Friday, June 19, 2015

Class Day Pipes

From the early 1870s to 1992, Dartmouth senior Class Day ceremonies included the breaking of clay smoking pipes in a symbolic act of separation from the alma mater. If you look around the site of the (second) Old Pine, now a well-varnished stump, you might still find pressed into the earth fragments of these broken clay pipes.

 Archaeologists digging at sites within the former British colonies find large numbers of broken pipe stems, which often represent the third most common artifact after pottery sherds and siding nails. Initially imported from England, clay pipes were slowly refined during the 17th and 18th centuries from rather stubby smoking implements measuring about 3” in length to slender and stylish foot-long affairs. The longer stems were attended by narrower holes through which smoke was drawn from the bowl, and therein lies useful information.

In the mid-1950s, Jamestown archaeologist J. C. Harrington published a statistical summary of pipe stem hole diameters and their corresponding date of manufacture. In 1961, Lewis Binford used Harrington’s data to calculate a simple linear regression model to assign an occupation date to archaeological sites using the recovered pipe stems. While only approximate to within twenty years, the dates are easily determined in the field, whereas dates derived from pottery or wood samples require far more analysis and expertise.

Back at Dartmouth's College Park site, of course, there is no reason to date pipe stems. They are all the same design, as far as we know. Their 4/64” diameter replicates those made at the final period of clay pipe evolution, between 1750 and 1800. Scattered among the Dartmouth pipe stem fragments you might also notice some pottery, remnants from two later Class Day ceremonies, after the pipe-breaking tradition was discontinued.

To see photos of pipes from Class Days through the years, come to Rauner and explore our Class Day photo files (or search for them online via keyword at the Dartmouth College Photographic Files database). To see actual clay pipes, ask the desk staff to retrieve them from our uncataloged realia materials.

This post was submitted on behalf of Jim Perkins '83, archivist at New London History & Archives.

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