What a busy week for field school! On Tuesday and Wednesday, we were in Virginia touring Colonial Williamsburg, Historic Jamestown and Jamestown Settlement. The purpose of the trip is to see how archaeology is done by other institutions and to see how it is interpreted to the public. The staffs of all the places we visited were wonderfully welcoming and gave our students a look behind the scenes.
We were back at work for one day and then it was time for Tidewater Archaeology Days.
For this event, we opened two units close by the southwest corner of the house in an area where previous excavations had indicated the presence of a 17th-century midden or trash dump. The choice of these units was based on a number of factors. Over the next few years, we will be clearing an area around the house prior to exhibit development and these units are in that area. Also, there are several fences that run east – west, across the south side of the house. We hope to investigate these below the midden. Finally for the Tidewater event, we need a place where the public can help us with the screening and find artifacts. There is no place better for this event than in this area. On Saturday, we had off and on rain, sometimes heavy. Having the tents allowed us to continue screening despite the rain. I want to thank those people who stuck with us through the heavy rain.
As a result of the excavations, we were able to determine that what we were excavating is actually a redeposited midden. In the 19th century, Dr. Brome, who owned all the land in St. Mary’s City, scraped a large area of the site to the west to cover the remains of the Calvert House. We have seen this in units directly over the house but were not sure if it extended south of the foundation. As we removed soil from this layer, several pieces of 19th-century ceramics were found and, deep in the soil, a set of iron hames.
These were part of a horse or mule collar. While this type of collar was developed in the Middle Ages, the support parts were most often made of wood or bone until the 19th century. Perhaps this collar broke during the earth moving and was thrown away with the dirt.
Even if this soil was redeposited, the artifacts are much more complete than what we normally find. The midden was primarily a result of trash being thrown out of the kitchen of the Calvert House. As a result, a large amount of what was found was animal bone.
The photo shows a large rib, probably from a cow. When we find bone in other contexts, they are in much smaller fragments and there are few of them. In these units, bones were very common, reflecting the food served in the tavern.
The Calvert House was used as a meeting place and a tavern for most of its history and because of this, tobacco pipes are very common. Participants found many pipe stems, a number of which had elaborate decoration. Red clay pipe fragments were also common. Most interesting were the complete pipe bowls.
The one shown in this photo was not complete when found. The cleaned part was one of the first large artifacts recovered on Friday. The dirty part was discovered on Saturday. I was looking at one of our artifact bags and thought that it might go with the piece found the day before. They matched perfectly and, much to the relief of the student excavators, the break was an old one and not made by the shovel.
We did find a complete pipe bowl still filled with dirt.
When we find something like this, we are often asked why we do not clean it out. These bowls are bagged separately and sent to the lab so that the dirt can be carefully removed to see if any tobacco or ashes might be preserved. This pipe bowl bears a maker’s mark termed a “crowned A.” This is generally thought to mark a Dutch pipe from the late 17th – early 18th century.
Along with tobacco pipes, drinking vessels are common on tavern sites and we found a number of fragments of these.
The sherd in the photo was part of a cup made in Staffordshire and is known as Staffordshire slipware. Most often, Staffordshire slipware is yellow with brown to black decoration. This particular piece is called “reversed” because the background is dark and the decoration is yellow. Staffordshire slipware is most common in the late 17th – early 18th century.
Another drinking vessel from this weekend was the rim of a stoneware tankard.
Produced in Germany, this is known as Rhenish blue and gray stoneware. This type of ceramic is very common at the Calvert House for both drinking vessels and serving vessels. It was most common from the middle of the 17th century though the 18th century.
Working in a midden means finding bigger pieces of things. Last week, I showed a small piece of ceramic called North Italian slipware. In this week’s excavations, we found a much larger piece.
As stated last week, this ceramic is early, generally dating before 1650, and is relatively rare. Finding a piece this big, about 3 – 4 inches across, is a unique find.
Our final artifact this week presents a problem.
From the photo, it looks like a simple carved bone die and would be appropriate for a tavern where games and gambling often took place. This would be the second bone die found in our excavations at the Calvert House. What makes this die special, is that it only has ones and fours on it. On the six faces, there are 3 ones and 3 fours. At first, I thought this might have been made for a particular game but I can find no record of such a game. What I did find was that dice like these were called Fulham dice, named after a portion of London where fake dice were common.. The Museum of London illustrates a collection of twenty bone dice found in a pewter container and dating to the 15th century. Most of these dice are weighted to produce a specific number but some show only the numbers one, two or three while others show only four, five and six. More research is needed on this artifact.