Seeing Red: Characterizing Historic Bricks at Sylvester Manor, Shelter Island, New York 1652-1735

Author(s): Martin Schmidheiny

Year: 2015


This project develops a basic material characterization of pre-mechanized, handmade bricks excavated at the site of Sylvester Manor on Shelter Island, New York. In the early Manor period of 1650-1690, this early Northern provisioning plantation supplied Barbadian sugar operations and pursued mercantile interests independent of state control. The technology and processing of pre-mechanized brick and other architectural ceramics have received comparatively little attention in historical archaeology. Here, qualitative visual analysis on different scales as well as petrographic thin-sections were used to characterize the internal composition, variation and production evidence in the bricks. Accounting for the range of production defects and fabric properties of the bricks demonstrates an unappreciated diversity of the brick material, and further suggests on-site or local manufacture as a regional ceramic industry developed in Long Island Sound in the 17th and 18th centuries. Interpreting the results of this analysis offers alternatives to the assumptions about building materials on the site. Moreover, it identifies different material experiences of regulated, municipal brick-making versus home-grown industries utilizing expedient resources. Thus, the project advocates an active role of material science to assess the complex contribution of building materials to a changing landscape and urban development.

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Cite this Record

Seeing Red: Characterizing Historic Bricks at Sylvester Manor, Shelter Island, New York 1652-1735. Martin Schmidheiny. Presented at The 80th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, San Francisco, California. 2015 ( tDAR id: 397696)

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Spatial Coverage

min long: -80.815; min lat: 39.3 ; max long: -66.753; max lat: 47.398 ;