A Not-So-Pretty Artifact with Very Attractive Information

Consider window leads: lengths of grooved lead that supported the glass panes in casement windows during the 16th-19th centuries. By the time archaeologists discover them in the earth, window leads look pretty darn ugly. Because lead is such a soft metal, we find the leads bent, smashed, twisted, and/or broken. But, sometimes, if we can gently pry the leads open, we also find…drum roll…DATES. Finding dates on the interior of window leads is exciting for archaeologists because they can help us understand the age of the buildings that once stood at a site. Two dated window leads have been discovered while excavating JPPM’s Smith St. Leonard Site over the years. The first was found in the area of the main house in 2005 and is presently in conservation. A partial letter “W” and the letter “M” are visible, but the rest is largely unreadable. The second dated window lead was discovered just this past fall in the kitchen area and also has the letters “W” and “M” and is clearly marked “1679.” The markings would have been put onto the window leads by a vice in which cast leads, known as cames, were pressed into thinner, longer pieces before attaching the glass panes. The letters are probably the initials of either the window maker or the vice maker. You might expect the dates on window leads to always date from the construction of a building, but that’s not always true, so you have to look at all of the artifacts and historical documents associated with the site before you draw your conclusions. In this case, the 1679 window lead predates the 1711 occupation of the Smith St. Leonard site and JPPM archaeologists believe that the inhabitants probably reused the windows from other older buildings nearby. An example of 18th-century recycling!

Not-so-pretty window leads.

Opened window lead with the “W” and “M” clearly visible.


A casement window.


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