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Contextualizing the Materiality of Commodities: Using Quantitative Methods to Interpret the Meaning of Variation in the Physical Attributes of Copper-Alloy Buttons

Abstract

The increasing cultural and spatial distance between the producers and consumers of household goods over the last few hundred years requires historical archaeologists to determine which attributes of objects were imbued with meaning by consumers. One method of interpreting the meanings an object was selected to represent is by contextualizing the artifact’s physical attributes within the range of variation in similar objects circulating within particular spatial and temporal networks. Utilizing a data set of early nineteenth-century flat-stamped copper-alloy buttons from archaeological sites in Virginia this study examines how manufacturers and consumers evaluated the quality of these commodities.

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Acknowledgments

I would like to thank Matt Reeves, Allison Bell, Jenn Ogborne, and Beatrix Arendt for providing me access to the collections of artifacts used in this article. I also would like to thank Barbara Heath and the anonymous reviewers who have greatly improved this article with their comments and critiques.

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Correspondence to Eric George Schweickart.

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Schweickart, E.G. Contextualizing the Materiality of Commodities: Using Quantitative Methods to Interpret the Meaning of Variation in the Physical Attributes of Copper-Alloy Buttons. Int J Histor Archaeol 23, 496–512 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10761-018-0476-z

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Keywords

  • Consumerism
  • Materiality
  • Trade
  • Slavery