Transfer-printing, developed in Britain in the mid-18th century, provided a way for ceramic manufacturers to duplicate a single pattern on multiple pieces with accuracy and efficiency. Unlike hand-painted pottery, the new transfer-printed ceramics could be rigidly standardized and produced in mass quantities in a relatively short period of time. The process began with a metal plate, which was incised with the desired pattern. The plate was then used to print the pattern onto a piece of paper, which was used to transfer the pattern onto a ceramic object (see, for example, this photograph). In the case of a linear pattern that was made to wind around a curved object such as a bowl or teacup, you might find a slight disruption in the pattern where the beginning of the sheet of paper met the end. That's what I believe happened in the piece shown above, a sherd of transfer-printed whiteware in which the pattern is not quite continuous.
Since there were only three of us in the field today (Bruce, Gretchen, and I - Laurie helped us set up but had to leave afterward), we decided to concentrate on one unit. We backfilled Feature 6 (which you can see in this picture on the right, looking suspiciously like a fresh grave, but I swear it isn't), and staked out Feature 8, another 3' x 5' rectangle. We placed this unit to the south of Feature 6 because it seemed that the artifacts in the latter unit were concentrated in the southern half and along the southern wall, and to the east of Feature 6 because it's closer to the original unit we dug in this location (Feature 5). We're still holding out hope that we will find the rest of the Brown Betty teapot - and maybe a Boehmer bottle or two.
What we did find was fascinating in its own right. The very first find we made in Feature 8 was this cast iron toy gun, which Bruce found and identified. It has a flower- or pinwheel-like emblem just above the trigger. This artifact, along with a single metal jack found in the same unit, is one of the only pieces of explicit physical evidence pointing to the presence of children at the site, aside from children's graves. Like women, minorities, and the poor, children are one of the demographic groups that is often given short shrift by the historical record. But children and the other groups I mentioned nonetheless left an imprint beneath the ground.
After doing some internet sleuthing, I believe I have found a match for this artifact: the Stevens 1885 cast-iron cap gun: see this example. The website where this image is located, Nichols Cap Guns, refers to "Logan and Best's book, page 192" - I assume this is Cast Iron Toy Gun and Capshooters by Samuel H. Logan, published by C. W. Best in 1990, which I obviously need to order from the library. But this means that - if I am right - this toy gun may be 129 years old. I have to say it's in pretty good shape considering!
Like the rest of the units we have dug in this area, Feature 8 has consisted of mixed refuse - ceramic, glass, metal, animal bone, walnut shells (there are no walnut trees currently in the site, but presumably there were at one time), nails, and oyster and clam shells. These artifacts were concentrated in the first ten inches or so below the surface of the ground, tapering off a bit between ten and twenty inches, and disappearing into sterile soil slightly after that. This, again, is very similar to the pattern we have seen in Features 5, 6, and 7. But Feature 8 is unique in having a great deal of gravel in it - specifically, pebble-sized gravel very similar to that which we found in the walkway leading up to St. Mark's Church in our early STPs. Is this the same gravel from the walkway, mixed with artifacts of that time period? It is true that the majority of the artifacts we've found in the dump date to the period of St. Mark's Church (1851-1916), though a significant number are earlier.
Even if we are able to date an artifact to the period of St. Mark's, it's difficult if not impossible to tell whether it actually came from the church and/or its parishioners. When St. Mark's was built, there was already a Methodist church located on the other side of the stone wall (the first church was built in 1824; a second in the 1840s in the same location). In the 1860s, the Methodist church was moved down the road and the old church building was converted into a residence and later, a hotel. Meanwhile, houses occupied the plots of land adjoining the cemetery on its western side beginning in the mid-19th century. Any one of these - the churches, the houses, the hotel - could have contributed trash to the dump, but most likely they all did, at the same time. The Methodist church purchased the property that encompasses the dump in 1854 and made it into a cemetery, but this doesn't seem to have deterred people from dumping their trash along the stone wall. In fact, I would guess that the use of the dump increased during the period 1850-1900, judging by the artifacts we have found.
Who used this medicine vial? Was it a parishioner of St. Mark's or of the Methodist church? A family member visiting the cemetery? An occupant of one of the neighboring houses? A hotel guest? All of these are possible. Determining a date may help to narrow down the possibilities, but questions will remain. Archaeology involves both "objective" scientific analysis and "subjective" interpretation. I write these in scare quotes because it might be argued that scientific methods are never completely objective, but rather shaped by the ideas and expectations of the people asking the questions; neither is interpretation, if done correctly, completely subjective in the way that opinion or intuition is. Opinions are innumerable; interpretations are restrained by physical evidence, historical context, and methodology. To put it another way, archaeologists can argue over the chronology and purpose of Stonehenge, but no archaeologist who wants to maintain his reputation in the field (and his job) is going to make a case for extraterrestrial involvement.
That being said, here's some more transfer-printed whiteware.
I'm not sure what these ceramic pieces are - earthenware maybe, with a red and yellow slip? The pieces are quite thick and heavy. In any case, I believe they're older than the previous examples.
Speaking of things that are older than other things: today we found our first blown glass bottle. This means that, rather than being formed inside a mold, as the other bottles we have found (including the Boehmer bottle) were, this bottle was hand-made by a glass blower who left the mark of his pontil rod (the instrument used to grip the bottle as it was finished) at the base of the bottle, known as a pontil mark. Because it was blown and not molded, this bottle has no seams running up the side, as the Boehmer bottle does. It's also extremely thin and delicate, much more so than the sturdy molded bottles we have found. Bruce made this amazing find about nineteen inches below the surface in the southwestern quadrant of the unit. It was one of the last things we found before the cultural layer gave way to subsoil. Though I'm not sure of the exact date, it most likely predates the Civil War.
I have to say I love digging in the dump, not only because of the amazing things we've found, but because it's so shady and quiet. Most archaeological fieldwork is conducted in the summer months to coincide with summer breaks, and because the ground isn't frozen and there is more sunlight. I think a lot of archaeologists - particularly those who work in 100+ degree F heat in the blazing desert - would be jealous of the conditions we've been working in. Many might also envy the richness of the site, which despite being relatively small has proven to be extremely rich in finds. We've only worked three days this season so far, and already we've made discoveries that have surprised and delighted us and changed our understanding of the site.
The first thing everyone wants to know when they hear you're doing an archaeological excavation is "What have you found?" At this point we have found pretty much anything. This site, particularly the dump, is an incredible survey of 19th-century material culture from a village that, while small, was thoroughly engaged with the developments of Industrial Revolution, having both its own local industries and connections to national and international markets. The fact that all of this material has been found in a church site of all places is a testament to the fact that the spheres of history are never quite as separate as we think they are. Economic, social, and political currents pervaded every aspect of life in the 19th century, just as they do now. For me, this excavation has suggested new ways of understanding the relationships between different scales of history. What influence did the modern world have on this modest site, which began its life as a shaky outpost of European civilization on the frontier of the New World? What influence did this site have on the development of the modern world? After all, "the world" is not a separate domain, but an aggregate of local sites just like ours, drawn together in a complex web of interactions. Each site has played a role in creating the present we inhabit today.