Ornamental Ovolo bricks

Ornamental Ovolo (oval) bricks encased in mended plaster, ca. 1618-1650

Similar to obsolete military objects arriving in the New World, the bits and pieces of Old World rock and debris once serving as ballast on board the bottom of ships were given new purpose in Virginia’s material world. With little access to substantial stone resources in the Tidewater area, the cobbles, bricks, and blocks of stone available in British ports became the opportunistic building blocks of many early Virginia English structures.

Ovolo brick with plaster

Ornamental Ovolo (oval) brick encased in mended plaster, ca. 1618-1650

These “ovolo,” or oval-shaped, bricks were found in a posthole at Flowerdew Hundred’s manor site. Commonly used as window mullions in substantial cathedrals and other fully masonry structures in Europe, architectural pieces like this are almost never found in early 17th-century Virginia. This might suggest that Flowerdew Hundred’s manor was an entirely brick and stone structure, but a critical eye and historically-informed explanation are needed to understand atypical occurrences like these: Old World debris found in a New World setting. Chesapeake archaeology is full of such findings that require extensive evaluation before one can jump to conclusions. A first- or second-century AD Roman oil lamp recently discovered at Jamestown also likely arrived as ballast debris or possibly a curious antique.


Barnacles from Stone House Foundation, ca. 1618-1650

Another significant find arriving by ballast leads one to believe a bit more intentionality and planning were behind the transportation of some of this Old World debris. Archaeologists have found that substantial siltstone foundations once supported the manor house at Flowerdew Hundred. With no siltstone resources available in the region, these stones were determined to have arrived from England, and appear to have spent some time underwater--discarded from the remnants of an earlier English building. Archaeologists have been able to source these barnacles, found adhering to the surface of the stones, to the coast of Bristol, England. Analyses like this serve as an excellent example of the opportunistic and eclectic methodologies used by archaeologists to reveal new information about the past.