Cataloging Artifacts Reveals Early Iowa City Consumer Behavior & Patterns of Product Movement

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Wednesday, July 29, 2015

by Daniel G. Horgen, University of Iowa Office of the State Archaeologist

From Tuesday June 9th and Thursday June 18th the Office of the State Archaeologist offered volunteer opportunities to help catalog artifacts recovered from the Voxman School of Music and Clapp Recital Hall Relocation Project. At various times, volunteers Emma Baxter, David Cordie, Deborah Eimen, Kathy Lees, Becky Morris, Jake Morris, Owen Morris, Josie Mumm, Michael Neis, Mary Noble, June Sillmin, Cindy Smith, Jan Stephan, Mary Weber, Emma Witt, and Charlotte Wright assisted OSA staff with cataloging procedures. With the assistance of these volunteers, artifacts from Feature 1 (Limestone Well), Feature 2 (Limestone Foundation) and Feature 2A (Privy) of 13JH1436 were cataloged, representing 21,141 individual specimens.

Cataloging artifacts from the UI School of Music (13JH1436) has provided archaeologists with a snapshot into early Iowa City consumer behavior and patterns of product movement.
 

Types of artifacts from the limestone well found at the site included several complete and near-complete glass bottles, metal containers, and decorated ceramic tableware. Diagnostic artifacts are consistent with the early 1900s, with material ranging in date to the final dumping episodes likely in the 1920s. The high concentration of complete bottles recovered reflects disposal of bottles into the well during its active use, probably by people walking past, and not during the final dumping and fill episode when you would expect damage to occur to the bottles. The contents of the bottles acquired and discarded by house site residents allows researchers to analyze consumer choices and distribution of goods to the market place. Several of the bottles recovered have user/maker marks and bottle contents available which will allow further research on the merchant locations and their product histories. These acquisition and deposition behaviors displayed by the inhabitants of Block 101, Lot 3, formerly known as 323 S. Clinton Street, will be used in household and neighborhood comparisons.

Artifacts from the limestone foundation, which likely represents an outbuilding such as a root cellar, shed, or possible cabin, included glass bottles, ceramic fragments, trade beads, and other domestic materials. The circular, wood-lined privy yielded similar artifacts consistent with the 1840s or 1860s date range and include glass bottles, lamp chimneys, seeds, ball clay pipe fragments, and ceramic tableware fragments. It appears that both features are contemporaneous and were built and used during the Territorial and Early Statehood Era from 1839-1857. Trade beads were one of the most common articles traded by the fur companies to Native Americans and used as an economic model of supply and demand. However, it is unclear if the trade beads found between rocks within the foundation wall were acquired by trade or were an heirloom item stashed away for safe keeping.

Artifacts from Feature 4 (Privy), which likely dates from the 1840s to 1870s, is still waiting to be cataloged. OSA staff anticipate completion of the initial catalog within the next couple of weeks. Detailed analysis will commence upon the completion of the catalog and will provide insight into consumption of material goods in early Iowa City neighborhoods.

Volunteers cataloging artifacts during the OSA laboratory opportunity.
Volunteers cataloging artifacts during the OSA laboratory opportunity.
Volunteers cataloging artifacts during the OSA laboratory opportunity.
Volunteers cataloging artifacts during the OSA laboratory opportunity.

Selected early 20th century bottles recovered from Feature 1 (Limestone Well).
Selected early 20th century bottles recovered from Feature 1
Selected early 20th century bottles recovered from Feature 1

Trade beads recovered from Feature 2 (Limestone Foundation) and 2A (Privy).
Trade beads recovered from Feature 2

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