Dirty Little Secrets

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Complete Vessels Emerge from Fragments at Huntingtown High School by Patricia Samford
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This week’s blog is an update on our project with Huntingtown High School’s Introduction to Historical Investigations class. If you read the earlier blog entry (December 10, 2012), you might remember that the students are analyzing the household garbage discarded in a Baltimore privy (aka outhouse) during the mid-19th century. The students have completed cataloging the artifacts (2,200+) and have now moved on to mending ceramics from the privy. Before any gluing of the broken vessels could begin, the students had to sort ceramic fragments from all the different soil layers in the privy into similar groupings by ceramic type and decoration. This sorting made it easier to gather all the fragments of each vessel together, so that piecing could begin.

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MAC Lab Collections Technician ErinWingfield helps Sabrina and Marissa plan a strategy for mending a stoneware spittoon.


One of the frustrating things about mending ceramics is that often large portions of the vessels are missing (in some cases because archaeologists usually only dig 50% of a privy pit and thus recover only half of the fragments in the first place). But with this privy feature, it appears that almost all of the fragments are present for at least five vessels. In the photos, you can see that the vessels are being held together with electrical tape before being glued. Using the tape makes it easier to plan the order in which to glue the pieces, as well as making it easier to see where pieces are missing.

Check back in a few weeks to see photos of the mended vessels! Most of them will be highlighted in the exhibit the students will create for this project.

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Rebekah and Kody are having great luck mending this stoneware bottle, which once held Dr. Sand’s Sasparilla – an early soft drink!



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Teacher Jeff Cunningham wants to help Emily mend this chamberpot, but she has the situation well under control!


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