Posted by: signalhillarchaeology | July 17, 2009

Mystery Artifact #1

One question we hear a lot from visitors to the site is “so what are you finding”?  Most of the time, the answer is pretty easy– we can easily identify the broken bits of pottery, smashed glass bottles, and fragments of tobacco pipes.

Occastionally, though, our answer to that same question is  “Huh…. I’m not… well….I just don’t know what this is”.  Sometimes, identifying an artifact’s original function is hard because it’s been smashed, broken up, beat up, sat on, squashed, and then possibly stomped on for good measure. And when this happens to artifacts that are unusual in the first place, identifying their original purpose is difficult.

So,  for your consideration, I present several fragments that come from the same artifact… or at least I think they come from the same artifact.  I’m not sure what they are, but we’ve had a lot of good guesses. I’ve got my own pet theories, which I’ll remain silent on (…for now), but I encourage you to take a stab at it in the comments.

The only information that I’ll give out for now is that the objects are flat, made of copper or some sort of copper alloy, and the largest pieces are are at most fifteen centimeters in size.  They are from the North Range Barracks midden, which indicates that they were used by the British military, and date from 1799/1800 to about 1840 or thereabouts. Take a guess at what it is in the comments, and I’ll post my own theories sometime over the weekend.

This will be the first in a series of ‘Mystery Artifact’ posts that I have in mind— provided we keep finding mysteries (this should be an encouragement for students to dig faster!! Heh).

Two pieces of the mystery artifact

Two pieces of the mystery artifact

Possibly part of the same artifact?

Possibly part of the same artifact?

Part of the same artifact? Or not? Maybe? Help!! Leave your guesses in the comments!

Part of the same artifact? Or not? Maybe? Help!! Leave your guesses in the comments!

—Amanda Crompton (Instructor)



  1. Maybe a hat plate? The guy with the tall hat on this page has a big copper plate on the middle of his hat:

    • Hi Tim, great guess, and one of my top pet theories as well… I have some work to do in the library, that’s for sure! Thanks for sending the link 🙂

  2. Hey Amanda- Check out this website. The lion and crown look like the ones on some of these coins. They are from the Knights of St. Andrews. These people were an elite unit select Scottish Rite Masons. I don’t know if the Scottish were over in this area though?!

    Also, I can see some writings on these artifacts; what do they say?

    They are really cool finds!

    • Hi Kathleen, thanks for the link! The writing on one reads ‘ubique’ and on the other ‘scotia’. Keep ideas coming, and I agree, they are cool finds 🙂

  3. Hey Amanda! Very very cool that you’re doing this! I’m pretty psyched!

    It’s a regimental crest of some sort that likely came off a piece of equipment.

    Here’s something I know, the motto over the piece of artillery is “ubique”- which is the motto for the Artillery regiment. How do I know this? When I was with the army reserve in St. John’s, their motto was also “ubique”….but I’d read somewhere while I was there that when the Queen (don’t remember which Queen) gave that motto to British engineers the artillery regiments got upset because that was already their motto. I think she resolved the dispute by giving the two mottos different translations – the engineers would have “everywhere” while the artillery regiments would get “all over the place”. Not sure where I picked that bit of trivia up but I’m sure you can find it somewhere.



    • Thanks Jeremy, especially for the insight on the history of the usage of ‘ubique’… If you’re in NL again over the next few weeks, drop by the site!

  4. Just did a quick search online which mad me want to refine my comment a bit more – I think it’s a cap badge for the Royal Artillery regiment. There’s a bunch of them for sale on e-bay from WW1. They’re quite similar, at least similar enough that one could see the continuation.

  5. I second Tim’s suggestion that these could be bits of a brass shako plate(s). Maybe one of those Osprey books of military uniforms might show something similar?

    • Thanks Erica, especially for the reading suggestion… I’ve got to clear up some time to spend in the library next weekend!

  6. You have at least two different regiments here. The first piece is definitely Royal Artillery, probably a shako plate. The second photo is from a Nova Scotia regiment which served on Signal Hill. Wish I was close to my references in the office – the curse of doing field work. But these will be fairly easy to identify. Great finds. Can’t wait to see what else you’re finding. How about the food bones and botanicals?

    • Thanks for comments, as always, Rob 🙂 I think that these fragments of militaria will be a great research project for one of the students… as for food bones and botanicals, look for a post next week on the subject!

  7. I agree with the reply of Rob etc, definitely a hat badge, the Royal Artillery, the cannon looks maybe post 1900, the lion on crown is UK for sure, the Nova Scotia portion may indicate an artillery unit from there. similar portions of items:

    lion on crown

    Canadian artillery button symbols


    • Thanks for your response and the links, JA– and I completely agree! I think, though, that based on the context of our midden, that the badge(s) date between 1800 and 1840– it’s a lovely sealed and undisturbed deposit. I’ll post some more mystery artifacts next week!

  8. It makes sense the first artifact is Royal Artillery shako plate, but is that necessarily true of the second artifact?

    Likely it comes from the Nova Scotia regiment as suggested by Rob, but it does look rather plain compared to most other shako plates I’ve seen. Could it perhaps be from another part of the uniform?

    • Interesting thoughts Andrew– I’ll have to get myself into the library (or, better yet, hope that a student decides to make this a term project– *hint *to any other students reading this!)

      • There are a number of objects that hold military insignia besides shakos. Ammunition pouches are another one. “History Written withPick and Shovel” (the archaeologist in me grimaces), written in 1950 by Calver and Bolton, illustrates a lot of military insignia of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. And the Nova Scotia item is definitely separate from the Royal Artillery piece, perhaps the Nova Scotia Fencibles.

  9. Thanks for the info and the book suggestion, Rob (sounds like a little light night-time reading, hooray! heh). I’m going to have to hit the library this coming weekend… Oh, and there is other evidence of Nova Scotia regiment at our site too, so your identification ties in nicely!

  10. […] Artifact(s) #3: A Trifecta of Curious Things Welcome to our next installment in the Mystery Artifact Series! Today we have a veritable Hat Trick of three strange artifacts whose function is […]

  11. The Royal Engineers were more prominent in St. John’s than were the Artillery. The Engineer’s motto “Ubique” means “everywhere,” whereas that of the Artillery means “All over the place.”

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