Monday, June 13, 2011

Artifact of the Week - U.S. Armed Forces Button

All artifacts have their own story about how they were used, when they were thrown away, and how they survived in the ground. Sometimes, however, a single artifact's story of its recovery, documentation, and identification can be a documentary in and of itself. As mentioned earlier, some artifacts are more difficult to identify than others, and much of the fun in archaeology is solving these kinds of mysteries.

This button was recovered from an early 19th century sheet midden that our third trench excavated last week. Artifacts like these can be tricky to identify if their characteristic insignia is partially eroded away, as it is in this example.

After our Principal Investigator Mr. Phillips took the photograph, Brian Mabelitini, our Field Director, consulted some button books that have different examples of U.S. army and navy buttons. Our initial interpretation was that it was a Confederate staff officer's button because it has the eagle and star border motif that those buttons were known to have. However, given that Arcadia was abandoned several years before the civil war began, there would have to be a second occupation to allow for a confederate soldier to discard the button at what became the sheet midden.

Brian then decided to digitally enhance the image to try to get a better idea of what the button was depicting. While it was difficult to see initially, the eagle now appears to be perched atop an anchor! With this in mind, it is possible that the button is actually an early 19th century (War of 1812) U.S. Naval button. This creates an alternative interpretation that fits more seamlessly with what we know about the history of Arcadia, because we have historical evidence that Andrew Jackson's army passed through the Juan de la Rua land grant during the first Seminole War.

As you can see, conflicting interpretations about the same artifact can make it quite difficult to say with certainty where it came from. While we have some plausible ideas, the jury is still out on this one. The button will hopefully tell us more about the person who wore it after the lab gets a chance to conserve and analyze it.

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