“I know how to sell these articles, but not how to use them”

I started this project based on an unexpected, and extremely frank outburst of a family friend during an Easter dinner. While I at my steak, carefully holding my meat to the plate with my fork held in my left hand, and slicing it apart with a knife in my right, this good friend’s Austrian grandmother barks, “Vhere did you learn to eat like zis?!” As an 18 year old kid who knew little to nothing about etiquette except those times I had my elbows forcibly pushed off the table, I was completely taken aback. So when the opportunity came to choose an item to study, this interaction from years ago came flooding back and the choice was obvious: The Fork.

The quote which is the title of this piece, is from Joseph Brasbridge and was spoken during a dinner with a British aristocrat, highlights one of the key separations between social classes that the history of the fork highlights. Far from being a “humble” eating utensil the fork was a clearly defined status item for the majority of its European existence, usually being crafted of gold or silver, and its use limited to largely the wealthy.

16th C. Fork

The history of the fork before 1608 is a story of wealth and exclusivity and religious and social ridicule, and the history of the fork until around 1800 is also a story of wealth and exclusivity and religious and social ridicule . In 1608 when Thomas Coryate introduced the fork to the British in one of his travelogues, it began the forks long journey to the American colonies. The fork is found in American Colonial probate records nearly 80 years later after it’s introduction to England, and it isn’t common in these records until 1770 and then mostly among the rich, while in England in 1750, most middle class homes had and used forks. There has to be a reason for this huge discrepancy in adoption.

And the reason? There are a few. The Puritans who were a large portion of the colonizing population weren’t fans of the fork. They felt was a sin to not use the forks that God gave you, your fingers. Not only that, many British of the 17th century thought that using a fork was a sign of effeminacy. There’s also a series of laws know as the Navigation Acts, that severely limited what the colonies could produce and trade, and forced any goods going into the American Colonies to go through England first ensuring taxation, tariffs, and price gouging. Up until the mid-18th century, the colonists didn’t want or need forks and they were outrageously expensive.

18th c. American Fork

Then what changed that caused American Colonists to suddenly want forks and be willing to spend up to forty percent more for them? In the 1720’s American colonists were becoming more and more British after years of trying not to be British at all. During this period the Georgian style architecture was changing the way cities looked, tea sets were being introduced and suddenly more and more people are using forks. What had originally been viewed as a needless expensive item was now a must have marker of social status and ‘Britishness.’

By land, or by sea? How exactly did agriculture get to Europe?

Agriculture is important. Most of us spend our days enjoying bread, salads, beer and steak without considering the enormous history behind them. Humans have been farming and domesticating animals(other than dogs) for at least 12,000 years, and it is well established that the earliest evidence for true agriculture can be found in the Middle East, from where it spread to Europe, and the rest is literally history. Seriously. Writing had to be invented to keep track of grain shipments, harvest times and recipes for beer.

A Hymn to Ninkasi, possibly the first recorded recipe, that just happens to be for beer.

This is all rather well established, but the details of exactly how agriculture made its way to Europe aren’t entirely clear. The running theory has been an overland route from the Fertile Crescent in modern day Iraq, through Anatolia (aka, Turkey), across the Bosphorus and into Europe. Just a hop, skip and a jump really.

However new data from a team of geneticists working out of the University of Barcelona paints a drastically different story. By comparing genetic data from five different sites in Germany, Spain, Cyprus, Crete and Damascus, they’ve discovered strong genetic similarities between individuals at each site. According to the researchers, the data clearly indicates that small pioneering groups used a maritime route across the Mediterranean to bring agriculture into Europe.

This isn’t an absolute, there’s still a long way to go from Crete to Spain and Germany, but the genetic similarities shared between known seafaring farmers and farmers located in disparate areas of continental Europe begins to tell a very interesting tale about the spread of agriculture into Europe.

So it seems that our wheat growing ancestors were even more pioneering that previously thought. Not only were they traveling to a new land, they were going by sea and bringing wheat, barley and an entirely new culture and technology with them. Who said farmers were boring?

http://phys.org/news/2014-06-mitochondrial-dna-eastern-farmers-sequenced.html

Even French stones are better!?

I’ve been nose deep in the history of forks in Colonial America, so I’m possibly a tad stuck on the strange things that Americans have imported over the last three hundred years. This is possibly one of the stranger imports I’ve seen lately.

In the 18th and 19th centuries it was common for American farmers and millers to import a specific stone, known as French buhr, for the crafting of millstones. The vast majority of these stones seem to have come from the regions surrounding France and it was believed that millstones crafted from French buhr ground a superior wheat product.

French buhr millstone

I first found out about this little quirk of American milling here, from a ScienceDaily article detailing work being done in Ohio to identify millstones that had been shipped in from France. The internet being the rabbit hole that it is, I eventually found myself at Penn State’s Medieval Technology and American History site(found here), where a few of the finer details of the older milling processes were highlighted with an explanation of what makes a better millstone. As with most tools for production its stone hardness, if the vanes carved into the stone became dull the grind would be coarser resulting in a wheat flour that would ferment faster.

