Caleigh Sullivan – The Story Behind the Stone

A cemetery, representing the material culture of death, reflects change in style, ideology, and identity of individuals and of societies.  Researchers perform cemetery analyses to determine spatial organization, questions of religion, class, status, ethnicity, and the rise and fall of stylistic trends on gravestones. Following research by Edwin Dethlefsen and James Deetz (Dethlefsen and Deetz 1966; Deetz 1996), archaeologists have used cemetery studies to test archaeological ideas of seriation. Gravestones are used because they possesses three dimensions – time, form, and space – that can be controlled to test change over time. In class, we studied gravestones at the City of Fredericksburg Cemetery to create our own seriations through the creation of typologies and to observe changes in shape, ideas, and decorations over time.

Noting the characteristics and typologies of the gravestones provided a connection and relationship with the gravestones and the people they represent.  Recording names, birth years, and death years, and other attributes listed on the stone, the basis of their identity can be gathered.  With a name, a cold, inanimate stone now has an essence and a story of a human being connected to it.  From this small look into someone’s personhood, there are reflections of their loved ones’ views or relationship with the person, as well as the state of the deceased found through motifs and epitaphs on gravestones.  Motifs and symbols display imagery on the stone which gives an observer an idea about what must have been important to the person when they were alive.  For example, on the gravestone of William C. Beale, the motif is an urn, a symbol of commemoration (Deetz 1996:99).  An epitaph on a gravestone is an inscribed statement that reveals religious views, class, and status of an individual.  On William C. Beale’s gravestone, the epitaph reads, “Beloved and respected citizen of this place who departed this life April 22, 1850.”  Through this, it is assumed that William C. Beale was a citizen of high class and status, whose fellow citizens, friends, and family held him in high regard.

All archaeological data possess three dimensions: time, form, and space.  In terms of time, the date of death and the date of carving are close in time, reflecting stylistic ideas at the time of the death, providing a good gauge of trends in tombstone shapes and designs during specific time periods.  Using types of tombstones from the City of Fredericksburg Cemetery, examples of seriation are visible between 1810 and the early 2000s.  We used a gravestone shape typology created by a previous MWC Historic Preservation student (Lindtveit 1999).

For our class exercise, we collected data from 160 gravestones, recording information on: stone shape, stone treatment, motifs, epitaphs, other inscriptions (such as “Aged” or the deceased’s relationship to the living), gender, and the presence of footstones. We calculated the popularity of different attributes through time and plotted them. For example, Type 1 tombstones show a decline in popularity.  It starts at 20% from 1810-1849, and goes to 9% from 1850-1879, then to 4% from 1880-1909, and completely disappears after this time period.  Meanwhile, Type 6 gains popularity at the time of the Type 1 decline.  From 1810-1849 at 20%, to 1850-1879 at 5%, to 1880-1909 at 11%, to 1910-1939 at 24%, to 1940-1969 at 4%, to a complete fade out.  Type 7 reflects a true seriation in relation to Type 6 with 0% between 1810-1849, 9% from 1850-1879, 9% from 1880-1909, 11% from 1910-1939, 21% from 1940-1969, to 10% from 1970-1999, to a disappearance after that.  While Type 1 is at a decline, Type 6 begins.  While Type 6 peaks, Type 7 is introduced and gains popularity.  This reflects the popular tombstone types over time.  Here is a picture of this seriation graph made in class:

According to James Deetz in his chapter “Remember Me As I Pass By,” the rise and fall of typology over time reflects the society that produced it.  Earlier versions of tombstones were quite ornate, becoming less elaborate as time passed, expressing society’s ideas of style and material culture change.  Earlier stones have rounded outlines and later stones are more square, as seen in this seriation pattern.  Type 1 is a round-shouldered stone, Type 6 is a reflection of a scroll, transitioning into Type 7, with square edges, showing development or advancement in tombstone production as skills developed, machine use increased, and ideas of style changed over time. Type 3, an obelisk, was popular at the same time as Greek key scrolling motifs carved onto the stones; this could reflect the popularity of the Greek Revival movement and Neoclassism- similar to what is seen in architecture.

Kneeling within the cemetery, closely reading the words etched into the stones, occasionally tracing unclear letters with my fingers or brushing away plant debris, the project gave me an opportunity to interact with artifacts in a new way.  My favorite part of this asignment was figuring out what hard-to-read etchings said.  In choosing gravestones, I wanted to analyze gravestones in as many decades as possible.  I found gravestones starting from 1810 all the way to the 1970s, giving me a more holistic look at changing trends in the material culture of gravestones.

