Thursday, August 6, 2009

This is not a pipe

While at Beaubassin and Fort Lawrence one of the most common artefacts you are likely to find is a clay pipe fragment, or more precisely many clay pipe fragments. There are many reasons for the overabundance of clay pipes found on Colonial dig sites and almost all of these reasons can be traced back to the sheer amount of smoking which took place in this time. Smoking was not simply limited to adult males; it was common among women and children as well and so when the amount of smoking pipe is discussed it is wise to remember that “amount” refers to not only how much an individual would have smoked tobacco but also how much of the population would have smoked tobacco overall.

When tobacco smoking first popularized in Europe it was believed to be a type of panacea, curing everything from ulcers to respiratory problems to bites from venomous beasts, and even more. Because of this it was extremely common for everyone to smoke. The popularization of smoking of course lead to a high demand of clay pipes which meant that they were quickly being mass produced for the public. Clay pipes are breakable and most of them were cheap and considered to be fairly disposable, when one pipe broke it was simply discarded and replaced with a new one.

With this in mind, there are pipe stems which have been found at Beaubassin and Fort Lawrence and many other sites where there is a defined grooving in the clay which would have been caused by the wearing away of the pipe stem by the person who was smoking it. These indentations can sometimes be very subtle or other times quite pronounced.

On an archaeological dig site pipes can be extremely useful in helping determine an approximate date for the site as they themselves are fairly easily dateable in many different ways. The most accurate way to date a pipe is to look at the pipe bowl and its heel or spur. The way in which these parts of a pipe were shaped and sized varied over time in a fashion which is quite easy to date now.

Unfortunately it is far less common to find a pipe bowl in the condition necessary to date in this way. Another, less accurate way to date pipes is with the stem which is the most common part of a pipe found. This way uses specific sized drill bits, which are slid into the hole of the pipe stem (gently without a lot of force), the size of the drill bit corresponds to a date range and so this gives archaeologists a range of dates to look at for a site.

Article written by Miranda Romkey, student in archaeology at Memorial University, Newfoundland

No comments: