Digging into the excavations of the past

Posted on July 12th, 2016 by

Being of an archaeological background, I’ve been itching to work with the JMM’s archaeological collections since I got here. I finally got my chance; for the last few weeks I was working on writing a draft of a finding aid for the collections. This aid will help researchers who wish to study the archaeological projects that have taken place at the Lloyd Street Synagogue. The project started as any good project does, by researching, looking through the Museum’s records and making note of all the materials relating to archaeology the Museum has. I found that there are four recorded and variously documented dig seasons that took place in the basement of the Lloyd Street Synagogue between 2000 and 2010. The purpose of the LSS digs was to date and preserve key features in the basement, particularly the mikvehs and the matzoh oven. The first season was a Phase I study, meaning it was mostly a surface study, with minimal excavations. The other three seasons where Phase II studies, meaning there was more involved excavations, resulting in more material from those seasons. Feeling fairly familiar with the written materials and what years the excavations had taken place I was able to look at the artifact collections and familiarize myself with how they are cataloged in the Museum’s catalog system.

Pot sherd from the Lloyd Street Synagogue, LSS 1341.117.004

Pot sherd from the Lloyd Street Synagogue, LSS 1341.117.004

I cataloged some of the artifacts that had not been fully processed, giving me a good sense of the general condition and scope of the archaeological finds in the collection. I feel looking at archaeological artifacts offers some unique challenges that other historical objects don’t possess. Firstly, you are often times looking at an incomplete object, or fragments of objects. I had very little information to tell me what vessels pot sherds may have belonged to, and even less with glass sherds. Also the passage of time effects objects differently when they are buried for an extended period of time. Some materials like painted pottery, may benefit from this passage, as they are not exposed to light and the paint can’t fade; other materials don’t fare so well, like organic material (wood, most fabrics and paper) which often deteriorates completely, or metal which gets corroded and rusted easily by moisture and acidity in soils. There were several times when cataloging when I was not sure what I was looking at, especially when it came to metal objects.

A selection of Lloyd Street Synagogue oyster shells.

A selection of Lloyd Street Synagogue oyster shells.

One question that keeps bugging me is why there were oyster shells found in the Lloyd Street Synagogue (LSS). Shell fish is not kosher, so oyster shells seem a bit out of place in a synagogue. The shells also do not have any decoration on them. While we are close to the inner harbor, I don’t believe shells would be deposited here by natural means. The LSS did house a Christian congregation at one time, and was a reform synagogue for another chapter of its history. Perhaps the shells coincide with one of these periods of time, where the laws of kosher may not have been as heavily enforced.

Archaeological material is most valuable in its context. Based off where the artifacts, such as the oyster shells were found and what items were around it, possible dates of levels of the excavation and the events that took place at a site can be determined. In this manner the material culture creates and aids the telling of history. This being the case when forming the finding aid I made sure that artifacts could easily be associated with their field report and any field notes that could be found. After knowing what was in the collection I was able to compile the research I had done into a format that I hope will help future researchers easily find the materials they need.

06.06.2016 Interns (20)Blog post by Collections Intern Tamara Schlossenberg. To read  more posts by and about interns click HERE.

Posted in jewish museum of maryland




Solving the puzzle of broken artifacts in the 1996 JMM expansion collection

Posted on January 20th, 2014 by

An ironstone plate with a maker’s mark on the base.

An ironstone plate with a maker’s mark on the base.

Despite what we see in museum exhibits, it’s not often that whole, unbroken artifacts are found during archaeological excavations. Most of what an archaeologist might uncover during an excavation of an urban site are small, broken pieces of artifacts like glass and ceramic vessels. These pieces are referred to as “sherds.” The archaeological collection from the 1996 JMM expansion has bags and bags of glass and ceramic sherds, and it fell to Carlyn and me to try to see if we could piece them together into complete artifacts!

Intern Molly works to mend glass oil lamp chimneys.

Intern Molly works to mend glass oil lamp chimneys.

When sherds have traces of decoration, like painted decoration on ceramics or embossed words on glass bottles, it can be very easy to find matching pieces and “mend” them. It’s also easy to find matching pieces of distinctive artifacts, such as a cup made from an unusual color of glass or a very large ceramic pot. But sometimes it can be much more difficult – one group of artifacts that we dealt with was several bags of small, nondescript clear glass sherds. We were able to tell based on how thin the glass was and the curve of the larger pieces that these sherds came from glass oil lamp chimneys, but even with that knowledge, it was very hard to piece together the sherds!

Intern Carlyn admires a mended stoneware pot.

Intern Carlyn admires a mended stoneware pot.

We were only mending artifacts so that we could keep records of what pieces go together in the collection, so we used tape to hold pieces together or folded paper and other creative solutions to temporarily rebuild artifacts. When artifacts are mended permanently, special glues and other archival means are used to mend broken pieces of an artifact to create the attractive complete artifacts seen on display in museums.

A "mended" 19th century men's vest with pockets.

A “mended” 19th century men’s vest with pockets.

We also had to work to “mend” some artifacts that were not glass or ceramic, such as a cloth vest or pieces of shoes.  At times, mending can be frustrating work, but it’s a lot like doing a very interesting puzzle, and the results when you can piece things together are really amazing!

An ironstone chamberpot with decorative molded handles.

An ironstone chamberpot with decorative molded handles.

A blog post by Collections Interns Carlyn Thomas and Molly Greenhouse. To read more posts from JMM interns, click here.

Posted in jewish museum of maryland




Mystery Items from the 1996 JMM Expansion

Posted on November 21st, 2013 by

During the expansion of the Jewish Museum of Maryland in 1996 there were many forgotten artifacts and objects that were found in the grounds beneath the land surrounding the museum and synagogues.  My fellow Urban Archeology intern, Molly, and I have been examining these forgotten objects, cataloging, cleaning and photographing them. Most of the materials we handle are different fragments of bottles, glass, ceramics and metal, as well as some unidentified objects.

We have been able to identify the genre of most of the objects, and through research we have been able to pin point dates, regions and companies that certain artifacts originated from. However, amongst the hundreds of objects there have been a handful that we have had to make educated guesses as to what they are, and others are completely miscellaneous and unidentifiable.

Here are some pictures of individual objects that we believe to have identified, and others which we are still uncertain of. Take a look and see if you can guess what they are, what you think they could be or what it may have been used for! If you have any input, send us an email at jzink@jewishmuseummd.org.

object A

object A

object B

object B

object C

object C

object D

object D

object E (view 1)

object E (view 1)

object E (view 2)

object E (view 2)

object F

object F

 

 

Did you try and guess what they are? Here are our findings and educated guesses:

Object A: We believe it is the sole of or part of a shoe.

Object B: Purse/small bag clasps.

Object C: We believe it to be part of a lid of an ornamental ceramic jar.

Object D: We think it is the arm of a small porcelain doll.

Object E: We have absolutely no idea what the material or object is or what it was used for.

Object F: It is clearly made of wood, but we have no idea what this would have been used for.

A blog post by Collections Intern Carlyn Thomas. To read more posts by JMM interns, click here.

 

Posted in jewish museum of maryland




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