Works Cited:

Deetz, James
1996    In Small Things Forgotten: An Archaeology of Early American Life. Anchor Books, New York, New York.

Dethlefsen, Edwin and James Deetz
1966    Death’s Heads’s, Cherubs, and Willow Trees: Experimental Archaeology in Colonial Cemeteries. American Antiquity 31(4):502-510

Lindtveit, Emily
1999    A Typology of the Tombstones of the Fredericksburg City Cemetery. Senior Project, Department of Historic Preservation, Mary Washington College. Manuscript on file, Department of Historic Preservation, University of Mary Washington.

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Olivia Larson- Hard Work and Self Medication on a Jim Crow Era Farm

When viewing an artifact for the first time, often it looks like nothing too special. However, after further investigation (and a lot of cleaning) something that once appeared insignificant can create an interesting story.  One such artifact is a small milk glass bottle, roughly 2 inches tall.  After being cleaned, it revealed the words, “Musterole 23 2 Cleveland” on the base of the jar.  Musterole was wrapped around the top and Cleveland around the bottom.  The 23 and 2 are stacked one on top of the other with 23 above the 2.  It is unclear what the 23 or 2 mean; however, it was common for bottle making manufacturers to identify plant locations using numbers.  If a bottle manufacturer produced several different bottle shapes, each unique shape would be given its own mold number. Given these two common practices among bottle manufacturers, it is possible that the “23” indicates the specific (currently unidentified) plant and the “2” indicates the specific mold in which the bottle was produced (Lindsey 2017).

This artifact was found approximately 20 feet away from a slave quarter duplex built in the 1840s that was later converted to tenant housing in the postbellum era. The building continued to be used as tenant housing into the 20th century.  The bottle was recovered from an early 20th century work yard fill. This particular bottle was most likely made sometime in the 1940s based on the bottle’s shape in comparison to other examples, period advertisements, and other artifacts found with the bottle.

Musterole Co. was created in Cleveland Ohio by a pharmacist named A.L. McLaren and a hardware store owner named George Miller 1907.  This Musterole bottle would have contained a white ointment that contained a combination of camphor, menthol, methyl salicylate and of course mustard oil.  It was used to treat colds, muscle aches, and chest congestion, similar to what we call Vicks today.  Previously, mustard plaster was used to treat illnesses and muscle pain, but it was thick, harsh, and was known for leaving blisters on the skin where it was applied.  Musterole was very popular up until 1970 when it was sold and relocated to Tennessee.  It continued to be sold by the Plough Corp. of Tennessee and Schering Pharmaceutical Co., but not under the name Musterole. Soon after, however, it faded out of popularity (Case Western Reserve University, 2017).

Around this time, on the plantation in which the bottle was found, the property was owned by John Lee Pratt.  His nephew, T. Benton Gayle, lived in the plantation’s big house and oversaw the conversion of the wheat farm to a dairy farm in the early 1930s.  Prior to living on the plantation, Gayle received his bachelor’s degree in agricultural science from Virginia Tech, and was also the Superintendent for Stafford and King George County schools. Gayle employed several people, some of whom lived on the property.  One notable employee was John Taylor, a young African American man who most likely resided in the Duplex (Saffos 2017).  Taylor was 25 at the time of the 1940 census, which listed his occupation as “house boy.”  His wife, Carrie, and young daughter, Jean, also resided with him.  This speaks a lot to how race played a part in agriculture and farming.

Prior to the construction of the dairy farm, the plantation workers were predominantly African American.  Because dairy farming used more equipment and technology than traditional farming, Gayle (and many other farm operators) believed the task seemed better suited for white men, while African-Americans were deemed unable to do such advanced work.  Thus, African-Americans were reduced to more menial tasks, such as “house boy.” This switch from black workers being the majority to white workers took place on this farm in the 1930s when the dairy farm became the main operation (Saffos 2017).

Home remedies, such as Musterole, have been around for many years. And although Musterole appeared to work very well, many people would pair the salve with other ingredients to give it an extra kick.  It was common among older African-American women to use garlic and cayenne pepper with the Musterole.  It was also common for this demographic to drink a wild cherry bark tea while also using the Musterole.  However, as time progressed, it became less common for complementary medicine to be used.  This may be due to the rise in education about medicine and better access to conventional medical care (Barnett et. al 2003).  Physicians also became better trained in the human anatomy, thus, able to treat illness more reliably and without the use of harmful substances.  Examples of Musterole’s use can be found in several other early 20th-century archaeological sites associated with African American communities (Hautaniemi et al. 1994; Barnett 2003; Baker 2013).

