Collection Notes: A Probable Middle Woodland Vessel from the Caster Site (20SA316)

During the summer of 1969, avocational archaeologists from the Saginaw area conducted a test excavation at the Caster Site (20SA316) in Swan Creek Township, Saginaw County, Michigan. They staked out a 10’X30′ block divided into 5’X5′ excavation units and began their work. They recorded their findings on graph paper scaled 1 inch to the foot and supplemented their records with color movies documenting their progress at the site. According to a brief report published in the Saginaw Valley Archaeologist (Ray and Woodworth 1969:26), by September of that year they had recovered 12 projectile points, numerous ceramic sherds, a few chips and flakes, one celt, much fire-cracked rock, and numerous fire pits, post molds, and bone fragments. Some of the material excavated from this site eventually ended up at the Castle Museum. Unfortunately, maps, notes, photos, or other documentation did not accompany the artifacts and are now presumed lost.

The artifacts from this site now held in the Castle Museum Archaeological Repository include lithics and ceramics typologically consistent with Middle Woodland and Late Woodland occupations. At least nine grit-tempered ceramic sherds (seven after refits) appear to be from a single vessel, probably Middle Woodland in age.



Probable Middle Woodland Vessel from the Caster Site.

The vessel is decorated with bands of oblique and horizontal dentate stamping on the smooth exterior rim and neck and additional dentate stamping on the interior lip/rim juncture. The lower rim also exhibits a row of exterior nodes/interior punctates within the band of dentate stamping. The body/shoulder of the vessel is cord-roughened below the band of horizontal dentate stamping on the neck. From the neck up, this vessel closely resembles the Middle Woodland ceramic type Tittabawassee Dentate Stamped as defined by Fischer (1972) at the nearby Schultz site. Below the neck is a different story. None of the Tittabawassee Dentate Stamped vessels described by Fischer at the Schultz site, or by Halsey (1976) at the (also nearby) Bussinger site, exhibit cord-roughened bodies. When cord-roughening is evident on Tittabawassee Dentate Stamped vessels it is generally well smoothed-over. That is not to say that cord-roughened surfaces are outside of the local Middle Woodland repertoire. Undecorated rim cordmarked (cord-roughened) vessels were present in nearly every stratigraphic level at the Schultz site, including Middle Woodland levels (Fischer 1972:185). Cord-roughened vessels decorated only with a row of nodes around the rim or neck were also present in Middle Woodland levels at both the Schultz and Bussinger sites. At Bussinger, Halsey (1976:193) defined a provisional type, Tittabawassee Cord-marked Noded, to describe such vessels.

Despite the unusual surface treatment, this vessel is probably best described as a variety of Tittabawassee Dentate Stamped. Like other vessels of this type is likely to date within the period of 100 B.C. to A.D. 400.

Michigan Archaeological Society Meeting 3 November 2016

The November meeting of the Saginaw Valley Chapter of the Michigan Archaeological Society will be held here at the Castle Museum on Thursday, 3 November 2016. I will be presenting a talk on our recent work at the Steltzriede Farm site. We have previously highlighted our work at the site here, here, here, and elsewhere on this blog. Now is your chance to get the most recent up-to-date information in person! The meetings are free and, as always, the public is welcome and encouraged to attend. The official announcement is copied below.


Ashleigh Travis Patrick


Saginaw Valley Chapter of the Michigan Archaeological Society
November meeting
Thursday, November 3, 2016
7:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.
Castle Museum of Saginaw County History

500 Federal Avenue, Saginaw, MI 48607

Jeffrey D. Sommer will give a presentation on the Steltzriede Farm site located in Saginaw Township. According to family history, the Steltzriede’s purchased the land and built a log cabin on the site in 1838. A frame house, which still stands was constructed in 1848. The program will chronicle our efforts to locate evidence of the log cabin and highlight our findings from the past two field seasons.

