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In the spirit of my last post, I’ve decided to continue the theme of archaeology. Except this time, I want to talk about something from my own backyard. A couple summers ago, I was planting this purple rose. As I was shoveling the stones back into place around it, I noticed something sparkling beneath the nearby chimney.

This is what I found.

I couldn’t believe it. It was a hand painted, glazed piece of earthenware. And it appeared to be well over one hundred years old. My house was only built twenty years ago and as far as I know, there was never anything else built on the property. There were, however, Native Americans who lived on the land. Where did this piece come from?

The next day I got an issue of Preservation magazine in the mail. By pure coincidence, there was a photo of a pottery chip in the same pattern as the one I had just found! I pored over the article. 

It talked about archaeological finds in abandoned southern Alabama towns like St. Stephens along the Tombigbee River. St. Stephens had become a ghost town by 1850. Artifacts from the site probably date decades before that time. The article made me realize that the river played a large part in the commerce of those old towns. Then, a light bulb went off inside my head.

The landscaping around my house did not consist of mulch, but rather, truckloads of river rock. My pottery chip must have come from the river where our landscaping stones were harvested. My discovery was a fluke. Since then, I have never found another chip around my house.

The pattern on the chip greatly resembled some “Chinese house” patterns I’d seen on Chinese export porcelain; but I knew it couldn’t be from China, as it is glazed earthenware instead of porcelain. I suspect it is a later British copy of Chinese export porcelain. More specifically, it might be china glazed pearlware. I can’t quite tell the difference between that and creamware with such a small chip.

Shortly after my discovery, I found a cup and saucer at an antique mall with the same pattern. The set was not as old as the pottery chips. The pattern had been manipulated instead of hand painted; it was reduced in size and applied by means of a tissue paper transfer. Nevertheless, I bought it for purposes of reference.

When I brought the cup and saucer home, I compared them to my pottery chip. Sure enough, I found the corresponding segment of the pattern.

I also found the corresponding spot for the pottery chip in the Preservation magazine article.

It’s fun to see how an entire piece would have looked in that pattern. To learn more about Chinese export porcelain, the origin of the pattern, watch the cheesy video below!

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