Tuesday, July 30, 2013

At FSJ the Glass is Half Full

Today was a good day for us in Niles. We dug all day, worked with adult campers in the afternoon, and then enjoyed a wonderful dinner and tour hosted by William, Martha, and their friends at the beautiful Lavender Hill Farms. A lot of cool things are happening at the site, such as everyone finally digging deep enough to hopefully find features in our units as well as many interesting artifacts popping up. Feel free to come by on Friday at 2:00 pm to see our progress! There is also the weekly lecture series Wednesday night at 7:00 pm, this week titled “The Other 'Kitchen Debate': Changing Foodways Among the Michiana Potawotami in the Early-1800s” by Dr. Ben Secunda. And of course, the Open House on August 10th and 11th is drawing close, so mark your calendars!
Blue-green glass fragment from France. The glass was blown, as shown by the imperfections and bubbles in the glass.

Olive green glass fragment most likely from France. Window glass is even lighter than this.
For my blog today, I'll give you guys some background on the glass we're finding at the fort. The glass is from the eighteenth century and made in either England or France and then imported to Fort St. Joseph. Glass at this time was one of two types: soda and lead. Soda glass is typically French-made, consists of sand, limestone, and soda, and results in a light blue-green color and is used in many different objects. Lead glass, on the other hand, could be French or British depending on the shape, is made of sand, lead, and potash, and results in an olive green color. Both kinds of glass have been found at Fort St. Joseph, as well as other forts in New France such as Michilimackinac. I thought that clear glass would be the easiest to make, and colored glass would mean adding more minerals to get stuff like the green glass I've dug out of the ground, but it's actually the opposite. To get clear glass or other colors, you need to add a decolorant such as manganese dioxide. This was used to get bright clear glass, though it wasn't always perfect due to the limitations of technology at the time.
In the eighteenth century, glass was usually hand blown, no matter what object they were trying to make. Flat window glass and a small amount of table glass (such as drinking glasses or dining objects) have been found at Fort St. Joseph, but the most common kind of glass found has been container, storage, or bottle glass. Due to different techniques between the French and British, we can sometimes tell where an artifact was made, depending on what part of the bottle we've found. The neck, shoulder, lower base, and kick up (the indent at the base of the bottle) are the areas that can indicate the country of origin, but it is rare to find complete pieces like these in the archaeological record. Container glass we've found at Fort St. Joseph varies in color and size, implying that they had different types of bottles. Wine bottle fragments are common, and are typically olive green. We also find blue-green medicinal or condiment bottle fragments. Table glass is somewhat rare, though a few pieces have been found with etching. Window glass fragments are more common at the site, and are usually a very pale olive green color, almost clear.
What is most important about archaeology is not what artifacts we find, but the information and interpretations we make from them. So what does something as simple as glass tell us? Well, since we are seeing both French and British glass at Fort St. Joseph, it confirms both of their presence at the site. At Fort Michilimackinac, there is a higher quantity of British glass, due to the large population size of the British there, and because the British came to the Fort later than the French and so did not have their artifacts disturbed as much. Fort St. Joseph is different in that most of the glass found has been made and used by the French. This makes sense because while the British did spend a few years at the fort, it was almost always French occupied. So far this information doesn't tell us a whole lot about daily life, but when we compare the glass found at Fort St. Joseph to glass found at other New France forts, such as Michilimackinac, we can learn more. The glass found at Fort Michilimackinac includes containers for oil, liquor, snuff, and medicine, as well as tableware and window glass. At Fort St. Joseph, glass for liquor containers, wine bottles, and oil, medicinal, and many other containers of varying color have been found, as well as some tableware and a lot of window glass. I expected to find evidence that Fort St. Joseph had much less variety and general luxury goods than Fort Michilimackinac due to its relatively isolated location, but the artifacts found say otherwise. There has been a general variety of luxury objects at Fort St. Joseph, from decorative items to adornments to varieties of ceramics and glass. This shows us that even though Fort St. Joseph may have been slightly more rustic and out of the way than other forts, the people there still enjoyed status goods and personal effects. I guess life back then wouldn't have been so bad after all.


For more information about glass you can consult the sources I used:
Brown, Margaret Kimball. 1971. Glass From Fort Michilimackinac: A Classification for Eighteenth Century Glass. The Michigan Archaeologist 17: 3-4.

Hulse, Charles A. 1977. An Archaeological Evaluation of Fort St. Joseph: An Eighteenth Century Military Post and Settlement in Berrien County, Michigan. M.A. Thesis, Department of Anthropology, Michigan State University, East Lansing.

Jones, Olive and Catherine Sullivan. 1985. The Parks Canada Glass Glossary. Studies in Archaeology Architecture and History, National Historic Parks and Sites, Canadian Parks Service.

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