Michigan Archaeological Society Meeting 6 October 2016

The Saginaw Valley Chapter of the Michigan Archaeological Society will hold its monthly meeting Thursday, 6 October 2016 at 7 PM at the Castle Museum of Saginaw County History. Don Simons will once again discuss a variety of archaeological and historical topics based on original photographs taken by Fred Dustin. More information about Dustin can be found here. Last January Don gave a wonderful presentation based on photographs taken by Dustin in the lower Flint River Valley. This new program, focusing on the Cass River Valley in Bridgeport and Frankenmuth Townships, promises to be equally interesting and entertaining! To whet your appetite, here is a copy of a photograph of Ralph Stroebel standing in a cache pit along the Cass River in Frankenmuth Township. This photograph was taken by Dustin on 29 April 1934.
As always the meeting/program is open to the public and people are invited and encouraged to attend. The official meeting announcement is copied below.

Saginaw Valley Chapter meeting
October 6, 2016
7:00 p.m.
Castle Museum of Saginaw County History
500 Federal Avenue, Saginaw, MI 48607


Don Simons will present part two of a potpourri of historic and prehistoric subjects which are based upon original photos taken by Saginaw Valley archaeologist Fred Dustin. In general, the topical area is the Cass River Valley in Bridgeport and Frankenmuth townships.

Steltzriede Farm Program 27 September 2016

September is flying by and it has been weeks since the last update on our fieldwork at the Steltzriede Farm site. We have been busy exposing more of the stone and mortar foundation discovered in 2015 and expanding our excavation in the cabin/cellar area. I don’t have time for an in-depth update now, but I will be doing a Lunch and Learn program on our work at the site next Tuesday, 27 September, at noon, here at the Castle Museum. It should be a fun program and there might be treats! So, if you’re in the area and want to hear more about the project, please join us.

Caitlin and Travis getting to the bottom of things.

Caitlin and Travis getting to the bottom of things.

Michigan Archaeological Society Meeting 1 September 2016

The Saginaw Valley Chapter of the Michigan Archaeological Society will resume their monthly meeting schedule at 7:00 pm on Thursday, 1 September 2016 at the Castle Museum. Come find out what chapter members have been up to this summer and feel free to share your own adventures and discoveries! I spent the summer in the wilds of Saginaw Township exploring a 19th century farmstead with Ashleigh and Travis. What did you do?

Ashleigh and Travis

Ashleigh and Travis digging a shovel-test at the Steltzriede Farm site.

Meetings are free, open to the public, and visitors are always welcome. A copy of the meeting announcement follows:


Saginaw Valley Chapter

September Meeting Notice

Date: Thursday, September 1, 2016

Time: 7:00 p.m.

Location: Castle Museum of Saginaw County History,

500 Federal Avenue, Saginaw, MI 48607


Please join us for our annual Show and Tell meeting. Artifacts in cases are always welcome.

HSSC Archaeology Update 15 August 2016

The past two weeks at the Steltzriede Farm site in Saginaw Township have been productive and, dare I say, exciting for the Castle Museum Archaeology team! So, what, you may ask, has piqued our interest and raised the level of excitement at the site? Believe it or not, initially it was this unassuming lump of sand and lime…

Chinking from Feature 4.

One of our primary goals has been to locate the original cabin built by the Steltzriedes in 1838 and it’s quite possible we have succeeded! In the previous update (here), I shared a picture of Feature 3, the corner of a square/rectangular pit, visible at the 55 cm level in the northeast corner of unit 535N 489E. As we continued excavating, it became apparent that Feature 3 is intruding into a much larger feature with a fairly straight edge cutting across the entirety of the unit. The larger feature, which we’ll call Feature 4, contained a few square nails, fragments of flat glass, a few ceramic sherds, and, in the 85-90 cm level, a few small pieces of the sandy, limey material pictured above. A close look reveals wood impressions on the face of at least one fragment, indicating that it may well be chinking from the wall of a cabin. The 90-95 cm level revealed larger fragments of chinking, some brick fragments, two nails, a piece of window glass, patches of grey clay, and three pieces of rotting wood. One piece of wood forms the west wall of the feature, the other two lie parallel on the 95 cm floor. Because they are so poorly preserved, it is not clear if the wood fragments are from split logs, whole logs, or cut boards.