A prescription medicine bottle was also found near the Duplex.  Based on manufacturing marks, the bottle was made in 1942 (Saffos 2017).  This bottle was most likely used and thrown away by John Taylor or his wife and represents yet another shift that was happening on the plantation at the time. While ethnomedicine and home remedies continued to be widely accepted in the African American community up until the mid to late 20th century (Barnett et. al 2003), the presence of a pharmaceutical bottle that would have been prescribed by a medical doctor shows that new ideas were being accepted. Both traditional and new western medical cures, as represented by the Musterole and the prescription bottles, were used at the same time.

This jar was just a small glass jar when found, but after research and analysis it paints a picture about life in the first half of the 20th century.  We can start to learn about the treatment of African American workers at this time, as well as about manufacturing of medicines and how people used them. This one object also served as a starting point to look into the life of one specific person, John Taylor, and larger changes that took place on the farm.

Works Cited

Baker, Michael Jr.
2013    Archaeological Survey of the Lower Hill Redevelopment Project, City of Pittsburgh, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. Report to Sports and Exhibition Authority of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County.

Barnett, Marina C, Margaret Cotroneo, Joseph Purnell, Danielle Martin, Elizabeth Mackenzie, and Alfred Fishman
2003    Use of CAM in Local African-American Communities: Community-Partnered Research. Journal of the National Medical Association 95(10):943-950.

Case Western Reserve University
2017    Musterole Co. Encyclopedia of Cleveland History.

Hautaniemi, Susan
1994    Recognizing Gender in Historical and Archaeological Contexts. Bulletin of the Massachusetts Archaeological Society 55(1):1-7.

Lindsey, Bill
2017    Historic Glass Bottle Identification & Information Website- Bottle Bases Page, Online. Society for Historical Archaeology and Bureau of Land Management.

Saffos, Kara
2017    Postbellum Workers at Sherwood Forest. Manuscript on file, Department of Historic Preservation, University of Mary Washington, Fredericksburg, VA.


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Daphne Ahalt – Meritorious Artifacts

It continues to amaze me how broken and dirty artifacts excavated from an archaeological site can reveal details of the people, manufacturing techniques and material culture of a time long past. I recently had the opportunity to analyze two non-mendable sherds of black-transfer printed whiteware found on the land of wealthy plantation owner, Henry Fitzhugh, who was a prominent wheat farmer in the Fredericksburg, Virginia region; he inherited his land from Mary Ball Washington’s descendants.

With a little research, manufacturing techniques of the time were uncovered. Both pieces of whiteware were thinly potted and molded, and have incising at their base. Black transfer printed wares were produced from 1785 to 1865 (Stelle 2001), but whitewares were not produced until the early-19th century.  A design was engraved into a copper plate; the plate was then inked, and a thin tissue pressed onto it. The tissue would then be removed and placed on the ceramic to be decorated, lightly fired, glazed, then fired again. Visible on the larger of the two sherds are the nearly-complete words “Reward of Merit” that are surrounded by a leaf border. The smaller sherd has a floral design printed on it. Upon closer inspection, shadow text can be seen where the transfer had been misplaced and then reapplied. The ink missing from inside the block letters appears to have been re-filled somehow, indicated by the incomplete and uneven ink within them.

The curvature of the sherds indicates they came from a small vessel, most likely a children’s drinking mug (similar to the complete example on the right). Until 1830, ceramic mugs were only printed on one side. Post-1830, mugs were printed on both sides, or in one continuous pattern around the mug (Riley 1991:12). The lesser quality of the sherds, in combination with the printing on them, infers a production date for these sherds of circa 1850.

Between 1820 and 1865, immigrants flooded into the new country, prompting American parents to educate their children in reading and writing, and encouraging manners, values and morals (Rider Minton 2006:1). This was born out of an effort to maintain the new nation’s social ideal of respectability, as Americans felt that foreign cultures and religions threatened to throw the social norm into chaos. This push for social respectability came shortly after the ceramic industry’s initial focus on children as a marketing target (Riley 1991:7).

During the middle of the 19th-century, children’s wares were produced in bulk (Riley 1992:12). The printed designs became less elaborate and the quality of the transfer declined. Wares with tilted and off center prints would have been considered “seconds” and, of course, were the cheapest to buy (Samford 2017: per. comm.).

