Pieces of the Past

This week on the blog we’re sending you over to Pieces of the Past, an online exhibition we’ve curated as part of Beca Heritage Week here in Christchurch. The exhibition features the staff of Underground Overground Archaeology and their favourite artefacts. There’s a wealth of different objects and stories there (and a suspicious number of caffeine related biographies for our archaeologists), from a sheep hoof on a stick to pocket watches, spinning tops and poems about cowboys.

In fact, we may have been so excited about it that we modified (or butchered, depends on your point of view) a famous song in our excitement.

Glass eyes on skulls and sheep hooves on sticks,
Old broken watches and bright orange bricks,
Upright pianos, still with their strings,
These are a few of our favourite things.

Lost spinning tops and pointy bone hooks,
Cheese jars and Marmite and Rantin’s old books,
Cowboys and boats and small figurines,
These are a few of our favourite things.

When the trowel scrapes,
When the glass breaks,
When we’re feeling bored,
We simply remember our favourite things,
And then we don’t feel so bad.

Check it out here. 

All dolled up

To many people they’re simply a nostalgic throwback to childhood. To some, they’re treasures to be collected and curated. To others, they’re objects of horror, a sentiment encouraged by tv, films and a particular island in Mexico. To archaeologists, they’re the remnants of long lost childhoods, a personal and sometimes poignant reminder of the children that came before us. They make visible an aspect of life in the past that is so often hidden, in both the archaeological and historical records.

They’re also cute and creepy by turns. The following are some of our favourites from Christchurch. Enjoy!

This one seems disappointed.

The porcelain head of an infant in a bonnet, with painted cheeks and hair and a disappointed expression. Which is disconcerting on a baby. That face says to me “did you really just do that?” (left), “I can’t believe you just did that” (right). Image: J. Garland.

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This one, on the other hand, is disapproving. A lot of Victorian dolls seem to me to be either disappointed or disapproving. Which either says something about the Victorians or something about me. Let’s not go there. The rouged cheeks on this particular head are a common feature (see some of the examples below), although these ones are more than usually pronounced. Image: Underground Overground Archaeology.

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A small boy, raising his face to the heavens and pleading… for his lost innocence? The whereabouts of his lower body? For someone to please, please take the bib off?  This one is probably one of the creepiest doll artefacts we’ve found (picture it emerging from the earth, seriously), but it’s an unusual example of a clearly male doll. Most of the dolls we find are either recognisably female or figurines of babies too young to differentiate between. Also, his upper lip makes him look a little bit like he has a moustache. Image: J. Garland.

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I get ‘unimpressed’ from this one. She was found on the site of a 19th century hotel (the Zetland Arms) on Lichfield Street, meaning that she may have originally belonged to a child visiting the hotel or the child of one of the hotel keepers. This particular doll is also likely to have been manufactured in Germany, as many dolls were during the latter half of the 19th century. Image: J. Garland.

This particularly shapely calf comes with a lovely little ankle boot.

This particularly shapely dismembered calf comes with a lovely little ankle boot, painted on over the glaze. Limbs like this one were often attached to a fabric body, tied using the groove you can see just below the top of the leg. Image: Underground Overground Archaeology.

I love this one. She looks like a soothsayer.

I love this one. She looks like a soothsayer. A smirking soothsayer. She definitely knows something that you don’t. And her hair is amazing. Image: Underground Overground Archaeology.

I find this one unsettling. One of my colleagues thinks it's adorable. You be the judge. If you look closely you can see that the baby is holding a rattle

I find this one unsettling. One of my colleagues thinks it’s adorable. You be the judge. If you look closely you can see that the baby is holding a rattle in one hand and there’s the edge of a quilt or blanket visible in the bottom right corner. The whole thing forms the lid to a small porcelain container of some sort, perhaps one that contained something associated with children or infants. Image: J. Garland.

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The always wonderful, yet completely awful Frozen Charlotte or ‘pudding doll’, named after the ballad about a girl who went out in the cold without a coat and froze to death… Image: J. Garland.

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One thing that I find really interesting to note with dolls is the various different hairstyles they showcase. Much as we do today, the Victorians reflected changing fashions and social ideals in the toys and figurines they made for their children. Image: J. Garland.

More often than you might think, we just get a torso. Or an arm. A foot. A disconcerting remnant of somebody's once beloved toy. Sometimes, when struck by a combination of melancholy and melodrama, I find myself thinking 'archaeology: it's all just lost and broken things' and that sentiment never seems more apt than when you're looking at a bunch of broken dolls. Image: J. Garland.

