By far the largest artifact in the MAC Lab collections, weighing in at a whopping 15,000 pounds (give or take), is the paddle wheel shaft from the SS Columbus (International Artifact Conservation 1998). Built in Baltimore and launched in 1828, the Columbus plied the waters of the Chesapeake Bay, transporting cargo and passengers between Baltimore and Norfolk (Holly 1994). On November 28, 1850, a fire broke out onboard the steamship, resulting in nine fatalities and the sinking of the vessel near Smith Point, Virginia. Although the location of the wreck had been known since the 1970s, a decision was made to bring up the 22 ft. long paddle wheel shaft, as well a number of other pieces of the vessel, after the Army Corp of Engineers dredged adjacent to the shipwreck in 1990 in order to deepen the shipping channel (Irion and Beard 1995). Continue reading
Second through fourth grade students from the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth returned to JPPM this year and we were happy to treat them to all that the Park has to offer. They learned native skills at our Indian Village, experienced archaeology at the Smith’s St. Leonard site, and experimented with artifact treatment techniques in the MAC Lab. Checking out a room with 8 million artifacts just added to the fun. The staff enjoyed working hands-on with these bright kids and hope they all had a great time discovering JPPM!
Recently, artifacts from Poplar Forest, Thomas Jefferson’s plantation near Lynchburg, Virginia, have arrived at the MAC Lab. One of two homes that Jefferson designed and created for his own use, Poplar Forest has been designated a National Historic Landmark and the plantation house is operated as a historic house museum. Archaeological excavations on the property continue every year and the artifacts being treated by lab conservators are just a tiny sample of what archaeologists are discovering as they continue to provide information for the restoration of the rest of the plantation’s property.
Between 1765 and 1770, a 70 foot New England ship carrying a large cargo of British ceramics sank in what is now Biscayne National Park in Florida. Conservator Cait Shaffer has been treating several coral covered ceramic figurines from the ship, nicknamed the English China wreck, using chemical cleaning techniques as well as a sonic descaler (the same instrument your dentist may use to clean your teeth). Cait has made a fantastic time-lapse photography presentation showing the removal of the encrustations from one of the figurines, and you can see it by clicking here.
2 of the Biscayne Figurines:
Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum invites you to celebrate Discovering Archaeology Day 2012 on April 14th from 10am – 5pm. There will be lots of activities for you to enjoy. We’ll be offering guided tours of the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Laboratory and demonstrations in the Indian Village. Be sure to visit JPPM’s 18th-century tobacco plantation site where you can see the ongoing excavation and talk to museum archaeologists. If you own something that you think is historical, but you’re not really sure, bring it with you and we’ll identify it for you. You will also have the opportunity to meet professional archaeologists from around the region, ask them questions, and enjoy their exhibits and displays. There’s something for everyone at JPPM and Discovering Archaeology Day!
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.
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.
Various metal objects from the cellar feature of the Smith’s St. Leonard site are being treated in the conservation department of the MAC Lab. Among them are buttons, thimbles, spoons, buckles, hinge parts, and a piece of a furniture escutcheon (a plate or flange that protects the wood of the furniture from being struck by the handle). There are also a couple of unknown objects, the cleaning and conservation of which may help archaeologists identify them. In addition to the metal objects being treated, conservators have also begun working on the portion of a foldable fan discovered in the cellar. The ivory fan “sticks” (the part of the fan that would be held in your hand) will be cleaned, and the copper alloy “rivet” (the piece that fastens the sticks together) will be treated to stabilize the metal.
We would like to welcome Kelly McCauley, our newest conservation intern, to the MAC Lab. Kelly has a B.A. in Historic Preservation from the University of Mary Washington, where she specialized in archaeology. During her studies, she worked on excavations at Stratford Hall and, later, as a fire archaeologist for the National Park Service at Whiskeytown National Recreational Area. Since becoming involved in conservation, she has interned at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore and also with a private company, Conservation Solutions, Inc. Kelly will be with us for three months and, during her internship, she will be conserving both ceramic and iron artifacts. We are very happy to have her here!
Conservator Cait Shaffer has begun cleaning the much concreted surfaces of the two screw-piles from the Drum Point Lighthouse that recently arrived at the MAC Lab. She initially tried cleaning the artifacts with air abrasion and a Dremel rotary tool, but many of the concretions on the objects are too hard for these methods to remove them. Cait is now using an air scribe, which is like a tiny jack hammer, and it has been working well. And for the thickest of the concretions, she is dexterously using a chisel and hammer for their removal. After the cleaning process is completed, a protective coating will be applied to the screw-piles.