An Enigmatic Fork
Recovered during the first week of the Archaeology Field School, a two tined copper alloy fork has presented some considerable challenges of identification. It was found near Farthings Arbor just a few inches below the surface in a very disturbed context. Our first thoughts were that it might have been a reproduction lost by one of the visiting re-enactor groups. The finial of the fork is in the form of an animal’s hoof and fetlock.
A bit of quick internet research found similar forks, but to our great surprise, both a specimen at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and one at the Phoebe Hearst Museum were identified as first century Roman. Further research found a number of additional forks of this configuration identified as Roman game forks.
Communication with a pewter company in California indicated that they had reproduced the fork so our idea of it being lost by a re-enactor still seemed viable. However, the company that made the reproduction provided us with their alloy which was 92% tin 7% antimony 1% copper.
With the assistance of Dr. Randolph Larsen of St. Mary’s College of Maryland, we tested the elemental make-up of our fork and two 17th-century spoon parts from the Leonard Calvert site using a technology known as XRF (X-ray florescence). Well, our fork appears to have the same basic alloy as the two spoons, a metal that was called latten in the 17th century.
So, this fork continues to be a bit of an enigma. Forks do not become common until after 1700. Correspondence with colleagues both in the US and overseas has suggested that the attribution of these forks as Roman may be a misnomer, and that perhaps similar forks were made in either Holland or Italy in the Renaissance period. Research will continue.