Another Large Native American Pot

Ahhh, but this one is DIFFERENT: it isn’t a storage pot with a flat base like the one from Lower Mason Island that we highlighted back in September, this Accokeek pot is from the Washington D.C. area and has a conical shape. Conical shaped pots were used for cooking in order to evenly heat the liquids and foods placed in them. They would have been placed directly into hot coals (or propped up by hot rocks) in order to slowly cook the food for maximum tenderness and flavor (tandoori chicken anyone?). Native Americans added temper (gravel, crushed shell or quartz, crushed fired-pottery, sand, or plant material) to the clay to help the vessels withstand the shock of any rapid temperature change during the cooking process. They also created their pots with very little deviation in the thickness of the pot walls in order to minimize any weaknesses in the vessel.

Conservator reconstructing Accokeek vessel

Reconstructed vessel showing fills

Finished Pot


Mending Tin Glaze Vessel for Exhibit

Curators not only have the responsibility of organizing and properly storing artifacts, they also often select objects for exhibit. And if the objects destined for display need cleaning or mending – well, sure, they can do that too. Curator Erin Wingfield is currently cleaning and mending a tin-glazed earthenware chamber pot to go on exhibit at The Todd’s Inheritance Historic Site, a property occupied by the Todd family from the late 17th century through the 1970’s. The chamber pot dates from the late 17th – to early 18th – century occupation of the site. Tin-glaze is both white and opaque, and Europeans from the 16th to the 18th centuries found that this glaze made a great base for decorating with colors such as blue, green, brown, purplish brown, and yellow.

Erin preparing the vessel for mending

Cobalt decorated tin-glazed earthenware

Fort Frederick Conservation Project Completed

Conservators at the MAC Lab have completed treatment on wooden timbers from Fort Frederick in Albany, New York. Built in 1676 to protect Albany from Native Americans, Fort Frederick was originally comprised of two small buildings surrounded by a stockade. After the French and Indian War, the people of Albany salvaged much of the fort’s construction material and, during the Revolutionary War, what remained of the fort was used as a jail. The recently conserved timbers are the remains of part of the stockade that was left underground when the fort was dismantled in 1789. Conservation treatment included desalination, polyethylene glycol impregnation, and vacuum freeze drying.

Fort Frederisck in 1763.

Wrapped timbers await further packing next to the vacuum
freeze drier where they completed their treatment.

Soon to be on their way home to New York.

It Must Be Halloween

Last week, (just in time for the creepiest of holidays), conservators x-rayed a collection from the Federal Reserve prior to the artifacts going into treatment. And TAKE A LOOK at what developed! What appeared to be a misshapen clump of concretion seems to be some kind of a spooky house. And it’s haunted too – check out the ghostly shape floating in the lower left window!

Is it a real x-ray? Yes, it is. It is a real x-ray of a real artifact excavated from a real site. Really.

Are we going to tell you what it is? No, because we don’t know yet!


Update on Prehistoric Pot

Back in November, we told you about a group of pottery sherds from a Native American site on Lower Mason Island in the Potomac River. Although the sherds had been bagged separately as if each belonged to a different vessel, MAC Lab curators discovered that many of the pieces fit together into three unusually large pots. One of the vessels has been reassembled as much as possible and, yup, it’s huge! The pot is decorated with cord wrapped stick impressions and is from the Late Woodland period (900 A.D. – 1600 A.D.). Man made holes that would have been used for hanging, or possibly mending, the pot are visible. This container may have stored food such as paw-paw, huckleberries, and blueberries; fruits naturally occurring on Lower Mason Island. Along with other prehistoric artifacts found on the same site including gaming stones, bone fishhooks, celts, shell and bone beads, and tobacco pipes made from local clay, this vessel gives us a glimpse into the daily lives of people who have come and gone.

Putting the puzzle together.

Reassembling history.

The completed vessel.

Microburst Blows Door off MAC Lab

Yesterday, in a freaky weather event, one of the front doors to the MAC Lab was RIPPED off its hinges by what appeared to be a small tornado. One of our maintenance crew members saw it all first-hand as he was cleaning the inside of these same doors (!). It seems that both doors started shaking and then one door just tore off and Steve saw it fly up and away. The inner set of front doors then sealed and locked automatically so no other damage was done. An intern is missing, but the artifacts are safe. Just kidding, we’re all very grateful that Steve wasn’t harmed during this weird weather incident. And the intern is fine.

Recent visitors to the Lab found this amusing…


Explore the MAC Lab this Summer

When the weather gets hot, come on in and cool off! The summer is a great time to tour the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Laboratory, a treatment and research lab that curates 8 MILLION artifacts in its collections. Bring the kids and out of town guests for a guided tour that takes you behind the scenes of Maryland’s 38,000 square foot, state-of-the-art facility for the preservation and study of both land-based and underwater archaeology projects. Speak with archaeologists and see conservators and curators in action. Want to hold a 9,000 year old artifact? Or maybe you’d like to see an artifact that weighs 15,000 lbs? This is your chance!

Tours of the Lab are available year round by reservation – any age and size group welcome! E-mail for more information or to make a reservation!

Handling Colonial artifacts

Projectile point dated to 7500 bc – 6000 bc

Detail from a cannon