FIELD TRIP! Going nuts at the MAC Lab

This trip took us to the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Laboratory. The MAC Lab is really fantastic- a state-of-the-art facility for the research, conservation and curation of archaeological resources located in the heart of the Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum in St Mary’s County. I could write pages about the work that goes on at the MAC Lab, or the dig we were allowed to participate in, but it is really best to be experienced. Free tours are available on Thursdays and the first Friday of the month. If you are nearby, I highly recommend making the trip.

To demonstrate the variety of objects which the MAC Lab has handled, I give you…

Big Nuts
Courtesy of the author.

a giant nut!

The Maryland State House in Annapolis.  Note the nut!  Courtesy of Creative Commons CC-BY-SA-2.5
The Maryland State House in Annapolis. Note the nut! Courtesy of Creative Commons CC-BY-SA-2.5

A five foot eight inch acorn, to be specific. This structure was placed atop the Maryland State House in Annapolis during reconstruction of its dome following a hurricane in the late 1700’s. As James Allen so eloquently stated, “The oak sleeps in the acorn,” and acorns were seen as a symbol of potential as well as strength in colonial America. This architectural feature wasn’t purely symbolic either. It encased the 28 foot Franklin rod, which in and of itself was a significant statement of the young nations’ ingenuity.

Roasted Acorn
A roasted acorn! Courtesy of the author.

The acorn was removed in 1996, and eventually made its way to the MAC Lab’s capable hands. The pie shaped wedge was cut so that it could be hoisted from the roof without damaging the Franklin rod. You can see the charring on the interior from being struck by lightning.

But the best part is what the MAC Lab was able to discover when examining the acorn. For the entire 208 years the acorn sat atop the Maryland State House, the structure of carved Cyprus planks sheathed in copper was gilt in gold, layer after layer, every few years. The workers re-gilt the acorn would pause to carve their named into the gilt before laying on a new layer. Only a few names are visible to the naked eye, but x-ray technology make many names visible.

A legacy of craftsmanship. Courtesy of the author.