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.
And that is two weeks completed of our six-week program! See you Monday.
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!
We recovered parts of the comb, two reed plates, and scraps of a leather and oilcloth case.
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.
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.
Today’s artifact of the day is a sickle. Like yesterday, this was found in the midden area (garbage dump) beside the one structure we are investigating. This sickle is made of iron, and has a sharpened blade edge on the inner curve. It would have been mounted in a wooden handle, which has long since rotted away. Also, the tip has been broken off.
The first settlers in this region would not have had access to any kind of agricultural machinery, so most of the work would have been done through hand tools like the sickle.
This sickle is interesting because it has a smooth blade. Serrated blades appear to have been the preferred choice in American agriculture by a wide margin.
H. Stephens’ 1855 work “Book of the Farm: Dealing Exhaustively with Every Branch of Agriculture” (really, that is the actual title), Volume 2, No 1, has a detailed comparison on pages 329-333 contrasting the cutting techniques of serrated vs. smooth sickles.
The main drawback to a serrated-bladed sickle is that it only cuts on a stroke when the tool is being pulled back to the reaper, and not on the motion of putting the tool into the standing grain.
The smooth-edged sickle is much faster at cutting than serrated sickles, but there are several drawbacks that negate the advantage gained in quickness. Most notably, they had to be made to very exact curvatures in order to achieve the cutting effect. The other drawback was they needed to be sharpened in the field, as the smooth blade dulls much faster than the serrated blade.
Another drawback that occurs to me is the smooth-edged sickles required a slashing motion in order to cut the stalks. Holding a collection of stalks in one hand while slashing at them with a thin whippy blade that can easily cut to the bone seems to be a bit of an occupational hazard!
The blade on this sickle (like the one we found today) is in-line with the handle, suggesting it was used for cutting something that didn’t require a cut at ground level, as the wielder’s knuckles would brush the ground.
Harvesting by sickle was slow and backbreaking work. The invention of the scythe was a major development in agricultural technology even before more recent industrial mechanised agricultural machines. Here is a video showing a comparison of harvesting using a scythe vs. a sickle.
As an interesting side note, we found more Eclectric Oil bottles today. The bottles we have recovered so far must have come from different bottle manufacturers because you can see they are different! The one on the top recovered today is aqua, and the one on the bottom (the Artifact of the Day for yesterday) is more green, and is slightly smaller in volume.
We have several examples of these from other sites we have excavated on campus, and a couple fragmentary ones have come off site already. So I was happy to see someone recover this complete bottle of Dr Thomas’ Eclectric Oil, as it is a product that always brings a smile to my face. It seemed to tickle everyone’s fancy as it was voted today’s Artifact of the Day.
This is one of my favourite quackery medicines, and indeed, was Canada’s most popular snake oil medicine of the late 19th century.
What is “Eclectric Oil”?
This was a patent medicine originally formulated by Dr. S.N. Thomas of Phelps, New York in the late 1840s. It contained spirits of turpentine, camphor, oil of tar, red thyme and specially processed fish oil.
Dr. Thomas made like Colonel Sanders and licensed his secret recipe to other producers. Northrup & Lyman was a very successful Canadian pharmaceutical firm who acquired the Canadian licensing rights from the Foster, Milburn & Co., Buffalo, NY.
Northrup & Lyman were established in 1854 in Newcastle, Ontario, and moved to Toronto in the mid-1870s.
The name seems to have piggybacked onto the fascination with electricity and how it related to health. This ad seems to indicate Eclectric is a portmanteau of Electric (or “Electrized” which sounds much fancier) and Selected.
This is a tooled-finish bottle, which means it was mouth-blown into a mold and then the mouth was finished by hand. This means this bottle is no younger than about 1915.
Today’s student choice was a comb recovered from what is looking like a midden context, or in other words, the garbage dump! We started work on this midden area today which is located beside the structure and found all sorts of curious things including the door of a wood-fired kitchen stove, many mouth-blown bottles, parts of shoes, dishes, and lots of bones.
