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VCU Archaeology

A Bit of Horsing Around in Southern Maryland

By Project Director Bernard K. Means

I’m a member of the Small Finds Working Group, an informal organization dedicated to understanding—not surprisingly—“small finds.” Small finds are rare and unique artifacts that are often lost in traditional archaeological studies that focus on mass data analyses, but hold tremendous research potential.  This working group was started by Laura Galke, Artifact Analysist/Field Director at George Washington’s Ferry Farm.  Our first meeting was held in 2011 at George Washington’s birthplace and focused on clothing accessories, such as buttons and buckles.

The Small Finds Working Group discussing horse hardware

On Friday, June 22, the Small Finds Working Group held its second meeting, this time in southern Maryland at the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Laboratory (MAC Lab) at the Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum, St. Leonard, Maryland.  Sara Rivers Cofield, Curator of Federal Collections at the MAC Lab, was our host for this meeting—which focused on horse hardware.  The meeting included formal presentations as well as hands-on demonstrations.

Sara Rivers Cofield started us off with a discussion of horse-related artifacts using examples from Maryland’s collections and focusing on her research that she has compiled since 2007.  Some of these objects are highlighted on the Diagnostic Artifacts in Maryland web page (http://www.jefpat.org/diagnostic/small%20finds/index-Small%20Finds.htm). Next, Tabitha Hilliard, a graduate student at Monmouth University, gave an overview of her research on bridle bits.  Finally, the formal presentations ended with a consideration of horse saddles by Jim Kladder, Journeyman Saddler from Jamestown and formerly of Colonial Williamsburg.  We all then had the opportunity to look at a wide range of horse-related small finds collected from sites in Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia.

Brass pommel (left) and digital model (right)

After the formal presentations, I set up the NextEngine scanner to create a digital model of horse hardware from the MAC Lab collections.  As thunderstorms threatened our two-hour journey back to Fredericksburg, Virginia, I chose to scan a single artifact: a brass pommel recovered from the King’s Reach site, which was occupied in Calvert County, Maryland, from 1690 until 1711.  Despite this being a brass and therefore reflective object, the resulting scan seems to have few of the problems we’ve encountered with similar artifacts.

Karen Shriver, Curator of the Flowerdew Hundred collection, and I discuss a digital model our scanning team created of an artifact from the Flowerdew Hundred site.

All in all, the Small Finds Working Group is succeeding well in its goal of having colleagues with related interests meet in an informal setting.  And, it has helped our 3D scanning efforts, both by discussing issues with the kinds of objects that need to be scanned, and being presented with new, and unique objects for scanning.

And, yes, the thunderstorms did hamper our journey home—although the lightening was spectacular!!

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