Peace Forms

“What is your favorite artifact?”

The infamous question that archaeologists always get asked. We all have favorite artifacts; sometimes our favorite artifact changes with each project and some stay with us for a long time.  This is the first in an ongoing series of our (many) favorite artifacts.

Our first entry istitled “Peace Forms” by Diane George.


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 Window glass found at New York City’s South Street Seaport in 2012.

History is made of moments. A collection of moments creates a day, a month, a year, a lifetime. Archaeologists don’t usually get to see moments, to connect to the experience of someone long dead, even when we have the advantage of using documents as we do in historical archaeology. We look at the bigger picture: what did the people in this household, or tenement, or community eat? What types of dishes or medicines did they buy? What can these things tell us about them? But an artifact that shows us a moment… that is a special artifact.

The first time I experienced this was when, as a student working in the archaeology lab at Brooklyn College, I found a thumbprint preserved in a piece of stoneware found during excavations at New York’s City Hall Park. Thumb to thumbprint, I thought about the potter, who perhaps was distracted by what he would be having for dinner, or how he was going to pay his debts, or any other of the million things that still distract us at our jobs today, and I experienced the artifact, the simple sherd from a stoneware jar, as a moment in time, one of many in the life of the unknown potter.

I’ve always loved the scene in Peter Weir’s brilliant film, Gallipoli, where Archy and Frank (the latter played by a young Mel Gibson), about to fight in one of the bloodiest and most senseless campaigns of World War I, sit atop an Egyptian pyramid at dusk, carving their names in the ancient stone. That is the epitome of a moment, fragmentary yet infinite, accentuated by the vastness of time represented in their surroundings.

This brings me to my favorite artifact from a multi-year project at New York City’s South Street Seaport. While monitoring construction work for upgrades to utilities, Chrysalis found almost 25,000 artifacts that had been deposited in a boat slip in the last quarter of the eighteenth century. Among these thousands of artifacts is a small piece of window glass with an aqua tint that bears the words “Peace forms o–” hand engraved in a neat script.

Archaeologists do come across names, dates, or other writing on artifacts and buildings, although finding handwriting on buried window glass fragments is relatively rare. People were putting graffiti on their buildings in ancient Rome. The walls at Pompeii are covered with writings including political slogans and profanities, reflecting moments perhaps of pique, grandstanding, rivalry, civic pride, callousness, transcendance and depravity.

There are a number of examples from more recent history of writing specifically on window glass, which appears to have been a fairly common practice in England in the sixteenth through eighteenth centuries. Sir Walter Raleigh is said to have written of his fear of failure on a window at the Court of Queen Elizabeth I. The writing implement was a ring that contained a sharply pointed diamond made specifically for such a purpose.

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Diamond ring similar to the one owned by Sir Walter Raleigh, from Beadle’s Monthly, vol. I, page 268.

In the late 1800s, Alice Douglas-Pennant, the daughter of a Lord in northern Wales, fell in love with a gardener and was confined by her father to her room in Penrhyn Castle. She carved the words “essere amato amando” – “to be loved while loving” – on a window pane: possibly a moment of joy in the face heartbreak.

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Writing on the window of Penrhyn Castle, from BBC News.

Children at school have etched their names on window glass: three girls named Fannie, Estelle and Lucy in 1887 at the State Female Normal School in Farmville; John B. Gerrish in 1869 at Harvard. Even famous authors weren’t above leaving a reminder that they existed in a moment: Dickens, Keats, and Twain are among those who have etched their names onto a window at Shakespeare’s birthplace.

The archaeology doesn’t give us a lot to go on to determine the meaning of the window glass fragment from the Seaport. It was written around the time of the American Revolution, almost certainly by a resident of the area, since the Slip was filled largely with trash from the neighborhood. This was an upper class community of merchants and artisans, and the etching may have been done with a diamond ring, such as the one owned by Sir Walter Raleigh. The handwriting is neat and legible, the work of an educated individual. What the author was trying to say can only be filled in by speculation. I like to picture someone standing at her window at the end of a war that was long and difficult for the City, receiving the news that the bloodshed and horror were ending. Perhaps as she looked out over the East River, reflecting on the resilience of New York, she wrote something like “Peace forms over our city”, freezing a moment in glass to be found by archaeologists over 200 years later.

