Be Our Guest: A Contemplation on a Piece from a Child’s Tea Set

Since beginning my learning experiences in this lab, my interest in specific types of artifacts has grown stronger and more focused. Although I was and still am fascinated by everything recovered from the Grande Ronde schoolhouse, I was always drawn to the ceramics that were found, the most compelling of which is a small, hand painted tea set creamer.

I felt attached to this creamer, despite the fact that it had no part in my life before a few months ago. This led me to wonder what caused people to be interested in specific artifacts, as well as why people form attachments to objects  from generations before them. In the context of this artifact, there is a certain familiarity of it, as it is a recognizable object which is almost complete. When juxtaposed with other smaller, less identifiable pieces, this piece stands out and becomes memorable and exciting.

Based on the size of this piece, it appears to be from a child’s tea set. This direct association with children and childhood sparks a feeling of nostalgia for tea sets in my own past, despite the fact that I had never interacted with or even seen this particular creamer prior to working with it in the lab. In archaeology and more generally in everyday life, people tend to be drawn to things that remind them of objects that are familiar to them, such as specific toys that they played with as children or certain scents that are reminiscent of family members or places. My own childhood tea set had a lot of positive memories linked to it, which resurfaced when looking at this one. I expect the same can occur for many other people as well.

While I had an imagined connection to this object, there were likely people in the past who had a connection to it when it was new. A large part of archaeology is evaluating the bonds that people made with their surroundings and belongings to discover what their lives were like. In the lab, the context was changed for how people viewed and interacted with the creamer, but the response remained the same. This showed me an important lesson about the nature of humans, both in the present and in the past, and how we view the objects we encounter throughout our lives. This lesson has taught me to view other artifacts in the same way I viewed this one, as vibrant pieces of a life from long ago. As corny as it sounds, I feel that it was a valuable part of my experience in learning about archaeology.

By: Bay Loovis

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