And the Search Begins…

Lab Time: Bear examines buttons (right), while Rachel, Stephanie and I study stone tools (left)

Welcome, dear readers, my name is Megan Kane. I am a senior/master’s student in the Archaeology Center at Stanford. Having studied primarily prehistory for the last three and a half years, I thought it would be very interesting to learn about more historical archaeology, so I find myself taking CASA 203. I must confess that I never cease to be amazed by the level of detail that historical archaeologists can achieve in their studies. The kind of resolution we prehistorians rarely even dream of! Outside of my growing jealousy, I am learning a great deal about the process of cataloging and analyzing artifacts in the lab. Our time in the lab this week was split between two tasks: learning about lithics and small finds and searching for the artifacts that we will be working with in our projects. The topic of “Lithics and Small Finds” is a very broad one, and I found myself examining everything from prehistoric grinding stones, or manos, to opium pipe bowls. During lecture we discussed the various techniques employed in stone tool production, various striking methods for flaked lithics and how to identify production steps, later putting all of this to practice in the lab. The category of small finds includes many personal objects, like buttons, beads, pipes, etc. Having worked with period and vintage costuming in the past, I was particularly struck by the buttons we examined in the lab. It is amazing that, as an archaeologist, I can hold in my hand a small and a very personal part of someone’s life, like a shirt button or a pipe.

Anglo-American tobacco pipes and Chinese opium pipes from our lab session

During the lab session on Friday, all of us began the mad scramble to find the artifacts that we will study in our research projects about the Market Street Chinatown. The lab table was quickly swamped as we searched catalogs, excavation reports and boxes for everything from toothbrushes and dolls to storage jars and glass bottles! My own research is focused on household and small scale religious practices in the Chinatown, a scarcely studied topic, and I am quickly discovering why this topic has rarely been touched on in previous studies of overseas Chinese communities! The types of religious practices performed in homes most likely included the burning of incense and food offerings to the gods and ghosts, activities which are either invisible archaeologically or indistinguishable from more secular activities. So it has been very hard to identify a class of objects in the Chinatown collection that might be associated with such practices. But I have stumbled upon several examples of oil lamps and candleholders, which might have been used during such household rituals. Now comes the arduous task of finding all the examples of these artifacts in the dozens and dozens of boxes and analyzing them!


Featured Artifact

Lyon's Kathairon hair tonic bottle, embossed “For The Hair”

This week’s artifact of the week is a small glass bottle that Stephanie is analyzing for her project. The bottle is aqua tinted glass, about 16.5 cm tall, embossed with “Lyon’s / Kathairon / For the Hair / New York.” The bottle is perfectly intact with a none too subtle proclamation of its original contents, a hair tonic. According to a period advertisement (see image), Lyon’s Kathairon was meant do just about everything, to cure baldness, to curl hair, to calm the scalp, and to reduce dandruff! This little bottle is a window not only into hair care and personal hygiene in the Market Street Chinatown, it might also reveal information about the ideals of personal appearance and the use of Anglo products by the Chinese overseas community.

Trade card advertisement for Lyon's Kathairon Image found at

Metals and More

Rachel checking for manufacturer's marks.

Hello, my name is Rachel, and I am a graduate student in the Department of Cultural and Social Anthropology. I decided to take CASA 203 Lab Methods class, as coming from a different disciplinary background, the class offers the learning of skills I need to acquire! Although my research is in Ghana, West Africa, I view these techniques and methods as highly transferable. I have thoroughly enjoyed working with these artifacts – the tangible nature of these objects brings history alive. I am very grateful to the Chinese Historical and Cultural Project and the community for allowing me to participate in this fascinating project. Thank you.

Megan and Jessica cataloging.

This week we turned from glass analysis to metals. Metals are interesting since depending on their composition they change in appearance with time: copper and copper alloys develop a green patina, silver and pewter turns black or dark grey, iron and iron alloys develop a red corrosion, and white metals (lead, tin, aluminum and zinc) develop a white or grey patina. We didn’t examine gold, but this does not corrode. Some of the objects we examined were: jewelry, bolts, nails (and more nails!), a pencil top, buttons, a suspender holder and what I thought looked like a door handle! On Friday, we worked on our own individual research projects in which we analyze objects from the collection. To that end, I went with Bryn to the storage to look for something to research. Wow! So many boxes! I was thrilled to find – in the first box I examined – a watch and some pieces of broken dolls. I also discovered a minature doll, that Professor Voss tells me is called a ‘Frozen Charlotte’. Well, it was a tough decision between the watch and the dolls, but the latter won! I am really looking forward to learning more about children and childhood in Market Street Chinatown.


Featured Artifact

Featured Artifact: A prosser button fragment.

The artifact of the week is my unexpected discovery – a Prosser button. I thought this was rather exciting since it was inside the base fragment of a green bottle probably used to hold alcohol. The button was not catalogued which meant that we had to create a record for it. White in color, with a glassy appearance, in actuality, it was only half of a button, yet one can see a distinct design around the edges. Made of high fired clays, these buttons were manufactured in several styles between 1850 and 1920. Although small in size, buttons are interesting and can tell us a lot about the past; they are good indicators of gender, economic status and activities of a site’s occupants.

Research Designs and Glass

Bear extrapolates from a rim sherd.

Hi! My name is Jocelyn Brabyn, and I’m a third-year undergraduate majoring in Cultural and Social Anthropology here at Stanford University. I enrolled in Professor Voss’ class on archaeological laboratory methods on a whim, but I am finding myself increasingly enthralled by the subject, and have felt inspired by my time in the lab to spend my summer working on a dig in the field. This class is my first encounter with archaeology, and coming from a family of Sherlock Holmes enthusiasts, I can’t help but compare it to sleuthing. When I enter the lab, I cease to be a mere frazzled undergraduate, and I become a private investigator, inspecting, deducing, categorizing, and extrapolating. Needless to say, I find it fascinating!

Jessica sleuthing through census records.

This week we transitioned from ceramics to glass. On Tuesday, Professor Voss explained to us exactly how to formulate our research questions for the projects we will be completing individually. On Thursday we each turned in our preliminary research proposals, and it’s already evident from the brainstorm we had with Professer Voss on Tuesday that my classmates’ projects promise to be very exciting indeed! Following the workshop was Professor Voss’ lecture on glass, where we touched on everything from “black” glass to “milk” glass, kick-ups to collars, dip-molds to the automatic bottle machine. On Thursday we put our new knowledge to practical use in the lab, where we did various exercises identifying manufacturing methods on glass artifacts. I even learned the difference between an embossed manufacturer’s mark and a pontil scar—turns out they’re pretty different!


Featured Artifact

Rim sherd of a large globular storage jar with lugs.

The artifact of the week comes from Friday’s lab section, which marked our transition into glass as we finished up the ceramic remains we had been cataloging. It comes from the Asian stoneware I had been working on last week, rather than the new glasses we are just breaking into (not literally!). It’s a fragment from a very large globular storage jar probably used for shipping or transport, because it has lugs on the shoulder to secure a lid. I had never seen lugs before, and Professor Voss said it was unusual to find them intact like that. This is an exceptionally thick rim sherd, weighing in at over half a kilogram, indicating that the complete vessel must have been very large indeed, housing contents on a fairly massive scale.