is standing inside the structure.

This suggests the entire area bounded by walls was inside a structure or structures. Other evidence from other parts of the site suggests perhaps this part of the structure may have been dug out to be a basement or root cellar. Faisal and Bjorn have been working at removing more of this fill layer from another section of this potential cellar area. Trevor and Sam have been working hard in a small trench at the south-western part of the site to fully expose one section of wall. Jacob and Brianne have been working on exposing the southern section of wall from the structure. Raine has been working with Shannon and Marielle in a second excavation area across the field.

Trevor working in the trench. By the end of the day, Sam and Trevor had excavated down to 80cm deep! A lot of hard work!
Trevor working in the trench. By the end of the day, Sam and Trevor had excavated down to 80cm deep! A lot of hard work!
Brianne and Jacob excavating a slot-trench along the southern wall boundary. Sam is in the background at the screen, and Trevor is behind the plywood sheet, which is placed there to shore up the wall.
Brianne and Jacob excavating a slot-trench along the southern wall boundary. Sam is in the background at the screen, and Trevor is behind the plywood sheet, which is placed there to shore up the wall.
Emily and Nic are at the top of the photo, working on their 2x2m unit by the north wall. Jacob and Brianne are at the south wall.
Emily and Nic are at the top of the photo, working on their 2x2m unit by the north wall. Jacob and Brianne are at the south wall.
Raine is taking elevation data across the field to the second excavation area. She's standing on a bucket because someone tall (James) set up the totalstation this morning.
Raine is taking elevation data across the field to the second excavation area. She’s standing on a bucket because someone tall (James) set up the totalstation this morning.

We also had a visit from Marketing and Communications, and they interviewed some of the students and filmed some video of the excavation. They’ve also published a news article about our excavation.

We look forward to getting back on site for Tuesday and further refining our hypotheses! Tomorrow is a lab day, so I will be reporting on our progress there.

Artifact of the Day for May 16th, 2017 — 1882 Penny (Victorian Large Cent)

Today’s find was by Brianne, who found this coin while clearing back an area under the clinker pile by a mortared stone wall!

Canadian Victorian Large Cent, 1882.
Canadian Victorian Large Cent, 1882.

These coins were designed by Leonard C. Wyon in 1858. There are six variants in the obverse. 1858 and 1859 were the first two issue years and portrayed a youthful Queen Victoria in a laurel wreath.

1859 Canada Penny with Young Victoria.
1859 Canada Penny with Young Victoria

It appears as though Wyon took some artistic liberties, as Queen Victoria was already 39 at the time the effigy was struck. The legend on the obverse says “VICTORIA DEI GRATIA REGINA.” which means “Victoria, by grace of God Queen”.

In 1876, Obverse Style 1 was created, which is a more mature effigy of Queen Victoria wearing a crown instead of a laurel wreath. The lower jaw is very round and curving back to the throat. This style appeared on coins struck from 1876-1886.

Obverse style 1, Mature Queen Victoria. Note the rounded, taut jawline.
Obverse style 1, Mature Queen Victoria. Note the rounded, taut jawline.

A second obverse effigy was produced beginning in 1881 and was used until 1892. This is another more realistic portrait of the Queen’s visage. In this style, you can see the jawline is less taut and there is a dimple under the chin.

Obverse Style 2, Mature Queen Victoria. The difference is the chin, with a little softening of the jawline and a dimple between the chin and throat.
Obverse Style 2, Mature Queen Victoria. The difference is the chin, with a little softening of the jawline and a dimple between the chin and throat.

There were three other obverse styles, all showing the effigy with increased age changes. Obverse Style 3 (1891-1892) has a quite old-looking queen, with a square chin and a pronounced dimple between the chin and throat. I can’t help but think that Queen Victoria was not happy with that bust, as it only lasted for one year (and it wasn’t very flattering). Mind you, she was 72 at the time!

Obverse Style 4 (1892-1901) is almost identical to Obverse Style 1, with the taut jaw, but the lips are thinner and closer together.

Please visit this site for other images of the obverse styles on non-archaeological coins in much better condition than ours!

Our coin is Obverse Style 1, with the rounded jaw instead of the dimpled jaw.

1882 Penny Obverse Style 1.
1882 Penny Obverse Style 1.

The reverse design, also engraved by Wyon, depicts a maple wreath with sixteen leaves. The wreath surrounds the legend “ONE CENT” and the date. In some years, the Royal Mint contracted with Ralph Heaton & Sons to mint these coins. Coins minted by Heaton display their “H” mintmark on the reverse. As you can see, our coin has an “H” under the date, which means our coin was minted in Birmingham, at the Heaton Mint.

