Welcome to the Jungle… of Nails

During this past summer’s field school, our six-person team excavated the remains of a building known as Station Terrace, which once stood on Abbot Road, just a stone’s throw from where the MSU Union currently stands. Following the field school, all of the artifacts we had discovered were washed and placed into bags that identify the unit, and the level of said unit, each artifact had been recovered. As a result, CAP now has over sixty bags of unsorted artifacts collected from both this summer’s field school and the shovel test pits (STPs) conducted at Station Terrace in 2016. Now, as an intern for CAP, my primary responsibility is to go through each of the six units and additional STPs – one by one, level by level – and sort through and catalogue all of these artifacts.

Josh and Kaleigh excavate the Unit A feature.

Josh and Kaleigh excavate the Unit A feature.

Ask anyone involved in the excavations at Station Terrace, and they will assure you the most commonly found artifacts at the site were corroded construction nails. Seeing as how the building experienced fire damage and was subsequently remodeled, plus an expansion in 1910, our discovery of an overwhelming number of nails is not completely surprising. As a result, after all the artifacts have been sorted based on material type – i.e. ceramic vs. bone vs. glass vs. metal – the nails are then further categorized based on their typology. This means that I am sorting the nails based on their length, whether they are square cut nails vs. wire nails, and whether they are common flat head nails vs. brad or any other type of specialized nail. Each of the six excavated units contained a significant number of nails, but Unit A’s Feature 1 and Unit B’s ‘Layer o’ Nails’ by far contain the most. Needless to say, sorting through and categorizing the hundreds of excavated nails is proving to be an extremely time-consuming task. For example, it has taken me an entire month –working three hours a week in the lab– to sort through Unit A in its entirety. Furthermore, at the time of this publication, I have been sorting through Unit B’s Layer o’ Nails for three weeks now, and expect to finish this level during my next scheduled lab day.

Kaleigh Perry sorts nails from Station Terrace.

Kaleigh Perry sorts nails from Station Terrace.

The nails we recovered from Station Terrace are being given an unusually large amount of attention. At historic sites  nails are typically found in large quantities, and are used for diagnostic dating  but typically they are not the focus of larger research questions. As a result, they are usually placed in a single bag and simply counted and weighted. However, since nails were the primary artifact discovered during the field school, and thus practically the only material we have in our possession to further study Station Terrace, they require a detailed analysis.

Nail profiles can be immensely informative in determining the general timeframe in which a structure has been built or remodeled. Given this fact, I have decided to conduct a research project on these nails in which I will attempt to use nail typology to focus on modifications made to Station Terrace over the building’s lifetime. In addition to examining nail typology, I am planning to use portable X-Ray Fluorescence (pXRF) on a handful of nails to determine which type of metal – iron, steel, or perhaps something else – these nails are composed of. Through combining these methods, I am hoping to test the plausibility of determining which nails were likely used in the original construction of the building and which ones were likely used during the renovations following the 1903 fire. However, the experiments using the pXRF are not likely to occur for another few weeks, which means I have some more time to continue sorting through the nails and selecting samples I believe will be the most informative in my analysis of the building’s construction.

Historic nail typology. Image source.

Historic nail typology. Image source.

Despite how long it is taking me to categorize these artifacts, I find myself enjoying the work. Since nails are such a common commodity that is so often overlooked, reading literature on how this technology has evolved over time is rather interesting. By combing through said publications, I am becoming proficient in identifying different types of nails, in addition to learning what kinds of tasks these different types were typically used for – whether it is to mount siding to the exterior of a building, installing roof shingles, or securing floorboards. I will admit that out of all the archaeological topics to become well-versed in, or even in which to develop a fleeting interest, construction nails may seem like an odd subject matter. However, society’s oversight of this simple, yet indispensable, piece of technology has sparked my curiosity about how nails can be productively used to interpret archaeological sites. Thus, as strange as it may sound, the research I am conducting on the Station Terrace nails is turning out to be rather fascinating and informative.


The Unit A Rock Collection

After four weeks of the field school, the unit in which I am working, Unit A, measures roughly 60 centimeters, or about two feet, in depth. Needless to say, it is becoming rather difficult to climb in and out of the unit. Even though Josh and I removed a significant amount of soil from the unit this week, we did not find too many artifacts. Nonetheless, there has been a couple of interesting developments.

Kaleigh works to clean the floor of Unit A.

Kaleigh works to clean the floor of Unit A.