Themes for children’s wares included: rewards for good children; family life; animals; fun and games; nursery rhymes; the ABCs; and Benjamin Franklin’s maxims. As was true to the period, some prints reaffirmed gender roles: girls sewing or doing laundry, boys at rough play or working in the fields (Riley 1991:6). Not all children’s wares contained happy subjects or encouraging messages; some would be deemed as inappropriate for children today. Cumulative rhymes – where a rhyme on one ceramic would build from the rhyme on another – often contained the most inappropriate verses (Siddall 2014). The Death of Cock Robin, for example, asks “who saw him die” and “who caught his blood?” Morbid? Yes, but for children of the 19th-century, death was a very familiar event.

The 1850 and 1860 United States Census records shows that the Fitzhughs were some of the wealthiest people in the county, and that they employed private teachers for their eleven children. Their elite status in the community would have ordained them an example of the social ideal of respectability Americans were trying to attain; therefore, educating their children would have been a priority. It was most likely one of the teachers – of lesser means than the Fitzhugh family –  who bought the lower-quality mug for one of the younger children they taught, sometime between 1850 and the winter of 1862, when the property was abandoned. The mug was most likely a reward for a lesson well-learned or a job well-done.

Today, these two tiny sherds of ceramic continue to teach lessons – and to reward us with a glimpse of past-lives, manufacturing techniques and the culture of a new country.

References Cited:

Rider Minton, Amy Karen
2006     A Culture of Respectability: Southerners And Social Relations In Richmond, VA, 1820-1865. Doctoral Dissertation, Department of History, University of Virginia, Charlottesville. University Microfilms International, Ann Arbor, MI.

Riley, Noel
1991    Gifts For Good Children: The History Of Children’s China, 1790-1890. Richard Dennis, The Old Chapel, Ilminster, Somerset, England.

Siddall, Judie
2014    Cumulative Rhymes On Children’s Pottery. DishyNews: A Transferware Blog.             <>.Accessed 1 October 2017.

Stelle, Lenville J.
2001    An Archaeological Guide to Historic Artifacts of the Upper Sangamon Basin. Center For Social Research, Parkland College. <>. Accessed 1 October 2017.

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Eric Dorman – Stone Tool Making: A Cooler Process Than You Think

A few days back, I had the great experience of being in a session that included a hands-on activity in flint knapping, the process of making stone tools. By participating in the flint knapping demonstration, I learned about the arduous process of making stone heads for tools. A preferable stone is fine-grained and absorbs the shock of impact, like from another stone, evenly so that it is easier to shape. The stone to be flaked must be braced in one hand whose arm is planted upon the leg below it. The other arm, possessing a hammerstone, will strike the stone with a full swing causing a fragmenting from the impact. A well done strike can create a large thin fragment that can have its own uses. Examples of these preferable stones include: obsidian, flint, and quartz.

In addition to Historic Preservation, I am also studying Geology. I know that certain rocks and crystals exist in certain places. Therefore, as an artifact analyst, by knowing the geology of an area from which a set of lithics came, I can tell which are local and which are non-local, possibly indicating trade.

As with metal tool heads, it is important to note the shape of stone tool heads as the shape indicates different functions, not just arrow and spear heads, but also hoes, skinning blades, and weights. Within each function, the shape of a tool head will vary across the land due to certain peoples accepting certain shape variations for a given tool. As a Historic Preservationist, it is important to know what variations were practiced by which peoples for this can serve as an identifier as to what tribe or group used the archaeological site in question.

Projectile Point made by Nate Salzman. I won this point.

The session was very enlightening as to how to make these tools. It’s an art and a science that employs technique and physical strength as well as foresight into what the creator intends to make. It also invokes resourcefulness as knapping fragments can be used for a purpose as well. Overall, flint knapping was actually more fun than I expected it to be.

We began the session with the instructor talking about what it means to flint knap, particularly concerning how it works and what to look for in a stone. We proceeded to try our skills by practicing against glass as well as usual stones like flint and obsidian. I won the pictured point by answering a question correctly.

I also fiddled with some obsidian, flint, and mahogany obsidian. My inner geologist was rather geeking out. In conclusion, I found the demonstration to be quite entertaining. Although I’m far from a professional flint knapper, it was interesting to learn about the art, science, and technique behind these things and employing them in person. I recognize the importance of the geological perspective in identifying them as well as the aesthetical perspective. Also importantly, as an archaeologist, I have to keep an eye out for fragments of these useful rock types as they may be caused by flint knapping.

Flakes I produced while flint knapping.

