Don’t Lose Your Marbles!

by Elizabeth S PaynterCART Lab Director

As we head into the unprecedented together, the CART thought you might enjoy information about marbles. We can’t give expert advice on how to keep your marbles, but the archaeological team has recovered quite a few in recent years. On North American historic sites, marbles are one of the most common toys uncovered. The tan or light brown earthenware marble pictured below was excavated from Old Colchester Park and Preserve. Unglazed brown bodied earthenware marbles were produced from around the mid-eighteenth century into the 1930s in both Germany and North America (MAC Lab 2018). These marbles were sometimes called crock marbles, common marbles or “commies” (short for common).Glass marbles, on the other-hand, were produced by hand in Germany and exported around the mid-nineteenth century to around the 1920s. “Germany was a leading manufacturer of marbles throughout” the nineteenth century and into the early twentieth century (MAC Lab 2018). North America began production of glass marbles in the late nineteenth century. The marbles pictured below were excavated from Ash Grove.


MAC Lab. 2018. Diagnostic Artifacts in Maryland. Maryland Archaeological Conservation Lab (MAC Lab). Originally Published 2002. Electronic.  accessed March 20, 2020

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For information on community centers and indoor park facilities that are closed visit:

CART is in one of these facilities; and therefore, our offices are currently closed.

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Ubiquitous Quartz

by Elizabeth S Paynter – CART Lab Director

Any field archaeologist can attest to the fact that quartz is the most abundant single mineral in the Earth’s crust. In Virginia, quartz vein outcrops are associated with igneous formations of the Blue Ridge and the Piedmont. Not only can quartz be seen in ground level outcrops, but it can also be found in small cobbles in streams. Quartz color varies and can be white, rose, smoky, or even “blue.” It often breaks into small blocky pieces along fractures. Since 56% of Fairfax is in the Piedmont Upland region, it is not surprising that CART archaeologists are very familiar with quartz. Quartz was one of the raw materials used by Native Americans to create stone tools such as projectile points. In our area, the abundance of quartz combined with the lack of other local raw materials suitable to making certain kinds of tools means that local archaeologists find a lot of quartz tools and debitage, the debris from making the tools. Unfortunately, the quality of quartz is variable which can cause difficulty in positively identifying if it is associated with human activity. The Virginia Department of Historic Resources points out that “given its ubiquitous distribution, highly variable quality, and the difficulty of analysis associated with quartz artifacts, the importance of quartz to Native peoples has long been underestimated by archaeologists” (VDHR 2018).

Quartz projectile points from the Fairfax County Park Authority Archaeology Collections


Fairfax County. 2013. Description and Interpretive Guide to Soils in Fairfax County. Fairfax County Department of Public Works and Environmental Services and Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District. Fairfax, Virginia. accessed March 5, 2020

MAC Lab. 2012. What Points are Made From? Maryland Archaeological Conservation Lab (MAC Lab). Electronic. accessed March 6, 2020

VDHR Collections. 2018. Lithics: Vein Quartz. Virginia Department of Historic Resources (VDHR). Electronic. accessed March 6, 2020

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Who’s Embossed?

by Amanda BengeArchaeological Technician

In the mid-seventeenth century, it was the practice of those with wealth to mark their expensive possessions with personal crests, symbols, or initials known as seals (Hume 1969). These seals were placed on any number of manufactured goods to indicate ownership. Some of the best examples of this practice are seen on glass bottles seals (Hume 1969). Seals or buttons are small globs of molten glass, also known as gathers, which are pressed to the shoulders or neck of the bottle towards the end of the glass production process. The glob is then stamped with a pre-made brass seal, which included letters, symbols, crests, or names of the intended recipient  The seals were used to identify a wide range of information related to the bottles and their contents, including: personal ownership, governmental ownership, advertisement, and the contents (Hume 1969).


There existed a wide variety of styles and designs for seals depending on how much the intended consumer was willing to invest. At the time glass bottles were an expensive luxury that most were willing to forgo in favor of ceramic vessels. Initially wealthy upper-class colonists were the only ones able to afford to have brass seals made and added to their glass bottles. Personal seals would include a recognizable family crest, symbol or name embossed on several of their specially made wine bottles as a way to flaunt their wealth and gentility (Veit and Huney 2014). Glass makers would include special colored dyes that would be added to the gather as it was placed on the body of the bottles to make the seal stand out (Veit and Huney 2014).

The wealthy upper class were not the only ones that had seals made, however, taverns and inns were also well known to use bottle seals on their goods. The earliest known intact bottle seal was recovered from a tavern called the King’s Head Tavern  dated 1657 in England (Hume 1969). Taverns and inns used seals for the advertising of their business and to ensure that the bottles were returned to the tavern once emptied (Veit and Huney 2014). Unlike a gentleman’s personal seal, taverns and inns would impress their business’ symbols or name sometimes along with what was contained in the bottle.

It was not until the late-seventeenth century, that colonists of lower social classes could afford to have their own glass bottles marked with a simplified version of the personalized seal. Glass makers would, as a cheap alternative to having an expensive brass seal made and cut, use a wooden matrix affixed with individual letters to impress the consumer’s initials into the disk gather. These bottle seals usually only contained two letters, and on rare occasion three, indicating first and last name of the intended owner (Hume 1969). On these more crudely made marked bottles, people would list dates along with the seal in a process called scratching. It is difficult to interpret the significance of dates scratched onto bottles as they could mean anything from the date the bottle was made, a significant date to the person that owned it, or when the bottle was filled and sealed

During excavations on a mid- to late-eighteenth century site near the town of Colchester by Fairfax County Park Authority, one such wine bottle seal was recovered with the initials P.W. pressed into in (pictured to the left). Upon closer inspection of the letters, one of the archaeologists on site, Aimee Wells, recognized the initials as belonging to Peter Wagener. He was a wealthy landowner that originally owned the land that the Town of Colchester was created and built on (2011).

The popularity and necessity of personal bottle seals steadily decreased until the end of the eighteenth century. After which commercial seals are the only seals we see in the archaeological record, used by vineyards and bottlers (Veit and Huney 2014).


2011. Cool Finds from 44FX0704. November 06. Accessed december 24, 2019.

Hancoock. David. 2009. Oceans of Wine: Madeira and the Emergence of American Trade and Taste. New Haven : Yale Univeristy Press.

Hume, Ivor Noel. 1969. “Bottles, Glass, Liquor.” In A Guide to Artifacts of Colonial America, 60-62. Philidelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Hume, Ivor Noel. 2005. “New Messages in Old Bottles: Saved from being thrown into the York River, Glass Fragments Reveal Clues to the Past.” In Something From the Cellar: More of This and That , 77-84.

Veit, Richard and Paul Huney. 2014. “New Bottles Made with My Crest: Colonial Bottle Seals from Eastern North America, a Gazetteer and Interpretation .” Northeast Historical Archaeology Vol 43, 43.

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