They also recovered this comb, which evidently was thrown out as it was missing a lot of teeth! I like how there are different grades of teeth separation from the left side of the comb to the surviving middle section.
Frustratingly, I have not been able to find out much about this company. The comb does appear to be made of Bakelite, which means it can’t be any older than 1907. If I had to guess my impression would be late 1920s or early 1930s but that is just a hunch based on the lettering style.
As a bonus, here is what would have been my choice for Artifact of the Day. This was found in the structure, near where the tinnie was found.
Under a 1819 charter granted by the Province of Upper Canada, The Bank of Upper Canada was established in the city of York (now Toronto, Ontario) in 1821. In 1841, Upper and Lower Canada were united to form the Province of Canada. It was decided at this time that only the bank that held the government accounts had the right to issue copper tokens. The bank that held these rights from 1841 to 1848 was the Bank of Montreal.
Rioting in Montreal resulting from the passage of the Rebellion Losses Bill in 1849 ended up with the parliament buildings burning down, and the capital of Ontario was moved to Toronto. As a result, the right to issue tokens passed to the Bank of Upper Canada.
An extreme shortage of coins meant the Bank of Upper Canada issued copper penny and half-penny tokens between 1850 and 1857. The 1852 penny shows St. George and the Dragon on the obverse, and is based on Benedetto Pistrucci’s design for the 1817 British sovereign.
Here is a less-worn example of the 1852 half-penny token so you can see the finer detail:
The reverse is the Coat of Arms of Upper Canada, which by this time was obsolete!
As a final point of interest, there were two issues of tokens in 1852. Most of the coins were struck at the Royal Mint in London, UK, and were shipped to Canada. Due to a heavy schedule and time pressure, the dies and planchets were transferred to Heaton’s Mint in Birmingham, UK. You can tell which striking you have because of how the dies and planchets were arranged.
These coins have been nicknamed “St. George Pieces” by collectors because of their obverse design.
The Royal Mint issued tokens have the dies in medallic alignment, which means that even if a medal flipped sideways on its ribbon so the back side was showing, it would still be right-side-up. Therefore, both the top of the obverse and the top of the reverse are pointing in the same direction. This is how our modern-day Canadian coins are oriented. The Heaton’s Mint issue have the dies in coin alignment, which means the image on one side of the coin is upside-down relative to the other (this is how US coins are oriented).
The coin recovered today has a medallic alignment, which means it was struck in the first pressing at the Royal Mint in London!
By 1852, Charles Perry had bought this parcel of land from Blayney Mitchell. Perhaps some of this assemblage dates to his early tenure while the mill was being constructed.
Friday is our scheduled lab day, where we wash and catalogue the artifacts collected during the rest of the week.
While the first thing that most people associate with archaeology is digging up artifacts, this is only one part of archaeological research. Once artifacts are removed from the ground, they aren’t very informative until we analyse them, and that happens in the lab. For some students, they quickly discover that the lab side of things is their true passion. For every day of fieldwork, it is a good rule of thumb that there are at least two days of labwork to deal with the artifacts recovered.
In this part of the world, our weather and seasonality means it is common to ‘make hay while the sun shines’, and thus excavate as much as one can during the window of ground workability and visibility. The winter then becomes lab time, where the artifacts amassed during the spring-fall field season are carefully analysed, documented, and reports are written based on the results from the analysis.
For the field school, however, we try to schedule in lab time each week, and also rotate students through various activities according to their interests and aptitude.
Today the students worked on washing the artifacts we recovered yesterday, and setting them out on trays to dry. The next scheduled lab day (or rain day if we get rained out), the dry artifacts are separated by material type and analysed. We had a backlog of stuff from earlier fieldwork, so the students also documented that material and applied some of the information that they had learned in their intensive workshop on historical artifacts.
Here’s a sneak peek at a small sample of the artifacts we recovered yesterday. These tray layouts reminded me of I-Spy games, so let’s play a game, and I’ll post the answers Monday.
