CART Bi-Weekly Update

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Wrought Nails

by Melissa Hallman CART Archaeological Intern

Very rarely can you excavate a historical site of a standing, or formerly standing structure and not come away with nails or nail fragments. Just to be clear, these fragments rarely look like the perfectly polished nails on display in museums. Some field archaeologists have taken to calling highly oxidized nails from an excavation site “Cheetos®” due to their being incrusted with rust; this oxidation morphs previously sharp and angled pieces of metal into cragged and rough blobs. Despite their seemingly simple function, there is a surprisingly wide variety of nails that can be found at a site. In general, for construction purposes, there are three different types of nails that can be found at a historical site: wrought, machine-cut, or wire. Wire nails which are used today, came about in the late 19th century. While other nails types, including less expensive machine-cut nails which were formed from sheet iron, were invented towards the end of the 18th century. Hand wrought nails, which date back to before the early 1800s, were often preferred due to their durability and variety of uses (Nelson 1968). Prior to the invention of machine cut nails, hand wrought nails were the only type available to the colonists (Hume 1969). They were made by blacksmiths, the various heads hammered onto square iron “nail rods,” and the type of head depended on the intended use of the nail. One of the more common nails found is a “rose head”, the nail having been struck four to five times to create a faceted appearance on the head of the nail (Carson and Lounsbury 2013). Additional wrought nail heads usually took on the shape of either an ‘L’ or a ‘T’ but others were developed with more specific uses. Nevertheless, rose head nails were primarily favored in the ongoing construction in the colonies. In addition to the heads, the tips also varied based on their intended use. While we are most familiar with a pointed tip, spatulated tips, which were usually struck with a hammer once to flatten the metal at the tip were less likely to split the wood they were being driven through (Carson and Lounsbury 2013).

See also Archaeological Data: How Can Artifacts “Say” Anything about the Past?


Carson, Cary, Lounsbury, Carl R. (editors). 2013 The Chesapeake House: Architectural Investigation by Colonial Williamsburg. The University of North Carolina Press, North Carolina.

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

Nelson, Lee. 1968 Nail Chronology as an aid to dating old buildings. American Association for State and Local History, Tennessee.


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CART Biweekly

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“Whieldon Ware”

by Elizabeth S PaynterCART Lab Director

The team is back at Old Colchester Park and Preserve and has been finding some Whieldon ware. This decorative ware can be found on creamware ceramics and was primarily produced during the mid-eighteenth century. Like all creamwares the vessels are a refined white earthenware and have a clear lead glaze; however, Whieldon wares are easily distinguished by the sponged colors that give the ceramic a clouded or tortoise shell appearance. Whieldon “clouded wares” are decorated in colors such as brown, green, purple and yellow that were created by using combinations of metallic oxides. The term Whieldon ware might be a bit misleading since other potters besides Whieldon were producing the decorative creamware. Some archaeologists also classify the vegetable and fruit wares of the time period such as cauliflower ware as “Whieldon wares”.


FLMNH Ceramic. (n.d.). Whieldon Ware. Historical Archaeology. Florida Museum of Natural History (FLMNH). Electronic. WARE accessed April 18, 2018

MAC Lab. 2015. Diagnostic Artifacts in Maryland. Maryland Archaeological Conservation Lab (MAC Lab). Originally Published 2002. Electronic. accessed April 18, 2018

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CART Bi-Weekly Update

13 April 2018

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Ground Stone

by Colleen Boyle – Archaeological Technician

“Ground stone” is a broad term used to describe a prehistoric stone tool that has been shaped through the process of grinding, polishing, pounding, drilling, chipping or other methods of breaking down rock with another stone. These ground stones are usually made of courser igneous rock types because their textured surface makes them ideal for grinding against other materials. The process of making any stone tool can be time consuming and labor intensive, but the final product is a sturdy tool well worth the effort. Native Americans made a variety of ground stone tools like axes, mortars, pestles, and grinding slabs using these methods. The first known axes in Virginia date to around 5000 B.C.E. during the Middle Archaic (Egloff 1992).

Recently, a broken ground stone tool was discovered at an archaeological site in Fairfax County (pictured above). A tool like this would have been made out of a single stone, ground into the desired shape with a harder stone that would be able to chip away at the axe until it was the desired shape. This process makes it possible to create a notch where the tool could be bound to a wooden handle. Even though this ground stone tool is damaged, it was still a rare and exciting find for archaeologists in the field.


Egloff, Keith and Debrah Woodward. First People: The Early Indians of Virginia. The Virginia Department of Historic Resources. Richmond, VA. 1992

The University of Iowa. Ground Stone Artifacts Series in Ancient Technologies. The Office of the State Archaeologist. accessed March 30, 2018

Wright, K. 1992. A Classification System for Ground Stone Tools from the Prehistoric Levant. Paléorient, Volume 18-2. accessed March 30, 2018

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Archaeology Goes High Tech

Here is an article from LiDAR News about the amazing work being done by the Fairfield Foundation of Gloucester, Virginia.  They are using drones to scan and photograph archaeological sites layer by layer.  Then, by generating a Digital Elevation Model (DEM), they 3D print each layer of each unit.  The layers are then stacked, creating an exact miniature of the site exactly as it was excavated.  Folks can literally peel back each layer revealing what lies beneath!


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