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Field Notes 1999 "Brooklyn's Eighteenth-Century Lott House"
August 12, 1999

Scrubbing in the Lab

Work continues on a semi-informal basis in the lab. We've been washing the thousands of artifacts and ecofacts we recovered in June and July. Unraveling the evidence we've collected should keep us busy until next summer's field season. We won't even begin the process of labeling and analyzing until we've washed and re-bagged everything.

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Arthur and Alyssa talk strategy as the dig season draws to a close. (Courtesy Brooklyn College)

Dentures and Opium

When we haven't been in the lab we've been working at the Lott House with a limited volunteer crew. Our challenge is to finish excavating the trenches we have open (N35 W8--the privy--and N41.5 E23--the trench where the concrete path was found) before August ends. In the privy, we've found porcelain doll parts (including a blue eye), ironstone (a very hard-pasted type of ceramic that dates between 1840s and 1860s) and whiteware dinner plates, goblets, a bottom plate of false teeth, what appears to be a clock, hundreds of shards of bottle glass, and several opium bottles from Dr. McMann's. We don't know much about the good doctor yet...most likely it's his own personal blend, but we'll check into the possibility that it's a pharmacy brand name. Opium was used much in the same way we use asprin, cough medicine, ambesol (for toothaches), etc. Opium and cocaine were readily available on the open markets in the nineteenth century. Slowly we're outlining the shape of the privy--rectangular with a wood superstructure. The majority of the artifacts from this feature appear to date from the 1850s to the 1860s.

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Excavators continue to search for the extent of the privy. (Courtesy Brooklyn College)

An Architectural Mystery

We have other areas to tackle too; we're about to lay out three new trenches around the foundation of the house. One new trench will be up against the lean-to section of the house on the east side of the property where, in 1998, we recovered the remains of the stone feature that was used in part as a kitchen. We're hoping to solve the mystery of why the Lott's Lane roadbed (the hard-packed remains of the road that extended from Kings Highway to a mill in Gerritsen's Creek) was located 1.5 meters below ground--that's awfully deep.

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The right tools speed things along. A budding archaeologist, right, practices with a trowel. (Courtesy Brooklyn College)

The second trench will be in the south field adjacent to the house in the area between the lean-to and the 1720s structure. This trench will mirror the trench we dug along the north side of the house. We hope to uncover the same builder's trench feature.

The final new trench will also be in the south field against the house. This one will be where the west wing meets the center wing and porch. This trench will hopefully solve an emerging architectural mystery--why were the west wing and center wing of the house constructed using different materials and distinct building styles when all reports we've seen describe those sections of the house being built at a single time?

Dig Camp

Through a joint program between the South Street Seaport Museum and Brooklyn College Archaeology, the museum's summer dig camp practiced its craft at the Lott House. The camp is run through New York Unearthed, New York City's only archaeological museum. Once a week for four weeks, Diane Dallal, head of New York Unearthed, brought her six to 14 campers ranging in age from eight to 15, toured the house, and helped dig. No smoke and mirrors here--we didn't set up an area for them and seed it with artifacts. We put the kids to work in the west field. Their excavation determined that little activity occurred on this part of the property. Most likely, this was an area where the Lotts farmed. What was recovered was typical of plow zone areas: small fragments of ceramics, glass, pipe stems, coal, bricks, and bones. But this didn't matter to the students. Hearing the shouts of joy as someone would discover something as small as a three-centimeter-long shard of late nineteenth-century ceramic was pretty satisfying to us. You can visit New York Unearthed (a little-known treasure) at 17 State Street just across from Battery Park at the tip of Manhattan.

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New York Unearthed's dig camp
(Courtesy Brooklyn College)

Discussion Questions:
Is this a typical mid-nineteenth-century assemblage, or are would you expect to find anything that's missing?
Does anyone know more about Dr. McMann and his opium business?
Any reason a builder might suddenly switch materials and styles mid-stream?

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© 1999 by the Archaeological Institute of America
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