The rain has really been putting a crimp in our excavation schedule! Yesterday the students were split into two groups, and spent half the day at each activity. One activity was going out to the site with Dr James Conolly and learning about how to map and plan architectural features like walls using tapes and fixed reference points. The other purpose of this exercise was to familiarize everyone with the site and to start thinking about the excavation strategy.
The other activity was located at our wet lab in the Archaeology Centre, where the students got a crash course in identifying and understanding historical artifacts by Dr Marit Munson, who teaches the Historic and Ceramics Lab Methods course (ANTH 3152H) for the Anthropology Department. The students got to see the artifacts recovered from our initial identification and sampling of the site last summer in order to better prepare them for the start of excavation.
This morning we loaded up the trailer and arrived on site (fondly known as “The Corral”) for 9am. Today’s job was to clear back the surface of the site and begin excavating in the first structure we identified. We are excavating by context, instead of the more familiar 1-metre-square units. That means we are peeling back the layers of the site in the reverse order of how they were formed instead of punching a 1-metre-square hole through part of the site and seeing what is contained in that small window.
We accomplished a lot by 3pm, and found many interesting artifacts, including the Artifact of the Day.
Tomorrow the rain is supposed to return, but that is fine as Fridays are scheduled lab days in the Archaeology Centre. Tomorrow we will be washing and beginning analysis of the artifacts we recovered today. All in all, today was a very good day!
Each day on site we decide upon the Artifact of the Day, which is voted on by the students. Other notable finds that didn’t make the cut were a carved bone knife handle, a porcelain doll’s leg, and a pocket watch case.
Today’s artifact was a bit of a surprise, to say the least. It is what is known as a ‘tinnie’, which is a general term for a commemorative medal, badge, or pin made from a non-precious metal such as tin, aluminum, zinc, or even plastic.
These articles were meant to be worn on clothing, and were commonly given away or sold at public events to build and reinforce group cohesiveness. The “golden age” of the tinnie was around the Second World War, and USSR and the Nazi party in particular were the most prolific producers of these items.
This particular example is made from aluminum, and is to commemorate the Tag der Deutschen Seefahrt [Day of German Seafaring], a nautical event which occurred in Hamburg, Germany on May 25-26, 1935.
To contextualise this artifact, and what the symbolism means, we can break it down into elements:
The design features the national emblem of Nazi Germany, the Reichsadler [Imperial Eagle], an eagle holding a wreath with a swastika in the center.
The motto SEEFAHRT IST NOT is really interesting. This concept was first attributed by Plutarch to the Roman military leader Pompey (Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus). As Plutarch relates, Pompey was in charge of organizing Rome’s supply of grain from other parts of the Empire. During a severe storm, the sailors coming from Africa did not want to set out due to the danger. Pompey then told them “navigare necesse est, vivere non est necesse” [to sail is necessary; to live is not necessary].
Johann Kinau published a novel under the pseudonym Gorch Fock in 1913 called “Seefahrt ist Not!”, which can be both translated as “seafaring is necessary” but also ambiguously as “seafaring is hardship”. This novel describes the life of the deep sea fishermen of his home island. Fock died on the cruiser SMS Wiesbaden in the Battle of Jutland in 1916. This motto was then taken by the Nazi party and heavily featured as a propaganda concept.
Johann Kinau was born in the fishing village of Finkenwerder, which is now part of Hamburg, Germany.
The ship depicted is likely the Gorch Fock class Nazi tall ship the Horst Wessel, launched 1936. The eponymous ship for the class, the Gorch Fock was launched 3 May 1933, and was the main training vessel for the German Reichsmarine. It is argued that the ship depicted on the badge can’t be the Gorch Fock, because there is an eagle decoration on the prow that the Horst Wessel had but the Gorch Fock did not.
Although I was able to uncover a bit of information about this day badge, these questions now remain: who owned this piece; how did it arrive in Nassau Mills from Germany; and how does it relate to the structure we are excavating?