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Writing in the Walls

By Daphne Ahalt and Tyler Ball, M.A.

Archaeologists assess many different types of artifacts and historic records to best determine the age of a feature or site. Artifacts are clues that, with research, can provide the archaeologist with context when interpreting historic events and the timeline in which they occurred.

Writing in the Walls

While monitoring the demolition of an abandoned house in Fairfax County, CART archaeologists Tyler Ball and Robin Ramey found newspapers lining the space between the exterior and interior walls. The newspapers were in great condition and included publication dates, publishers’ names, and in some cases reporting on important historic events. The newspaper dates range from 1923 to 1926, just prior to The Great Depression.  The dates on these artifacts helped archaeologists better define a timeline for when the walls of the house were constructed and gave them a clue as to who occupied the site at that time.  The people who built the house used the newspapers as low-cost insulation once they had read them and caught up on the latest news and sporting events. 

Writing in the Walls

This month’s artiFACT is a page fragment from the October 5, 1924 edition of The Sunday Star (Washington, D.C.).  The fragment contains part of a picture of the Washington Senators baseball team after they won the American League pennant. Archaeologists found a copy of the original newspaper page in the Library of Congress’s digital collections. The complete page provided more information about the events that were missing from the recovered portion of the page. Tyler digitally overlayed the page fragment (tan-colored) onto a scan of the original complete newspaper page to create a picture of our artifact as it was when it was whole.

The original image of the baseball team was featured in the Graphic Section of the Gravure Supplement on the October 5 newspaper. The Senators would go on to defeat the New York Giants in seven games to win the club’s first World Series Championship. Also featured in that Sunday’s paper were box scores and game reporting, and full-page comics of the era including Bud Fisher’s Mutt and Jeff.

This newspaper served more than one purpose and revealed information about life in the 1920s. To read the complete newspaper page as it appeared in the October 5, 1924 edition of The Sunday Star, visit Chronicling America on the Library of Congress website.

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