Chesapeake Clay Tobacco Pipes and Cultural Resilience

For my final research project I decided to look at how we can observe African cultural resilience in the new world during the 17th century through the use of Chesapeake clay tobacco pipes. To do this I first explored the pipe making traditions and decorative traditions of West Africa. I then compared this to the various styles and designs of Chesapeake clay tobacco pipes.

Tobacco was introduced to West Africa in the 16th by Europeans returning from the New World. However, prior to this pipe making industries and the cultural practice of smoking was widespread in We

st African states thanks to the medicinal, spiritual and recreational use of cannabis. Following the introduction of tobacco it quickly gained popularity and spread throughout the region. The pipe making industries responded by producing pipes for the sole purpose of smoking tobacco. By the mid-17th century the cultural practice of smoking tobacco and making tobacco pipes was well established in West Africa. Therefore, by the time Europeans began transporting slaves to the New World smoking was very much part of several West African cultural identities.

From left to right: Kwardata, Double Bell, Hanging Triangles and Cattle motif(Emerson, 1988)

In comparing West African cultural traditions with Chesapeake pipes it becomes clear that a number of the motifs used on the pipes have clear connections to West Africa. I focused my analysis on 4 such motifs: The Kwardata, the Double Bell, Hanging Triangles and the Cattle motif.  The Kwardata motif can be linked back to the Ga’anda people of Nigeria. The motif commonly found on beer vessels that were used in ceremonies that marked the transition between boyhood and manhood. The Double bell motif can be linked back to the Nsibidi language of the Ejagham people from South western Cameroon and Northeastern Nigeria.  This language is a unique form of ideographic writing that consisted of signs that encapsulate many powers including the essence of all that is valiant, just and ordered. The Hanging Triangle motif can be linked back to the decorative traditions of Ga’anda people. Finally the cattle motif can be linked back to the economic and religious importance of cattle in the pastoralist societies of Nigeria.

The presence of all of these motifs is a clear indication of the continuation of various West African cultural and religious practices. For example, despite not having the traditional objects for their ceremonies they members or descendants of the Ga’anda people were able to place the Kwardata motif on pipes and use it in place of beer vessels for their religious ceremonies.

Thanks for reading. If you want to know more about this topic I would highly recommend reading the article “Decorated clay tobacco pipes from the Chesapeake: An African Connection” by Matthew Charles Emerson.


Emerson, Matthew C. “Decorated Clay Tobacco Pipes from the Chesapeake.” University of California,Berkeley, (May), University of California Berkeley ,1988.


Sunset Peak

For this project I decided to make a video about one of my favorite places in Hong Kong, Sunset peak. When people think of Hong Kong they imagine a tightly packed city full of skyscrapers; no one every really envisions it as having much in the way of country parks and natural areas. Hopefully this video will dispel some of that and give you a chance to see some of Hong Kongs natural beauty.

Shattered remains of the past

Nowadays the majority of our sodas, medicine and water all come in plastic containers. It’s kind of difficult to imagine a world without the widespread use of plastic. Well before the 1950s that’s exactly what the world was like and instead of plastics we used glass.

Pictured to the left are the bases and bodies of two glass bottles recovered during the Atlantic/ Central bus base Expansion Project that took place in Seattle between 2002 and 2006. But how can we possibly learn anything from two jagged and rather dirty looking fragments? Well I can tell you with complete confidence that there is certainly more to these shattered pieces than meets the eye.

Based on the location of seams on the sides and base of the bottles we know that this was produced using a 2 piece post- bottom mold (see diagram). This type of mold was used between the 1840s and the early 1900s. Therefore, we can assume that the  bottles were first produced and used within this time period. Embossed on to the front of the bottles are the words “JG Fox & Co.” This provides us with a wealth of information. A quick google search will reveal that JG Fox & Co was a beverage company based out of Seattle that primarily sold mineral water, sodas and beer. Since beer is usually sold in darker bottles I think it’s safe to assume that this was either a soda or mineral water bottle.  In comparison to other bottles within the assemblage these ones were relatively heavy. Therefore, I do not think they would have been carried by people in everyday life. Instead, they were more likely used in a domestic setting, i.e. someone’s home, or in a restaurant.

Thats all I have to say about these bottles. If your interested in learning more about bottle identification I highly recommend the Society of Historical Archaeology Historic Glass Bottle Identification & Information Website


Lindsey, Bill. “Bottle Bases.” Bottle Bases Page,


So what can you learn from a graveyard?

