Chinese Americans in Early Twentieth-Century Baltimore


Figure 1.  The two center safety pins with stamped numbers marked net bags in commercial laundries and were used to track individual orders.  The smaller open pins surrounding the safety pins were probably used to pin paper tags on finished clothing.  The object t the top center is a soapstone pencil, used to mark stains.

Figure 1. The two center safety pins with stamped numbers marked net bags in commercial laundries and were used to track individual orders. The smaller open pins surrounding the safety pins were probably used to pin paper tags on finished clothing. The object to the top center is a soapstone pencil, used to mark stains.

During the 1980 excavation of the Federal Reserve site (18BC27), archaeologists uncovered the remains of a stoneware drainpipe that was clogged during the 1920s with debris from a commercial laundry.  When the pipe was broken open by earthmoving equipment, it was found to have filled over time with artifacts set in a concreted matrix of iron corrosion. Among the artifacts recovered from the pipe were laundry bag net pins—the two odd looking safety pins with the stamped numbers seen in the photograph to the left.  Since these large brass safety pins were rustproof, they could be attached to the net bags that separated individual orders in the washing machines. The solid flat heads were stamped with number designations that could be used to track bagged laundry to specific individuals. These pins are still being manufactured today for use in commercial laundries. They were just a few of the large number of commercial laundry-related artifacts found in the pipe.
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Maryland’s Fishing Industry


Bone fishhook from Everhart Rockshelter.

Bone fishhook from Everhart Rockshelter.

Returning home by air from a recent trip to Michigan, I was once again struck by the abundant waterways that bisect our little state. The Susquehanna, Potomac, Choptank, Patapsco and Patuxent are the major state rivers that empty into the Chesapeake Bay, the largest estuary in the United States. Overall, between Virginia and Maryland, more than 100,000 streams, creeks and rivers wind through the Chesapeake Bay watershed (Chesapeake Bay Program 2014). These waterways are the source of the fish and shellfish that have made the words “Maryland” and “seafood” all but synonymous.

The thought of Maryland’s fishing industry is likely to bring up images of commercial vessels with trawl nets or sports fishermen hauling in citation weight rockfish from the back of a charter boat. But this week’s artifact, a diminutive carved bone fish hook from the Everhart Rockshelter (18FR4) in Frederick County, reminds us that fishing has long been an important part of Maryland’s past (Figure 1). This rockshelter, which was excavated by Spencer Geasey in the early 1950s (Geasey 1993), was occupied for thousands of years, all through the Archaic (7500 B.C. – 1000 B.C.) and Woodland periods (1000 B.C. – A.D. 1600). One of the rockshelter residents must have used this fish hook to catch dinner from nearby Catoctin Creek. Continue reading

The Role of Tobacco Agriculture in Maryland


18CV83 pipe

Tobacco pipe from the late seventeenth- to early eighteenth-century King’s Reach Site (18CV83).

Drive along any country road in southern Maryland and you are sure to see examples of this region’s distinctive agricultural architecture.  These large vertical sided barns, constructed for the air curing of tobacco, are important reminders of Maryland’s agricultural history.  A less iconic type of reminder—the humble white clay tobacco pipe—does not have the visual impact of the barns, but is present on virtually all archaeological sites dating from the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries.  The Maryland Archaeological Conservation Lab has tens of thousands of pipe fragments in its collections.  This pipe, from the late seventeenth-century King’s Reach Site (18CV83), is one of our more complete examples; the very fragility of the unglazed, low-fired clay means that they are often found broken into numerous fragments.  I have chosen this simple clay pipe to represent the role that tobacco cultivation played in Maryland’s history. Continue reading

Rockingham Hunt Pitcher and the Baltimore Pottery Industry


18BC27 (side 1)

Skillful application of the mottled Rockingham glaze serves to highlight the stag hunt motif on this Bennett pitcher.

During the 1980 excavation done prior to the construction of Baltimore’s Federal Reserve Bank, archaeologists removed the contents of numerous mid- to late nineteenth-century wells and privies from a neighborhood that served as home to first and second generation European immigrants. One of these privies had become the final resting place for a magnificent example of Baltimore’s nineteenth-century pottery industry. This Rockingham pitcher, molded in a detailed hunting scene depicting hounds attacking a stag and a boar, was manufactured around 1855 by E. and W. Bennett of Baltimore (Claney 2004). The Bennett firm, in production between 1846 and 1936, was one of the best known North American manufacturers of Rockingham glazed wares (Ketchum 1987:21). This firm’s wares are prized by collectors today for their finely detailed molded patterns, as well as quality of their mottled glazing (Brooks 2005). Continue reading

The Rosenstock Pot and the Development of Agriculture in Maryland


This week’s blog post features a spectacular pre-Columbian pottery vessel known at the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Lab as the Rosenstock Pot. I have chosen this vessel to frame an essay about the development of agriculture by Maryland’s indigenous population and the consequences of agriculture on native life during a time archaeologists call the Late Woodland period (AD900 to AD1650).

The Rosenstock Site (18FR18) is a Late Woodland period village on the Monocacy River in Frederick County. Excavations there by the Archeological Society of Maryland and the Maryland Historical Trust revealed remains of trash-filled pits, hearths, human burials and two buildings believed to have functioned as sweat lodges. Radiocarbon dating of charred plant remains from hearth features showed the site was occupied from AD1335 to around AD1400 (Curry and Kavanagh 2004). Continue reading

The Birely Tannery Fleshing Knife-An Artifact of Frederick County’s Industrial Past


Most people are aware of the roles tobacco and other agricultural crops played in Maryland’s history. But I would wager that not nearly as many Marylanders know that the tanning of leather was second only to agriculture in economic importance in some parts of the state during the 18th and 19th centuries. In honor of that key role, I have chosen a tool used in the tanning industry as the starting point for this week’s blog on a trade that has all but disappeared from Maryland’s economy.

fleshing knife2

Wooden handled fleshing knife found during excavations at Birely Tannery.

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Bald Friar Petroglyphs


In this photograph, some of the petroglyphs can be clearly seen outlined in white (probably chalk).

Among the more enigmatic artifacts curated at the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Lab are fragments of prehistoric rock art. Archaeological evidence of art dates back tens of thousands of years and has been an endless source of fascination for scholars, as well as the general public. The carved Venus of Willendorf figures, the painted bison at Lascaux, Chinese bronzeworks and other early artistic endeavors captivate and excite the human imagination. The recent discovery of 40,800 year old stenciled hands and painted dots in a Spanish cave is evidence that Neandertals may have been the first cave painters (Than 2012); it is almost certainly only a matter of time before future discoveries push the limits of early art even farther into the past. Continue reading