Dating clay tobacco pipes
But just as few of us give much thought to what later generations might deduce from our discarded bottle caps, no one in the eighteenth century considered how a twenty-first-century archaeologist might use his broken pipe as a clue to his life and time. The characteristics of tobacco pipes changed with the years, and if an archaeologist can date those changes, so can he date the objects with which they are are found.There are thousands of pipe fragments found in Williamsburg.The pipe, so lily-like and weak, Does thus thy mortal soul bespeak. Pipes are known in silver, brass, pewter, iron, and even lead, but clay was the primary material and so remained until the end of the nineteenth century.The clay pipes' fragility ensured that they were broken almost as fast as they were made, and fragments are strewn across every Virginia colonial home site.But there were minute pictures of tobacco pipes stamped onto tobacconists' trade tokens.In most instances these emblems were miniature versions of the signs hanging over the doors of their establishments.
Harriot described the Indians' practice of "sucking it through pipes made of claie into their stomacke and heade; from which it purges superfluous steame & other grosse humors." Like so much else in historical lore, the encyclopedia and the Reverend Hume were wrong.
That all these little pieces might have something to say to archaeologists was first recognized in the mid-twentieth century when the National Park Service's archaeologist at Jamestown, Virginia, Jean Carl "Pinky" Harrington started studying not the stem fragments per se but the sizes of the holes through them.
By itself, this sounds like a lunatic occupation, and at the outset critics were quick to say so.
Reporting on Sir John Hawkins's voyage to the West Indies in 1565, chronicler John Sparke wrote: The Floridians when they travell, have a kind of herbe dried, who with a cane and an earthen cup in the end, with fire, and the dried herbs put together, doe sucke thorow the cane the smoke thereof, which smoke satisfieth their hunger, and therewith they live foure or five dayes without meat or drinke, and this all the Frenchmen used for this purpose. is greatly taken up and used in England." So here we have two descriptions of tobacco pipes that precede the Roanoke voyages, the first a cup attached to a cane, and the second shaped like a little ladle.
Whether it was Hawkins and not Ralegh who introduced pipe smoking to England or some passing Frenchman, there is no doubt that eight years after Hawkins's voyage, "taking in the smoke of the Indian herb called tobacco by an instrument formed like a little ladle . The first reference is to something resembling the typical American pipe of the nineteenth century, one that had come to North Carolina with Germanic immigrants in the middle of the previous century.