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One of the most fascinating aspects of Harrington’s work is its unit of measurement – 64ths of an inch. It’s such a curious standard but one easily explained by the tool that he used to measure the bore hole diameters of the fragments he analyzed – the metal bits for drills. Note that they are measured in 64ths of an inch (or some factor of 64 – e.g., 1/16ths is 4/64ths). Andy: The older ones are thicker and they had a much smaller bulb because tobacco was so expensive. It was the analysis of the diameters of the bore holes in pipe stem fragments by archaeologist Jean Carl Harrington that apparently launched the widespread use of such fragments in the dating process. He reported, In working with the Jamestown pipe collection I had observed that the early pipes have relatively large holes through the stems, while the holes in later specimens are much smaller. Harrington, Dating Stem Fragments of Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century Clay Tobacco Pipes, Quarterly Bulletin of the Archeological Society of Virginia, 1954.) His work showed that there was in fact a “definite and consistent” trend in how the bore hole diameters clustered in five broad time ranges. So what does Harrington’s graph say about the age of the pipe stem I found?
Though pipe bowls are also used in the dating process, pipe stem fragments are apparently go-to artifacts partly because these pieces are often found in staggering numbers (stem fragments were so plentiful in colonial times they were sometimes used as ballast in ships; one path in Williamsburg was “paved” with some 12,000 stem fragments) and complete bowls are relatively rare. The opening scene of the first episode of actor and author Mackenzie Crook’s comedy TV series Detectorists is set in a plowed field somewhere in Essex, England. (Some context here: What he’s found is typically called here in the States a “pop tab” or “pull tab” or, as Jimmy Buffett styled it, “Stepped on a pop top. Had to cruise on back home.” Tizer is a British red-colored, citrus soda.) Andy: What do you do with ’em? A friend, who is a birding authority, was visiting, so my wife and I ventured out with her to several of the nature preserves that dot the North Fork.Our heroes Andy and Lance are working the field with metal detectors, rhythmically swinging them back and forth while listening through headphones for telltale pings signaling metal in the ground. They vary greatly in quality but the impulse behind them is praise worthy.Lance suddenly stops, drops to the ground, digs out an object which he inspects with a jeweler’s loupe. Armed with binoculars, which I couldn’t raise to look high in tree canopies, I went birding. Lance carefully puts the ring pull into a plastic baggie. Not much of a vacation actually as I was trying to cope with nasty back issues that kept me from looking much above eye-level without excruciating pain.
The first preserve we visited was alive with birds even at midday.