Week 2 Round-Up

With the second week of field school, the weather got a little hotter, the units a little deeper, and the finds a little more exciting! In addition to continuing excavations, the students took another tour of Annapolis with Dr. Leone—this time of the Calvert Orangery excavation and the Maynard-Burgess House—and heard a lecture from Kate Deeley on ceramics identification.

Bottle in situ at Unit 20. Source: Kate Deeley

Bottle in situ at Unit 20. Source: Kate Deeley

This week at the James Holliday House, Unit 19 uncovered two features—a round hole filled with coal ash and a deliberate, circular grouping of brick filled with brick and stone rubble. We’re still unsure of how to interpret these features. Unit 20 has been digging through an artifact-rich rubble layer, pulling out objects such as a whole medicinal bottle and a corroded revolver. The excavators also discovered pieces of a textile with a white and blue floral pattern and speculated that it may be parts of a wallpaper print or tablecloth. In the basement, Unit 21 removed the brick pad to find hard red clay followed by light brown sand. These layers may have been used to support or level the ground for the stove. The excavators continued to find bottles, animal bones, and children’s toys—such as a small metal toy soldier. They also found four coins this week, which may aid us in identifying the dates for these levels of occupation.

At the Pinkney House, Unit 18 has been digging through scattered brick, which have yielded pearlware and whiteware ceramics, a hand-blown bottle, and what looks like a small chamber pot. Unit 17 has found many thin levels in their excavations, alternating between soil and ash. They have discovered oyster shells, egg shells, and fish bone, as well as pearlware, whiteware, and Rockingham ware ceramics.

Ceramics can be useful diagnostic artifacts, meaning that they can help archaeologists date the artifacts and their surrounding levels to a time period. As the students learned in their lecture, archaeologists have three ways of visually identifying a piece of ceramic:

  • Paste – the characteristics of the clay that make up the vessel. What color is it? How porous is it?
  • Surface treatment – how the vessel is treated or covered. Is there a glaze?
  • Decoration – the colors or motifs used on the surface as decoration. Is it painted? Is there one color or many? Has it been molded?
Transfer-printed whiteware. Source: Beth Pruitt

Transfer-printed whiteware. Source: Beth Pruitt

It may help while reading this blog to understand the chronology of the ceramics that we have encountered. Redwares were popular in the 18th century, and are characterized by a red paste and a lead glaze. Influenced by the white, delicate Chinese porcelain, the European industry began to move toward a whiter ceramic that was fired at a higher temperature. Toward that end, in the mid-18th to early 19th centuries they developed creamware—called so for its off-white colored glazing. Pearlware soon replaced it as the dominate tableware ceramic, but both were produced into the 19th century. Pearlware was an attempt to imitate porcelain, but cobalt added to the glaze produced a pale blue-tinted surface. Whitewares became popular by the middle of the century and are identified by the white glaze that was finally achieved. Yellowware, with its yellow glaze, was common in the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Rockingham ware was a particular style also popular during that time that was often used for spittoons and involved a rich mottled-brown glaze.

Transfer-printing decorations date from the mid-18th century, and are made by transferring an inked copper plate design onto paper and then to the ceramic surface. Other designs on ceramics include those that are hand-painted, molded into the vessel itself, or sponged onto the surface. With a knowledge of how a vessel was made, the archaeologist can better place it within a chronology, and now our students can make these sort of identifications in the field.

1 Comment
  1. I am a numismatic enthusiast and I’m always fascinated in archaeological digs where coins are discovered. For me, the most obvious place to start in the process of dating the artifacts uncovered in the basement of the James Holiday house would be to identify the coins. Over the years, it has become second nature for me to think of coins in terms of the time period in which they were produced. Of course dating a coin found buried in Annapolis is bound to be a lot easier than dating something like this: http://www.numisnetworkproducts.com/Numis-Ancient-Coins

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