Finding Meaning in Pipe Stems

Archaeology volunteer, Paul Antsen, using a quarter inch mesh to find artifacts.

Archaeology volunteer, Paul Antsen, using a quarter inch mesh to find artifacts.

With the Chapman – Beverley Mill’s crew of archaeologists back in the field, there are all sorts of interesting things being unearthed at the site.  Several buttons and bone fragments have already been uncovered and we’re only on level two!  One of today’s finds was a pipe stem.  In the lab, the pipe stem will be catalogued and analyzed and may even be useful in determining the date of the site.  How?  Here’s an excerpt from the National Parks Service:

Pipe stem dating
The clay pipe industry expanded rapidly as tobacco smoking gained popularity in both England and America. Historical archeologists excavating English colonial sites often find pieces of white clay smoking pipes on their sites. In the 1950s J. C. Harrington studied the thousands of pipe stems excavated at Jamestown and other colonial Virginia sites, noticing a definite relationship between the diameter of the pipe stem bore—or hole—and the age of the pipe of which it had been part. The earliest pipes, dating to about 1600, had stems with 9/64-inch diameter bores. By 1800 this diameter had decreased to 4/64 of an inch. This change in diameter may have occurred because pipe stems became longer through time, requiring a smaller bore. Louis Binford later devised a mathematical formula to refine Harrington’s method (Deetz 1996:27). This dating technique only applies to pipe stems manufactured in England between approximately 1590 and 1800.

Find out more and test your skills at analyzing pipe stem findings HERE.

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