Traces of the Heaton Mint remain. It was still active until 2003, after a 209-year existence. Although most of the building was demolished in 2007, the facade on Icknield St, Birmingham, UK was preserved and is now a lodging.

Our coin also has a Provincial reverse, which was also found on coins dated 1858, 1859, 1876H, 1881H. The Provincial reverse has medium sized leaves attached to a thin vine and very thin leaf stems. The punch began suffering damage after sinking the first three dies, so as a result all later dies either have damage to the wreath or show signs of re-engraving where the engraver repaired the damaged section by modifying the working die. After 1884, a new reverse was used that has a thicker vine, thicker stems, and larger leaves.

1882 Penny Reverse. The H stamp is centred below the 1882 date stamp.
1882 Penny Reverse. The H stamp is centred below the 1882 date stamp.

Using the avoirdupois system (common in English-speaking countries before metric) of a 16 ounce pound (7000 grains), pennies for the province of Canada (1858 onwards) were 4.54 grams, and so 100 of them made a pound. Since they are also an inch in diameter, that meant they were often used for quick reckonings, as they had a useful length and weight!

Our penny, though, is a Dominion one, as it comes after the Dominion of Canada was formed. The first Dominion-issued coinage was 1870, but the one-cent coin wasn’t issued until 1876. These pennies are 5.67g (meaning it takes 80 coins to make a pound), 1-inch diameter, and composed of 95.5% copper, 3% tin, and 1.5% zinc.

This is basically what our coin would have looked like if it was in good condition instead of being buried for (at most) 135 years!
This is basically what our coin would have looked like if it was in good condition instead of being buried for (at most) 135 years!

In 1882, the property was owned by Irwin, Smith and Boyd, and the big sawmill was still in operation.

Artifact of the Day for May 15th, 2017 — Silver(plated) spoon


Today’s artifact of the day is a teaspoon manufactured by McGlashan-Clarke Silverware company.

Back side of teaspoon. Mark says "NEVADA McG. C. Co."
Back side of teaspoon. Mark says “NEVADA McG. C. Co.”
Front of teaspoon
Front of teaspoon

It was originally plated in silver, and is similar to the Hanoverian style, also known as Rat-Tail. It’s called Hanoverian because the popularity of this pattern spanned the reigns of three kings of the House of Hanover dynasty, George I, George II, and George III (part). The Rat-Tail name comes from the earliest of the Hanoverian pieces, around 1710, as there is a long piece of metal added to the reverse of the bowl of the spoon in the form of a Rat-Tail, and a central ridge in the front stem.

The Hanoverian/Rat-Tail pattern came back into favour towards the end of the 19th century and throughout the 20th century. The Hanoverian form of this pattern, which this spoon belongs to has a pip at the front of the stem and no rat-tail.

Another name for this style of handle is a Fiddle pattern, as the stem resembles the fingerboard of a violin, and the body has cutouts with smooth parallel lines extending towards a rounded terminal.

This teaspoon was manufactured by the McGlashan-Clarke Silverware company, which was the first company to make silverware in Canada. One source I found says the company was founded 1880 in Humberstone (now Port Colborne, Ontario) by Leonard McGlashan and Dr Gardner Clarke. In 1895 the firm moved to Niagara Falls to take advantage of the hydro-electric power available there. The company remained in family hands until it closed in 1955.

For a sad story related to the McGlashan family, check out this article written by Sherman Zavitz, official historian for the City of Niagara Falls.

Another source contradicts this finding a little bit, and provides a date range of 1899 to 1910 for the company and says the company was based in Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada and also Muncie, Indiana, USA. Obviously a little more research is in order!

This particular teaspoon is stamped Nevada. I am not sure if it refers to the pattern name, or is a trademark name for the nickel-silver. I did manage to find a picture of one in close to original condition.

Silverplate McGlashan-Clarke Nevada teaspoon
Silverplate McGlashan-Clarke Nevada teaspoon

In terms of dating this piece, we know it has to be older than 1955, as that is when the company closed. Based on the other source, it could even be no younger than 1910.

This piece was found embedded in a pile of clinker, coal, and rusted nails, not far from where the harmonica was found. Tomorrow we are going to investigate under where the pile was and see how the clinker pile relates to the underlying deposits and a wall that is close by.

