Buttons, buckles, hooks and eyes are informative. As objects of personal adornment, they provide an opportunity to discuss, among other topics, mortuary practices including spatial organization within the cemetery, kinship groups, socioeconomics, eschatology, and folklore. These objects also have strong correlations to sex and inform on gender roles on the frontier southwest.
When we first began excavation at the Alameda-Stone cemetery, in Tucson, Arizona, we did not have a clear picture of the cemetery population. We did not know how many individuals were buried there or what proportion of adults to children or males to females might be interred. We did not know what ancestry, socio-economic status, religious affiliations, or fraternal organizations might be represented in the cemetery. Diocese records and other mortality schedules were incomplete and failed to yield any reliable answers. Research into the living population during the cemetery’s period of use was the key to better anticipating the cemetery population.
Census records from 1860 to 1870 report that adult females in Tucson accounted for about 25% of the population but more than tripled their numbers in that decade. Adult males accounted for approximately 40% of the population and had a similar increase in growth by 1870. Children made up approximately 30% of Tucson’s early population. Despite the rapid population growth during that period, the proportion of males to females and adults to children stayed relatively stable. Clothing fasteners are, with a few exceptions relatively gender-specific, so having this demographic information prior to excavation was vital to better predicting artifact types and distribution. Historic catalogs, collector’s guides, and numerous archaeological reports and cataloguing systems were reviewed in order to develop a database for recording the many varieties of fastener we expected to find in this historic cemetery.
As expected, clothing fasteners were the most common artifact type in the cemetery. There were 6,000 buttons, by far the most popular form of fastener. In our attempt to manage this enormous assemblage and to record as much valuable data as possible for this unique population, we painstakingly recorded multiple attributes and meticulously illustrated each unique button style. This site-specific book of illustrations holds an encyclopedic reference to all of the buttons collected from the cemetery. Each button was carefully measured and drawn to scale. Transfer-prints, painted designs and engravings were reproduced for each new style. The few shown here do not represent an exhaustive account of the many different types and styles of clothing fasteners recovered from the cemetery but are the most pertinent to a discussion on gender.
To be continued…