Context: “Where it’s at!”

by Denice Dressel Lab Archaeologist & Preservation Specialist

A large storage vessel made by Piercy in Alexandria compared to a base of a similar vessel discovered at Colchester.

A storage vessel of coarse red earthenware with a black glazed interior made by Alexandria’s Henry Piercy compared to a very similar base found at Old Colchester Park & Preserve.

As archaeologists, we derive meaning from context. Context describes where we find an object in relation to other objects on a site. Context can be found stratigraphically, in the soil horizons, or it can be found horizontally, across an archaeological site. Another context we consider is the relationship between sites, the larger geographical region and the rest of the world.

In that vein, we recently brought some pieces of ceramic to Alexandria Archaeology, one of Colchester’s closest neighboring towns, to talk with them about what we were finding.

We were specifically curious about pieces of red-bodied coarse earthenware with a cream slip and clear glaze, similar to ceramics described in Barbara Magid and Bernard Means’ 2003 article published in Ceramics in America on Henry Piercy, Alexandria’s first potter. Piercy arrived in Alexandria in 1792 via Philadelphia, where he apprenticed in his brother’s pottery and learned the style known as ‘Philadelphia slip.’ He brought this style with him to Alexandria. Using a coarse red earthenware clay body and a cream trailed slip, he produced both chargers and bowls in this fashion. He also made large utilitarian storage vessels which were left unglazed externally, and had either a black or brown glaze on the interior, making the vessel impermeable to liquids.

Although we cannot say conclusively that either our red-bodied slipped or black glazed earthenwares were produced by Piercy without doing a comparative analysis of the clays, a visual comparison strongly suggests a great similarity between Piercy’s vessel forms, clays, slips and glazes and the coarse red-bodied earthenware we are uncovering at Colchester. Many thanks to Paul Nasca and the rest of the folks at Alexandria Archaeology for their time and expertise!

Read More: on page 13 “Examining Piercy Earthenware” by Paul Nasca in Alexandria Archaeology Volunteer News – Summer 2014

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About cartarchaeology

We are the County Archaeological Research Team, part of the Archaeology and Collections Branch, Resource Management Division, Fairfax County Park Authority. We are tasked with understanding and managing the cultural resources on Park land throughout Fairfax County.
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4 Responses to Context: “Where it’s at!”

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