Friday, August 13, 2010

What is it? Week 2: Roach Trap

Last week we posted this image of a redware vessel for our “what’s it” blog. This unusual object is in fact a cockroach trap. The ribbed, unglazed surface of the exterior was easy for roaches to climb up to the top and the lure of sweet molasses inside of the “well” was too much for the roach to resist. The roach would lose traction on the slippery glazed wall of the “well” and once inside could not escape. The small hole above the base of the vessel allowed for filling of the well with sticky molasses. The hole would then be plugged with a cork to keep the liquid contained.

Most of us are familiar with the modern methods of eradicating roaches - potent pesticides and chemicals, and the ever popular “roach motel”. But the use of non-toxic methods for trapping cockroaches is still being utilized. Various websites provide information on creating roach traps from jars or cans. All utilize a substance to lure the insect into the trap and provided a barrier prohibiting escape from the vessel. Colonists who didn’t have chemical treatments for removing pesky roaches created an ingenious trap that is still a functional design today.

Historic accounts of infestations on ships document the spread of roaches from Europe and Africa to North America, but do not address efforts made to eradicate the pests. The evidence that they were a problem for colonists exists through household items such as this redware roach trap.
Archaeology can be used as a tool for telling the whole story of everyday life and often uncovers daily activities left out of the historic record. An artifact such as this provides tangible evidence of a creative solution to a problem facing people in urban settings such as Philadelphia, where this example happened to be excavated.

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

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