Alameda-Stone Cemetery: Gendered artifacts part 1

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…

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7 Responses to Alameda-Stone Cemetery: Gendered artifacts part 1

  1. Angela says:

    I have a stone button that I found just today. Do you have any idea how I could date it or tell what culture it is from?? It was found withing 10 feet of other Native American artifacts. Could there be a correlation?

    Thanks! 🙂

    • Kristin says:

      It all depends. Do you have a photo of the button?

      • Angela says:

        Yes, I do, but I’m not posting them online. I’m just asking to be pointed in the right direction. 🙂

      • Kristin says:

        Fair enough. Without knowing what they look like or how they were manufactured, I can’t say. Proximity alone is not enough to say they are a Native American artifact and with a distance of ten-feet, I’d say it’s unlikely they are related to each other. Did you find them on the ground or buried somewhere? I’d be happy to look at them, if you want to send me a photo in a private email. If you choose to let me see them, I’d need to see the hole(s) in the center — assuming there are holes. It’s a matter of manufacture method and location.

  2. Angela says:

    It has two holes fairly well centered. There is a slight beveling on the edges of the holes on each side. It is made out of a grey & red stone. (I know it’s stone because I tried to melt it.) It isn’t perfectly flat, but very close. It has one small, well-worn chip out of the ‘edge’. It’s just a bit smaller than a dime.
    I have detailed pictures I could email if you’re interested.

    • Kristin says:

      Sure, go ahead and email it to me.

      What kind of context were these objects found? Were they surface-collected or underground? Which tribes are associated with your region? If you’re uncomfortable telling me this information here, send it along in the email.


  3. Angela says:

    Thanks. Email sent. 🙂

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