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History Day Mystery Artifact Reveal

If you came to History Day, you learned how the State Museum collects artifacts and creates exhibits. As part of the history detectives theme, we ran a Mystery Artifact Contest

Did you make a guess? Scroll down to see if your guesses were right!

Atlatl weight

SC State Museum, artifact, natural hisory, ataltl weight
Here we have a stabilizing weight for an atlatl, a device used to throw darts. The weight would have been attached to the midsection of the atlatl, improving the accuracy and power of the throw.

Spear throwers have been found all over the world, but the word “atlatl” originates from Nahuatl, an Aztecan language indigenous to Central America. The general design has remained the same – a long shaft has a cup or notch in one end to hold a dart. The thrower holds the other end. Many atlatls also have leather loops for more secure grips.

The atlatl acts as an extension of the thrower’s arm, increasing the rotation of the wrist and therefore the power behind the throw. Experienced atlatl throwers can throw a dart with an atlatl six times further than they can unaided.

Today, atlatls are in use by hobbyists and hunters alike. You’ve probably used a modern type of atlatl before – ever thrown a tennis ball for your dog with a ball thrower? Those use the exact same principles as atlatls do to launch projectiles further and faster than humans can by hand.


Candy Cutter

SC State Museum, natural history, artifact, candy cutter

Was your guess as sweet as mine? This is a candy cutter, used for cutting soft sweets such as caramel, nougat, and fudge. While the candy was still warm and soft, it would be poured and cooled, forming an even sheet. This cutter was used at Heise’s Candy Store in Columbia during the late 19th century.

The modern caramel cutter features adjustable blades along a much narrower axle, allowing for more adjustment in the size of the finished product. With this feature modern caramel cutters can also be used for cutting sweets of other sorts, like cakes and pastries. However, the width of the central rod on this artifact would have crushed such delicate desserts.

Cutters such as this one can’t get the job done in one go. Instead, they only score the surface of the candy, ensuring consistent size but still requiring secondary cutting with a knife or just breaking by hand. Because these cutters aren’t the most efficient tools, modern hobbyists and artisan candy makers often stick to the simplicity of knives.


Cigar Mold

SC State Museum, natural history, artifact, cigar mold

This cigar mold came from Tomotley Plantation, located in Beaufort County. Originally part of Tomotley Barony, the property has been in existence as early as 1698. Tobacco was certainly a cash crop in the southeastern United States for a long period of time, but in South Carolina it was overshadowed by corn and rice.

While high quality cigars are rolled by hand, the filler tobacco must first be pressed in a cigar mold like this one to achieve the desired shape. The best cigars have long filler, made up of whole tobacco leaves arranged lengthwise, while cheaper cigars have short filler, which means the tobacco is chopped up. Often, the filler is first bound with a binder leaf of coarse tobacco before molding.


Sachet Holder

SC State Museum. natural history, artifact, satchet holder

This object once held sachets, sweet-smelling bundles of aromatics (i.e. rosemary oil) in small fabric bags or pillows. Sachets were placed all over the home to freshen air, keep clothes from getting musty, or even aid sleep. Popular recipes came from magazines or were sometimes passed down in a family.

Before the advent of indoor plumbing, bathing was a long and arduous task that involved filling up tubs bucket by bucket after heating up the water in front of a fire. Laundry was similarly time-consuming, often taking an entire day to wash a family’s clothes by hand. Because of this, many people turned to deodorizers to keep their homes and belongings smelling clean.

While this sachet holder dates from the late 19th century, sachets are still in use today as an all-natural alternative to modern air freshener sprays or melts. As a matter of fact, you can make your own just by putting any sort of potpourri into a small cloth or mesh bag! Another easy way to make a sachet is to scent uncooked rice with essential oils. This way, you can keep your drawers and closets smelling sweet without worrying about making a mess.