Cold Weather Brings Hardware Times in the Lab

by Kayla MarciniszynField Archaeologist

On this blog, we often discuss the life cycle of an artifact from dirt to desk to collections. In the lab, artifacts go through a series of stages including washing, drying, rebagging, cataloging, labeling and then storage. Cataloging is a stage of analysis where we research the types of artifacts we have uncovered. One of the things this does is help provide us with more accurate dates to each soil layer and the site as a whole. We have recovered a number of diagnostic artifacts from recent excavations on Old Colchester Park and Preserve, including nails. Yes, nails!


Nails, like ceramics, have stylistic elements and traits that can help us determine a specific period of time for the layer from which it recovered. With the help of our architectural historian, Elizabeth Peebles, I have spent some time researching nail types and some of the stylistic traits that older nails have. I have seen hand wrought nails before, but the amount of detail and precision in the wrought nails we are currently uncovering has astounded and amazed me. It is easy to see that the blacksmith took time, effort, and care in forging the nails we are currently finding. This tells me that the owner of this land might have had the means to afford the product of a skilled blacksmith. However, there was also a good possibility that the nails were brought from England. Nails were a highly valued commodity in the colonies because they required a lot of effort and material resources to produce.

Nails today are pretty universal in design. There’s a round head, threading on the shaft, and a sharp, pointed tip. We refer to these nails as wire or extruded, because they are produced from coils of metal wire and fed through a machine. Wrought nails, however, had varying head and tip types based on their use. If the nails were used in furniture and the head would be seen, the blacksmith might try and make it more visibly appealing or artistic in design, or some might not even have had a head at all. Some wrought head types include rose heads (more decorative), T-heads, L-heads, and double-struck heads. Once machine cut nails and mass production began to replace the need for blacksmiths, heads became universally square in shape, lacking the previous stylistic elements of hand wrought heads.


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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One Response to Cold Weather Brings Hardware Times in the Lab

  1. Pingback: Archaeo-Puzzle | C.A.R.T. Archaeology

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