The Eternal Struggle: History vs. Ghost Stories

Was N.J.’s Spy House one of the most haunted spots in the country? That’s up for debate

The Seabrook-Wilson House, a.k.a the Spy House, was built in the early 1700s. Over the years, archaeology and historical research has uncovered much of the true history of the house. Now part of Bayshore Waterfront Park in Port Monmouth, New Jersey, the historic house museum has a slate of free history and science programs scheduled, including their new History on Tap series, beginning with Famous and Forgotten Shipwrecks of New Jersey, an Archaeological Perspective on November 14.

The Seabrook-Wilson House. Source: ScottCAbel [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]

Two Passenger Pigeon Specimens in England

I recently stumbled upon two more passenger pigeon mounts I was unaware of. The Horninam Museum and Gardens in London, England, has two mounted passenger pigeons, a male and a female. Photos of the birds (NH.Z. 1768 and 1769) can be seen at the museum website.

The two pigeons are part of a natural history collection amassed by Samuel Prout Newcombe in the nineteenth century. Newcombe had owned a number of photography studios in London in the mid 1800s. He also was a writer, and in 1851 wrote a guide to the The Great Exhibition (also known as the Crystal Palace Exhibition) that focused on foods of the world, including an entry on the passenger pigeon. Around 1870, Newcombe sold his photography studios and retired to life a leisure.

Keenly interested in natural history, Samuel Prout Newcombe had amassed a large collection of specimens and books on natural history. … “Nature“, the International Journal of Science, reported in 1899 that: “Mr. S. Prout Newcombe has offered the London County Council his educational collection of natural history specimens and literature. This collection, which consists of about 21,000 objects, included a considerable number of works on natural history subjects“. 

https://www.photohistory-sussex.co.uk/Hastings_Newcombe.htm

The Horniman received the Newcombe collection in 1905.

Fireside facts from the Great Exhibition : Being an amusing series of object lessons on the food and clothing of all nations in the year 1851. Samuel Prout Newcombe 1851:90.

Internship at Ashfall

One internship available Ashfall Fossil Beds State Historical Site in Nebraska.

Teleoceros skeletons at Ashfall. Source: Ammodramus [CC0]

A single internship will be offered for late summer/early autumn for field studies in vertebrate paleontology.  With preference to geology or biology students, the position is open to college students with a genuine interest in, and knowledge of vertebrate paleontology, especially those aspiring to further their experience outside of the classroom.  Duties include excavation, sorting of micro-vertebrate fossils, prep lab tasks, interpretive duties and other park support tasks.

*  30-34 hour workweek.  $11.50 per hour.

*  E-mail: rick.otto@UNL.EDU  for details and application form.

*  Find out more about the Ashfall site at www.ashfall.unl.edu 

*  Deadline:  Applications will be accepted until the position has been filled.

Annie Alexander’s Contribution to Passenger Pigeon Research

An eyewitness account of trapping passenger pigeons in New Jersey in the early 1800s is one of only two publications by the woman who founded one of the premier paleontological museums in America.

In 1927, a short communication was published in the journal The Condor that quoted a letter from John Thomas Waterhouse to his parents back in England. Waterhouse described how the New Jerseyans hunted passenger pigeons using nets and guns. Continue reading “Annie Alexander’s Contribution to Passenger Pigeon Research”

The Fluted Points in the File Folder

Before eminent archaeologist John Cotter passed away in 1999, he donated much of his personal library to his colleague Anthony Boldurian and the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg. As they sorted through the books, file folders, and papers, they found something completely unexpected: a plastic sandwich bag with two neatly wrapped Clovis fluted points inside.

 

File folders
The file holder with the Clovis points (arrow points to the points). Source: Boldurian et al. 2002:203 Figure 3B.

Cotter is best known as one of the pioneers of  American historical archaeology, but he began his career studying Paleoindian archaeology, earning his M.A. in 1935. He had originally planned to write his dissertation on the Clovis material from Blackwater Draw, but by the time he returned to graduate studies at Penn in the 1950s, he had switched his subject to the excavations he had done at historic Jamestown, Virginia with the National Park Service. Yet he always maintained an interest in Paleoindian archaeology, and in fact his final publication, with Boldurian, was titled Clovis Revisited.

One of the points was labeled with his name and the location “Western Kentucky 1939.” At that time, Cotter was the state supervisor of the Archaeological Survey of Kentucky, and much of his time was spent examining the multiple excavations underway and ferrying supplies and artifacts to and from the laboratory, but there is no other contextual information for this point.

The second point is unlabeled, but made from a type of chert (Vera Cruz jasper) found in eastern Pennsylvania. The authors don’t say how difficult it was to figure this one out, but they matched this point to a photo of a fluted point found in New Jersey and published in one of the early articles on Paleoindian stone tools, Edgar B. Howard’s 1934 “Grooved Spearpoints.” That New Jersey point was in the collections of the University Museum at the University of Pennsylvania, where Cotter became a professor and curator. The authors found a drawing of the same Clovis point in the appendix of Cotter’s 1935 thesis.

Two Clovis Points
The two Clovis points, unwrapped. Source: Boldurian et al. 2002:204 Figure 4B.

The projectile point is part of the Newbold collection, accumulated by a New Jersey gentleman farmer in the second half of the nineteenth century. Michael Newbold would pay his workers as much as five cents for artifacts they found on his farm in Burlington County. After his death, the then-new University Museum acquired his collection – decades before anyone knew how old those fluted points were.

How did they end up among the paperwork? It seems likely Cotter was working with the specimens (he was particularly interested in a specific diagnostic characteristic, called basal polish or basal edge grinding, that both points have) in his office and at some point –perhaps even after his death–  the bag holding them got bundled up with related articles and filed away in a bookshelf. It’s a nice example of lost artifacts being found again.

Oakwood Mansion
A modern view of Oakwood, Michael Newbold’s mansion in Burlington County, New Jersey. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, this building was destroyed by fire in 2002. Source: Historic American buildings Survey (HABS No. NJ-1242-3)

 

Reference:

Boldurian, Anthony T., Justin D. McKeel, and Mason G. Pickel

2012    Gifts from an archaeologist’s bookcase: John L. Cotter’s library. North American Archaeologist 33(2):193-237.