Posted by: signalhillarchaeology | July 14, 2010

What Lies Beneath…

One of the most common questions that tourists ask us is “what are you finding?”.  We usually run through the typical repertoire of artifacts that we find in a day, and take a few out to show tourists.

A small ceramic bowl, as it appeared when it was first uncovered. We'll mend these pieces back together in the lab.

One thing that people often don’t realize is that most of what we find is broken, bashed, squashed, crushed, stepped on, or otherwise fragmented… We definitely don’t find pirate gold or buried treasure.

Instead, we find the remains of soldiers’ tableware, including smashed ceramic plate and bowl fragments like the one you see to the left.

This is an entirely typical ceramic find for us. It’s only a portion of a ceramic bowl– we didn’t find the remaining half– and the part that we did find has been further fragmented into smaller pieces.

It’s very unusual for archaeologists to find an entire ceramic vessel, and even more unusual if it hasn’t been smashed into many smaller pieces.

But even though it’s been smashed into pieces, it’s still important to collect. We can piece the sherds back together in the lab, and if enough of the ceramic object is present, we can reconstruct an approximation of what the original object looked like.

We also find ceramic tablewares that are useful because they have well-established dates of manufacture.

The artifact to the left is a fragment of a type of ceramic called Creamware (so named for its yellowish colour).  Creamware is usually said to be an invention of Josiah Wedgewood, and was introduced in about 1762, and remained popular until about 1820.  The artifact below is a type of ceramic called Pearlware, which was introduced around ca. 1780, and remained popular until about 1830. We can then use this chronological information to help provide a date for the site– one of the more popular methods involves the calculation of a mean ceramic date, which will give us a midpoint of the site’s occupation.

So, tablewares like this, despite their fragmentary state, can tell us a lot.  They can indicate not only how the soldiers set their table, and whether or not they used expensive tablewares to do so… and they can also tell us something about how old our site is.  This is why even the most prosaic of artifacts– small, smashed bits of ceramic pots, plates, and dishes– are important to us.

–Amanda Crompton (Instructor)

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