Sunday, November 18, 2012

11/18/12 Report - Sherds or Shards & Water Getting High on the Beach


Written by the TreasureGuide for the exclusive use of

Six Different Treasure Coast Beach Shards
I looked it up.  My dictionary says that sherd is a variation of shard.  Some people say one and some the other, but there appears to be no difference.

As I said a few days ago, someone asked how to identify a shipwreck shard on the beach.  I wish I knew.  I've studied it a lot but still know very little about it.  It isn't easy.

First off, a shard is a piece.  So when we see a shard on the beach, we're just looking at a piece, and very often it is a small piece.  Furthermore, the shard has often been tumbled in the sands of time until it has become a smoothed out lump with a worn surface.

As with any item, one of the first things to do is to look for any man-made marks.  Look at the shard closely, carefully, and at different angles. 

Heavy Shard With White.
Unfortunately we don't usually have either the background or equipment to do a scientific analysis of our finds, and sometimes that is what is required.  However, if you read and look at a lot of different photos and examples you will learn to identify some pieces.

People can easily mistake pieces of modern clay items like drain pipes or roofing tiles for old pot shards.  I recently discovered one thing that will help you tell the difference.

Same Shard.  Notice Lumps and Large and Small Holes.
If you look at how those modern items like roof tiles are produced, you will find that they are extruded into molds.  The material is pushed under pressure and looks something like coprolite (dinosaur doodoo or fossil dung).  It has that toothpaste look.  (Did you know that the the tooth paste tube was invented after a man observed a horse's anal sphincter in operation?)  OK, lets get our mind out of the cesspool now!

Below is a photo of a broken piece of drain pipe.  You might be able to see in the photo how the material looks like it has been pushed through small openings and how it seems to be composed of a number of tubes of paste smashed together.  You can see striations when you look at the broken edges very closely.  Of course, it is easier to see in real life.

You do not see the same signs of extruded material on pieces that were produced on a wheel or by hand.  For me, that has become one of my best first clues to distinguish between modern items like modern roofing tiles and older items.  The modern items also seem to have a much heavier glaze, which I guess you would expect from their intended function and also the fact that if we are talking about beach finds, the older items were probably tumbled much longer.

Speaking of color - olive jars come in a variety of colors.  You might see anything from orange to beige or tan to whitish.  The archaeology journal articles that I've read bears that out.  They also tell what type of clay was used.  Kaolite was one, for example. 

Piece of Broken Red Drain Pipe Showing Extruded Material

Concerning the white layer that is sometimes seen on the outer surface olive jars, I've seen it discussed as being an intentionally applied layer, the result of the firing process, or the result of a reaction with salt water.  It seems there are a lot of ideas on that.

There are a lot of different types of ceramics you can find on the beaches.  From shipwrecks there are anything from olive jars, to bowls, to galley bricks and tiles.  And you can also occasionally see Native American shards as well as much more modern pieces.

Take a look at size and shape and try to figure out the type of vessel and its function.  Take a look at its composition and see if you can tell how it was made.  And also consider what else has been found in the area.  Are there other pieces that might be related that help give a more complete picture? 

If you look at a lot of different examples, both old and new, you will learn to identify some pieces, but like I said at the beginning, it isn't easy, and sometimes it might be impossible.  One thing for sure is that you'll learn a lot in the process.

If you need to correct anything I said today, please feel free. 

If you look at the photo at the top of the page, the most left item in the top row, could be either a piece of a brick or a heavy rim.  I'm guessing the second right now from the shape.  (I've seen complete galley bricks on the beach.)

The third item in the top row has some remaining glaze in the corner, as does the small reddish item beside it.

The first item in the bottom row has a straight line running across it.

The black item, I take to be Native American.  I have also seen a black check-stamped shard on the beach.

I just got back from the beach.   The water is getting up there.  It is not as high as it got during Sandy, but pretty high.   It is not a dune banger yet, but the water is hitting the toe of the dunes in at least one place that was heavily eroded during Sandy. 

You might want to start checking spots that produced during Sandy but that didn't refill since. 

I'm not ready to issue an upgrade in conditions yet, but if the water gets much higher, I probably will.

Overall, conditions remain poor, but it won't take much more for us to be in the money again.

I'll be watching closely.  The swells are supposed to be a bit higher the next couple of days, and that combined with the higher tides we've been having might just do the job.

Happy hunting,