Greensburg Daily News, Greensburg, IN

August 22, 2012

Morris: Clay pipes and boar-hair toothbrushes

Ben Morris, MA, RPA
Greensburg Daily News

Greensburg — Undoubtedly, the first Europeans arriving in North America and seeing smoke coming out of a person's nose and mouth must have thought such a sight was really bizarre!

Before long, however, they too were puffing away and British colonists were busy planting the ÒweedÓ (tobacco) on American plantations.

Clay pipes are one of the more common finds at colonial sites. I know a collector who has at least a hundred white clay pipes and thousands of broken ones.

Interestingly, archaeologists have devised a neat way of dating the pipes. Experts noted the hole in the stem became smaller through time as the stem became longer, so they came up with a formula for dating a site based on the diameters of hundreds of pipe stem bores for pipes made in England between 1590 and 1800.

Other studies are trying to trace sources of clay pipes in different parts of England and different makers' models to show how these common artifacts were made and distributed.

Another small, common artifact being examined is the toothbrush. The toothbrush evolved as a handmade item of bone and boar-hair bristles. In the late 19th century, industrialists began developing toothbrushes made from synthetic materials. At one time, only wealthy people had toothbrushes. By the middle of the 20th century nearly every household had at least one toothbrush.

The toothbrush reflected the spread of better hygiene. The humble little toothbrush became a symbol that people were becoming modern. Different toothbrush types have now been used to date the archaeological sites in which they've been found.

(Ben Morris, MA, RPA is an archaeological and historical columnist for the Daily News. He can be reached at 812-932-0298 or at