 

I-Spy Answers

Here are this week’s I-Spy answers from last Friday’s I-Spy:

First tray: Can you spot 1. A Bakelite pipe stem; 2. Bones from two beef shank steaks; 3. A cast-iron thumb latch for a door; 4. A clock face; 5. A piece of clam shell; 6. A broken Eclectric Oil bottle; 7. A bullet casing; 8. Part of a saucer from a teacup set.
First tray: Can you spot 1. A Bakelite pipe stem; 2. Bones from two beef shank steaks; 3. A cast-iron thumb latch for a door; 4. A clock face; 5. A piece of clam shell; 6. A broken Eclectric Oil bottle; 7. A bullet casing; 8. Part of a saucer from a teacup set.
Second tray: 1. Two clay pipe stems; 2. A pig molar tooth; 3. A spoon; 4. A slate pencil; 5. A thimble; 6. A maker’s mark that says “England”; 7. A marble.
Second tray: 1. Two clay pipe stems; 2. A pig molar tooth; 3. A spoon; 4. A slate pencil; 5. A thimble; 6. A maker’s mark that says “England”; 7. A marble.
Third tray: 1. An ironstone tureen lid; 2. A ceramic ointment jar; 3. A glass bottle stopper; 4. A shirt button; 5. Four bottle necks; 6. A fragment of clay pipe bowl.
Third tray: 1. An ironstone tureen lid; 2. A ceramic ointment jar; 3. A glass bottle stopper; 4. A shirt button; 5. Four bottle necks; 6. A fragment of clay pipe bowl.

Maker’s Marks

As archaeologists exploring a new site, we’re initially focused on figuring out 1) what happened and 2) when.  Our questions will become more interesting as we learn more, but for now we need to determine the basics: how the walls at the site add up to a structure (or possibly more than one), when it was built, what kind of building it is (a house, or something else?) and when it was in use.

As we excavate different parts of the site, and later clean artifacts in lab, we’re keeping an eye on the likely dates of the items that we find.  There are several different ways that we determine dates of individual items:

  • We may be able to estimate a date range based on the style of a piece, much the way that a keen car enthusiast can distinguish between a classic Mustang and the modern version.
  • We may use information about when a particular manufacturing technique was invented, so that, say, a glass bottle with particular kind of scar on its base must date to after 1905, when the machine that leaves that mark was first used.
  • We may find markings on the artifact that identify the manufacturer and allow us to determine the approximate date of a piece.  Such marks, called maker’s marks, are fairly common on ceramic tablewares like plates and cups and tea pots.

If you happen to like browsing antique shops or rummaging through estate sales, you’ve probably encountered maker’s marks before.  They’re usually printed or impressed on the base of a ceramic piece, like this:

“[Crown]/ TAYLOR & KENT/ LONGTON/ ENGLAND”
The marks vary considerably.  They might include the manufacturer’s name, images or logos, place names, pattern names, the year that the company was founded, and so on.  In this particular case, the mark consists of an image of a crown with the manufacturer’s name (Taylor & Kent) and location (Longton, England).  Manufacturers changed their marks fairly often, adding different bits of text or changing their logos– a stroke of good fortune for those of us who want to date these things.  All we have to do to date the piece is to know when each company used each mark and when they switched to the next variation.

That’s where Geoffrey A. Godden comes in.  Godden was an antique dealer and ceramics expert who referred to himself as a “Chinaman” (meaning a dealer in china).  He wrote numerous books about British pottery, including his famous Encyclopedia of British Pottery and Porcelain Marks, which lists more than 4000 maker’s marks.  (Godden died last year, at the age of 87; his obituary, including photos of him scrutinizing pottery on Antiques Roadshow, is here, in the Telegraph.)

My copy of Godden is getting rather beat up, but that’s okay with me; it gets a lot of use.

Godden’s book, like other dictionaries of marks, is a painstakingly compiled list of pottery manufacturers, the marks that they used, and the dates that each mark was in use.  To determine the date range for a piece of pottery, you simply look up the maker’s name and find the mark that matches the one on your piece.

For example, Godden lists Taylor & Kent as one of the Staffordshire potteries, based in Longton, that began doing business in 1867.  Then he provides six different marks, each used in a particular time frame.

Six different marks used by Taylor & Kent, Ltd.

The mark on my saucer matches number 3810, the one in the upper right, with a date range of circa 1912+.  That means that the saucer could have been made any time after about 1912.  It also implies that the saucer might be before ca. 1939, when the rearing horse mark came into use, but that’s not certain– manufacturers might use different marks at the same time, but on different pieces or patterns.

Looking up dates for marks can be pretty satisfying, but as archaeologists we often have a harder time of it than most collectors would.  Imagine, for example, how you’d look up these marks, on sherds found at the site this past week:

We can see snippets of images, as well as a few words, on each sherd, but it’s an awful lot more difficult to deal with marks when we don’t have a manufacturer’s name to look up!  Still, with a bit of persistence and a lot of patience, we can often match even these fragments to a particular maker’s mark.  I’ll explain more about how we find a match for such fragments in a future post.