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Kara Deppe- I’m a Gatherer

The flint knapping demonstration was a frustrating, yet extremely beneficial experience which enabled us to learn more about this process and the people who used these tools.

The definition of flint knapping is “percussing two objects, stones, together to make an edge.” This sounds easy, but believe me when I say this is a craft. There are three things that dictate a nice point: material, angles, and shape. A stone with finer and more uniform grain is ideal for flint knapping because the break is more controlled. Obsidian is the easiest stone to work with, but it is not found in this area. In Fredericksburg, quartz and quartzite are the primary sources for stone tool making, which makes for a more difficult material to work with and shape. The angle at which the stone is struck with the pressure flaker, such as another stone or antler tool determines the size of the flake. Making the items allowed us to experiment with different stone types, look at our flakes and debitage, and interpret how the tool was created and its purpose.

In our lesson on lithic analysis, we further explored the art of stone toolmaking and discussed why these tools are significant. Lithic is just another word for stone. Stone can be manipulated in many ways. There is flint knapping to create tools such as arrowheads, but we can also have grinding stones. There is much to be learned about stone tools from the debitage left behind. Stone is a very durable material so it lasts a long time and is one of the limited artifacts that can be used to study prehistoric people. From the remnants of these stone tools, we can learn more about the tool use and technology levels of those living during the prehistoric era and trade and travel patterns of goods and ideas based on the type of stone found in different areas. We want to know more about people and how they interacted and behaved. Learning about their capabilities in tool making, allow us to study more about their lifestyle and show how we have progressed. The material used to create these stone tools vary in each area and indicate the range of these people and enable us to analyze the exchange of tools and methods for making these tools.

The actual demonstration was a lot of fun, but I would be lying if I said I wasn’t frustrated when it came time for us to try our hand at flint knapping. My favorite part of the demonstration was watching Nate, our instructor, do the flint knapping because he was so good at it and made it look easy. I also loved being outside and hanging out with everyone in a different setting. While the flint knapping demonstration was eye opening and a great opportunity for us to learn more about Native Americans, I also found how hard it really is to create these tools. I credit myself for being very physically strong, but I have never felt so weak trying to get off a good flake. The angles were so tricky and I could never get a true point. I have a much greater appreciation for those who are skilled enough and have the patience to make stone tools and have realized that I am a gatherer.

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Daphne Ahalt- Traditional Technologies Day

On October 3rd, Nate Salzman, Education and Exhibit Specialist at the Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum’s Native Village in St. Leonard, MD., visited the University of Mary Washington campus to teach the Native American technologies of flint knapping, fire making, and pottery. During Prof. McMillan’s Laboratory Methods in Archaeology class, Mr. Salzman (or Mr. Nate, as he’s called by K-12 students who visit the museum) gave university students a hands-on lesson in flint knapping – the reductive process of breaking a larger core stone into little pieces until it is shaped into the tool desired. On this day, we were attempting to make projectile points.

Glass Projectile Point made by Mr. Salzman

Mr. Salzman first described the three most important facts to remember when flint knapping. One, the material used as a core stone will not only determine the quality of the final product, but will determine the difficulty of achieving it. He explained that the finer the grain of the core, the more control one has when breaking pieces off it. Two, the way you apply force to the core determines how that force travels through it – it’s all about the angle at which you strike the core. Third, determining which side of the stone to use and how to shape it is key. He made it look and sound easy, but after giving everyone a core stone to shape and a tool to shape it with – either a stick with a nail embedded in it, another stone or an antler – I can say that it is not an easy process. It was fun trying though! The experience was a lesson in interpreting the archaeological remains of flint knapping – called debitage – and how it relates to the stage of production, recognizing what the flintknapper was doing and how, and why and how variations occur in stone tools and the remains of production. I even gave myself a quick hair-trim with an obsidian flake – form and function at its finest!

I was then honored to join Prof. McMillan, Mr. Salzman, and fellow students Morgan Fries and Olivia Larson for lunch. We ate Italian food while enjoying casual conversation about the work he does at Jefferson Patterson Park, and his interest in what Fredericksburg had to offer university students. So, after lunch, Morgan and I took him on a little tour of the some of the city’s best spots! Of course, we had to stop by Carl’s, many Fredericksburg natives’ favorite place –  besides, what’s better than ice cream for dessert on a warm, sunny day? We then hopped back in the car for a little sight-seeing on the way to Old Mill Park for a walk along the river. Then it was back to campus to start setting up for the next learning experience with Mr. Nate – Native American fire making and pottery. This session was open to the public as well as students, and was even more fun than the flint knapping.

