Thursday, January 14, 2010

And I thought the concealments were interesting...

I so wish I could post details about this one, because truth sure can be stranger than fiction. But I would put large sums of money down on a bet that I was the only one in this -particular- situation. And by only, I mean, really, totally, only. Which means to give details would blow whatever pseudonymous cover I have, such as it is.

So I'm going through an artifact catalog for one of my projects. I generally don't catalog my own artifacts; that's done by folks down in the lab. When they're done, I go over the catalogs pretty thoroughly right off the bat, looking for duplicate entries, spelling issues, formatting weirdness, put together a reference list, pick out things I know I'll want to have a closer look at, identify things that need to be dated or dated more closely, etc.* This gives me a sense of what the artifact assemblage looks like for the whole project, and gives me a chance to make some big-picture and more detailed connections between and among contexts (excavation units, shovel tests, soil layers). It's picky and time consuming, but pays off in the long run.

Lalala, messing with a catalog of a few thousand artifacts, some interesting stuff, I'll have to get the faunal folks to look at these bones for foodways info, wow, lots of nails, nothing jumping out at me in particular... until BOOM. WTF is this really weird entry? That piece of ceramic has WHAT on it? I've never seen anything like what was described, so I go fish out the piece to see for myself. Sure enough, the description was accurate.

Next stop: Google.

Next stop: pick me up off the floor.

This particular item was made in a foreign country for, and only for, an export market that is literally on the other side of the world. I don't even know how to imagine it ended up where it did. Damn thing is, I'm going to have to come up with -something-! I have a feeling I'll be putting Occam to the test on this. Because there is no way the folks who lived at this location vacationed on that side of the world.

* Sure, whiteware dates after 1820 (as opposed to creamware, pearlware, and other types of refined earthenware bodies). But if there is any design on the piece, and sometimes based on form, it is possible to get a tighter date. For example, the technology to paint ceramics in bright colors (chrome colors) was only developed circa 1830, and caught on pretty damn quickly. Prior to that, there was no true black, and colors were kind of muddy (think painting watercolors with a dirty brush). So if you have muddy colors with no true black on a piece of whiteware ceramic, you know it dates after 1820 (for the whiteware body) and before 1830 (for the pre-chrome colors).

6 comments:

squadratomagico said...

Intriguing!
Could it have been a gift from people who DID vacation on the other side of the world?
Or perhaps it moved through several owners, through some chain of trade or sale or gift, to end up where it was found.

RPS77 said...

This reminds me of something I read in a big colorful "coffee table book" made to accompany an exhibition about Dutch families in late 17th century New York.* If I remember correctly, they found some artifacts that came from what is now Indonesia. Apparently one the family had business connections both with the Dutch East India Company AND the West India Company, and lived for a few years in the East Indies before returning to the Netherlands and then moving to New Amsterdam/New York. Of course, they were a pretty wealthy merchant family, and it sounds like the people you're talking about were probably from a more humble social background (as well as 150 years later).


*I'm a history geek and I catalog stuff for a historical society. Do you think I can resist looking beyond the title page and at the contents sometimes - heck no!!

Clio Bluestocking said...

Cool! Let us know it's journey there if you can figure it out -- or even make an educated guess at it!

Ink said...

Wow...intriguing indeed! Keep us posted!

Bavardess said...

Ooo, I love a nice little domestic mystery. Could it have arrived at its current location as a result of emigration from the other side of the world?

Digger said...

Thanks, all for your comments. Brainstorming is always helpful! I've been in touch with a researcher in the Land of the Target Market. The thing I have on my site may be the only one so far recorded outside said market (except, of course, at the manufacturing location). I really hate making biggest/oldest/best/shiniest/only claims, but I'm not getting any hits or feedback on other examples...

I'm hoping there might be some additional clues in the rest of the artifact assemblage. Because there are zilch in the documentary history. I will keep you posted!