ANTH 491: Archaeology of the Bishop's Cabin

Month: November 2023

Artifact Spotlight: Glass Shards 

By: Safia Mohan

With the excavation coming to a close, we have begun to analyze the artifacts we collected out in the field in the lab. As we have organized these artifacts, it has become apparent that the most common type of object uncovered from the excavation is the glass shard. From just one level of Lot E we have excavated over 300 glass shards of varying sizes, shapes, thicknesses, transparency, and colors. During the first day of lab analysis, I took it upon myself to wash and photograph a few of these shards. Thankfully, Dr. Lindsay Bloch was present that day and was able to identify some of the more interesting pieces.

Most of the glass shards we found were window glass, identifiable due to their flatness and thickness. These pieces will not rock when placed on a flat surface and are usually a faint aqua in color. We also found pieces of burned/melted glass, which were often more challenging to identify but also tended to be window glass. The colored pieces of glass we saw in shades of green, blue, and brown were most likely from bottles. The large frosted-looking glass in Figure 1 (on the bottom right) is most likely from some kind of light fixture.

We suspect that the area we excavated ( lot E) was part of the “multi-purpose” building drawn next to Philander Chase’s cabin. This building would have likely been inhabited by some of the first students at Kenyon College. We also believe that our particular lot was in a hearth area that housed a fireplace. This would be supported by the melted glass we found. 

Figure 1: One hundred of the glass shards from the Bishop’s Cabin Site, Lot E.

A Journey into Artifact Analysis with Dr. Lindsay Bloch by Lucy Farnham

In the realm of archaeology, the study of artifacts serves as a key to unlocking the mysteries of ancient civilizations. Recently, we had the privilege of being visited by Dr. Lindsay Bloch, founder of Tempered Archaeological Services, LLC. Dr. Bloch, a seasoned archaeologist and anthropologist, has dedicated her career to unraveling the secrets embedded in artifacts.

Dr. Bloch helped us to understand our artifacts beyond their archaeological context. There are several different types of ceramics scattered throughout the site, and learning how to differentiate between each artifact is a valuable tool to understanding those who were at this site before us. In this site were many decorated ceramic sherds. Dr. Bloch showed us how to differentiate between a hand painted piece and a transfer printed piece. Below is an image of a sherd from Subop I, lot 4. This sherd is transfer printed, which is exemplified through the meticulous design aspects of the piece. One key aspect of transfer printed pieces is the uniformity of line work, which is present in this piece. Each line is configured little dots, which is a tell-tale sign of a transfer print. In a hand painted piece, the brushstrokes are visible, and lines are continuous and irregular, a detail which is absent from this artifact.

Transfer printed ceramic sherd from dining hall excavations.

This artifact is an example of the attempt to recreate Chinese porcelain, a highly coveted ceramic at the time in which we are working. Chinese porcelain often had intricate, hand painted designs. This artifact shows how European manufacturers tried to mimic this style by placing intricate designs, often in blue, onto a white ceramic meant to mimic original Chinese porcelain. However, it was more cost-effective for them to mechanize the creation of these pieces so workers not skilled in ceramic painting could create the ceramics at a higher volume. Dr. Bloch explained this concept and showed us genuine Chinese porcelain, which features brushstrokes that show the hand painted details by the high skilled artisans that created each piece. A ceramic of this nature imitates the decorative, highly desired Chinese porcelain tableware to satisfy the high demand of the time.

Overall, Dr. Bloch introduced highly valuable techniques of understanding the artifacts which we excavated. From differentiating between pearlware and whiteware to understanding the design differences between different styles of the time, she helped us to determine precious information about our artifacts. She illuminated the meticulous process of uncovering the stories hidden within artifacts and provided a glimpse into the thrilling world of archaeological discovery. Dr. Bloch’s expertise, combined with her passion for the subject, was extremely appreciated by all, and will prove useful for the coming weeks of our laboratory analysis.

Artifact Spotlight: A sponge-printed whiteware sherd by Lana Stone

This week, our readings centered around the idea of object biographies, that overall aim to tell the story of an artifact, from its production to deposition within an archaeological site. Considering material culture in its different stages of production, consumption and use can help archeologists to build an understanding of the relationship between humans and objects (Gosden et al., 2010). As humans and objects gather time, move and change, they transform, and the relationship between the object and humans becomes intertwined (Gosden et al., 2010).

As we wrap up our excavations at the Bishop’s Cabin site, our class has begun to examine several types of ceramic artifacts ranging in size, complexity, quality and material that may provide insight into the early years of Kenyon. Among a variety of ceramics, this post aims to build an object biography of one of our largest ceramic pieces: a whiteware sherd with blue sponge patterns. This object was imbedded against a rock, found on the northward wall of the cabin. Due to the shape of the sherd, it may have been a piece of a plate or platter, and is about 6 cm in length.

Sponge-printed whiteware from the dining hall excavations.

