by Douglas K. Boyd, PI
Frost Town Data Recovery Project
Prewitt and Associates, Inc. Project 216007
On August 4, 2016, Robert (Zac) Selden contacted me via email and asked about artifacts we were finding at our Frost Town data recovery excavation in downtown Houston. He had heard about our work and was going to be in Austin soon to do 3D scans of lots of artifacts at TARL.
I corresponded with Zac and we selected a large stoneware jug and a small glass ink jar for 3D scanning. Rob Thrift took these to TARL on August 17, and he was there that day as Zac scanned them. Then Zac sent me an email on August 28 with links to the two scanned artifact images.
Height = 26.0 cm (10.2 inches)
Diameter = 18.5 cm (7.3 inches)
Volume = 4.73 liters (5 quarts)
Provenience: Central portion of Frost Town Block D, found in bottom 2.5 feet of fill inside a brick-lined Cistern (Feature 183).
This artifact is a 1.25-gallon stoneware jug that was found in the earthen fill inside a brick-lined cistern. For this artifact, there are two important considerations regarding its age, function, provenience (where it was found), and context (the interpretation of its age, function, and provenience). The jug has no markings on it, so the precise period of manufacture and its maker are not known. It exterior has a biege slip on the vessel body and a dark brown (Albany) slip on its neck and mouth. Its interior is a dark brown (Albany) slip.
Based on its style, we can surmise that it was made in the late nineteenth century or early twentieth century. This type of jug was a common and very useful household item at this time. It would have been sealed with a cork and used to store liquids, typically various types of drinks. Such jugs were reused over and over, much like a canteen.
This particular jug was found near the bottom of a 10-ft-wide and 10-ft-deep cistern that was on Block D of the old Frost Town community. We know from various maps and other archival records that the cistern was adjacent to a house that was occupied in the late nineteenth century by a family of German immigrants named Steiner.
There is archeological evidence that the Steiner may have been razed around the turn-of-the-century, being replaced by one or more smaller “shotgun” style houses. But it appears that the cistern remained in use up until the 1920s. In 1926-1927, the old houses in Block F were all torn down to make way for the Missouri, Kansas, and Texas Railroad terminal, (also called the MKT Railroad or Katy Railroad). The old Steiner cistern was probably filled in with sediment about this time, most likely a very quick, single filling episode. It is not certain how the stoneware jug got into the fill at the bottom. It is possible that railroad construction workers found it near the houses they were tearing down, and they threw it into the deep cistern they as they were dumping clay inside to fill it.
Height = 6.0 cm (2.35 inches)
Length = 6.7 cm (2.64 inches)
Width = 6.1 cm (2.40 inches)
Volume = 100 ml (3.38 fluid ounces)
Provenience: Northwest corner of Frost Town Block D; Frost Town cultural zone deposits.
This artifact is a small glass bottle with a rectangular body and a wide mouth. The glass is light green and translucent, but it has no identifying markings. However, the mold seams and body style indicate that this jar was blown into a mold but it has an “applied lip”–meaning that the mouth and lip were finished by hand. This process for making glass bottles was common throughout the nineteenth century. The body shape indicates that this jar was used to hold India ink for writing (long before fountain pens were created), and the two long grooves across the body were holders for ink pens.
Inkwell bottles were used to hold ink for artists and writers using quill pens, dip pens, or fountain pens tipped with metal nibs. Inkwells were used in American from colonial times and into the twentieth century, when their use declined rapidly as typewriters and modern pens (e.g., ballpoint) became popular.