Mr. Salzman began this session by teaching the crowd how to start a fire using nothing more than a flat piece of wood, a pointed stick and a handful of dried plant and bark fibers as kindling. Working in teams, each member took their turn in rotation, quickly spinning the stick between their hands while pressing it down against the wooden plate sitting over the kindling. He explained how the friction during this process causes enough heat to spark the kindling. Again, easier said than done. My team, which included Olivia Larson, Josh Baker, Reagan Anderson, Dr. Brad Hatch, and myself, was able to make plenty of smoke, but no fire. Someone in the crowd, however, was successful, and soon a fire was burning in a pit in the middle of Jefferson Square – just in time to make some pottery!

Clay Baking Dish, made by the Author

Mr. Salzman had brought clay he had made himself – from dirt he dug from the park with a little sand mixed in as temper. He instructed the crowd to pick out the larger pieces of grass and bits of stone before rolling the clay into a workable ball. Using only our hands and a small amount of water, everyone began to form their clay into recognizable forms: bowls, cups, miniature cooking wares and even pipes. He then explained how to dry them properly, noting that drying them too quickly would cause the pottery to become brittle and break, and that drying too slowly can cause a loss of form. He even put one of the pipes in the fire to bake, making sure to place it just right so he would not scorch or crack the clay. While the pipe was baking, Prof. McMillan provided the ingredients for S’mores – what a great way to end such a fun day!

The entire day was an exciting adventure in Native American technologies. Being able to experience the ways of a past culture helped to explain some of the artifacts found – and missed – during field school this past summer; how they got there and what they can tell us about the natives who occupied the site before colonial settlement. I also gained a new appreciation for the grocery store, modern heating and cooking appliances, and a new understanding of Native American life. Thanks, Nate Salzman, for taking the time to visit and share your expertise with us – so much fun!

Products from the Traditional Technologies Day

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Spring 2018 Course- African Diaspora Archaeology

Professor McMillan here. I’m popping in to plug a course I am teaching next semester.

HISP 471A4: African Diaspora Archaeology

Permission of instructor is needed for this class. It is open to students both in the Department of Historic Preservation as well as non-majors. I encourage anyone who is interested in taking the class to contact me:


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Daphne Ahalt: Fabulous Finds – Discovering Artifacts in the Archaeological Lab, Part One

Fall classes have started and I’m back in the Archaeology Lab learning and working with the artifacts that were recently excavated during Field School (see other blog posts by Joey Savino and myself for more about our experiences). Since returning, I have had the opportunity to explore artifacts recently excavated by UMW students. When I say revisit, what I really mean is sort and clean. I have brushed the dirt from numerous nails, animal bones and a couple of rocks – yep, rocks; and I have given dozens of shards of glass a good washing, while a couple dozen sherds of ceramics of various sizes and types received not just one bath, but a second – with a good brushing of the edges. Lesson learned, Professor McMillan.

The process may not sound the least bit exciting, but I have found that the opposite is actually true. As I clean each artifact, I reveal the details of an object that were previously obscured by dirt. What I thought was one thing often turns out to be another, and sometimes that thing is more interesting or exciting than originally thought! So, over the course of the semester I will be writing about the artifacts that I find most interesting, enlightening or just plain cool. I’ll start with an artifact that I think is all three.

Excavated Sticking Tommy. Photo by: Author

A couple of weeks ago, I was in the lab diligently cleaning a very large bag of metal objects that had been pulled from a unit. The layer I was working on is from a large midden associated with a Union Army encampment from 1862 in Stafford County, Virginia. The master context for this layer includes many military related items, such as bayonets, clothing materials, including eagle buttons, and several different types of ordinance. I came upon a blob of metal and dirt on top of a short and sharpened metal spike – it looked like an overgrown lollipop.

I began to brush the sides of the metal blob and soon realized that my effort was having little effect, so I decided to try brushing the blob’s slightly flattened top. Dirt immediately flew everywhere. I kept brushing as the dust continued to fly from the blob creating a brown, Pigpen-style cloud around me. Partly to save my eyes from the dust cloud, and partly out of pure curiosity, I traded my toothbrush for a pick. Ever so gently, I placed the tip of the pick into the top-center of the blob where I had been brushing. To my surprise, the dirt began to flake away in neat, thin layers. As the layers of dirt slowly peeled away, I began to see that under the blob there was an iron rim that encircled a small, tubular void.