First, the hole we dug in our attempt to investigate the area formally known as Feature 1 is finally level with our unit floor. Not having a giant hole in the middle of the unit makes it ten times easier for both of us to stand in the unit while shovel skimming. But now that we are a little deeper beneath the Earth’s surface, we are noticing some interesting changes to the Feature 1 area –specifically, the outline of this cultural deposit is changing shape. It is no longer the rectangle we were initially dealing with, rather, it is now becoming more of a semi-circle. The deposit is also migrating westward — meaning that the original location of the former feature no longer contains traces of the burned coal and other cultural matter. The northeastern corner of Unit D is now exhibiting a collection of this mysterious black matter, suggesting that the deposit continues to extend beyond our western wall. However, Unit D is not as deep as our unit, so we cannot conclusively say that the deposit in Unit A runs into Unit D since we cannot compare the patterns at an equal level at this time.

Large rocks begin to appear in the western half of Unit A.

Large rocks begin to appear in the western half of Unit A.

The most interesting development of the week occurred immediately after Josh and I eliminated the awkward hole in our unit floor. While shovel skimming the very next level, Level 6, we kept hitting one rock after another in the eastern half of the unit. It got to the point where we could no longer use a shovel to remove the standard 10 centimeters of soil from the floor, but had to use the trowel instead. After a few hours of scraping around rock after rock, we had finally leveled out the unit floor as best as we could. In total, we counted 21 sizeable rocks on the surface and another 15 or so just beginning to peak out of the ground. Because of the large number of rocks present, we were told to remove another 10 centimeters from this level, making Level 6 a 20-centimeter-deep level. The field school did not meet on Friday, June 23, so by the end of the day Thursday, we were only about 1/4 of the way done removing the extra 10 cm of soil. However, I was able to remove about 10 rocks from the unit. We still have a long way to go, though, since we are using our trowels instead of shovels to remove the soil.

While excavating around the rocks, Josh and I began to speculate about what the rocks could represent. In his previous blog post, Josh stated he believes the rocks were used to control water flow around the building. Our professor suggested the rocks could have been knocked loose from the foundation when the building was moved in the early 1920s. However, since most of the rocks I was able to remove were either round or irregular-shaped pieces of granite, and the fact we are excavating in an area that is believed to be outside the building, I think it is possible the rocks may have been used for some decorative purpose, such as lining a flower bed or walkway. However, if the rocks were once arranged in a systematic manner, I am not sure how the rocks came to be placed in this jumbled mess. Perhaps they were haphazardly discarded here after the 1903 fire or once the building was relocated.

In any case, we may never know what our collection of rocks was used for. But then again, further excavation during our final week may be able to provide us with a clue as to the purpose of these rocks.


Liquor Bottle Base

Earlier this week, Josh Eads and I concluded our work on Feature 1 and began working on the third level of our unit, which required us to remove 10 centimeters of soil from the floor of the unit. While shovel skimming along our western wall, I struck a hard object. Thinking I had come across another one of the annoyingly plentiful tree roots or large rocks in our unit, I forced my shovel forward in an attempt to slice through the object. Unfortunately, I succeeded and ended up knocking a few sherds of glass off a hidden object. After collecting all of the glass sherds, some of which were no larger than the tip of my thumb nail, I began pawing around in the soil to find the object I had struck. After a few seconds, I pulled a mostly complete bottle base out of the ground.

Pint Full Measure bottle from Unit A.

Pint Full Measure bottle from Unit A. Base with two serif B and letter 7.

As can be seen from the two images, the base itself is relatively complete, except for a piece I accidentally managed to break off when I unknowingly struck it with my shovel. Additionally, unlike the Diamond Ink Co. bottle I found a couple of weeks ago, this bottle still had a portion of the body attached. The words “Pint Full Measure” stamped into the body indicate this bottle used to contain liquor. After a fair amount of research on the serif-B maker’s mark on the bottom of the base, I have been able to determine that this bottle was produced by the Charles Boldt Glass Co.

Charles Boldt Bottle Base. Image Source.

Charles Boldt Bottle Base. Image Source.

