2011 Public Archaeology Season Comes to a Close

Although we have bid the volunteers goodbye, JPPM archaeologists continue their excavations at Smith’s St. Leonard and we will continue to inform you about new discoveries in the coming months. We’ll even bring you site news throughout the fall and winter because our archaeologists will be spending the cold months in the MAC Lab processing, researching, and writing about the artifacts that were unearthed this summer. We would like to thank everybody who volunteered this year at the excavations and in the Lab – it was a pleasure working with you! And, if you haven’t had the opportunity to join us yet, go ahead and mark your calendar for the 2012 Public Archaeology season (May through July) and we’ll see you next year!

Cool stuff.

General silliness (yes, those are paper crowns).

Excellent volunteers!

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.

Volunteer Spotlight

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)!

Working in the collections workroom