Private Collection Part 2

Two weeks ago I told you about an eclectic Northern Peninsula private collection* that was donated to the Provincial Archaeology Office (PAO). That post focused on the precontact portion of the collection. This post will focus on the post-contact portion of the collection. Some of this collection originated archaeologically, some of the material was given to the collector and some of it may have been obtained by other means.

Eclectic private collection

Some of the artifacts in the collection are more historic antiques and not necessarily associated with an archaeological site, such as the three objects below.

Lead cod jigger

Cod jiggers are part of handlining for catching codfish. Handlining was one of the first European methods of fishing employed in the waters of Newfoundland. Handlining is done with a baited hook or shiny metal jigger (as in the photo above) attached to a long line of rope. If a jigger is used, no bait is needed, as the reflection of the moving jigger is enough to attract cod that would be caught by the large hooks that protruded from the mouth of it. The pictured jigger has lost its hook. Jiggers are made by pouring molten lead into a mould. Jiggers, moulds and or fishhooks are common finds on historic sites.

Cast net with lead sinkers

Cast nets are used to catch fish that will not take a baited hook or bait fish. In this province, they are often used to catch capelin. On most archaeology sites, the cotton twine of the net will not preserve but on some historic sites the lead balls have.

Pelt board

Initially I had no idea what this object was, but after showing it to a number of people, I was told it is a pelt board. These boards are used to stretch the drying fur of animals like mink, beaver or fox they and come in different sizes depending on the pelt being dried.

Wine bottle fragments

Alcohol was an important beverage in the historic period as many people thought it had medicinal properties and drinking water was thought to cause various diseases. Not surprisingly finding bottle glass on archaeological sites is common. Conveniently for archaeologists some types of bottle glass can be used to put an approximate age on a site.

Complete wine bottle

The collection includes two bottles; this one is complete and probably dates from the late 1800s. My archaeology specialty is in precontact material culture so when it comes to identifying and or dating historic artifacts I often do a little research of my own and or consult with colleagues. In the case of this bottle, I did both. Based on the overall shape of the bottle, the finish on the neck/lip, the shape of its base and its lack of seams I think this is a mould blown bottle dating to the late 1800s.

“Onion” bottle
“Onion” bottle base

As opposed to the previous bottle, I knew this bottle, known as an “onion” bottle, was much older. This style of bottle is completely hand blown which is why the shape is not at all uniform, particularly the base. Based on the quick research I did, this bottle probably dates from the late 1600s to the early 1700s. The white growth on the bottle is coral, so it likely spent some time in the salt water.

Smoking pipe stems

The one artifact on archaeological sites more common than glass is smoking pipe fragments. These pipes are made from clay called kaolin. Fragments of stems are so plentiful because the stems on the pipes used to be very long and they would frequently and easily crack.

Smoking pipe bowls

Most of the pipes in this collection are likely from the 1800s or 1900s. European smoking didn’t start until Europeans first came to North America where they got tobacco from the Aboriginals. Those early smokers used pipes with very small bowls (because tobacco was expensive) and the stems on the pipes had very large boreholes. Gradually through time, the price of tobacco decreased and the bowls became larger and more decorative. As the pipe makers got better at their trade, they used smaller wires to make holes in the stems. So, while it is not particularly accurate, archaeologists generally look at larger pipe bowls with decorations and a small bore hole as being younger than a pipe with a smaller bowl and a larger borehole.

Close up of a face on a smoking pipe bowl
Makers mark on the heel of a pipe bowl

Later pipe makers also started to place their own makers mark on the base of the heel, which is found at the bottom of the bowl or where the bowl and stem meet. Some of these makers’ marks can be used to date kaolin pipes.


The artifact above is a deadeye. Like the “onion” bottle, this object was most likely found in the water, as wood does not preserve well on terrestrial sites in this province. Deadeyes were used on sailing ships as part of the rigging.

Bottom of the lamp

This object was completely unexpected in this collection and it certainly did not originate on the Northern Peninsula like the rest of these objects. After consulting with several people, I found out that this object may be a 1st or 2nd century Christian era Roman lamp!

Private collections are always interesting to archaeologists, like an archaeology site, you never know what you will find.

*Private archaeology collections in Newfoundland and Labrador can be (and should be) turned over to or loaned to the Provincial Archaeology Office (PAO) for study/photography/inventory. Usually, the PAO will return the collection to the collector. Private collectors should be aware that even though the collections are in their possession they still belong to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador. Collecting artifacts is illegal in Newfoundland and Labrador and the PAO advises that all collectors should refrain from such activities.

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