The state of Ohio was established in the year 1803, and many citizens and immigrants pushed towards the westward expansion of the US. The state of Ohio was seen as a frontier that could be “conquered” or “tamed”, and the soil was promising for aspiring farmers. This made the West, and specifically Ohio, appealing to those looking for new land to occupy. The first students would have arrived from the college’s previous location in Worthington in 1828, where the first buildings would have been rustic, like the cabin at the Bishop’s Cabin site. Therefore, this sherd would have arrived and been deposited after the year 1828. In terms of where these early ceramic materials at Kenyon were being manufactured, it is unsure whether these ceramics would have been manufactured in the United States or imported from Europe, where they were originally created. The underlying material of this ceramic, is called White earthenware. White earthenwares had been developed throughout Europe, including England, France, Italy, Slovenia and Switzerland (Maggetti, 2010). This genre of ceramic was mass-produced between the years of 1750 and 1900 (Maggetti, 2010).  White earthenwares became the “porcelain of the poor man”, and replaced more expensive, traditional forms of ceramic (Maggetti, 2010). Its probable that these ceramic techniques would have spread into the United States during this time as well. Considering the mass-production and cheap material, it is entirely possible that White earthenwares were being produced in the Midwest.

Sponge-printed whiteware as it was found embedded on a rock

In terms of the design, the blue patterns would have been applied using a sponge technique. Spongeware would have been a relatively cheap form of decoration, and been produced between the years of 1840-1940 (Henderson, 1999). The sponge patterns would have been applied either before or after firing, and could range from non-uniform patterns like the sherd above, or specific floral designs (Tennis, 1997). We have found several sherds at the Bishop’s cabin site with organized floral patterns, and it’s possible that these sherds could have been made with similar techniques.

Overall, the ceramics found at the Bishop Cabin’s site can help us to understand possible the commercial, industrial, and economic systems during the college’s early years, just a short time after the state’s establishment in 1803. Similarly, these object biographies provide us with cultural knowledge. As we attempt to discover the function of one of the first buildings at Kenyon, ceramics like these can help with identifications of the building as a multifunctional dining hall, residence or academic building. Furthermore, our class will continue to conduct research and built object biographies of artifacts to help us understand social, cultural and economic systems occurring in Kenyon’s earliest years.

Works Cited

Gosden & Marshall (1999) The cultural biography of objects, World Archaeology, 31:2,169-178, DOI: 10.1080/00438243.1999.9980439

Henderson, Z. “Archaeological investigations.” Culna 1999.54 (1999): 07-09.

Maggetti M. Archaeometric Analyses of European 18th–20th Century White Earthenware—A Review. Minerals. 2018; 8(7):269.

Tennis, Cynthia L. “Ceramic Patterns and Variations.” Archaeology at the Alamodome: Investigations of a San Antonio Neighborhood in Transition: 1.

Middle Path- Kenyon’s Landscape By Sophia Procops

1959 Map of Kenyon and Gambier showing Middle Path.

Looking down Middle Path in any direction you can see buildings framed by the trees, and right now they are turning the vibrant colors of autumn. Beginning at the south end of Middle Path at Old Kenyon, the 2/3 mile walk north to Bexley Hall is full of life with students walking to and from class, talking with professors, reading on benches, and making sure to walk on the same side of the “Gates of Hell.”

Middle Path has been around since the early days of Kenyon and has always been a defining feature of life in Gambier, Ohio. In examining maps starting with one from the institution’s centennial in 1924, based on campus in the 1820s/30s, Middle Path remains an important center point. Each building is strategically placed along it. A good way to examine the importance of this path is through an archaeological perspective– and in this case, through landscape archaeology. As explained by American anthropologists Wendy Ashmore and Chelsea Blackmore (2008), human involvement is what distinguishes landscape from the environment. Landscapes are environments that humans have adapted to suit their own needs: they use the environment to create and bring new life.

So, when examining Kenyon’s campus, one must understand that the environment in which Philander Chase chose to build has remained more or less the same over time. Features such as the Kokosing River have remained. However, since the mid-19th century, Kenyon has built into the hill creating the school and landscape we know today. Natural features, such as the early beginnings of Middle Path, have been used to lay out the campus.

In Smythe’s history of Kenyon (1924), he emphasizes that Chase intentionally chose Gambier as his place to settle due to its isolated location. It would become a seminary removed from the sin and corruption of the outside world. The earliest buildings on campus (the ones we have been excavating) were intended to be temporary until a more permanent structure could be established. These original buildings were not made of stable materials–wood compared to the stone of Old Kenyon. When Old Kenyon burnt down in 1949, it had been a symbol of the south end of Middle Path for over 100 years, so it was rebuilt as a reminder of the first permanent building on campus.

Middle Path also connects the rest of the buildings on campus. Every building comes from a runoff of the main, central path. At Kenyon, departments are not given a sectioned-off area. While there may be some small groupings such as the English cottages, most departments are not always in the same building, and classrooms become cross-disciplinary. Physics classrooms can be used for history and law classrooms for math.

Kenyon was intentionally placed in this environment, and in that, each building established forms the dynamic and lively landscape we live in today.

References Cited

2008 Ashmore, Wendy, and Chelsea Blackmore. Landscape Archaeology. Encyclopedia of Archaeology, vol. 2, p. 1578.

1924 Smythe, George. Kenyon College, Its First Century. Kenyon College.