Posted by: signalhillarchaeology | July 24, 2009

More interesting finds…

One of the things that I really like about the North Range Barracks site is the variety of artifacts that we’re finding.  Certainly, many of our finds are entirely typical of historic sites of this time period.

A tobacco pipe fragment

A tobacco pipe fragment

For example, we’re finding tobacco pipes that are of nineteenth-century date. Tobacco pipe bowls in particular change in size and shape through time, and these changes are very well-documented. So in this case, the large bowl, its shape, and its decoration are classic  indicators of a nineteenth century date.

We’re also finding ceramic fragments that are entirely consistent with an early- to mid-ninteenth century date– and we’re finding a lot of these!

Pearlware, with blue transfer-printed decoration.

Pearlware, with blue transfer-printed decoration.

The great thing about ceramic sherds (apart from the fact that they, too, are easily datable) is that we can start to reconstruct them.  Even if we just have a few fragments from the base or the rim, we can deduce the original form of the vessel before it was smashed into hundreds of pieces.  In this case, the sherd is likely from a plate or shallow bowl.

And of course, because soldiers lived at this structure, we’re finding artifacts that are related to firearms.

Lead shot on the left, and lead sprue on the right

Lead shot on the left, and lead sprue on the right

We don’t find whole firearms, or even large pieces of firearms– generally, we only find bits and pieces that have been discarded and lost.  In this case, we’ve found the round lead shot, and what is called lead sprue– the latter is the waste product left over from manufacturing lead shot in molds.

We also have been finding lots and lots of fish and animal bone.  We’re really lucky to have Stéphane working on the project– he’s got a great background in zooarchaeology, and so he can help us to identify our animal bones.


Mammal bone. Note the parallel lines running crosswise along the centre part of the image... guess who was nibbling on this bone??

A lot of our bones– probably the majority– are fish bone, likely cod.  There are mammal bones present as well; mostly cow, though sheep and/or pig are also present.  The image at left is really interesting– it’s a mammal bone.  But take a close look at the middle of the picture, and you’ll see a set of parallel scratches running vertically along the bone shaft– these are teeth marks! Not human teeth, mind you… but rat teeth marks.  So, we know that rats also inhabited the barracks building (and we’ve found rat bones as well as their teeth marks on other bones).  So not only can we tell what formed part of the diet of the average soldier, we can learn about the animals that they would have had to share their quarters with– including the unwelcome ones!

And of course, some of the artifacts are little bits and pieces that are part of some larger object. We can identify the bits and pieces, but their original function remains unclear. This small spring, for example, obviously is.. well, a spring. But what exactly it sprung, what object it originally resided in, we’re not so sure (suggestions are always welcome, of course!!)

A spring that sprang... something.

A spring that sprang... something.

So these are some of the typical and not-so-typical artifacts that we find on a daily basis.  Each one can tell us some sort of story about the site, and the people who lived there… which is why we collect every single thing we find- even the tiniest fragment.  So, as a result, archaeological excavation is  an exercise in patience, attention to detail, and staring intently at the soil you are painstakingly removing with small hand tools… all while laying/sitting/kneeling on rocky soil while our Newfoundland weather hurls four seasons at you in rapid succession.

…Really, excavation is a lot of fun, even if I seem to be intent on demonstrating otherwise here, heh.  You simply never know what’s underneath the next buckeful of dirt– and that’s what keeps us digging!

–Amanda Crompton (Instructor)


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