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Artifact of the Month: Onion Bottles

Senior Conservator Kim shares onion bottles, one type of bottle found on the wreck.

Author: Kim Kenyon, Senior Conservator/Project Co-PI

Onion bottle after recovery
Onion bottle after recovery

Glass bottles are some of the most helpful objects in determining a date for an archaeological site as well as possible cultural affiliations.

Wine bottles beginning in the mid-17th century were commonly stamped with the date, the owner, the contents, or even the establishment where the beverage was sold. The dated seals helped archaeologists to establish a clear progression of changes in bottle shape through the centuries. Based on this evidence, even un-stamped bottles can usually be dated.

Onion bottle before conservation
Onion bottle before conservation

Early wine bottles are often called onion bottles due to their squat shape and onion-like appearance. This shape was common from the late 17th century to just prior to the middle of the 18th century when the body became more elongated. The wine bottles from our site are dark olive green or almost black with a shorter neck and an indentation in the base, also called a kick-up. These features point to them being English in origin. Each bottle has a subtly different shape but can be dated to the early 18th century, and even more specifically to between 1708 and 1714.

Broken bottle base
Broken bottle base

Even though glass fragments survive well on underwater sites, whole bottles are not as common, since they are fragile and easily shattered by strong waves knocking them into surrounding hard objects. Fortunately (and surprisingly), we have recovered four intact onion bottles from the site! However, most of the bottles represented have been broken and are only found as fragments. Judging from the number of broken bottle bases in the collection, we have evidence for at least six additional onion bottles that will need to be reconstructed from the hundreds of pieces we have conserved so far. While glass is relatively stable, we find that our English bottle glass is quite susceptible to degradation and weakening. Much of our glass is thinner than it was originally, is no longer transparent, and has changed color from dark green to an iridescent dark blue. This is largely due to the decay of the trace metals used to color the glass when it was made.

With a few exceptions, much of the wine bottle glass has been excavated nearer the stern of the vessel, which might indicate usage in areas of the ship reserved for those considered higher in rank. Both the French officers on board La Concorde or Blackbeard’s closest trusted confidants may have imbibed from such bottles.


-Carnes-McNaughton, Linda and Mark Wilde-Ramsing. 2008. Preliminary Glassware and Bottle Analysis from Shipwreck Site 31CR314, Queen Anne’s Revenge. QAR Research Report and Bulletin Series QAR-R-08-02. Manuscript on file, Queen Anne’s Revenge Conservation Lab.

-Hume, Ivor Noël. 2001. A Guide to Artifacts of Colonial America. University of Pennsylvania Press.


-Onion bottle shortly after recovery from site 31CR314. Image by NC Department of Natural and Cultural Resources.

-Onion bottle just before conservation. Image by NC Department of Natural and Cultural Resources.

-Broken bottle base showing color change and iridescence indicative of decay. Image by NC Department of Natural and Cultural Resources.




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