Interview with Greg Smith, an archaeologist who excavated the St. Augustine Light Station
Archaeologists study artifacts and other types of evidence from an archaeological site. Why was examining the bottles so important at the St. Augustine Light Station?
Bottles represented one of the largest categories of artifacts at the light station. Analyzing the bottles helped us further classify them into categories. These groups were based on characteristics such as color, size, decoration, product name, and purpose, which may change over time. These changes are recorded in company records, which can help us determine how old bottles are. Also, bottles help archaeologists understand how people lived day-to-day. We see preferences they had and understand material choices they made.
Bottles give information about companies, products, and preferences. What can bottles tell archaeologists about consumer choice?
Absolutely! Archaeologists sometimes say, “If you want to know what is going on in a community, look at its garbage.” At the St. Augustine Light Station, there was a small community made of multiple families. Sometimes tourists might visit the site and leave behind trash too. Families and visitors during the early 20th century lived during a changing time. Consumerism was an emerging trend. Pre-packaged food and canned goods were popular. The lightkeepers and their families lived during a time when packaged goods were becoming common. Bottles held family medicine or their favorite beverages. They also stored food and sauces or marinades used on meat. When we studied the bottle typology from this site, we understood consumer choices- why people shopped the way they did.
What are some of the most interesting bottles that you uncovered at the St. Augustine Light Station? Why?
Well, there were SO many whole and almost complete bottles. Having intact bottles provided evidence that helped to create the typology and chronology. Medicine bottles and bottles used to hold sauce or marinade were common. Some product names, like Heinz, are familiar to us. Other product names, like Dr. J.W. Bull’s Cough Syrup, are now forgotten. We also thought about how some bottles served more than one purpose. We also enjoyed seeing perfume, face cream jars, and other cosmetic bottles. There artifacts suggested a woman’s presence at the light station.
Artifact photos courtesy of Greg Smith, Environmental Services, Inc.