Random find is archaeological dilemma
MARQUETTE — The wind storm in late October last year blew in a lot of things from Lake Superior including my first archeological find. It was a rather non-descript brick with the exception of the words “Anglo Saxon” formed into one side. I was going to take it home until I remembered the first thing the curator here at the history center taught me. “Never remove an artifact, no matter how insignificant it might seem, until it has been properly documented.” An item exposed by natural forces, like the wind storm, is different than an artifact purposely dug out of a “static” site but should still be treated the same.
The next day, I was able to find out some facts about my discovery. After a quick Google search I found several websites dedicated to brick collecting of all types. People collect the strangest things! Some collect because of the shape. While others collect for historical value.
An example of this would be paving bricks from the streets of pre-revolutionary war towns or buildings. Still others collect only specimens from the Civil War era. Thanks to Sherman’s march to the sea many of the original buildings in southern cities such as Atlanta, Georgia, were laid to waste and are now available for such collectors.
Others collect because of the media used to produce the bricks. The clay soil of the southern states has a red tone while the clay of southeastern Ohio has more of yellow tint. Still others base their collection on how the bricks were made.
Bricks made before the industrial age were baked in the sun instead of kiln dried and are rare and so quite collectable. Of course you have the artisan brick makers who still use the sun to cure their product.
I also learned that the printing on a brick could be either an impression or embossed like my brick. Printing on a brick could be either a company name or logo. Sometimes the printing would indicate where the brick was made.
Well that is enough of “Brickology 101” let’s get back to my discovery. It was a fire brick manufactured around the turn of the 20th century by the Harbison Walker Refractory Co. near the river town of Portsmouth in my native state of Ohio. It was used primarily for lining the walls of the blast furnaces that made steel.
Perhaps it was the remnants of a furnace at the old steel mill located at the lower harbor.
That Sunday I took a walk along the reopened Lakeshore Drive but my greatest and only archeological discovery to date was nowhere to be found! It was probably returned to the fill along the shoreline not to be seen again until the next big wind forces the lake to once again give up its treasures.
This is where the dilemma comes in. If I had taken the brick home I would have forever had a memento to go along with my story, but I would have also deprived someone else the thrill of finding something that I thought was so unusual. What if the next person to find this brick was me! What would be the chances of the same person finding the same artifact twice?
My imagination immediately put me in the realm of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade where Indy twice had the Cross of Coronado in his hand and lost it both times.
If I did find the brick a second time would I once again do the right thing? I don’t know for sure but I’d like to think so!
I do know one thing for sure, the next time the wind blows along the lake shore I’ll put on my fedora and leather jacket and hit the beach in search of my own version of the Cross of Coronado. I just hope there won’t be any Nazis! I’ll let you know. Until then…
Keep your head up and your stick on the ice.