Celebrating 184 Years of Public Education in Baltimore: Nineteenth-Century Beginnings


Archaeologists working on historic sites often find fragmented slate pencils once used on writing slates, but it is less typical to recover flat pieces of slate once used as writing surfaces.

Archaeologists working on historic sites often find fragmented slate pencils once used on writing slates, but it is less typical to recover flat pieces of slate once used as writing surfaces.

As I creep to work this time of year behind bright orange school buses on two-lane county roads, I am inspired to write about the advent of public education in Baltimore. Without a doubt, the perfect artifact to illustrate such an essay is this delightful little writing slate recovered from the site of the Juvenile Justice Center in Baltimore City (18BC139). Found in a privy filled between 1815 and 1830, this slate was incised front and back with a grid and numbers from 1 to 72. The unworn areas along the finished top and side edges of the slate suggest it had originally been set into a wooden frame. Although fragmentary, the slate’s original dimensions were approximately 4 x 6 inches. Stationers sold slates by the second half of the eighteenth century, but no real evidence supports their educational use by children until the nineteenth century. Research suggests that Joseph Lancaster, an English proponent of mass education, was at least partly responsible for the widespread development of slate as an educational tool beginning in the early nineteenth century (Hall n.d.). Continue reading

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Chunkey Stones in Maryland


Chunkey stone recovered from the Mason Island II (18MO13) site, a Late Woodland village in Montgomery County.

Chunkey stone recovered from the Mason Island II (18MO13) site, a Late Woodland village in Montgomery County.

The approaching end of summer and the beginning of football season prompted me to write one final sports-themed blog—a discussion of the sport of chunkey. Also called tchung-kee, chunky or chenco, this game involved throwing or sliding sticks at a polished, disc-shaped stone known as a chunkey stone. The game is believed to have originated around 600 AD along the Mississippi (Pauketat 2004), but is commonly associated with the city of Cahokia near modern day St. Louis and the Mississippian cultures that flourished in the Midwestern, Eastern, and Southeastern United States from approximately 800 AD to 1500 AD. By the time Europeans arrived in the Americas, the game of chunkey was played in some form across much of North America, from Montana to the Carolinas (Pauketat 2009). The game caught the attention of European and American visitors, who have left numerous written accounts of the game as it was played in different regions (Lawson 1709, Adair 1775, Bartram 1789, Culin 1907). A common theme that runs throughout these writings is the vigorous enthusiasm of the players, whose games on specially built ball fields or yards often lasted many hours. Large crowds gathered to cheer the players on, and to gamble on the results of the game. Continue reading