What do you think is the message on the window glass? Please share your ideas in the comments.

Sources

“Finger Rings.” Beadle’s Monthly, A Magazine of To-Day, Volume I, pages 260-267, 1866. https://archive.org/stream/beadlesmonthly02unkngoog#page/n3/mode/2up

“Lohmann: Etching Their Names in History.” Richmond Times Dispatch, March 18, 2013.

http://www.richmond.com/life/bill-lohmann/article_a57d7784-6e2f-5090-b522-22f712277f99.html

“Penrhyn Castle Alice Douglas-Pennant ‘love story’ uncovered.” BBC News, October 28, 2012. http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-wales-north-west-wales-20048410

“The Mysterious Writing on the Glass.” Inside the Peabody Museum, June 2010. https://peabody.harvard.edu/node/601

“Rachel Was Here.” Annette Cook, Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum, January 2010. http://www.jefpat.org/CuratorsChoiceArchive/2010CuratorsChoice/Jan2010-RachelWasHere.html

The scene from Gallipoli can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RGuY5r-7ta4

 

Chrysalis Archaeologist Eileen Kao to Speak on “Hot Button Topic”

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Sharing highlights from what’s likely to be her master’s thesis, Chrysalis archaeologist and field director Eileen Kao has developed her first CNEHA presentation entitled “Hot Button Topic.” Eileen performed additional research on the Revolutionary War era British regimental buttons we found at the Seaport last year and began exploring the idea that uniforms create a sense of belonging, affecting the behavior of those who wear them. Theories abound as to how clothing creates and enforces a sense of identity, and our unearthed button treasures most certainly played a part in defining the roles of the British, who are often depicted as ruthless and unyielding during the British occupation of NYC.

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Painting of John Theophilus Rawdon-Hastings (Trotter 1776)

About the Buttons

Our excavation recovered a total of six buttons from three different regiments. Because there were many different ranks and types of regiments, button styles varied. Regimental soldiers wore plain buttons with simple raised numerals and a rope border. Rarely, a button would have the regimental number only. An officer’s button was more elaborate; it often featured a domed button cover in gold or silver over a button made from bone or other material. Based on their proximity to marked specimens, plain, unmarked metal buttons likely belonged to other military personnel.

Seduction, Hierarchy and Utility

The seduction, hierarchy and utilitarian principles generally define how clothing reflects identity. In relation to military clothing, the hierarchy principle applies to uniforms that reveal a soldier’s rank and position. The utilitarian principle relates to the function and purpose of the clothing. Today’s military uniforms are predominately utilitarian and discreet. In the past, battles were fought face-to-face, and ornate details were more prevalent. The seduction principle applies to body shape and perception. While often more relevant to women’s clothing, it was also utilized to enhance the perception of masculinity and strength. For example, military uniforms that accentuated the chest and shoulders implied greater strength; tall hats and heeled boots made officers look taller and more intimidating.

Picture4Did the Clothes Make the Man?

To a British soldier, wearing the redcoat uniform meant being a part of one of the strongest and most successful imperial nations of the world. The clothing itself imparted legitimacy and authority as well as a sense of solidarity. With buttons to further define hierarchy and implied superiority, the uniform may have made a significant contribution to the infamously ruthless behavior of high-ranking British officers. Anonymity is another factor that may have influenced British military behavior. Some psychologists believe that those defined as part of a group feel immune to personal blame. Soldiers could easily hide behind their uniforms and feel less accountable for cruel behaviors or lack of compassion.

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Small Buttons with Big Stories

Although it’s impossible to track the exact history of our Revolutionary War Buttons, we can safely assume that it helped to play a symbolic role in the interactions between British soldiers and the residents of New York City.

Grand Central NYC: Alyssa Loorya to Present at TEDx Conference

Chrysalis owner and archaeologist Alyssa Loorya has been invited to present at the November 1st TEDxNY conference. The annual, independently organized TEDx events bring New York’s greatest thinkers, teachers and innovators together with an audience to showcase their projects, visions and passions, and inspire listeners to create a greater impact on the world with their own ideas. TEDx presenters wrap their genius into a concise and powerful presentation that’s 18 minutes or less in length.

