Flashback Friday: English Brown Stoneware and the Excise Stamp

by Elizabeth S Paynter and Christopher Sperling

Remember this? This drinking vessel fragment was discovered at Old Colchester Park and Preserve and was featured in a 2016 post about English Brown Stoneware. Note the oval stamp with “WR” and crown above it. This is an excise stamp.  A drinking vessel was generally stamped in this manner if it was intended for a commercial establishment such as an ordinary. An ordinary in colonial times was any tavern or inn that served a complete meal at a fixed price. Official English marks were typically oval, with a crown, and “WR” for William III Rex, like the stamp pictured above; however, “AR,” for Queen Anne, and “GR,” for the Kings George, were also used. The excise stamp indicated that these tankards held the government standard capacity of liquid, a necessity for taxation.  In other words, this tiny little mark reflects the whole mercantile system that drove the British colonialism for centuries.


Glenn, James. “Brown Mugs and Jugs: A Personal Foray into the Field of Collecting.” In Ceramics in America 2002, edited by Robert Hunter, Milwaukie: The Chipstone Foundation, 2002. http://www.chipstone.org/article.php/47/Ceramics-in-America-2002/Brown-Mugs-and-Jugs:-A-Personal-Foray-into-the-Field-of-Collecting

Hume, Ivor Noel. A Guide to Artifacts of Colonial America. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1969.

Maryland Archaeological Conservation Lab. “English Brown.” Diagnostic Artifacts in Maryland. Updated February 28, 2015. https://apps.jefpat.maryland.gov/diagnostic/ColonialCeramics/Colonial%20Ware%20Descriptions/English-Brown.html

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Archaeological Data https://cartarchaeology.wordpress.com/2015/08/21/dataspeaks/

Fairfax Covid-19 Information https://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/covid19/

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Selby Bay/Fox Creek Projectile Point

by Brittany BlanchardArchaeological Technician

In the C.A.R.T. lab, archaeologists analyze relatively small stone tools that were formed to have a sharp tip and are often referred to colloquially as arrowheads. While the term is commonly used by the public, archaeologists most often call this type of tool a “projectile point/knife” or just a “projectile point.” The overall tool type may not have been attached to an arrow, but might have functioned in other manners such as part of a spear. The collection at the Fairfax County Archaeology and Collection Branch contains numerous projectile points including the Selby Bay/Fox Creek, a bifacially flaked stone tool with even sides. The Selby Bay/Fox Creek type dates to the Middle Woodland Period. Variants include stemmed with a wide stem, side-notched with shallow notches, and lanceolate with weak to non-existent shoulders. Read more about point shapes and characteristics here. The shape of the blade of this projectile point depends on the base variant. The blade portion of the lanceolate variant has parallel or triangular straight sides. The blade of the stemmed and side notched variant is ovate or triangular with straight or excurvate edges.

Archaeological evidence points to a shift in tool production during the Middle Woodland Period where the bow and arrow began to replace spears and the atlatl. As stated in Middle Woodland 500 B.C.–A.D. 900, “evidence for this change is found in smaller projectile points, particularly the triangular shapes” (VDHR 2018). Analyzing artifacts from the same provenience (location), or same stratigraphic context across a site, as well as studying the various sizes of Selby Bay/Fox Creek projectiles helps archaeologists determine how Native Americans used these tools in the past.

If you happen to spot a projectile point like this one while following social distancing orders and enjoying some fresh air outside, please leave the artifact in place. Instead send us a picture of it with something for scale and where you found it. Because moving or removing artifacts from beneath or above the ground on park property is illegal in Fairfax County, taking a photograph of the artifact is a safe way for you to help preserve the past. You might even find it fun to try your hand at researching what type of point it might be and sharing your findings with us! You can follow this link to find great information on the different types of lithics typically found in the area or use the links below. The CART team hopes that you all stay safe and healthy!