Why the French buhr stones were preferred I’m not entirely sure of, yet. However, I see an excellent opportunity for some experimental archaeology…

Of boats, bears and a Bernier

Family is never quite where you expect to find it. When dealing with generations of individuals, it seems that we find ourselves face to face with someone or an event that we had never imagined or possibly had overwrought in our imaginations.

Even though I don’t share the last name, while growing up I was surrounded with these fantastic family mythologies: A grandfather who’s friends insisted on calling him Bon Homme(though it always sounded like “buh’num”), French for ‘Good Man’, for reasons I never quite understood. A strong family tradition of boats, from row boats to poorly maintained sail boats sitting listlessly in Puget Sound. The cabin is L’Islet, Quebec that was the destination of numerous summer fishing trips, not to mention the familial obsession with fishing. Then the eventual trip to the Bernier Maritime Museum, the source of an enormous amount of family pride.

Arial view of Musee Maritime du Quebec

The Musee Maritime du Quebec is dedicated to the history of the St. Lawrence River and Arctic exploration. The Bernier Maritime Museum was eventually rolled into the MMQ, but was originally dedicated to Joseph-Elzear Bernier, who between 1904 and 1911 explored the Canadian arctic and claimed the islands for Canada. It turns out Joseph Bernier is a distant relative of mine, a great-great-great uncle.

CGS Arctic, circa 1905

A captain of his own ship by the age of 17, Joseph-Elzear Bernier was the youngest fully licensed ship in the world in 1869.

The majority of his work between 1869 and 1904 was shipping across the Atlantic, and eventually he retired to take up work in Quebec City. This retirement eventually gave way to boredom and his desire to mount a polar expedition. His first expedition began in 1904 at the age of 52.

Perry Island, 1908. Joseph Bernier and his ships Crew standing in front of the metal plaque claiming the island for Canada.

These expeditions occurred numerous times over the next 7 years, and again he “retired” in 1911. As with all individuals with an adventurous spirit, this was not to last. When WWI began in 1917, he took to the seas again, and operated cargo ships delivering supplies to England and other parts of Europe to help the war effort. Even after the war, he couldn’t give up sailing, he continued on exploring the arctic until his “real” retirement in 1925.

For years there was always the story told to the family of “Jack the Bear” Bernier, an ship captain so tough that he didn’t bother to wear gloves on the deck of his ship while sailing in the arctic. Though the name and the anecdote are likely pure fabrications, truth is yet again much better than fiction.

Captain Joseph Bernier, age 73.

Milk Glass? Milk Glass!

For many of us in America, the word “mentholatum” brings backs memories of being ill and having a certain gloppy, sticky medicine called Vick’s VapoRub rubbed on our chest that through some unknown magic that rid us of our coughs and helped us get to sleep. The name Mentholatum is a portmanteau of the words menthol and petrolatum, petroleum jelly.

il_340x270.410634736_dulz

Originally founded in 1889 by one Alexander Hyde in Witchita, Kansas, Mentholatum Company hit its stride with Mentholatum Ointment, allowing for rapid expansion and eventually relocation to Buffalo, New York in 1903. Mentholatum Ointment was a precursor to that Vick’s VapoRub we all know and love. Let’s talk about that big hit for the company, Mentholatum Ointment and the little white jar that it was originally distributed in. The ointment itself works through a cooling chemical reaction caused by the inclusion of menthol in a petroleum jelly base.

Unfortunately, I did not take a picture of the jar in our collection, however this specimen is rather similar to what ours would have looked like if it were whole. It is a cylindrical, milk glass container approximately 2 inch tall and about an inch and a quarter in diameter. Just like our specimen, this one has a ground, threaded finish to take a cap of kind or another that seems to have changed over time: metal for earlier specimens and plastic for later. Given that our site was covered over in 1929, it’s likely that our little jar had a metal lid, just like this one.
One of the more interesting tidbits about this jar is the glass that it’s made from, known now as milk glass. The history of this type of glass has its roots in Venice sometime in the 1500’s, and originally could be of an assortment of colors. Usually just called opaque glass contemporarily, this type of glass began to be representative of American wealth and success, even being displayed in homes alongside fine porcelain. While a small jar of a smelly ointment isn’t the highpoint of class and refinery, this little piece of history is none the less rather striking and has an interesting history.

Sources:
http://us.mentholatum.com/about-us/
http://milkglass.org/history.html
Image taken from etsy
http://img0.etsystatic.com/009/0/5697567/il_340x270.410634736_dulz.jpg

Interment frequency and generations in Calvary Cemetery, Seattle.

While an undoubtedly morbid thing to study, death and how culture handles death is an exceptionally interesting source of information about any culture. Using our recent Graveyard Lab and a chart of internments, we can see some very interesting information regarding the use of this specific cemetery, its growth and how these match up with events, both local and global.

