Maryland today | Put together a historical puzzle



The painstaking process is part of Linebaugh’s 40-year study of the archaeological site of the Kippax Plantation, a Virginia property built in the late 17th century.e century by Colonel Robert Bolling and his wife, Jane Rolfe, the granddaughter of Pocahontas. With the help of a Chesapeake Material Cultural Studies Grant from the Conservation Fund, the research team completed a similar “dishwashing” of thousands of unearthed ceramic fragments. Now they go through the same stages with the glass, hoping to uncover more clues about life on the plantation.

“Glass was the plastic of its day,” Woehlke said of the wine bottles, stemware, perfume containers and jars of medicine they found. “There’s a lot to learn from glass, especially once they start using molds that have labels embedded in them. At least you can get a feel for the original use of this glass container.

Linebaugh, who has worked at the site since graduating from the College of William and Mary in 1981, has brought dozens of his own students to the property over the years. The dishes, tools, beads, and other artifacts they uncovered helped shed light on the interconnectivity of European immigrants, from the Bollings in 1660 to a family called the Hereticks in 1917, to Native Americans and African-American slaves. In 1726, for example, Drury, the son of Robert Bolling, had an inventory that listed 13 enslaved men, women and children.

The vesselization of the glass is the last step of the study. Once Team Terp labels each of the thousands of shards with an adhesive called B-72, they’ll be able to keep track of the original locations of the shards while trying to piece together entire artifacts. Just as puzzle solvers might try to work in a corner, the bases and edges of the bottles, where the glass is typically the thickest and best preserved, are critical as researchers work to determine the number and type of receptacles they have.

This process will be in addition to the estimated 950 ceramic vessels the team has already identified over the past year. Although more analysis is needed, the researchers said, the evidence still provides clues to the life of the plantations; for example, most of the items found in the property’s slave quarters are hollow items, such as bowls, suggesting that more stews or soups were served than meat dishes.

“This follows the pattern of what we see in other slave quarters,” Linebaugh said, “and then relates to people who are researching eating habits among African slaves during this time.”

Governor Ralph Northam and Professor Donald Linebaugh with the Kippax Plantation Historical Marker

In the meantime, on the heels of a groundbreaking ceremony for a historic marker at the Kippax Plantation last month – Virginia Governor Ralph Northam, Linebaugh and descendants of some plantation residents were among the attendees – a group of ceramic experts are expected to visit the campus in the coming weeks to view the artifacts and bring their specialist expertise to the project.

“It’s the best of both worlds, because we have the historical record, which gives us names, gives us dates,” Woehlke said. “But then material culture can answer some of those questions about the past that people haven’t thought of writing down because it’s part of everyday existence.”



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