For information on why leaving an artifact in place is important, see Archaeo-puzzle.


MAC Lab. 2012. Selby Bay/Fox Creek. Diagnostic Artifacts in Maryland. Maryland Archaeological Conservation Lab (MAC Lab). Originally Published 2002. Electronic. https://apps.jefpat.maryland.gov/diagnostic/ProjectilePoints/FindingAidsandImagePages/FindingAids/MiddleWoodland/selbybay-foxcreek.html accessed February 11 2020.

VDHR Collections. 2018. Middle Woodland 500 B.C.-A.D. 900. Virginia Department of Historic Resources (VDHR). Electronic. https://www.dhr.virginia.gov/first-people-the-early-indians-of-virginia/middle-woodland-500-b-c-a-d-900/ accessed April 24, 2020.


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Indiana Jones Works from Home

Brittany, CART Lab and Field Archaeologist, entering artifact proveniences (locations) into the artifact database in January of 2019.

by Elizabeth S. Paynter Heritage Resource Specialist & CART Lab Director

On March 30th, the Governor of Virginia issued a temporary stay at home order in response to Covid-19. The Archaeology and Collections Branch (ACB) offices and labs at the James Lee Community Center had already been closed. Staff had been evaluating the best resources available for working collaboratively from home. In speaking with friends and family who are not familiar with the archaeological field, however, one question kept recurring: “What can an archaeologist do from home?” The question surprised me. It is easy to imagine that I spend my time digging up my backyard in carefully controlled squares by stratigraphic layer. It is true that some archaeologists have probably done this in their personal time. (Raise your hand if you are an archaeologist who has systematically dug and properly recorded a spot your yard.) Nonetheless, all ACB staff uses a computer for many tasks necessary to the archaeological process. To be ethical stewards of our cultural heritage, archaeologists must research, analyze, record and report. Digital tasks are necessary companions to working with sites, physical artifacts and archaeological features.

It is important to keep in mind that, like any job, not all work is done concurrently. This is often due to the nature of specific tasks, efficiency, or circumstances of a particular project. Some digital tasks occur before or after active excavation and handling of artifacts. I am the County Archaeological Research Team’s Lab Director. Daphne Ahalt is the Assistant Lab Director. Daphne and I manage all lab related activity including the movement of physical artifacts through processing and evaluation. The research and data required to properly manage the artifacts and analyze them is extensive.

Lab work takes time, especially post-excavation. Let us set aside that some clean artifacts from several projects have yet to be identified, cataloged and recorded. Let us also set aside that due to these unique circumstances, artifacts that would typically never leave the lab during processing are waiting to become a Work From Home (WFH) cataloging project. Instead, we will delve into a small bit of CART’s digital work. Field information must get transferred to our computers in order to track, identify and understand the artifacts as well as the site. Like so much of archaeology, this digital work is collaborative between the field and lab.

One of the first things that we do before processing artifacts is enter provenience (location) information into our computer system. The specific horizontal coordinates and the vertical depth where each group of artifacts was recovered goes into our artifact database. The artifacts and their provenience are tied to a field specimen number that can be tracked through the lab. This information is entered when there are enough artifacts to make both data entry and artifact processing, such as cleaning artifacts, a worthwhile activity. Later, at a time when most convenient, we add information to our database about the soils that surround those artifacts such as soil color and soil type. We often also include information about any tests where no artifacts were discovered. The specifics about the surrounding soil and knowing areas that were negative help us better understand the overall site.

While these are only small examples of digitized information, they are important examples. Retaining exact location of the artifacts and features as well as where no artifacts are recovered is vital to interpreting a site and understanding our history. Computers play an important role in data retention and data analysis. For more information see Computers and Data Management in Archaeology.

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CART Biweekly

Fairfax County Covid-19 Updates – https://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/covid19/

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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. http://www.jefpat.org/diagnostic/index.htm  accessed March 20, 2020

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