Friday, April 10, 2009

18th Century WIndow Lead

Archaeologists often comment about discoveries being made in the lab, long after the actual digging of a site has ended. They also lament that practice of archaeology in many cases poses more questions than it answers. This artifact is a prime illustration of both phenomena.

Excavated by Louis Berger Group, Inc. from the Metropolitan Detention Center Site (36Ph91) at 7th and Arch Streets in Philadelphia prior to the construction of a federal prison, this artifact is a fragment of window lead, also called turned lead. Originally H-shaped in cross section, it would have held individual panes of glass together to form a complete window. Correctly identified by Berger staff, it was not until the collection was submitted to the State Museum of Pennsylvania’s Section of Archaeology for curation that the discovery of a date flanked by two pairs of initials stamped on the inside channel was made. In the image “EW 1701 TD” can clearly be seen.

Other instances of window lead with dates and initials have been found at archaeological sites at such as Jamestown, Flowerdew Hundred, and Williamsburg. Closer to Philadelphia, excavations in Trenton at the Lambert/Douglas House conducted by Hunter Research, Inc. prior to highway improvement construction also yielded fragments of window lead, at least one of which bore initials and a date. Incredibly, the initials and date on the fragment from the Lambert/Douglas House are identical to those found on the fragment from the Metropolitan Detention Center Site.

Unfortunately, neither the individual artisan/tradesman nor the manufacturer have yet to be identified. Nevertheless, these two finds, and their undeniable relationship to each other, open the door for questions and discussion concerning the manufacture of and distribution systems for building materials (and other goods) relatively early on in the European colonization of America and the permanent settlement of the lower Delaware River valley more specifically.

For additional information regarding window lead see
Flowerdew Hundred by James Deetz
A Guide to Artifacts of Colonial America by Ivor Noel-Hume
History traced by Route 29 - A Tale of Two Houses by Ian Burrow

For more information, visit or the Hall of Anthropology and Archaeology at The State Museum of Pennsylvania .

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