Sourcing the Sherds: An Analysis of the Coarse Earthenware Ceramics of Trents Plantation in Barbados

Sara McNamara

Abstract

Trents, originally known as Fort Plantation, was one of the five initial plantations established by the English in 1627. Since 2012, three different loci at Trents have been excavated: an outbuilding to the main house (Locus 1), enslaved laborers’ living quarters (Locus 2), and a cave site (Locus 3). Locus 1 is well stratified with clear divides between material dating to the pre-sugar era in the early 17th century and the following period from mid-17th to early 18th century. 18th and 19th century deposits cap this locus. Locus 2 dates from the mid-17th to early 19th century. Distinct floor areas date to the earlier period, but the majority of the data date to the later 18th century. Surface material across the site date from the middle of the 18th century until emancipation in 1838. The material from Locus 3 date primarily to the 18th century.

The material culture at Trents displays the economic shift from small plantations to large-scale sugar manufacturing in a British Caribbean colonial context. Changes in the site’s material culture overtime chronicle this shift to sugar. The array of domestic and industrial coarse earthenware recovered from the site constitute an important data set that has the potential to yield significant information about the site and those who lived there from the early 17th to mid-19th century. A standard system of analysis was developed for the study of all of the coarse earthenware. This system identified the basic characteristics of each sherd including paste color, inclusion characteristics, and form type, which allowed for a distribution analysis of the earthenware excavated within the entire site to compare assemblage characteristics between loci. This distribution analysis provides insight to the various economic, domestic, and social usages of distinct spaces within the plantation.

Until recently, the combination of the industrial nature of sugar wares and the use of glaze and wheel turned production resulted in interpretations that emphasized a reliance on the importation of European manufactured earthenware. However, recent research in Barbados provides archaeological and documentary evidence that there is a history of on-island coarse earthenware ceramic production since at least the 17th century. Though these potteries mainly produced industrial wares, archaeological research at the Codrington Estate pottery found that as much as 10% of the annual production was for domestic wares (Scheid 2015).

This thesis serves as a background study to a series of scientific assessments aimed at determining which ceramic vessels were made in Barbados and which were made in England or elsewhere. Two analytical systems, Instrumental Neutron Activation Analysis (INAA) and Laser-Ablation Inductively Coupled Mass Spectrometry (LA-ICP-MS), were selected to compare the chemical composition of a representative sample of the artifacts excavated, Barbadian clay samples, and known British ceramic samples. A third analytical system, X-ray fluorescence spectrometry (XRF) will be performed on a subset of the representative sample in order to gather chemical information on the various glazes found within the assemblage. This study presents an overall examination of the coarse earthenware as well as a description of the samples that have been sent out for scientific investigation. Upon the return of the data from these external analyses, potential relationships and multivariate groupings of the samples will indicate if the vessels were imported or locally produced.