Cemeteries. Typically seen as dark, depressing places continuously shrouded in rain, not really the place you’d want to do a study at. However, that is exactly what we did. Through the examination of the features of headstones, such as epitaphs, shape, size, material etc. cultural norms from various eras can be inferred upon. One aspect of this that intrigued me was the use of kinship terms. Through my initial observations it seemed more often than not terms such as wife or mother were being used on female gravestones, while terms such as father were almost absent. To create a clearer image of this I created a seriation based on the use of kinship terms overtime:The seriation demonstrates a clear disparity between the use of ‘wife’ and the use of ‘husband’.The term wife is most commonly used at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century. During this same time period the term husband is rarely seen. This could be a result of societal norms which placed  greater importance on the marital status of women than it did for men;women who were not married were seen as societal outcasts, while men were seen as bachelors. This would explain why it was thought necessary to define a woman by her husband.

We encounter a similar trend when we look at the use of mother and father. Between 1890 and now mother is almost continuously used on head stones. In contrast, father is not used until the 1930s and even then we do not witness a continued use of the term to the present. This indicates that it was and still is thought that the relationships in a woman’s life, particularly that of a mother and child, are of great importance to their identity, while the identity of men are better represented by their name.

The terms daughter and son were uncommon. I cannot see any discernable trends in the use of the two terms over time. The few headstones that did have daughter and son on them were child graves. From this I am assuming that the only time these kinship terms were used was when a child died before their parent.

Well that’s all for now. If you’re interested in learning more about this particular topic I encourage to pop down to your local graveyard and make note of the kinship terms used over time.

The stories our trash can tell

Since the beginning of Archaeology as a discipline archaeologists have been enthralled in the business of digging through someone else’s trash. Mind you it is normally at a couple hundred years old so all smells and general unpleasantness associated with garbage has faded. Even though we refer to these artifacts as material culture it does not change the fact that it is some ancient persons refuse. From this old trash we can infer a range of aspects and behaviors of past peoples. Eventually this raised the question ‘if we can do learn all of this from ancient garbage can we not use modern trash to observe behaviors among the current population?’ and so the field of Modern Garbology was born.

Through the use of archaeological techniques garbology can help us identify trends in human behavior, such as food consumption (Meat, processed food etc), as well as other aspects of life, such as household size, social class, disposable income etc. But why do we need to dig through someone’s garbage to find this out you may ask? Can’t we just ask them to self-report what their throwing away? As it turns out people tend to under report certain in terms including red meat and alcohol, while over reporting items such as diet foods. This gives impression that the household in question has a significantly healthier lifestyle than in reality (Rathje 2001,71).

Over the course of 7 days each person in our class kept a record of the garbage they disposed of. We swapped records anonymously and analyzed each other’s trash. At first I couldn’t really see any trends but once I began organizing the data it became evident that there was a notably lack of waste associated with full meals. From this I inferred that this person preferred to eat out and tended to avoid cooking extravagant meals. I extrapolated from this that they may have a hectic schedule which does not allow time for cooking. Once I got into the nitty-gritty details of the record I was amazed at the information that could be gleaned from just a handful of objects.

Recording my garbage really made me stop and consider the amount of stuff I was throwing away. By the end of the week I couldn’t fathom how I could have produced so mush trash in such a short!!!

Well thanks for reading. If you’re interested in learning more about garbology I would 100% recommend Rathje and Murphy’s ‘Rubbish! The Archaeology of Garbage’.


James’ Bio

Hello all! My name is James and I’m a sophomore at the UW currently double majoring in Marine Biology and Archaeological Sciences. I grew up across the Pacific in the city of Hong Kong, which is an amazing super dense place filled with temples and r historic buildings nestled in between dazzling skyscrapers. The whole place exudes a mishmash of culture which is just intoxicating. This is what really led me down the path of wanting to study the past and study culture which ultimately landed me here at the UW. Moving across the ocean to Seattle has been incredible and provided me with the opportunity to experience and immerse myself in a new cultural environment. Since I have only been here a little over a year my experience is limited to the few classes I’ve taken and an excavation up in Northern Alberta, but I am eager to learn as much as I can in the discipline. While I don’t have any specific interests in archaeology yet I am gravitating towards marine archaeology in South East Asia, but nothing is set in stone yet. In my spare time I enjoy hiking, reading, rock climbing and being by the water.