The Charles Boldt Glass Co. was born in 1900 when the Muncie Glass Co., headed by Charles Boldt, purchased the Nelson Glass Co. Boldt’s new namesake company remained in operation until 1919. During its peak, the company had factories at four different locations: Muncie, Indiana; Cincinnati, Ohio; Louisville, Kentucky; and Huntington, West Virginia. Not much is known about the factories in Louisville or Huntington, but the factory in Muncie mostly produced Mason fruit jars, milk bottles, and other food package ware, while the factory in Cincinnati mostly produced liquor bottles and flasks. In 1910, Boldt obtained a license to manufacture his liquor bottles using automatic machines from the Owens Bottle Co., another large Ohio-based glass company. The bottle I found was most likely produced by one of these machines. Even though we are missing the portion of the bottle body that normally exhibits the tell-tale clamp scar of an Owens machine, the general shape of the base, as well as the circular seam pattern present, coincide with complete Boldt bottles that are known to have been made with these machines. After obtaining his license from Owens, Boldt dramatically increased his manufacture of liquor bottles, and the Cincinnati plant became Boldt’s most productive factory until the onset of Prohibition in 1919. Over the next few years, Owens Bottle Co. purchased most of the stock in Boldt’s company, and by 1926, had completely purchased the organization. Today, the company is known as the Owens-Illinois Glass Company, and is based in Perrysburg, Ohio.

Whereas I am ecstatic about unearthing a more complete bottle, this discovery has served as an important lesson for me: If I strike an object while shovel skimming, I better check to see what it is before I make an attempt at forcing my shovel forward. I’m just thankful that this was not a complete bottle to begin with, and that the damage done was not too severe. From now on, I plan to be extra careful while I shovel skim.



Lockhart, Bill. “Owens-Illinios Glass Company.” Society for Historical Archaeology, https://sha.org/resources/newsletter-articles/owens-illinois-glass-company/. Accessed 17 June 2017.

Lockhart, Bill, Pete Schulz, Carol Serr, and Bill Lindsay. “The Dating Game: The Distinctive Marks of the Charles Boldt Glass Co.” Bottles and Extras, Mar. – April 2007, pp. 2-6, https://sha.org/bottle/pdffiles/BoldtGlassCo_BLockhart.pdf. Accessed 16 June 2017.

Schulz, Pete, Bill Lockhart, Carol Serr, Bill Lindsay, Beau Schreiver, and David Whitten. “Charles Boldt Glass Co.” Society for Historical Archaeology, 3 May 2014, https://sha.org/bottle/pdffiles/CharlesBoldt.pdf. Accessed 16 June 2017.

Poor’s Manual of Industries. Vol. 7, New York, Poor’s Manual Company, 1916. Accessed 16 June 2017.


Feature 1

After two weeks into the field school, my “squad mate,” Josh Eads, and I finished the second level of our unit. After the floor was leveled, and all the loose dirt was cleared away, we noticed something peculiar about this level: there is a large black rectangle that starts at the northern wall of our unit and extends 108 centimeters southward into the middle of the unit. This unusual area has been designated as Feature 1, or FEA 1. Unlike an artifact, which is considered to be portable, a feature is a non-portable object or area – such a as a wall, a pit, or our interesting black rectangle – that represents a past human activity.

Unit A Base of Level 2 - feature is the dark rectangle in the top part of unit.

Unit A Base of Level 2 – feature is the dark rectangle in the top part of unit.

On Friday (6/9/17), Josh and I began excavating the eastern half of the feature and finished clearing it out on Monday (6/12/17). Our goal here was to find the boundaries of the feature — to determine how deep it was and how far east it stretched. We left the western half of the feature undisturbed so we could examine any stratigraphy (changes in soil type, color, or texture) that may be present, and perhaps use a different technique to further analyze the feature. Excavating this half of the feature proved to be exceedingly time-consuming. It goes without saying that since we wanted to determine the exact shape of the feature, we had to be extremely careful while looking for the diagnostic change in soil color that told us where the feature ended. Finding the eastern boundary of the feature was rather simple, but determining its depth was much more difficult. After nearly four hours of fighting tree roots, clumps of an unknown burnt substance, and large chunks of coal, I finally started to reach the bottom of the northern half of the rectangle. Rather than a simple flat floor, the floor of this area gradually slopes inward from the eastern wall of the feature. After some interesting attempts at finding the best place to sit while excavating this awkward slope, I was finally able to reach the lowest point of this fascinating feature, which turned out to be at a depth of 34 centimeters. Josh also had to fight tree roots and coal while excavating the southern half of the feature. He was able to determine that the floor in this area was relatively flat and had a depth of about 30 centimeters.

Base of FEA 1A - the eastern half of feature 1.

Base of FEA 1A – the eastern half of feature 1.

