Dentist’s X-Ray Machine Reveals Important Details of Recently Uncovered Coins

When we’re in the midst of an archaeological dilemma, we occasionally take a trip to the dentist. A good teeth cleaning may not spark a miraculous breakthrough, but for us, it sure does help when you have a local dentist willing to share his X-Ray machine for our research.

Believe it or not, having access to an X-Ray machine can make a real difference in identifying crucial aspects of an artifact. We recently used Dr. Gregg Stein’s equipment to uncover some of the hidden details of an 18th century British coin we found during an excavation.

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No Teeth Necessary

Although it’s unusual to think of using X-Ray machines for anything other than examining the features of the human body, they can be particularly helpful when it comes to detailing various metal items. Over time, metal coins and artifacts become terribly corroded, leaving archaeologists unable to identify crucial dating features with the naked eye. X-Rays can penetrate this corrosion and illuminate these important details. This technique works on certain metals better than others. It appears that the x-rays work best on pure metals, as opposed to alloys. In the case of recently uncovered coins, this has proven to be an important tool.

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1746 British Coin, Excavated

We initially used X-Rays during our City Hall project because dating the deposits was key to constructing a timeline of our discoveries, and in turn, the evolution of the project site. The area around NYC City Hall has been densely populated since 1735 and any tool we can use to help us create a more accurate timeline can give us a better interpretation of the excavation site. Our first x-ray provided us with the detail for this 1746 British coin.

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X-Ray of 1746 British Coin

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1746 British Coin, Conserved

Another allowed us to identify what we thought was a button as a deliberately perforated Spanish coin. This coin reads “Hispania” and it may have been perforated to allow the owner to sew it their clothing for either safekeeping or as a talisman.

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Excavated Spanish Coin

The Importance of Coins

Coins hold significant historical value. Their symbols and design reflect a society’s culture, economy and even religion. And because of their metallic composition, they often survive for many years in better condition than wooden or ceramic objects. Even the smallest artifact is significant…thankfully, Dr. Stein agrees!

Chrysalis Lends a Helping Hand in Hurricane Sandy Recovery

In October 2012, Hurricane Sandy struck the East Coast and devastated much of the Tri-State Area. Almost two years later, the damage is still evident throughout our city and surrounding areas. Luckily, we’ve found a way to play a small part in the rebuilding efforts.  As life-long New Yorkers we felt that it is important to help our fellow New Yorkers who are still feeling the effects of the storm.

Hurricane Sandy’s Devastation

The post-tropical cyclone that became known as Hurricane Sandy hit the United States on October 29th with winds close to 80 mph. Streets were flooded, power lines were mangled, and trees tumbled over like matches. The hurricane left millions without power, caused 20 billion dollars worth of damage and took the lives of at least 149 people, including 42 residents of New York. New York Harbor’s waves reached record levels and the city experienced a record surge of water, inundating tunnels, subway stations and major electrical systems. Along with destroying local homes and businesses, Hurricane Sandy also damaged important cultural areas and city landmarks.

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Fire Island Lighthouse

This is Where We Come In…

Two of our current rebuilding projects include reconstructing the boardwalk near the Fire Island Lighthouse and making upgrades to the drainage system at Fort Wadsworth in Staten Island on behalf of active military residents in the area.

The Fire Island Lighthouse was built in 1826 and was a crucial beacon for transatlantic ships coming into New York. Although the lighthouse was decommissioned in 1974, it serves as an important historical landmark. Part of our work at Fire Island also involves documenting any unearthed Native American remains found in the area. We have a similar role at Fort Wadsworth and we are focusing on the earlier history of the fort, the Revolutionary War period in particular, when heavy iron chains were run under the water by Americans to sink the incoming British naval ships.

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Along with these two projects, Chrysalis also volunteered during the immediate aftermath of the storm to reconstruct and preserve Bowne Printers, an 18th century printing press that is still in use.  Two of our team members helped to salvage and clean the historic print type keys.

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Chrysalis Gives Back

New York is our home and natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy affect everyone in one way or another. As archaeologists, we work to preserve valuable sites so that they can remain an integral part of New York’s history.

Our Recent Discovery May Spark Your Curiosity about the History of Hygiene

To say women have made a significant impact on the world since the 1800s would be an understatement. 1920 witnessed the passing of the 19th Amendment, giving women the right to vote. Amelia Earhart made the first solo flight by a woman across the Atlantic in 1932 and in 1955, Rosa Parks sparked the Civil Rights Movement by refusing to give up her seat on the bus to a white man. While these and many more historical events will go down as significant milestones for women, we should also take the time to appreciate the unspoken achievements.

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City Hall syringe, moving parts separated.

Our excavations of City Hall Park have recently uncovered artifacts involving female hygiene, including implements used for sexual healthcare. And while we are now able to discuss the topic freely on television and online, history tells us that early women were unfortunately left to deal with most hygiene issues quietly and alone. A quick trip through the history of hygiene will give you a newfound appreciation for your loofa.

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Reassembled City Hall vaginal syringe.

Personal Hygiene in the 19th Century

Forget electric razors and massaging showerheads. Simply having a stationary bathtub and a bar of soap was something to brag about in the early 1800s. Historically, bathing was considered a privilege left for the wealthy and it wasn’t until the circulation and popularity of etiquette books that the importance of regular washing trickled down to the “lower” classes. In order to improve health on a larger scale, major public works projects to build municipal water sources and sewer lines took hold in the mid-19th century. Bathrooms were added to homes and hooked up to the city’s central irrigation system.

Although toothbrushes are an ancient invention, our modern version of toothpaste came about in the late 1800s. Colgate started the mass production of toothpaste in a jar in 1873, followed by the famous and now common “toothpaste tube” in the 1890s. Prior to the invention of conventional toothpaste, goat’s milk, burnt bread, ash, charcoal and chalk were commonly used for teeth cleaning.

When it came to the taboo topic of feminine hygiene in the 1800s, the common policy was “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Vaginal syringes, like those we found in our City Hall excavation, were used discreetly in order to maintain health, treat venereal disease and prevent pregnancy. Such feminine hygiene tactics were not discussed openly.

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From the South Street Seaport Project

20th Century Changes

It wasn’t until the 1920s and the emergence of the “New Woman” that society began to “loosen up” about feminine hygiene. Women’s magazines began advertising feminine products, including Lysol, which was originally marketed as a feminine hygiene product. When women entered the workforce and started making their own money in the 1940s, the market for these products skyrocketed, leading to more convenience and better health.

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1850s glass vaginal syringes recovered from 27/29 Endicott St., Boston.

In 1935, a major advancement was made in toilet paper. By this time, the American population had already ditched corncobs, newspaper pages, leaves, and mussel shells for what we consider modern toilet paper. But it wasn’t until this year that Northern Tissue advertised the first “splinter-free” toilet paper. Paper production was still rather rudimentary and brands couldn’t always make this guarantee before.


Not only do archaeological discoveries teach us about the past, but they can also remind us to appreciate our modern conveniences. Here’s to advancements in women’s health!