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Fort McCoy ArtiFACT: Iron trivet

Fort McCoy ArtiFACT: Iron trivet

Story by Theresa R Fitzgerald on 02/21/2019

Archaeologists with Colorado State University’s Center for Environmental Management of Military Lands recovered more than 1,600 historic, post-contact artifacts during a dig at a small late 19th to early 20th century site in the southern reaches of Fort McCoy not far from Sparta, Wis.

No intact building features were found at the site or in the vicinity, but a patch of lilacs found within the site area is a strong indicator that a structure was present at some point.

Additional evidence supporting the presence of a structure at the site included 166 architectural artifacts such as brick, mortar, nails, window glass, and door hardware.

Historical archaeologists use generalized classification systems based on the artifacts found to understand the process of pattern recognition using data from historic sites and to interpret the different activities that
occurred at the sites. The most commonly used scheme for historic sites was developed by archaeologist Stanley South, an important pioneer of theory and application of historical archaeology.

Using his classification system, historic artifacts are separated by groups in an attempt to understand how historic sites were used. For example, architectural group items are related to building or construction. Items from the kitchen artifact group were most likely used for cooking.

Another 106 artifacts from the Fort McCoy site were attributed to kitchen-related activities, including glassware; tableware (cutlery); can fragments; and artifacts from the bone group, such as mammal bones with grooves from cutting or sawing and eggshell. Also found was an iron trivet.

The word trivet is most likely derived from a late Middle English translation of the Latin “tripes” or “triped,” which mean three-legged. A three-legged design allows a trivet to be placed on a rough surface and maintain stability, and the cast iron used in trivets produced in the 19th century allowed them to hold hot pressing irons, cookware, and serving dishes without the risk of burning the surface underneath.

Trivets from the turn of the 19th century, like the one found at Fort McCoy, often had long handles so that they could be placed into a fire to prevent food in serving dishes from cooling too quickly.

Researchers were unable to determine if the site from which the trivet was recovered was a recreational hunting shack, a domestic residence, or a rental property, but the volume of kitchen-related materials as well as 30 clothing-related, such as buckles, buttons, and boot fragments suggest that someone spent considerable time there.

A small-game trap (activities group) and varied small-arms ammunition (arms group) from the site indicate that the resident was a hunter and trapper, but one of the mammal bones recovered was a cow rib, which means that the resident was not simply eating what he or she caught.

All archaeological work conducted at Fort McCoy was coordinated by the Directorate of Public Works Environmental Division Natural Resources Branch.

Visitors and employees are reminded they should not collect artifacts on Fort McCoy or other government lands and leave the digging
to the professionals. Anyone who excavates, removes, damages, or otherwise alters or defaces any historic or prehistoric site, artifact, or object of antiquity on Fort McCoy is in violation of federal law.

The discovery of any artifact should be reported to the Directorate of Public Works Environmental Division Natural Resources Branch at 608-388-8214.

(Article prepared by Colorado State University’s Center for Environmental Management of Military Lands and the Fort McCoy Public Affairs Office.)

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