More often than you might think, we just get a torso. Or an arm. A foot. A disconcerting remnant of somebody’s once beloved toy. Sometimes, when struck by a combination of melancholy and melodrama, I find myself thinking ‘archaeology: it’s all just lost and broken things’ and that sentiment never seems more apt than when you’re looking at a bunch of broken dolls. Image: J. Garland.

Then again, sometimes you get the head of a figurine wearing a fantastic

Then again, sometimes you come across the porcelain head of a a man in a very fine hat, and it’s a different story altogether. Image: J. Garland.

Jessie Garland

These boots are made for walking… in 19th century Christchurch.

In present-day Christchurch we might be finding the road a little uneven at the moment with our potholes and repair patches, but what was the situation like for our early settlers? The terrain was different for one thing: envision dirty, dusty unpaved roads, attempting to balance in the mud whilst holding one’s skirts and wearing a shoe with a 30 mm sole waist (sounds uncomfortable!).

Figure 1. Straight last shoe with 30 mm sole waist. Image: C. Dickson.

Straight last shoe with 30 mm sole waist. Image: C. Dickson.

Unsurprisingly, the footwear that we are uncovering from this time seems to be suitable for dealing with the harsher terrain of colonial living – our assemblages usually contain more sturdily manufactured shoes, such as those with added hobnails for grip, or heel rands and metal plates to aid stability and strength.

Figure 2. Footwear with hob nailing, and heel with rand (bottom right). Image: C. Dickson; Jessie Garland.

Footwear with hob nailing, and heel with rand (bottom right). Image: C. Dickson, J. Garland.

More delicate (as well as the hard-wearing) examples are advertised for sale in local 19th century newspaper advertisements, so the comparative abundance of sturdy shoes in our assemblages could indicate that more fragile shoes were either a less popular choice for the perils of colonial living, were repaired lots, or simply did not survive as well in the archaeological record.

For an artefact made from a relatively soft material, we have actually recovered a surprisingly large number of leather shoes, particularly underneath the floorboards of 19th century houses. We have also unearthed possible sites of footwear manufacture or repair.

 

Figure 3. Feature containing leather shoe cut outs. Image: H. Williams.

Feature containing leather shoe cut outs. Image: H. Williams.

So what information can we derive from these shoes? We know that some methods of constructing shoes were more labour intensive and produced better quality products than others, thus making those shoes more expensive to manufacture. So we can make some judgements about the possible status of the wearer and the kinds of occasions for which they may have worn them. Also, more generally, different sizes and shapes can simply indicate the presence of women or children, who are often less visible in the archaeological and historical records.

But, as is generally the case with many artefacts, extracting precise dating evidence from footwear can be difficult. There have been some suggestions that it’s possible to date footwear based on stylistic trends. For example, square toed shoes became more rounded after the 1870s and the introduction of automatic shoe manufacture lead to the return of high heels to woman’s fashion in the late 1880s (Anderson 1968: 59, Stevens 2005: 17; Anderson 1968: 59). However, many archaeologists argue that style and changing fashions alone do not provide enough evidence to date footwear (Anderson 1986: 64).

Figure 4. High heeled shoe. Image: C. Dickson.

High heeled shoe. Image: C. Dickson.

 

Goodyear welted shoe. Image: C. Dickson.

Goodyear welted shoe. Image: C. Dickson.

Though not without its own pitfalls, the analysis of footwear construction techniques can provide a better indication of age than style can. For instance, a shoe manufactured with the Goodyear welt technique tells us that this shoe could not have been manufactured before 1875, following the development of Charles Goodyear Jr’s revolutionary technique. This technique was an automatic sewing method using a curved needle to attach the upper shoe leather to a unique ridge on the bottom of the insole. This new method prevented the usual wear and tear of stitches on the top of the insole typically made by the wearer’s foot (Anderson 1968: 61). The introduction of adhesives for sole attachment in the early 20th century and the use of rubber for waterproofing on shoe soles can also provide us with a terminus post quem date, after Charles Goodyear Jr’s father discovered the vulcanisation of rubber (perhaps Goodyear was the Victorian equivalent of Jimmy Choo?). Rubber began to be utilised in the waterproofing of footwear in the mid 19th century, though complete rubber heels did not appear before 1895.

Other useful dating indicators are the peak popularities of footwear manufacture techniques, the standardisation of shoe sizing and the use of straight lasts (for shoes with indistinguishable lefts and rights) until 1860 (Anderson 1968: 59). But as dating by style or technique is related largely to manufacturer choice, it’s preferable to date shoes in relation to their context, and other artefacts with more definitive manufacture or deposition dates.