Alyssa’s Presentation: Grand Central NYC

The theme of Alyssa’s presentation touches on New York City as a global capital. It’s a community where real people have lived and made an impact on the world for generations from their own neighborhoods.

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Lithograph of 18th century activity on the Common (City Hall Park)

History in Pictures

A biography of the city can be pieced together using archaeological finds, past and current photographs and threads of information. Alyssa’s experience in archaeology has shaped her photography and vice versa. Old photos and lithographs help her document changing landscapes, priorities and approaches to social issues such as capital punishment and treatment of the poor.

City Hall Park in the 18th century

City Hall Park in the 18th century

Re-invention of City Hall Park

Alyssa will discuss the relevance of historical timelines such as the transformation of City Hall Park, which was once a place for public protests and executions and home to prisons and barracks for British troops during the revolution, long before the construction of City Hall.

city hall park 18th century

city hall park 18th century

Stop to Consider the Past

It’s easy to forget that NYC is a series of islands. The point was driven home when it suffered devastating effects from hurricane Sandy in 2012. As archaeology rediscovers and documents the area’s intimate relationship with water, we look to the past to help determine the best route to a more sustainable and stable future as we rebuild the city.

Real People, Worldwide Impact

From lithographs detailing New York’s first poor houses to photos of its changing skyline, archaeological evidence paints a picture of the city as a global force unlike any other. TEDx attendees will discover New York’s people, its past and perhaps its future through the careful documentation of an archaeologist devoted to its place in history.

Learn more about the TEDx program, or find an event near you, visit http://www.tedxeast.com/index.shtml.

From Bottles to Blood Ties: Talking About Our Bowery Adventure

If you thought our resurrection of historic elixirs was fun, you’ll be excited to learn more about the history of the recently excavated Bowery site that served as the inspiration for our brewing experiment. The bottles we found at Bowery weren’t there by accident—the location was once home to a prestigious German beer garden. Our own Alyssa Loorya will be talking about the history of Bowery’s German immigrant community at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum this November, and her archaeological expertise isn’t her only qualification—Alyssa’s ancestors are also part of the area’s history.

Interior of the Atlantic Garden (NYLP Digital Collection)

Interior of the Atlantic Garden (NYLP Digital Collection)

Meet the Atlantic Garden at 50 Bowery

The first German beer gardens, which originated in Bavaria, were outdoor areas where beer, other alcoholic beverages and food were served, but the Atlantic Garden at 50 Bowery was much more than a place to stop for a brew. Originally the site of a mid-nineteenth century theater hotel, 50-52 Bowery was reborn as the majestic Atlantic Garden in 1858. It was opened by German immigrant William Kramer, who came to America in 1854 with few resources and no family. After obtaining bartending experience from his job at the nearby Volks Garten, Kramer partnered with two others to open the business. At the time, a large German population called the Bowery home, and the new beer hall was an ideal attraction. Featuring German beer and food along with upscale, family-friendly entertainment, the Atlantic Garden soon gained a glowing reputation, and it maintained its dignity well into the late nineteenth century until the neighborhood began to change.

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New Novelties Every Week!

A preserved copy of an Atlantic Garden program details featured attractions such as concerts, comedy shows, touring entertainment troupes and musical accompaniment on the Mammoth Pneumatic Orchestrion. The document is peppered with advertisements for local businesses and fine products, including one promoting the benefits of advertising in the program itself. It finishes with a wine list, full menu and partial list of the season’s scheduled vaudeville performers.

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Loorya Family Ties

Alyssa’s interest in the Bowery excavation has always included a personal element. Her own great-grandfather owned a business just around the corner from the beer garden. Herman Loorya (1867-1935) immigrated to America from the Russian Empire in 1884. He was married to Esther Aronson (1869-1938) and owned a cutlery business at 112 Canal Street with his brother-in-law, Hyman J. Aronson (b.1867) from 1893 until 1904. According to census records, Hyman and Esther’s parents were from Germany. Alyssa will offer more information during her November speaking engagement at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, a National Historic Site that focuses on the history of immigrant communities and their life experiences.

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