With my interest piqued, I began to gently pick the dirt out from the void. As I picked at the soil in the void, the compacted dirt on the sides of the blob began to fall away. Suddenly the object took on a very recognizable form. Handing it to classmate and field school peer, Erin Fox, she immediately confirmed what I was thinking – it is a candle holder! But on a nail? Determined to see as much as I could, I continued to brush and pick until I was nervous that I would damage the artifact.

Examining the candle holder left me with more questions than answers. First, why is this candleholder perched on what appears to be a purposefully sharp spike? Next, what in the heck was this strange little candle holder used for exactly – its odd form must have had a specific purpose. There is a band of corrosion that wraps around the face of the candle socket that refuses to budge; it looks like a worm encased in dirt. What in the heck is that? Research mode kicked in, I had to know the answers. After more than a few fruitless searches, I finally stumbled upon a few websites that showed some promise.

Miner’s Sticking Tommy; Photo courtesy of Amazon

The first was for a historic 1850’s Vermont dairy farm. The page contains a picture of an object that looks very similar to the artifact I discovered in the lab. The title reads “Colonial Sticking Tommy” and the caption explains that the “little sticking Tommy wasn’t used in hard rock mining like most. It is a much earlier, utilitarian, and once popular candlestick used for in-home lighting during American colonial days up and through the Civil War.” Hmmm, interesting. The artifact in the lab was found on an 1840’s plantation that was documented to have had a Union Army Officer’s camp perched on it during the Civil War. The caption continues to note that the object has “two cast-iron spikes at a 90-degree angle to each other. It could be vertically stuck into a railing, post or table or it could be horizontally stuck into a wall or timber posts and thus provide lighting whenever and wherever desired.” Well, that explains the “nail” part. Could that also be the explanation for the worm-like corrosion on the side of the one in the lab? Did the horizontal spike get “stuck” forcefully one-too-many times into a wall or tree and bent beyond repair? Even without the horizontal spike the candle holder could be used vertically stuck into a table or the top of a fence post. Did the bent spike prevent the user from pushing the Tommy into the surface of the wood without poking themselves, rendering it useless and thrown into the midden where it was found during excavation? More questions, more searching.

The next link I investigated sent me to a website produced by Martha’s Vineyard Museum, titled Laura Jernegan: Girl on a Whaleship, which “tells the story of Laura Jernegan,… a 6 year old girl from Edgartown, Massachusetts set out on a three year whaling voyage with her father, mother, brother and the ship’s crew to the whaling grounds of the Pacific Ocean” in 1868. Found in the Artifact Catalog on the site, the picture’s caption describes a Sticking Tommy as “an iron candle holder that was used by sailors to ‘stick’ into wooden posts or flat surfaces below decks to provide them with a little extra light.” It goes on to say, however, that “because of their shape, they were sometimes used as impromptu weapons during brawls.” Ouch. But I have a consistent identification and a relatively similar artifact date; that’s enough information to get me headed in the right direction as I continue to research.

A Civil War Era “Stuck” Tommy; Photo courtesy of Ebay

The third link led me to an Ebay page selling a candle spike; not the best place to look for information, but I was curious so I clicked. Another visual match and a new search term! The item description read, in part, “original Civil War era miners metal candle holder with double direction spike. a very versatile[sic] utilitarian necessity for early lighting when and where it was needed. It measures 4 5/8”h x 3 5/8”d x 1 1/8”w and is in all original condition having authentic age character, surface and patina.” This made me curious as to the size of the artifact found in the midden in comparison to this and the others I had just seen, so I measured it with a caliper.

The Sticking Tommy found in the midden is only 2 ¼” high and is 1 5/8” at its widest point (including the “worm”). So, it would seem it is not only broken horizontally – since I have no way of measuring the artifact’s depth (horizontal spike) as above, just the width – but the vertical spike must have also broken. The Sticking Tommy in the lab is only half as tall as the one noted above, and it appears that someone has filed the vertical spike down to a sharp point so it could be re-used. Or maybe it’s some kind of make-shift Sticking Tommy, used in a pinch and then tossed aside. Either way, based on the information in the unit’s Excavation Context Records, and the small amount of information I have gathered so far, I surmise that the owner, whomever that was, finally wearied of the broken and battered candleholder and tossed it into the midden sometime near or during the Civil War.  As to who, we may never know; but we now have an idea as to what. I believe we have found a Sticking Tommy, a 19th century object used for convenient, portable lighting by persons along the east coast – and maybe for fighting.  Pretty cool, and enlightening, don’t you think? Going to have to research that fighting story some more. I’ll let you know if I find anything.

