Small Finds, Big Implications: the Cultural Meaning of the Littlest Artifacts

Part of: Society for Historical Archaeology 2014

Why do the smallest artifacts found during the excavation of a site elicit the most visceral response from those who find them and study them? Is it because they are portable items that can be tied to people, such as coins, smoking pipes, and children’s toys, or is it because often they are visually appealing? While the range of small finds discussed in this session will be diverse, the presenters in this session all share a passion for deriving cultural meaning from the context in which they were found. It will be proven that small finds can have big implications when an anthropological framework is employed during analysis.

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  • Documents (12)

  • The Chocolatera on the Spanish Colonial Frontier: Insights into Global Foodways and Economics (2014)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Russell Skowronek. Margaret Graham.

    If one artifact signals the birth of the modern world economy it is the chocolatera. Before the wide-spread use of coffee or tea, hot chocolate was the beverage of choice in early modern Europe and the American colonies. Found in Spanish colonial sites fat-bellied ceramic or copper jars with constricting necks and shoulders ‘the chocolatera is an artifact associated specifically with the making of this comestible. The hot beverage made of cinnamon, sugar, and chocolate was beaten to a froth in...

  • Concerns at Home, Concerns Abroad: Irish and English Political Ephemera in Southern Ontario (2014)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Katherine Hull.

    Although uncommon, a few artifacts reflecting an unambiguous connection with a particular political ideology, social movement, or politician/activist have been recovered from archaeological sites in Southern Ontario. Often these items do not reflect local Upper Canada concerns, but rather ‘»concerns at home»’--’socio-political issues from the Irish and English homelands of immigrant families. Items such as moulded or stamped smoking pipes, buttons and pins with various slogans carried meaning...

  • ‘A Delightful Odour to the Breath’: Toothpaste in Late Nineteenth Century Toronto (2014)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Caitlin Coleman.

    The Bishop’s Block site (AjGu-49) in downtown Toronto contained the almost untouched foundations of four urban townhouses dated from the mid-to-late 19th century. The 2007 salvage excavation uncovered how these buildings transformed from upper middle class houses to mixed-use dwellings and working class homes by the beginning of the twentieth century. The Bishop’s Block site offers many completely intact and intriguing artifacts, one of which is a white ceramic toothpaste container. This...

  • East Meets West: An East Indian token in the Western Colonies (2014)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Kiara Beaulieu.

    In 1820 the Ontario House was built in Niagara Falls and functioned as a hotel and tavern. In addition to providing a location for travelers to drink and lodge the Ontario House, as many other local establishments did, billeted soldiers. One map shows that soldiers were billeted at the Ontario House in 1838 (42nd regiment), and texts indicate that soldiers from the 67th regiment were also billeted there in 1841. The excavation of the midden and features of the Ontario House produced a large...

  • From Goose Drops to Special Ops: A Pinfire Shotgun Shell Cartridge at Fort York, Ontario (2014)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Blake Williams.

    In 2011, during a salvage excavation at the Fort York National Historic Site, Archaeological Services Inc. recovered a pinfire shotgun shell cartridge. This unique small find tells a story of the changing firearms technology used by armed forces around the world. These developments would lead to dramatic changes in the military’s treatment of the militia as revealed by the British response to the Trent Affair. This international incident during the American Civil War, risked a return to...

  • Lead Fabric Seals from the French Fort St. Pierre (1719-1729) Artifact Assemblage (2014)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Rachel Miller.

    Fort St. Pierre was a short lived establishment along the Yazoo River in the Lower Mississippi River Valley existing from 1719-1729. An uprising by neighboring Native warriors set the fort ablaze, which ultimately led to its demise. The region was never resettled following the attack. Excavations during the 1970s revealed a glimpse of Fort St. Pierre’s role in the early years of France’s colonial Louisiane settlement within North America. Lead fabric seals from the site demonstrate the fort...

  • Lost in the Move: The Material Culture of Leaving (2014)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Mary-Cate Garden.

    The places and spaces that we mark as ‘home’ are filled with ‘’stuff’--objects imbued with value that make up our lives and help to define our spaces. From treasured objects to clutter, this is the material culture of everyday life (e.g. Miller 2009). This paper will ask what happens to these objects when people are compelled to leave their homes? What is kept and what is lost? A major infrastructure project currently underway in the Province of Ontario is resulting in the displacement of...

  • Playing with Fire: Children’s Toys at Fort York’s Ordinance and Supply Yard (2014)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Anatolijs Venovcevs.

    From 1868 to 1932, the Ordinance and Supply Yard located within the Fort York National Historic Site was part of a major munitions depot for the Canadian military that served the garrisons in southwestern Ontario. Accordingly, the 2010 and 2011 salvage excavation of a small section of this yard, conducted ahead of the construction for a proposed visitors’ centre, recovered a large amount of industrial debris associated with the maintenance and repair of turn-of-the-century military hardware. ...

  • Post medieval ceramic toys from Gdansk excavation (2014)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Joanna Dabal.

    Ceramic toys are one of the categories which are very neglected in polish archaeology. There are barely a few mentions in polish archaeological literature about miniature dishes, whistles and figurines. There are no information about this category of finds from Gdansk excavation. In this paper author will present 17th-20th century ceramic toys from chosen urban sites of Gdansk, which ware part of larger ceramic studies. Those collection includes different fabric small ceramic dishes, money...

  • Power in Numbers: the Anthropological Implications of Horse Shoe Nails on Blacksmith Sites (2014)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Miranda Brunton.

    During the nineteenth century, almost all general smiths also acted as farriers. Horse shoe nails offer the best evidence that the smiths practiced shoeing on site. However, the remnants of these nails can function as more than indicators of shoeing practices but also aid in both understanding the intensity of shoeing practices and in pinpointing features. For example, horse shoe nails recovered from Kilmanagh Crossroads site excavated by Archaeological Services Inc. in 2009, not only...

  • ‘»Removes All Obstacles»: The Place of Abortifacients in Nineteenth Century Toronto (2014)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Johanna Kelly. Andrea Carnevale. Denise McGuire.

    A bottle embossed with ‘Sir J. Clarke’s Female Pills’ was found during the excavation of the original location of Toronto’s first hospital, which opened in 1829 and was in operation at the corner of King and John Streets until 1854. The commonly accepted perception is that abortion was frowned upon and prosecuted. In reality abortion was a wide-spread practice and, if not explicitly, then covertly practiced at the major medical facility in the city. The Toronto General Hospital was intended...

  • A Taste for Mustard: A cache of condiment bottles from a Loyalist homestead (2014)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Denise McGuire.

    During the excavation of a house foundation at the Loyalist-period Butler homestead in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, a small cache of condiment bottles was discovered in a space determined to be a larder or pantry. Based on the form of the bottle, the condiment that filled the bottle was likely dry mustard powder, the bottles of which have more often been recovered from military sites. One of the bottles is of particular interest as it was embossed with the name ‘Rhodes & Kemeys’ and originated...