Posted by: signalhillarchaeology | July 29, 2009

Mystery 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 difficult to determine.  As always, I have ideas about their true identity, but I’ll save my ideas for the comments section at a later date.

The artifacts all come from the midden-like deposits at the North Range Barracks site, so all should date between 1800 and 1840 or thereabouts.

Up first: Mysterious Object #1.

The first Mystery Object

The first Mystery Object

This curious object is made of bone– made from the rib bone of a large animal (likely cow), to be precise.

The scalloped edge that you see at the top of the image is not natural– cow ribs are not naturally serrated like that.

So, these shapes have been intentionally cut into the rib bone.  The question is: why? What purpose would shaping this bone serve?

Next in line: Mystery Object #2:

Mystery Object #2

Mystery Object #2

This is a much smaller object (the scale you see below shows millimeters).  It is made from copper or some sort of copper alloy.

The top is hollow, and shaped like a pencil eraser, and as you can see, the bottom has four flaps that are spread out.

I can tell you that it is not the top of a pencil, and it was not meant to hold an eraser, despite looking like it.  That’s the only hint you’ll get, though.

And, Mystery Object #3 (represented with two photos):

Mystery Object #3-- side view

Mystery Object #3-- side view

It is mostly made of iron/steel, as the majority of the item is magnetic.  However, one part of the object is not magnetic– the part on the far left hand side.

The ridges that you see running up and down the object are not corrosion; rather, they are intentionally made, as are the crosswise linear grooves that intersect them.

The object also has an interesting cross-section, which you can see in the image below.

Mystery Object #3, end view:

Mystery object #3, as seen from its side view.  My fingers should provide you with a sense of scale.

Mystery object #3, as seen from its side view. My fingers should provide you with a sense of scale.

There is a hole in the middle which is not a hole all the way through.  I think it is just an area where part of the iron implement has broken away.

This is the magnetic (ie iron/steel) end of the object; the non-magnetic part is on the other end.

So: have at it in the comments! Send in your best guesses! I’ll chime in eventually, after all our interested parties have had a chance to speculate.

And don’t worry, there are many more mystery artifact posts to come…

Have fun guessing!

—Amanda Crompton (Instructor)



  1. Could Mystery Object #1 be the remnants from making bone buttons? The “teeth” don’t look even enough to be serrations per se. However, it looks like maybe the discs would have overlapped too much?

    The second photo of Mystery Object #3 looks like it’s showing the cross section of a broken wrought iron blade? Could some of the criss-cross pattern on the handle be from some sort of wrapping with copper wire or something similar, where the wrapping has disappeared and/or the wrought iron has oxidized and bulged out?

    • Erika, I think you’re right on both counts. The bone fragment is certainly the result of making buttons… and I’m pretty confident that the iron object is part of a handle of a bladed weapon. I’ve found some pretty good parallel examples online, with the ridges arranged like that. Thanks for commenting!

  2. Mystery Artifact #2 is a percussion cap isn’t it?!

    • Yep, Kathleen, you’re correct, that is a percussion cap! 🙂

  3. I agree that number one is for bone buttons. We have found many of them in Quebec at l’Îlot-des-Palais.

    • Thanks Anne-Marie, and I completely agree with you. We have another fragment like this from our site, but this one is much larger… lots of handmade bone buttons too!

  4. I agree with Erika about Object #1 being a discard piece from cutting out bone circles. Buttons are a definite possibility, although ribs are a pretty weak, friable bone. I’ve tried making combs from ribs and the teeth crack off very easily. My guess would be that buttons made from ribs would have a fraction of the lifespan of buttons made on long bones. Maybe something else like a set of checkers or some other round game tokens?

    • Huh, interesting thoughts, Tim. Because you’ve replicated so many historic and prehistoric artifacts, you have a really interesting perspective on this. And of course, we know that the soldiers were gaming (having found that lovely domino and lots of clay marbles) so game tokens is an interesting idea. Thanks!!

  5. Mystery object 2 is a Bandolier Cap

    • It’s a clever guess, Steve, but I think it’s just too tiny to be a bandolier cap… I think it’s a percussion cap.

  6. Object #2

    An ink bottle top??

    • Another interesting guess… but I do think because of its tiny size (perhaps 6mm across, at most) it’s more likely a percussion cap. Thanks for posting!!!!

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