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  • Writer's pictureCatherine Losier

Artefact of the Week Series: "This is not a pipe" Oh wait! Yes, it is!

Fragments of clay smoking pipes are frequently found in archaeological sites featuring occupations dating between the 16th and the 20th century. Turpin’s Island is no exception. Many fragments of pipe stems and pipe bowls were found during the first days of excavation, but one of the most remarkable is a fragment of a bowl with vertical ribs and a floral decoration. Fortunately, even without the maker’s mark, due to the evolution of pipe bowl designs, we can suggest when it was made. Clay pipe production dates to the 16th century in Europe, soon after the introduction of tobacco in Europe. It is interesting to note that tobacco is indigenous to America and was used for millennia, but this plant was unknown in Europe prior the 16th century. Tobacco smoking became popular due to the plant's medicinal benefits.


Towards the end of the 17th century in England, pipe manufacturing was booming and almost every town and city would have a pipe maker. Millions were being produced not just for local use, but for exportation throughout Europe and North America. The lifespan of a clay pipe is difficult to determine, from months to sometimes years, but this time may be shortened based on the length of the pipe stem. As the length of the pipe stems increased, the more fragile it became and it was more susceptible to damage. This is why so many small fragments of pipe stems may be found during archaeological excavations of sites dating from the 16th to the 20th century. With the known presence of Basque, French, and English in Little St. Lawrence, the discovery of clay tobacco pipes is not surprising. Although the pipe stem and bowl featured in the picture are unmarked, we can distinguish when they would have been manufactured based on the decoration on the pipe bowl fragment. Decorative pipe bowls can be dated back to the mid-18th century which also happens to be when the English fishery activities were taking place in Little St. Lawrence. Towards the end of the 18th century, Robert Newman & Co. established a company based in Little St. Lawrence on Turpin’s Island for their fishing enterprise. Ceramics found in the same context as the pipe bowl and stem were manufactured at the end of the 18th and the first quarter of the 19th century which could be associated with the Newman & Co. occupation of the site.


Kaitlyn O’Leary

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