European Ceramics

Ceramics, or clay pottery, make up a significant portion of artifacts recovered from archaeological sites. Like pipe stems, archaeologists use ceramics to tell narratives of the past, assign dates to a site, and explain patterns of historical change. Most of Flowerdew Hundred’s ceramic vessels arrived by ship from places all over Europe. Virginia Indian vessels are also found in great numbers at both Native and European sites in early Virginia. As with Chesapeake pipes, Virginia clay proved to be an ideal material for the local manufacture of domestic pottery. Because ceramic artifacts are almost never found unbroken, archaeologists must reconstruct the past figuratively--divining the stories illuminated by the artifacts--and literally--piecing broken vessels back together. Both of these reconstructions give us a more complete understanding of the past.

Mean Ceramic Dating (MCD)

Archaeologists commonly use European ceramics to date the occupation of a site through a process known as Mean Ceramic Dating (MCD). This quantitative method uses the documented beginning and end dates of manufacture of any given ceramic type, and quantifies the weighted means of these two dates, based on the number of sherds of particular ceramic types found within the site. This calculation produces a reasonable estimate of the center date within a range of occupation for the site or assemblage in question.

The Bake Oven Site

Many of the ceramics on display were recovered from a site at Flowerdew Hundred featuring a bake oven ca. 1620-1645. The feature, measuring 8x10 feet, 5-feet deep, with a low, wide roof, was constructed with clay, which had been hardened almost into a brick-like consistency by repeated firings. The oven would have been used to bake bread and other food for the tenants of this site.The ceramics excavated at this site consist primarily of utilitarian, coarse European and English earthenwares, German stonewares, and locally produced lead-glazed redwares. Although a few elite objects, such as a brass spur and copper alloy book clasp, have been found alongside these ceramics, overall, the archaeological record reflects material goods from the tenant class. Tenants would have served out their indenture but not yet procured their own land. The relative lack of tableware forms is consistent with early 17th-century foodways. Eating was still a communal experience; people ate from wooden trenchers and drank from a common jug. Ceramic forms of this early period at Flowerdew Hundred consists mainly of jars, mugs, and storage bowls.

Assemblages of artifacts, like those recovered from the Bake Oven site, provide archaeologists and historians with a better understanding of cultural change over time, social relationships within the colonial class structure, and the influences of the different cultures present in early Virginia.