The Big Reveal: Archaeological Mystery Objects

Last week we posted three mystery objects excavated at El Presidio de Santa Bárbara State Historic Park, along with polls so you could guess the answers.   Below are the correct identifications of these objects.   How did you do?

Dried ink for calligraphy.  These small containers of dried ink can be wet with a brush, producing a black ink used for writing Japanese or Chinese characters. These objects were excavated from a trash pit associated with the early-twentieth-century occupation of the Presidio site by Japanese Americans.


Bale seal. Bales seals were in use throughout Europe going back to the medieval period to identify the content and quality of parcels, batches of textile, and bales of goods.  This bale seal was excavated from a trash pit associated with the comandante’s residence adjacent to the chapel site.


Dispenser for powdered Tabasco.  Marked with the company brand name on the bottom, this ceramic shaker shaped like a chili pepper was used to dispense a powdered form of the spicy condiment.  Tabasco brand products have been manufactured by the McIlhenny Company in Avery Island, Louisianna since 1868. Still in use in some areas of the Southern  United States, powdered Tabasco is not readily available on the market today, and this ceramic shaker is extremely rare.

4 thoughts on “The Big Reveal: Archaeological Mystery Objects”

  1. I would not be so sure of the identification except for the manufacturer’s mark on the bottom that reads “POWDERED TOBASCO, McILLHENNY’S.” McIllhenny’s is indeed the manufacturer of Tobasco on Avery Island, Louisianna since 1868!

  2. I just found one of these McIlhenny Ground Tobasco[sic] shakers this week. It is the beautiful red/orange color of a ripe pepper. It also reads on the base “New St. Charles Hotel, New Orleans, La.” The St. Charles was built three times (rebuilt twice due to fire) and I’m thinking this must have been from the third building which was about 1930. Does yours read the same? After Googling for hours, yours was the only other reference I found to a McIlhenny’s GROUND Tobasco. Perhaps it was ground from the residue left in the sieve after fermentation and straining…

    1. Joanne,

      The one we excavated here at the Santa Barbara Presidio (pictured above) is not labled “New St. Charles Hotel.” It simply says “POWDERED TOBASCO – McILHENNYS.” I also spent considerable time researching it on the internet. Although I found no examples of the Powdered Tobasco shaker, I did find reference to the powdered Tobasco being sold in institutional-sized containers, probably large cans. Apparently it was widely used in restaurants. I assume that the shakers were meant to be used for table service. Perhaps your shaker was made especially for table service at the St. Charles!

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