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Northeast Historical Archaeology

Abstract

The George Washington Foundation Department of Archaeology has combined a number of excavation and artifact-recovery techniques with a deliberate approach to artifact research and analysis in the laboratory to enhance interpretations of past behaviors. This article describes the elements of this approach and provides a case study involving the numerous 18th-century wig hair curler fragments found at the boyhood home of George Washington. The historical record together with the material culture assemblage allow us to demonstrate that the Washington family engaged in a home-based system of wig maintenance, allowing the economically struggling Washington boys to don wigs, an essential element of male gentry attire. This approach illustrates that conscientious recovery and analysis of small finds, such as wig curlers, can provide data used to reveal a great deal about the agency and consumer motivations of their owners.

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