This chart details the number of internments in five year increments from 1875 to 2010. In our collection we separated into each of the 5 primary areas of the cemetery and chose randomly 30 interments. What can be seen is that the period from 1900-1920 saw the largest spike of internments in the cemetery, followed by another increase in interments between 1936 and 1950. At first, I was tempted to believe that the first spike of internments was a result of the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918, until I noticed another spike at 2006 to 2010. The last spike, could be considered the Baby Boomer spike, a generationally motivated increase in interment, and upon closer inspection, the vast majority of internments between 1900 and 1920 take place before the pandemic would have occurred, leading me to believe that this increase in deaths is related to a post-Civil War baby boom, similar to the spike being witnessed in the modern era with the Boomer generation.
As for the 1936 to 1950 spike, I do not know of any regional, generational or cultural event that would culminate in this spike, and our data does not indicate that this is a group of soldiers who were interred in this period. It could be a result of the rationing and other life stressors that were occurring at this period due to American involvement in the war, but without further research, this question will remain unanswered.

A Hot Cup of Joe and some Philistines

A Hot Cup of Joe, an archaeology focused blog run by Carl Feagans(Masters, University of Texas), started its life as more of a skeptical blog deriding conspiracy theories and simple bad science, but has evolved into a more serious, but still fun to read blog. It is a well cited, and informative blog covering topics from the recent NatGeo “Nazi War Diggers,” to whether or not filling your tires with nitrogen is a scam(aside: it is!). I found the archaeological articles to be particularly interesting, with his personal skeptical articles entertaining but somewhat distracting. Of particular interest is his expose of sorts about the das Cheops Projekt and the vandalism and attempted theft committed by the men behind it.

http://ahotcupofjoe.net/

The Tell es-Safi/Gath Excavations Official (and Unofficial) Weblog, is the blog of an archaeological project and field school run by Prof. Aren Maeir, a biblical historian and archaeologist from Jerusalem. The blog is really quite a fun read as Aren Maeir absolutely loves archaeology, history and the work he does on the site. Though there is a lack of citations for all of the posts I’ve read, the author’s credentials do appear to be solid. This doesn’t excuse a lack of citations of course, however given his expertise on the subject, it’s possibly that he’d just be citing himself.

As to the subject of the posts, they run the gamut from information about the team and their findings, to discussion about documentaries about the site, and they are for the most part short and to the point with links to deeper discussions and papers on the subject.

http://gath.wordpress.com/

What and where(and when?) we consume

As archaeology students it should be of little or no surprise that what is thrown away can say more about how people live than the objects that are kept and used, and that is even more true in our current consumerist culture. These disposable objects help highlight how certain categories of food and drink items are consumed depending on the activities that are occurring in the area where they are disposed.

Our group, consisting of Roger, Lauryl and myself, decided to look at two high traffic areas with what we believed to be vastly different use profiles. The first, Thompson Hall is located on a prime thoroughfare with the HUB on one end, and the Quad on the other. The second location, the Burke Museum Café is also a high traffic area due simply to it being at the museum as well as the easy access to the Ave. Each receptacle location, at least theoretically, would have different types of users due to their locations on campus: Thompson Hall would receive more ‘mobile’ food packaging, snack food and coffee, as well as some more illicit materials, while the Burke Café would see a wider spectrum of trash with evidence of tour groups and families. Not surprisingly this was exactly what our group found during the investigation, as our samples were chosen due to our knowledge of the campus and general use patterns.

As with all research there is one caveat. Our trash was collected in the late morning and early afternoon, meaning there would be a bias towards breakfast and lunch activities. Without knowing the emptying schedules of the bins, it is impossible to determine if there is activity from later in the day and evening that is not represented in the samples we collected. Along this same line of reasoning, there may also be a visible difference in the types and amounts of trash disposed of in outdoor and indoor receptacles depending on the season in which a sample was collected.

Jacob: A Biography

'Hands are for pets, not typing.'

‘Hands are for pets, not typing.’

Jacob Corrado is an archaeological sciences student at the UW in his senior year. At 35 years old Jacob’s path to a career in archaeology began with a decade in medical supply logistics, being a disgruntled employee and a desire to something that he loved. This period was followed by quitting his job, enrolling in college and sleeping in a spider filled garage for a year.

His interest in archaeology began with reading a lot of encyclopedias (from 1956! Ethnocentrism, ahoy!), horrible television (Logic? We don’t need no stinking logic!) and equally horrible books (Systematic research and fact checking is for the birds. Sweeping, generalizing statements about humanity is all we need) that, together had the effect of piquing his curiosity and driving a need to get answers. That don’t involve aliens. Or ley lines. More specifically, he interested in transitions to agriculture, either through independent development or through introduction via colonization and trade.

Jacob is currently living in Bellevue Washington with his significant other, a cat that never has enough food and corgi who is in constant need of attention.