Brass scale arm

Curved brass arm with ring attachment, ca. 1618-1650

A find from the fort site dubbed the “pizza cutter” offers few clues to its function or identity. As reconstructed by an earlier team of archaeologists, the object resembled a pizza cutter. In the course of recent investigations, the object was disassembled and researchers began to reinterpret its function. 

Johannes Vermeer's "Woman Holding a Balance," 1662-1664

Johannes Vermeer's "Woman Holding a Balance," 1662-1664

Courtesy of the National Gallery of Art, Widener Collection

Johannes Vermeer’s “Woman Holding a Balance” may hold clues to the object’s purpose. Dutch genre paintings from the 17th century offer a glimpse into the everyday life of the past, and are a wonderful resource for archaeologists and curators. Could the brass object have served as a scale arm for a balance? Balances were used to determine the actual value of coins or their metal content rather than the face value or denomination of coins. Weighing coins prevented unscrupulous merchants from clipping the edges of the coins in order to save money. Still eluding firm identification, this artifact illustrates how archaeology is never straightforward, but often relies on different configurations of objects and knowledge, paired with resources from other disciplines, to reveal a more fulfilling and ever changing interpretation of the past.