CART Bi-Weekly Update


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Metal Buttons and Shanks

by Lily FischerArchaeological Field and Lab Intern

Within Colonial archaeological sites, the most common type of button found is the metal button. Due, in large part, to metal’s ability to withstand decomposition in the acidic eastern soils, these buttons survive unlike their bone and cloth counter parts. For the most part, metal buttons are usually attached by a shank located on the back of a button. Though the shank is not the most ascetically pleasing aspect of a button, its shape and type can help archaeologists identify buttons found in the field.

A shank is a piece of metal on the back of the button that forms, or has, an opening through which string is threaded in order to attach a button to something, such as an article of clothing. One of the earliest shanks of the past is the cast shank. A cast shank is made by including the shank along with the rest of the button during casting (when liquid metal is poured into a mold). This process creates a visible seam which helps identify the button as a cast button. Cast Buttons came into prominence during the 18th century. They started out as mainly pewter, which is an alloy of tin, copper, antimony, and lead which is a metal that is easy to cast but weak (Hinks 60). However, around 1720 brass foundries appeared and the previously expensive metal became cheaper and available for public use. It resulted in many buttons being cast in brass instead of pewter (Hinks 57-58). Through industry development and improved techniques, the more durable brass button rivaled pewter buttons by the mid-18th century and remains a common button for archaeologist to dig up today.

Soldering is another common method of shank attachment on brass buttons. This is when a button and shank are made separately then welded or fused together to create one button. Brass buttons that employed a soldered shank were often flat and disk-like with many stamped, engraved, or plated (see image) with gold and or silver. Soldered shank brass buttons were very common in the late-18th century and are another frequent type that archaeologists continue to find.

For more information on metal buttons see Eighteenth Century Buttons and More on Eighteenth Century Buttons


DAACS Cataloging Manual: Buttons. 2003. Electronic Document,, accessed July 20, 2018.

Hinks, Stephen. 1998. A Structural and Functional Analysis of Eighteenth Century Buttons. Master’s Thesis, Department of Anthropology, the College of William and Mary, Williamsburg.

Hume, Ivor Noël. 1969   A Guide to Artifacts of Colonial America. Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., New York

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CART Bi-Weekly Update

20 July 2018

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Bifurcated Projectile Points

By Sean Canaday Archaeological Field and Lab Intern

The bifurcated projectile point is a unique type of projectile point. Right off the bat, it is easy to distinguish because of the shape of the base. This shape is unlike any other projectile point and can easily be identified. Identification of the base is necessary to properly type and categorize the projectile point, as well as to indicate the time period to which it dates. While bifurcates share certain characteristics with stemmed or notched points, they are distinctive because they contain a deep basal notch, sometimes almost giving them the impression of Mickey Mouse ears. These “ears” divide into two branches or forks, created by the basal-notch. Makers of bifurcate points used both percussion and pressure flaking manufacturing techniques. The flaking around the corners and particularly in the center of the base created that distinct bifurcate notch. Some points were then additionally ground or smoothed to further refine the shape. Of course, the bifurcate still has a typical distal end or tip like other types. Many bifurcates have a shoulder like that of a stemmed projectile point, however not all have distinct shoulders.

Native Americans carefully selected raw material for their tools from what was locally available and sometimes travelled long distances to acquire higher quality stone.  In general, they preferred cryptocrystalline siliceous (silica based) materials, such as chert, jasper, or chalcedony, because of their predictable conchoidal fracture.  However, in this area, quartz was most often used because of its availability, despite its more blocky or crystalline fracture.

Bifurcated projectile points date to the Early and Early-Middle Archaic Periods. These periods spanned from approximately 8000 to 5000 BCE. The Kanawha Stemmed point dates to the early archaic period. This type of the bifurcated projectile point has a narrow triangular blade. Other types of bifurcated projectile points include LeCroy, MacCorkle, St. Albans, and Stanly. Each type of bifurcate has distinct features that make them unique from the other types. This may include having a bigger bifurcated base, or a lobed stem, and different sizes.



2002    Diagnostic Artifacts in Maryland. Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum: State Museum of Archaeology., accessed June 27, 2018

Paynter, Elizabeth. 2018. The Shape of a Point. CART Archaeology (blog). Electronic. accessed June 27, 2018

2018    Points. Virginia Department of Historic Resources., accessed July 11, 2018

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CART Bi-Weekly Update

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Happy 4th of July


With the Fourth of July approaching, we thought we would feature an artifact appropriate for the holiday. During recent excavations, CART archaeologists recovered this button.  It has the monogram letters “RA” over the number “2.”  A little bit of research indicated that this military button belonged to the Second Regiment Artillerists.  As luck would have it, this dates to a very narrow window.  With the outbreak of the War of 1812, the young nation needed more than the one artillery regiment in its regular army and two additional regiments were formed.  The Second Regiment Artillerists saw action at several battles between 1812 and 1813, mostly in Canada but in Ohio and New York as well.  The first commander of the Second Regiment Artillerists was none other than then-Lieutenant Colonel Winfield Scott.  Scott continued to serve until the outbreak of the American Civil War, making him the longest serving general in the history of the country.  The U.S. Army consolidated artillery units into the Corps of Artillery in 1814, meaning this button was only in service for two years.

Happy Independence Day!!!


The First Regiment of Artillery, U.S. Center of Military History.

The Second Regiment of Artillery, U.S. Center of Military History.

Brevet Lieutentant General Winfield Scott, Historical Army Foundation.


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Artifact Type Collections

by Elizabeth PaynterCART Lab Director

An artifact type collection is a collection archaeologist’s use for comparison to aid in identification. It is sometimes referred to as a comparative collection. Any artifact that exhibits features that we may want to note and identify can be added to this kind of collection. The type collections at the Fairfax County Archaeology and Collection Branch is a mixture of reproductions and artifacts where the original location it was found is unknown.

We have type collections of various artifacts including flakes from making stone tools, projectile points, prehistoric ceramics, historic ceramics, nails, faunal bone, and glass items. Type collections help the catalogers properly identify artifacts. Artifacts that are diagnostic, which have either a beginning date of manufacture and an end date of manufacture or a date which is the height of popularity, are incredibly important in this type of collection, but not the only important feature of a good type collections. Other information about objects and object types can be identified by comparing with artifacts that have that same attribute. Faunal collections can help us identify the animals people were eating in the past or animals that were in that location. Examples of stone tools can explain the type of activity that occurred on a site. Attributes of flakes produced as by-products from making stone tools give information about the manufacture of those tools.

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