Public Archaeology Starts Today!

Half scruple apothecary weight

Each year, archaeologists and volunteers discover more about JPPM’s 18th-century Smith’s St. Leonard tobacco plantation site – and there’s still so much to learn! Find out all about archaeology and the Smith family through hands-on excavation at JPPM’s most popular public program. C’mon and get dirty! This year, maybe YOU’LL be the one to find a tobacco pipe bowl, or a silver coin, or maybe even another cellar…We’re out in the field now, come join us! Continue reading

Public Archaeology Unearthes Pin/Needle Case

Recently, archaeologists and volunteers excavating the kitchen area at the Smith’s St. Leonard site unearthed part of a shell midden and found a fragment of a pin (or possibly needle) case made out of bone. A pin or needle case is a small container designed for storing straight pins or sewing needles. A similar bone case was found during excavations of the 17th-century plantation site on JPPM property called King’s Reach. The King’s Reach container is believed to be a needle case because of its length. The Smith’s St. Leonard case could have held sewing needles or brass and steel straight pins that would have been used, not only to secure pieces of fabric together for sewing, but also for keeping many layers of clothing closed at the seams and other strategic places where buttons would be too bulky. One of the MAC Lab’s curators noticed that the decoration on this case is similar to that found on the handle of a tambour hook (a tool with a tiny hook at the end that is set in a handle, used for embroidery or for attaching beads to fabric) discovered at “Ferry Farm”, the site of George Washington’s boyhood home. Were pin and needle cases, hook handles, and other bone sewing implements purposefully decorated with similar designs? Were they sold in sets? We don’t know all the details yet, but JPPM archaeologists are excited to start their research on this interesting artifact!

Bone case fragment with scale.

Detail of pin/needle case.

Interesting find at the Public Archaeology Site

One of tools of the apothecary’s trade has been discovered at our Public Archaeology excavations. Apothecaries (the historical name for pharmacists) regularly used a mortar and pestle, surgical instruments, and weights and scales in their profession. A bit of this paraphernalia, an apothecary weight, was excavated recently at the Smith St. Leonard site. Apothecary weights would have been used, most likely in small double-pan balances, to judge the weight of medicines before sale. This particular weight is a 1/2 scruple weight, one of the smallest of the apothecary weights. A scruple weighs 1.296 grams, so our 1/2 scruple should weigh .648 milligrams. We don’t have a scale that measures in that small of an increment (!), but our archaeologists have weighed it as accurately as possible and they believe the weight is indeed .648 mg…or darn close. In a home setting, such as the Smith kitchen, balances and apothecary weights could have been used to measure herbs for cooking but, being such a small weight, it is doubtful that there would have been much use for this little 1/2 scruple in a kitchen. Walter Smith’s 1748 probate inventory lists a pair of “Scales and weights” in the kitchen at Smith’s St. Leonard. Our 1/2 scruple may well have been lost from that weight set, but if it was, it’s doubtful that the Smiths missed it very much.

1/2 scruple apothecary weight. The mark on the weight
consists of two symbols. One for “scruple” and one for “half”.

Some perspective.

*FUN FACT: Nostradamus and Benedict Arnold were apothecaries.

Get Ready for Children’s Day at JPPM!

The 1st Sunday of June every year, we invite you to enjoy Children’s Day at Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum. Activities include demonstrations and hands-on fun along with live entertainment, pony rides, games, food, and even an antique tractor parade. Stop by the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Laboratory, Public Archaeology site, and Indian Village for even more to see and learn! See you there!

Drilling the prehistoric way at the Indian Village.

See artifact conservation at the MAC Lab.

Play with a friend

Public Archaeology Starts Today!

While excavating last year, archaeologists and volunteers at the Smith’s St. Leonard site discovered wine bottle fragments, a bridle bit, a stirrup, a spur, tobacco pipe fragments, a pierced silver coin, a gun hammer with the flint still in place, a sickle, a porringer handle, a chafing dish lid, a clearly dated window lead, postholes the size of a giant’s head, and much MUCH more!.

What will be discovered this year?

To reserve a spot call 410.586.8554 or email

Giant archaeologist-gobbling posthole

Excavating the chafing dish lid

gun hammer with flint