Public Archaeology Unearthes Pin/Needle Case

Recently, archaeologists and volunteers excavating the kitchen area at the Smith’s St. Leonard site unearthed part of a shell midden and found a fragment of a pin (or possibly needle) case made out of bone. A pin or needle case is a small container designed for storing straight pins or sewing needles. A similar bone case was found during excavations of the 17th-century plantation site on JPPM property called King’s Reach. The King’s Reach container is believed to be a needle case because of its length. The Smith’s St. Leonard case could have held sewing needles or brass and steel straight pins that would have been used, not only to secure pieces of fabric together for sewing, but also for keeping many layers of clothing closed at the seams and other strategic places where buttons would be too bulky. One of the MAC Lab’s curators noticed that the decoration on this case is similar to that found on the handle of a tambour hook (a tool with a tiny hook at the end that is set in a handle, used for embroidery or for attaching beads to fabric) discovered at “Ferry Farm”, the site of George Washington’s boyhood home. Were pin and needle cases, hook handles, and other bone sewing implements purposefully decorated with similar designs? Were they sold in sets? We don’t know all the details yet, but JPPM archaeologists are excited to start their research on this interesting artifact!

Bone case fragment with scale.

Detail of pin/needle case.

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