Bowl and “worm” on Excavated Sticking Tommy.
Photo by: Author



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Joey Savino: The Ex Situ Series. Volume 1: “Foundations”

In this series, Joey will be exploring his ideas, thoughts, feelings, and experiences in archaeology from the field to the lab, and ultimately to a final research project focused on the Sherwood Forest Plantation site.


There’s something special about Virginia clay.  There’s a special magic in it.  It has a certain soft give, yet firms up if you push too hard.  It’s got a scent, appropriately earthy, all musk and damp and slightly tangy sweet.  It’s also earthy in the sense of raw, sleeping potential, something ready to be worked and put to form.  But the real magic is the color.  Virginia clay is a complex red.  It can be a somber brownish red or a vibrant garish red.  Sometimes it’s a medley of the two, or of others, or some shade in between.  But damned if it doesn’t stain everything it touches.  It seeps into your clothes, your tools, colors your skin, fills your nostrils and your brain, inviting you down to feel its coolness.  Its touch, a lingering sense in the back of your mind and on the back of your tongue, a flavor you can’t quite recreate, a sensation you can’t quite place.  Virginia clay is a subtle color.  It starts slow, where you only see some of it here or there, then suddenly it’s all there is, all you can see, whether in the ground or in the skin.  It’s strange to think, that in this land so stained in mind, of Union blue and Rebel grey, of forgotten native and colonial white, of enslaved and silenced black, of countless multitudes crossing these grounds, whether in travail, train car, hold, or hearse, singular or across generations, that each may have been stained by the same clay, by that magical Virginia red.  Each carried something of it away.  All may have had that same, shared sense, that taste they could never quite place, that almost spicy sweet.  But each, I suppose, would be stained somewhat different.  There’s a magic in that, too.  Beyond the stains that color the skin, there’s a certain something that stains the soul.  It builds up slow, seeps in by layers, until it’s all there is, all you can see, all you can taste.  It colors everything, and is stubborn against removal.  Maybe that’s part of the magic.  Virginia clay has a sticking power, a staining power.  At least, that’s been the magic to me.


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My Summer in Archaeology- Daphne Ahalt

This summer I had the opportunity to participate in the third season of UMW Center for Historic Preservation’s Archaeology Field School at Sherwood Forest Plantation in Stafford County; it was the most amazing learning experience I have ever had! Working under the instruction of incoming Professor Lauren McMillan (you’re going to love her!) and with an amazing group of fellow students, I learned much more than proper excavation methods and recording procedures.

Measuring unit depth using the engineer’s scale was one of the first things I learned, followed by a quick lesson in how archaeology is not for wimps – schnitting sounds easy enough until you have a rude meeting with a layer, or ten, of Virginia clay. I must admit, though, learning how to recognize the differences in strata, and placing the artifacts found in each layer into context is fascinating, and well worth every layer of red muck. Together, the strata and artifacts slowly revealed the story of past landscapes, people and events, and sometimes a wonderful surprise or two!

Each artifact I pulled from the ground was a mini-lesson and soon I could distinguish between different types of ceramics and glass, their patterns and tpq dates. Learning how to use the transit to measure distance, how to do a plan drawing, recording the stratigraphy of units, taking proper photos – every day I learned something new as we uncovered, layer by layer, the physical evidence of the plantation’s occupants and changing landscape over the past 175 yrs.

It wasn’t “all work and no play”, however. Day trips to Historic Jamestowne, Montpelier, and Chatham Manor to see other archaeological sites and artifact labs were not just fun, they gave me the opportunity to compare archaeological methods and findings, and to examine the similarities and differences in the lives of slaves, soldiers, and the plantation owners. (But it was mostly fun!)

I think one of the best things about this summer’s field school was the extraordinary people I was privileged to meet and work with. From a day with prominent women of Fredericksburg’s Historic Preservation community, to the outstanding volunteers who came to work with the most amazing UMW student crew, all those we met on our trips, and of course, those who came to visit the site, including President Paino, members of the National Park Service, and UMW HISP professors and staff – current and retired. The people I had the honor of working with, and learning from, made the experience unforgettable, and made every morning of bailing water from the site worth it!

Backfilling was bittersweet – I didn’t want the excavation to stop, but the adventure didn’t end when the digging did.  Volunteering in the lab with Joey as we help Professor McMillan get the lab –  and the artifacts, site records and maps in it – organized has given me a sneak-peek at the administrative and collection processes that take place after the dirty fun has stopped. And getting to touch all the artifacts as we clean them…well, all I can say is: Best. Summer. Ever!





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