Monday, August 5, 2013

Clay and Stone Pipes: What is so Interesting About That?

     About a week ago while wet screening I came across a stone that was about 2cm-3cm long and about 1cm-2cm wide with three vertical lines running on it and one horizontal line. I asked one of the staff members why this rock would have these lines and he said that it wasn’t just a rock but actually a part to a stone pipe. This was not the first part of a pipe we have found in our unit but it was the first part of a stone pipe we found so far. At Fort St. Joseph we have come cross two different kinds of tobacco pipes- the first being clay pipes and the second being stone, both of which have a very interesting history.
Clay bowl fragment on left and stone bowl fragment on right
     Clay pipes were first made in Britain during the late 1500s and the people who bought these pipes were usually wealthy because it was at a time when tobacco prices were considerably high. But once tobacco prices dropped due to the colonization of America and the increase in tobacco exportation, smoking became a common recreational activity around the mid 1600s.
     The ritual smoking between natives and French traders strengthened a cross-cultural exchange between these two groups. Tobacco smoking became a common practice in the fur trade especially when interacting with Natives. If you did not know already, there was a large Native American settlement across the river from Fort St. Joseph. Smoking rituals facilitated trust and, in many instances made possible, the exchange of goods with Natives.
     Why are tobacco pipes so important to archaeologists, do you ask? Well, for starters, you are able to date a site by  measuring the bore diameter. A bore is a hole that goes through the stem and connects to the bowl so that the user could draw in smoke. As time goes on the bores got smaller, so smaller bores are more recent, theoretically.
Two white clay pipe stems
     Also, if we are lucky we may find marked pipes.  Some pipe maker’s actually left their initials on the pipe stem or bowl. With these marks we can more accurately date a site and see where these pipes were being manufactured.
     Something interesting that I came across was, that in the Great Lakes region during the 1700s stone pipes were more popular then clay pipes. These pipes were called Micmac pipes and were named after the people who made them. Micmac pipes looked a little different than most clay pipes, they had a separate reed stem, and sometimes a hole in the base to permit a tie attachment to the stem. They also had an area where they could attach feathers or decoration.  However, if during the 1700s stone pipes were more popular why haven’t we found more of them at the fort site than clay ones? (Just a thought) The process in making pipes out of stone took some patience and required specific tools like metal saws, brills and files.
     Over all we have seen quite a lot of clay pipes at the Fort site, which suggests that they were importing pipes from the Old World and using them themselves and/or trading them with local Native groups in the area. These clay pipes are one way we are able to help date the site. Also the stone pipes are just one artifact that shows the interaction that was going on between natives and European inhabitants of the fort (they had to learn how to make these stone pipes or trade with the Native for them). The ongoing archaeology will keep helping us provide a vivid picture of what was going on at Fort St. Joseph.


1. Rafferty Sean M. and Man Rob, ed., The Archaeology of Tobacco Pipes in Eastern North      America Smoking and Culture, Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2004.
2. Encyclopedia of Historical Archeology, “Clay Pipes,” 252.


ME said...

Maybe the clay pipes were more breakable so more pieces were left behind?

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