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

Artifacts from a 19th-Century Chesapeake Bay Schooner


Ship parts from the Widgeon, a bay schooner, were found during a 1997 archaeological investigation of St. Leonard Creek and are currently in the conservation department at the MAC Lab. A schooner is a type of sailing vessel that was originally used by the Dutch in the 16th and 17th centuries. By the early 18th century, however, schooners were used more extensively in the United States than anywhere else in the world. Used for everything, from privateering to offshore fishing, the most common schooners had two masts. One of the objects recovered from the site of the Widgeon is a hoop of iron that would have encircled one of these masts. This “mast band” would have been used as reinforcement for the wooden mast and also would have served as a place to attach ropes and tackle. Conservation of the Widgeon’s 19th-century artifacts has taken several years and the mast band is one of the last objects still in treatment.


Iron mast band still attached to remnants of the wooden mast.


View from the deck of the Widgeon.

*FUN FACT: After the Civil War, Maryland opened the Chesapeake Bay to oyster dredging. The use of dredges, versus tongs, created a need for larger, more powerful sail boats to haul the dredges across the oyster beds. The first vessels used were the existing schooners, like the Widgeon. Eventually, the bugeye was developed specifically for oyster dredging in the Chesapeake Bay.

Giant Posthole Follow-Up


When last we met, conservators were in the field treating what remains of a wood post discovered in an 18th-century posthole on JPPM property. How is that treatment accomplished, you ask? In this case, a wax-like material called cyclododecane was applied directly to the wood with a brush. Cyclododecane has the unique property of sublimating at room temperature (meaning, at around 72 Fahrenheit, it transitions from a solid to a gas without going through an intermediate liquid phase). SO, that means that this wax-like material can be melted or sprayed onto an object where it will solidify and provide physical support so that we can handle the object without causing any damage. As the outdoor temperature get warmer, this wax coating will disappear as it turns from a solid to a gas, leaving no residue behind. In this way, we protect the artifact without impacting any future analysis, such as wood species identification. Pretty cool!


Nichole explaining the treatment process while waiting for
the next batch of cyclododecane to melt (it starts out as
little irregular pellets that must be melted before applying).


Applying the cyclododecane to the remains of the wood post.

Antietam Furnace and the Maryland Iron Industry


In Washington County, Maryland, the remains of a mid 18th- to late 19th- century iron furnace are located in the town of Antietam. The first furnace and forge at this extensive iron-working facility were likely in operation by 1775. Pig Iron was the major product at the Antietam Furnace site but, just prior to the Revolutionary War, the furnace began producing cannon for the Continental Army. Following the Revolutionary War, the facility may have had a period of inactivity until a nail factory was set up in 1831, after which the furnace was operated until 1880 and then dismantled in 1891. Because of the site’s significance, Antietam Furnace is on the National Register of Historic Places. Conservators at the MAC Lab work steadily to treat the artifacts that were cast directly at the furnace, including the heavy implements used in the iron trade like hammers, anvils, and stove plates.


One phase of treatment includes manually cleaning the artifacts with dremel tools and scalpels.
A cast iron kettle (upside down on the left) and two stove plates are pictured here.


Close up of stove plate being cleaned of its corrosion with a scalpel.

*What is a stove plate and what are those decorations on it? Learn all about it at our MAC Lab Conservation Facebook page!