Even though excavating the entire eastern half of this feature took up the bulk of our day, Josh and I also carefully screened the soil we removed from the pit. We found quite a few rusty nails, some of which were bent at a near right angle, some large pieces of glass, a couple of paper clips, and a sizeable amount of an unknown burnt substance — possibly clay or plaster. But the most substantial amount of material found was burnt coal. It was not burned to the point where it had become charcoal; it was more like lightweight, brittle chunks of carbon. While shovel skimming both the first and second layers of our unit, we found a large amount of coal, both burnt and not burnt. However, FEA 1 is primarily composed of the substance — it is essentially a deposit of used coal. Needless to say, our hands had a nice black hue to them by the end of the day.

The significant amount of used coal in the feature led Josh and I to hypothesize about what this feature was. We believe it may have been the location of a furnace or chimney. Another classmate, Cooper Duda, suggested that the feature could even represent the location of an old fireplace. All of these theories could also explain why we recovered so many nails — old pieces of wood containing the nails might have possibly been disposed of by being placed in an incinerator located in this area. However, we need to investigate the feature a little further before we can draw any definitive conclusions about it.

Although excavating this feature is taking such a long time, I am enjoying the task since it is giving us the chance to explore something a little more specific about Station Terrace.

Diamond Ink Co. Bottle Base

After a week into the field school, the units have been set up and we began removing our first layer of soil. During this process, we mostly found small shards of broken glass and countless rusty nails. However, Friday’s dig (6-2-17) revealed a unique piece of glass in my unit — what appears to be part of the base of an old ink bottle. The piece, as can be seen in Image 1, cannot be more than 7 cm long and is by no means complete. However, the name “Diamond Ink Co.” and the number 25 can easily be read.

Diamond Ink Co. Bottle recovered from Unit A.

Diamond Ink Co. Bottle recovered from Unit A.

The Diamond Ink Company was established in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1875. In 1886, a German-American by the name of August Nicholas Ritz became the new owner of Diamond Ink. Ritz remained the owner and manager of the company until it was purchased by one of the largest paint and glass distributors in Milwaukee, T.C. Esser Paint Co., in 1930. During the mid-1980s, T.C. Esser was purchased by Paul Phelps to create Oakbrook-Esser Studios, a company that continues to manufacture stained glass windows today.

Since Diamond Ink went out of business so long ago, it is rather difficult to find information about the company’s history. However, it is known that the company was once one of the most prosperous ink companies in Milwaukee. Additionally, the company was especially well-known for putting the first square-shaped ink bottle on the market. Despite their revolutionary new bottle shape, the company continued to make round bottles in a variety of sizes.

Diamond Ink Co. advertisement. Image source.

This specific artifact appears to be part of a round bottle rather than a square one, which suggests two possibilities. First, this bottle could have been one of Diamond Ink’s many different sized round bottles. Or, the fragment could be from the base of one of Ritz’s patented paste jars. These jars actually consisted of two containers fused together. One container, a large jar, would hold the paste while an attached slender tube or bottle-like container would hold the brush that was used to apply the paste. As can be seen in Image 2, the paste jar itself was a rather large container and most likely not the source of this artifact. However, it might be possible that the artifact was once the base of the attached brush tube. Unfortunately, not enough of the artifact was recovered in order to definitively state from which type and size of bottle this piece came from.

Additionally, the significance of the number 25 stamped into the glass is unknown. It could possibly indicate that this specific glass bottle was made from Diamond Ink’s 25th mold shape or style. However, since there are very few Diamond Ink Co. records left in existence, it is rather difficult to determine what this number is supposed to signify.

Overall, I find this bottle base to be an intriguing artifact — it is a remnant of a revolutionizing ink company that has since become lost due to the passage of time.


Bruce, William G. History of Milwaukee, City and County. Vol. 3, Milwaukee, WI, S. J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1922, pp. 540-43. Accessed 2 June 2017.

The Canadian Patent Office Record, Volume 30. Issue 7-12., Ottawa, The Office, 1902, pp. 1344-45. The Ohio State University. Accessed 3 June 2017.

Ritz, A. N. (10-29-1901). Canadian Patent No. 73612. Canada. Canadian Intellectual Property Office.

Walker, Laurel. “Gospel of ‘St. John’.” Oakbrook Esser Studios, Jan. 2004. Accessed 3 June 2017.

Wisconsin Historical Society, Wisconsin Architecture and History Inventory, “T. C. Esser Paint Co / Diamond Ink Co. / Milw. Worste”, “Milwaukee”, “Milwaukee”, “Wisconsin”, “117283”.

Image 1 taken from Campus Archaeology Twitter account

Image 2 taken from: “Diamond Ink Company.” bottlebooks.com. Accessed 2 June 2017.