Explaining the history and our interpretation of shoe construction techniques is (hopefully) interesting, but how do we as archaeologists identify them? Of all of the common artefact types that we examine, shoe analysis is fraught with the most peril. This is largely because the identification of manufacture techniques is so subjective. For instance, what appears to be a diamond hole to one person (which is often all that remains of a shoe that has been attached with wooden pegs) can look like a stitch hole to someone else.

We won’t bore you with all of the details, but at a basic level, we are distinguishing between handmade and machine made shoes by analysing the stitches or nails on the sole. Handmade shoes tend to have nail or stitch holes that are more irregularly sized and spaced than their machine made counterparts. Other features we look out for are the tell-tale ridge on the underside of an insole (characteristic of the Goodyear welt technique mentioned above) and identifying any residue of nails, stitches, pegs (or the shape of the holes that they have left), in order to determine how the shoe soles have been attached to the upper leather. We compare this with the location of these holes to distinguish between various techniques such as welting, the turn shoe method and the blake technique (Anderson 1968).

Blucher boot with repair patch on toe (the pair to this boot did not have a patch). Image: C. Dickson.

Blucher boot with repair patch on toe (the pair to this boot did not have a patch). Image: C. Dickson.

So if they’re inaccurate to date and subjective to identify, then what’s so great about shoes as artefacts? In my opinion, they’re often more visually impressive, and arguably more interesting than the usual fragment of transfer printed ceramic or black beer bottle. But most importantly, they are a more personal item that can provide additional information about the individual wearer. Potential examples of this are wear patterns on heels, from which we can ascertain that a wearer may have had an unusual walking style, or from a repaired shoe we could speculate that someone could have fixed a shoe, out of personal attachment to a much loved, well-worn favourite, or merely because of economic necessity.

Chelsea Dickson

References

Anderson, A., 1968. The archaeology of mass-produced footwear. Historical Archaeology 2: 56-65.

Press. [online] Available at: www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz. Accessed August 2014.

Stevens, S. and Ordonez, M., 2005. Fashionable and work shoes from a nineteenth century Boston Privy. Historical Archaeology 39 (4): 9-25.

In which goats frolic, pipes masquerade as baskets and camels do whatever it is that camels do.

Taking a break from our recent musings on society, smells and legacies, this week’s post features another selection of artefacts from the archives. All of these were found on the same site in Christchurch’s central business district over the last few weeks. Enjoy!

Glass lamp

How lovely is this? It’s the (nearly complete) base from a finger lamp. It would have originally had a glass chimney on the top, attached with a copper/brass fitting or burner, looking a bit like this. Image: J. Garland.

Plate with ... pattern

Saucer decorated with scenic pattern, Geneva, similar to the Lucerne patterned plate we featured a few weeks ago. Image: J. Garland.

Marble

A large glass marble, with swirl of coloured glass inside. Image: J. Garland.

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The fragments of another children’s plate, similar to others that we’ve found. Image: J. Garland.

Goats!

Goats! Frolicking! This pattern is, aptly enough, titled “Goat” and seems to be associated with Scottish pottery manufacturer James Jamieson & Co and the Bo’ness (Barrowstouness) Pottery in the Central Lowlands (1829-1855). Image: J. Garland.

And camels!

And camels! Image: J. Garland.

Some patterned pipe bowls, including two with a 'basket weave' motif.

Some patterned pipe bowls, including two with a ‘basket weave’ motif. Image: J. Garland.

A ceramic egg. Eggs like this were used to encourage hens to lay in the nest, rather than elsewhere. Image: J. Garland.

A ceramic egg. Eggs like this were used to encourage hens to lay in the nest, rather than elsewhere. Image: J. Garland.

A small porcelain figurine, tragically missing it's head. Image: J. Garland.

A small porcelain figurine, tragically missing its head. Image: J. Garland.

 

Archaeology: where losing your marbles is sometimes a good thing

Imagine, if you will, that you were born in 1870. Your parents are colonists who journeyed to Christchurch to build a new life for themselves and their family. They’re not rich, but you live comfortably enough in this new country. As an infant, you survive the many dangers of your time and, eventually, you grow old enough to play with other children of your age.

You participate in a variety of children’s games, from ‘kiss-in-the-ring’ to rounders or ‘jolly miller’, but the ones you love best, your absolute favourites, are those played with marbles. You have your own collection, mostly made up of ‘commies’ (cheap clay marbles), but with a few treasured German glass marbles. You even end up with a couple of glass ones stolen from some Codd soda bottles that you found outside, but you lose them when you play for keeps against the children from the next street over. And, maybe, over the years, you misplace a few marbles from your collection, accidentally rolling them under a building or dropping them between the floorboards. And there they’ll stay, long after you’ve grown to be an adult and left childhood games behind you, until a curious archaeologist finds them in the dirt a century and a half later.

