Tuesday, January 28, 2014

War of 1812: Patterson Park Edition

From Baltimore Heritage:

In 1814, Patterson Park was the site of Baltimore’s largest defense against a British land invasion during the Battle of Baltimore. This spring, Baltimore Heritage is leading an archaeological survey of the park to dig up more about this history and preserve the battlefield for future generations.
Join us on the evening of January 29 for an introduction to the project featuring a special presentation on the history of Hampstead Hill and Baltimore’s Eastern Defensive line by Baltimore historian Scott Sheads. We want to hear your questions about the history of the War of 1812 in Patterson Park before we go searching for the answers! For nearby residents around the park, this is a good opportunity to share any questions you may have about how the archaeology will affect the park and learn more our plans for getting the community out and involved.

More news about the forthcoming excavations can be found right here.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

An Unusual Burial at Fort Meigs, Ohio

In his lengthy discussion of this find over at the Ohio Historical Society Archaeology blog, Bill Pickard mentions a phenomenon familiar to most archaeologists: you always find the most interesting and complicated stuff on the last day of fieldwork.

This was the case during an archaeological survey at the site of Fort Meigs' new visitor's center back in 2001. An earthmover stripped the topsoil from the site while archaeologists examined the exposed subsoil for evidence of pits or other features that might have been dug deep into the ground. As the backhoe cleared the last corner of the dig, someone spotted a piece of rusted metal. They thought it might have been a bit of shrapnel from an artillery bomb...but it turned out to be a horseshoe. You find a lot of horseshoes at historical archaeological sites, but they're usually not still attached to the horse.

Photo of the Fort Meigs horse burial, courtesy of Ohiohistory.org
In fact, there were two horses, one likely a large draft horse (nicknamed "Big Horse" by the excavators), the other a smaller, lighter cavalry horse (nicknamed, naturally, "Little Horse"). Initially, the archaeologists were hesitant to make too much of the discovery. Soldiers had horses, and horses died in battles. All those horses had to end up somewhere, right? But the more they thought about it, the more questions they had. The horses are facing each other, their limbs crossed - was this accidental, just the way the animals fell into the burial pit? Or were they deliberately arranged in this face-to-face position, and if so, why? Why were these two animals buried together? And why were they buried at all? Isn't that a lot of effort? Wouldn't cremation be easier?

More details from Bill Pickard's discussion of the burial at Ohiohistory.org:
Aside from the obvious size difference, there were other features that defined the two animals, in particular their shoes. Big Horse was a large, robust animal, possibly even a mule. Its shoes were large, thick items with aggressive calks, well suited for an animal tasked with heavy lifting and pulling. The shoes appeared to be individually forged items as they were slightly different one to the next, made and fitted for this particular animal. There were just three shoes recovered with Big Horse, the two rear shoes and the right front shoe. The left front shoe was missing but nail fragments immediately below that hoof indicates it was removed after the horse was down. Their non-standard design tends to rule out that it was removed as a replacement or a spare for another horse. Little Horse was about three quarters the size of its partner with a much more gracile skeletal structure. A single left rear shoe was recovered with this animal. Unlike the bold nature of the shoes on Big Horse, this shoe was small, thin and almost flat, a shoe likely built for running or speed and not for heavy exertions. Iron nail fragments found adjacent to the right front hoof strongly indicates, as in the case of its larger companion, that the shoe had been removed sometime after Little Horse had been put down. It’s an interesting phenomenon, and after the passage of nearly two hundred years it’s hard to say exactly what the motivation might have been to remove the shoes from the horses.
A further curiosity was uncovered as they began removing the bones from the burial spot: a complete pig's head (but just the head) had been buried along with the horses in the pit. So: two horses, buried together, each having had a single shoe removed, accompanied by the head of a pig. Was this a commonplace disposal of animal remains, or is there something more to it?

These are (according to the Fort Meigs museum) the first horses ever recovered from a War of 1812 archaeological site. There is even a video about their discovery. Can somebody in Ohio please go and watch the video and tell us more?

Friday, January 3, 2014

A Scourge of Mussels

Haunting and fascinating photos over at National Geographic showing photographs of War of 1812 shipwrecks before and after the arrival of invasive quagga mussels. I had no idea mussels ate archaeology! See more over at the Hamilton and Scourge National Historic Site.
Two hundred years ago today, as the United States, Great Britain, and Canada were embroiled in the War of 1812, a sudden storm hit Lake Ontario with a fury. It proved fatal for two of the ships among a U.S. Naval fleet in Sackett's Harbor: the Hamilton and the Scourge.Though nearby vessels managed to save 16 of the crew, at least 53 perished as the ships sank below the waves. The armed schooners came to rest upright and remarkably intact—masts and all—about 1,500 feet (460 meters) apart and 300 feet (90 meters) deep.
The wrecks, discovered in 1973, are the best-preserved examples of their kind, says Parks Canada senior underwater archaeologist Jonathan Moore. Both were originally built as merchant schooners, then modified to serve as warships.
The figurehead on the Hamilton depicts Diana, the Roman goddess of hunting, who was the 67-foot-long (20-meter-long) ship's original namesake when it was built for New York merchant Matthew McNair in 1809. Shortly after the War of 1812 began, the ship was purchased by U.S. Navy Commodore Isaac Chauncey for his fleet on Lake Ontario and renamed in honor of Navy Secretary Paul Hamilton.
—Amanda Fiegl
Photograph by Emory Kristof, National Geographic