Vessels versus Sherds: Cross-Mending and Why Does it Matter Anyway?

Part I: Process  by Erica D’Elia Assistant Laboratory Director

If you received CART’s Biweekly Updates you probably heard us mention cross-mending. We didn’t have a lot of space there to explain why this process is so important. So, as promised, here is more information about cross-mending.

Mended Tin Glaze

Cross-mending is typically an analytical tool used most commonly with ceramic (as seen in the picture above) and glass vessels, but the brooch and paste gem we found in two separate units this season provides a succinct example as well. Cross-mending is the process of trying to reassemble vessels from sherds found all across the site. It can be a lengthy and difficult process. If you like doing puzzles, then cross-mending is a job for you! Cross-mending is like doing a puzzle; if you had a whole bunch of puzzles all jumbled together, no picture to guide you, oh, and most of the pieces of each puzzle were missing. Sound like fun yet?

Sometimes, when we catalog a sample we may notice that a few of the ceramic or glass pieces fit back together. Why is this artifact in several pieces, all found in one location? Perhaps it was thrown out and broke as it was tossed into the trash pile. Perhaps it was thrown away whole and got trampled sometime after deposition. But, in order to cross-mend we have to look for matches found in different units across the site.

So how does it work? Can we just toss all of our ceramic pieces onto the table and start trying to find mends? Not so fast. Imagine the disaster if we did that! The single most important piece of information for any archaeological artifact is its provenience. Before we can take any artifacts out of their bags they have to be labeled. That way, we will always know where each artifact came from. Otherwise this whole process would be pretty useless.

Some ceramic types are easier to mend than others, for example transfer-printed vessels typically have an image covering the entire surface. Undecorated vessels are harder because you only have the shape to help you out. There are some strategies you can employ, but for the most part it’s guess and check. Like a puzzle, I like to start with the “border” and try to mend the rim, base, or foot-ring first. These pieces are often easier to identify and match. Then, you can work your way to the interior of the vessel.

Cross-mending is not always super glamorous; don’t expect to find whole vessels. Even mostly complete vessels are pretty rare. Most of the time you will find just a few pieces that mend together. Now that you know how the process of cross-mending works stay tuned for more information on how this is ultimately used in site analysis.

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Gunston Hall Archaeology Symposium

Just a reminder about the symposium this Saturday 6 February 2016.  See you there!


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More on the Corduroy Road!!!

The interest stirred up by the recent discovery of a probable Civil War Era corduroy (log) log road in Fairfax County seems to have legs.  The Fourth Estate, the George Mason University newspaper has a very nice write up here.  Thanks to everyone for the great publicity and support!

Crew 1

Field Director Megan Veness documents corduroy road revealed during road project.

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CART Bi-Weekly Update


Bi-Weekly Update 29 January 2016




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Through the Looking Glass

by Jonathan BrisendineField & Lab Archaeologist

During the excavation process, one of the common artifacts found on historic sites is glass. So what does this tell us archaeologically other than there was glass here? We classify glass in two major categories Flat and Curved. Flat glass usually pertains to window glass, while curved or hollow usually pertains to you guessed it, bottles. Once we collect all the artifacts in field they are brought back to the lab where they are cleaned then cataloged. From this we can get an accurate amount of each type of glass that was found. Because, of the detailed records we keep of the location of our testing units both the vertical and horizontal location is known. With this information we can draw meaning interpretations from even the most ubiquitous artifacts. Seen below is an imagined example of a historic foundation and the results of the statistical mapping that we could produce once we have gathered the information of the type and frequency of glass once catalogued.


Blue indicates the location where flat glass was found while green indicated where the curved hollow glass was found. What conclusions would you draw from this information? First note the brick structure. Think about structures and where flat glass would most likely be found and why. Also, think about areas of activity inside such a structure. Where would a person store & use hollow glass such as bottles. To see how we might interpret the location of the artifacts, see the image below.

GLASS FREQ image 2


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Emergency Information

Here is some important information from Fairfax County regarding the pending winter storm; you can also click in the seal below.  Please be careful and keep safe!!! – CART



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Friday and Saturday Lab Closed due to Blizzard Watch


At the James Lee Community Center, the almost inch of snow is now melting. With predictions for a Blizzard starting early Friday and calling for sleet, high winds, dipping temperatures and anywhere from 18 to 30 inches of heavy snowfall around the DC metro region, we have cancelled all work in the archaeology lab and field for Friday and Saturday.

Don’t forget to check the Fairfax County Emergency Information blog, the official Fairfax County Government Emergency Preparedness, Response and Recovery Website.

Stay warm. Stay safe. And we hope to see you next week!


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