May 12th, 2017 — Friday I-Spy

This was our first full week in the field, and Fridays are our scheduled lab day. The main task today was to wash as many artifacts as we could so that we can start analysing and cataloguing them.

Our crew is absolutely amazing and we powered through most of the artifacts we have recovered to date! I mentioned before that for every day in the field, there are at least two lab days needed. Washing the artifacts is the first step—next we have to catalogue and analyse this material. When we get to that point we’ll let you have a peek into that process.

So, it is crucial that we stay on top of things, but with this crew I don’t think that will be a problem. I think all of us were ready for a break from digging, and it was a great chance to chat and get to know each other better and take a closer look at what everyone has been finding.

To lead into the weekend, here is some more Friday I-Spy. As usual, answers will be posted on Monday.

First tray: Can you spot 1. A Bakelite pipe stem; 2. Bones from two beef shank steaks; 3. A cast-iron thumb latch for a gate; 4. A clock face; 5. A piece of clam shell; 6. A broken Eclectric Oil bottle; 7. A bullet casing; 8. Part of a saucer from a teacup set.
First tray: Can you spot 1. A Bakelite pipe stem; 2. Bones from two beef shank steaks; 3. A cast-iron thumb latch for a door; 4. A clock face; 5. A piece of clam shell; 6. A broken Eclectric Oil bottle; 7. A bullet casing; 8. Part of a saucer from a teacup set.
Second Tray: 1. Two clay pipe stems; 2. A pig molar tooth; 3. A spoon; 4. A slate pencil; 5. A thimble; 6. A maker's mark that says "England"; 7. A marble.
Second tray: 1. Two clay pipe stems; 2. A pig molar tooth; 3. A spoon; 4. A slate pencil; 5. A thimble; 6. A maker’s mark that says “England”; 7. A marble.
Third tray: 1. An ironstone tureen lid; 2. A ceramic ointment jar; 3. A glass bottle stopper; 4. A shirt button; 5. Four bottle necks; 6. A fragment of clay pipe bowl.
Third tray: 1. An ironstone tureen lid; 2. A ceramic ointment jar; 3. A glass bottle stopper; 4. A shirt button; 5. Four bottle necks; 6. A fragment of clay pipe bowl.

And that is two weeks completed of our six-week program! See you Monday.

 

Artifact of the Day for May 11th, 2017 — Harmonica

Today’s artifact of the day came from a really unassuming pile of what looks like a dump of coal, slag, clinker and burnt metal. Nic and Lisa were excavating this context, and discovered a harmonica!

General diagram of a harmonica.
General diagram of a harmonica.

We recovered parts of the comb, two reed plates, and scraps of a leather and oilcloth case.

Harmonica recovered from clinker pile.
Harmonica recovered from clinker pile. The top strip of metal is one of the reed plates. The bottom strip has some of the comb preserved, and underneath that is the other reed plate.

The comb is the wooden part sandwiched between the reed plates, divided into cells that channel air flow. Most harmonicas now have plastic combs, because wood absorbs moisture from the player’s breath and can expand and affect the playability of the instrument.

The reed plates consist of thin reeds made of strips of metal attached to a rectangular metal plate. Air blown into the comb causes the reeds to vibrate and make the note.

Often the reed plate was nailed to the comb which is the traditional method of attaching them. Other harmonicas have the reed plates screwed in to the comb. Even rarer are cover plates held to the reed plates simply with tension, like some World War II  models. Having the reed plates screwed or bolted in means you can replace reed plates when they get worn and start to fall out of tune. In the lab, we’ll be able to determine which is the case with our harmonica.

The last part of the harmonica is the cover plate, which help to direct and project the sound, and also to protect the reeds. While we found parts of the case, we don’t have the cover plates! This is an interesting preservational puzzle. The wood of the comb was (mostly) preserved because the reed plates are made of brass, and the metal salts have acted to preserve the wood. Perhaps the cover plates were a different kind of metal or wood that did not preserve as well as the rest of the artifact.

Upper reed plate for the harmonica.
Upper reed plate for the harmonica. We can’t tell in this state if there were nails to attach it to the comb.

I took a look at the reed plate, and I believe our harmonica is a tremolo harmonica, using the Weiner system because there are two reeds for each note. Tremolo harmonicas have a unique sound because the two reeds for each note are constructed at slightly different tune, so their waveforms interact against one another and make a warbling sound.

Tremolo harmonicas are very common for playing folk music, and are probably the most common type of harmonica in the world.