An 1897 cartoon of grown men playing at rounders and kiss-in-the-ring. Image:

An 1897 cartoon of grown men playing at rounders and kiss-in-the-ring. Image: Observer 27/3/1897: 12.

Marbles are actually quite rare finds here in Christchurch, surprisingly for something so easily lost. We’ve talked before about how the lives of children, especially their lives at play, can be so difficult to see in the archaeological record, making those few marbles we do find as precious to us now as they were to their original owners. We’re beginning to recover quite a variety of different types here in the city as excavations continue, from small clay (earthenware) ‘commies’, to coloured glass marbles and larger earthenware and porcelain examples.

A selection of marbles found on an archaeological site in Christchurch. Image: L. Davies .

A selection of marbles found on an archaeological site in Christchurch. Image: L. Davies .

Commies were one of the cheapest and most readily available types of marble around during the 19th century and were made from unglazed earthenware. From the mid-18th century until 1859, when a mechanised shaping process was introduced, they would have been hand crafted, probably in Europe or America (Gartley & Carskadden 1998: 49-50).Other marbles were made from glazed clay, porcelain or agate (known sometimes as ‘aggies’). During the latter half of the 19th century, handmade glass marbles became increasingly common, as manufacture became easier, although they weren’t mass produced until the turn of the century (Schrock 2004: 124).

Many of these marbles, especially the glass and stone ones, were made in Germany during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. One 1901 account in the New Zealand Herald describes in detail the process by which workers in Germany used the marble and agate debris from quarries to create stone marbles (New Zealand Herald 28/2/1901: 20). The East German region of Lauscha was also renowned for its production of glass marbles, thanks in part to glassmaker Elias Greiner’s creation of ‘marble scissors’ in 1846. First used to create glass eyes for dolls, these scissors meant the glassmaker could cut and shape the ends of a glass rod into marbles relatively easily (Baumann 2004).

A 1901 description of marble manufacture in Germany. Image:

A 1901 description of marble manufacture in Germany. Image: New Zealand Tablet 28/2/1901: 29

A sketch of boys playing a game of marbles. Image:

A sketch of boys playing a game of marbles. Image: New Zealand Herald  27/10/1945: 4.

These marbles would all have been used to play a variety of different games, most of which involved trying to hit an opponent’s marbles or knock them out of play (i.e. ringers or ‘ring taw’) or attempting to shoot marbles through obstacles or into holes. Most of these would have been played outside in the Victorian era, on the street or in the yard of a house or school (Taranaki Herald 15/3/1886: 2). While many advertisements and anecdotes found in newspapers of the time suggest that most games were played by boys (New Zealand Tablet 28/2/1901: 29, Star 21/4/1876: 3), it seems that girls also participated. One newspaper from 1878 speaks specifically of an indoor marbles board designed for girls to use, which involved attempting to shoot marbles into certain circles or triangles by striking them with a mallet (Otago Witness 21/1/1878: 2).

An 1878 advertisement for an indoor marbles board, targeted at girls. Image:

An 1878 advertisement for an indoor marbles board, targeted at girls. Image: Otago Witness 28/1/1878: 2.

Of course, games were not the only use found for marbles. They were also used as ammunition, as schoolyard currency and, apparently, in Wales, some people thought them good for eating…Now, they are as much collector’s items as they are toys, although people still play many of the games as a sport. The British and World Marbles Championship is still held in Tinsley Green, in West Sussex, England, every year, as it has been for centuries (New Zealand Herald 16/4/1938: 33).

To an archaeologist, though, marbles are information. They’re a glimpse of those who are so often unseen in the archaeological record, evidence of a part of life – play – that is obscured behind the more utilitarian day-to-day artefacts we usually find. They’re little pieces of a childhood that were misplaced, but never quite completely lost.

Jessie Garland

References

Baumann, P., 2004. Collecting Antique Marbles: identification and price guide. Krause Publications, Wisconsin.

Gartley, R. & Carskadden, J., 1998. Colonial Period and Early 19th Century Children’s Toy Marbles. The Muskingham Valley Archaeological Survey, Ohio.

New Zealand Herald. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz

New Zealand Tablet [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz

Observer [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz

Otago Witness. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz

Schrock, J., 2004. The Gilded Age. Greenwood Publishing Group, Portsmouth.

Star [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz

Taranaki Herald [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz