The following article is part of JPPM’s ‘Curator’s Choice’ series.
During the mid-19th century, Irish immigrants flocked to America to escape the Great Irish Potato Famine (Figure 1). The famine, which lasted from 1845 to 1852, was brought on by potato blight, a disease that devastated the potato harvests across Europe. In Ireland, where approximately one third of the population was entirely dependent on the potato for food, the famine reduced the population by almost two million, many of whom immigrated to the United States (Irish Potato Famine 2012). Continue reading →
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.
Recently, the MAC Lab hosted a workshop to help answer that very question. Archaeologists, educators, interpreters, and docents gathered to hear “Archaeology FAQ” with Ed Chaney, Deputy Director of the MAC Lab and “Putting it in Practice,” with JPPM educator Kim Popetz, before being treated to several small group sessions; “Colonial Bling” with Sara Rivers Cofield, MAC Lab Federal Curator, “The Meaning of Fun” with assistant professor of History at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, Kenneth Cohen, and “A Cigar is just a Cigar…or is It? – Determining Meanings from Artifacts” with Patricia Samford, Director of the MAC Lab. Participants were invited to examine many interesting examples from the more than 8 million artifacts curated at the MAC Lab and to add to their knowledge of the Historical Chesapeake’s material culture.
Sara Rivers Cofield discussing “Colonial Bling”
Kenneth Cohen explores “The Meaning of Fun”
*This workshop was sponsored by Jefferson Patterson Park & Museum, Maryland Association of History Museums, Historic London Town and Gardens, Southern Maryland Museum Association, and the Archeological Society of Maryland.
**Many thanks to Rod Cofield, Director of Interpretation and Museum Programs at Historic London Town and Gardens, for coordinating this engaging workshop!
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.
Each year, students from the Poolesville Magnet High School in Montgomery County come to JPPM to experience archaeology first-hand, and we are always happy to see these bright, inquisitive kids! This year, they helped to excavate at the Smith’s St. Leonard Site, toured the MAC Lab, and visited our FAQ exhibit in the Visitor Center to learn the answers to some of the most commonly asked questions about archaeology. They also had the opportunity to speak with professional archaeologists, curators, and conservators here at the Park to learn about what we do and how we do it. We enjoyed showing them the ropes and look forward to their next visit!
Our newest cannon is a 32 pounder from the C.S.S. Alabama, which comes to us from the Navy for some minor repair and conservation treatment. Built as a commerce raider, the Alabama inflicted extensive damage on United States merchant shipping before being sunk in 1864. Although the wreck of the Alabama was discovered in 200 feet of water off the coast of France (putting it within French territorial waters), the United States claimed ownership of the vessel as a spoil of war. In 1989, France and the United States established a joint French-American Scientific Committee to oversee archaeological investigation of the wreck, establishing a precedent for international cooperation regarding archaeology and the protection of historic shipwrecks. The Alabama cannon will remain at the MAC Lab on loan from the Navy as the replacement for another large cannon (an 18 pounder that goes on display in our new War of 1812 exhibit in April) so that visitors to the lab will continue to be able to view an example of a REALLY big gun.
The 32 pounder
Close up of the cannon’s brass site
Captain Semmes (front) aboard the Alabama in 1863 –
notice cannon to the Capt’s left…
Do you remember the blog about those very large prehistoric pots from a couple months ago (November 29th, 2010 to be exact)? Well, once again, kudos to our curatorial staff who, while rehousing an artifact collection from a mid 17th-century site, noticed that two large reassembled portions of a ceramic cooking pan fit together to make one huge vessel. The North Devon gravel tempered pan is glazed on the interior portion and is square or rectangular in shape with a flat bottom and straight sides. It was probably used as an all-purpose (baking, basting, dripping) pan for the kitchen and may have originally had a spout on one edge for pouring grease, as some dripping pans do. This kind of pan is not uncommon, but the size of this particular pan (the side measures over 15 inches and is incomplete on both edges) is unique to the state collections.
Recently, artifact collections from several State Highways Administration archaeology excavations in Anne Arundel County were dropped off at the MAC Lab. Curators were on hand to inspect the collections to be sure that they meet Maryland State curatorial standards. After inspection, the collections are entered into a database by project (site) and curators create accession files from the paperwork that the archaeologist turned in along with the artifacts. Then, the boxes are labeled and added to the MAC Lab’s collections storage.
Inspecting new arrivals
State Curator entering collection information into a database
Introducing Alec Brown, the MAC Lab’s newest volunteer in the research and curation departments. Alec is from Upperco, Maryland and graduated from Harvard in 2010 with a degree in classical archaeology. He is done with school for the time being and is assisting the archaeology crew and the curators to acquire field and laboratory experience. Alec’s future plans are to get his PHD in (probably) classical archaeology in order to be a professor. Alec may be with us until spring, which would be nice for him (so he could see what it was like to excavate in UNDER 40 degree weather) and for us (since he is fun to have around)!
Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum (JPPM), State Museum of Archaeology, is proud to be partnering with The Maryland Historical Trust and The Archeological Society of Maryland in Maryland Archeology Month (MAM) 2010. The theme chosen for this year, “From Shovel to Showcase”, focuses on four aspects of the archeological process; Discovery, Preservation, Stewardship, and Education, which are all represented in the programs and activities offered at JPPM. MAC Lab staff created the MAM poster this year and authored the articles for the MAM informational booklet that will be available at Archeology Month events throughout the month of April. We hope that MAM 2010 will raise awareness of the effort to explore, protect and share Maryland’s heritage and we hope that you will enjoy all of the archaeology related activities offered in this month!
Go to The Archeological Society of Maryland’s webpage for information about Maryland Archeology Month activities for April.
MAM Poster created by MAC Lab staff
*Ever see an archaeological cartoon? Our very own MAC Lab conservator and artist, Nancy Shippen, created a series of cartoons for the MAM booklet – pick one up and check it out!