Maryland lab uncovers more details behind an Old Town artifact

X-ray of Robinson Landing South watch fob, image via Arianna Johnston/MAC Lab

An x-ray treatment of an artifact found at Robinson Terminal South has revealed more details about an artifact stuck into a strip of corrupted iron alloy.

The much smaller artifact came from the same area as the buried ships found in 2018. The artifact is a watch fob, a popular 18th and 19th-century accessory, but only part of the original piece was visible. A report by conservator Arianna Johnston from the Maryland Archeological Conservation Laboratory highlighted what their lab learned with further study.

“The chalcedony stone oval is flat on both faces, engraved on one side with a figure and set into a metal frame,” Johnston said in the report. “Watch fobs were worn at the waist, and while the watch may be tucked into a pocket, the accessories would hang from chains on display.”

The displays could include seals, initials, family crests or other decorations. Only a face was visible when the artifact came to the lab and the size and shape of the full fob was unclear, but Johnston said they used x-rays to help tell more of the story.

Robinson Landing South watch fob, image via Arianna Johnston/MAC Lab

“The radiograph shows a complete watch fob accessory with delicate openwork along the top of its frame,” Johnston wrote. “The bright contrast in the radiograph indicates a denser metal than the surrounding corrosion and iron; the metal is presumed to be predominately copper alloy, though gilding may be present.”

Johnston said the radiograph also shows pins at the top and bottom of the frame, which indicate that the stone could spin. The x-ray also showed that there’s no chain or jump ring attached to the iron, so how it would have hung off the owner is unclear.

“The conservation treatment for this artifact is ongoing,” Johnston wrote. “The next steps include freeing the fob from its iron alloy companion and reducing the corrosion using mechanical cleaning methods.”