Feature 4 showing rotting wood, chinking, bricks, and clay.

Feature 4 showing rotting wood, chinking, bricks, and clay.

Warning, premature and unwarranted speculation follows!

So, what is this whole Feature 3 – Feature 4 mess? Hard to say, but we could point out that what we have found matches pretty well with the oral history we have for the site. We’ll remember that the location of the original cabin was reported by Ralph Stroebel, who, at some unspecified date, is said to have confirmed the location of the cabin by digging a test pit and finding the wall and/or cellar of the cabin along with a few artifacts, including several fragments of chinking. Mr. Hoover, the current owner of the site, retains several fragments of chinking and other artifacts given to him by Stroebel, who stated they were from his test pit. A comparison of the chinking found by Stroebel to our recent finds reveals a  match in the material. Clearly, Feature 3 intrudes into Feature 4 and thus post-dates it. In fact, though it is difficult to see in the photograph, the north end of the wood fragment located along the east wall of the unit appears to have been cut through by Feature 3. If we wanted to go way out on a limb we could suggest that Feature 3 is the edge of Ralph Stroebel’s test pit and Feature 4 is the 1838 cabin/cellar we have been searching for. (We could even note the curved shape of the rotted wood where Feature 3 cuts through it and suggest that Stroebel used a round, rather than square-bladed shovel!) Or, we could be more appropriately cautious and remember that we have only uncovered a small part of the edge of two features. So, while the preceding interpretation is possible, and perhaps even plausible, we’ll need to gather a bit more evidence to support the claim.

Meanwhile, work also continued in another area of the site where we have been busy uncovering more of the Feature 2/midden/fill zone. As of the end of July, it appeared that Feature 2 may actually be a midden/fill zone on top of the former land surface, rather than large pit of some sort. We have not found anything during the past two weeks to change that interpretation. We have found some interesting material though, including a few items that help to date the deposit. One such item is a fragment of a hair comb impressed […RS PATENT MAY 6 1851]. This refers to Nelson Goodyear’s patent for improvements in the manufacture of “India rubber,” a  hard, plastic-like substance commonly used to make combs, buttons, and other objects in the mid to late 19th century.

Hard rubber comb with impressed Goodyear Patent 6 May 1851.

Hard rubber comb impressed with Goodyears Patent May 6 1851.

We also recovered a number of ceramic sherds including at least three varieties of molded blue-edgeware with scalloped rims, a hand-painted polychrome sherd with dark green leaves and red flowers, a brown transferware vessel, and a dark blue transferware paneled plate.  The latter sherd, pictured below on the bottom right, has been tentatively identified by Tim Bennett as the “Athens” pattern made by William Adams and registered in 1849.

Ceramic sherds from the Feature 2 midden/fill zone.

Ceramic sherds from the Feature 2 midden/fill zone.

Other material from the Feature 2 midden zone includes a couple of charred corn cupules, numerous animal bones (many of which exhibit butchery marks), brick fragments, nails, a few pieces of glass, and slag.

Faunal remains in Feature 2 midden zone.

Faunal remains in Feature 2 midden zone.

Given the finds of the past two weeks, it appears that the Feature 2 midden zone probably accumulated between 1838, when the site was first occupied, and ca. 1870 when the area was capped with relatively sterile sand fill – probably derived from digging a basement for an addition to the frame house.

Although we are beginning to develop a few tentative interpretations, at this point we are generating far more questions than answers. Have we found the cabin, or cellar? If a cellar, was it under the cabin or a separate structure? How large was cellar/cabin? How was the dwelling constructed? How has the landform changed/been altered since the initial settlement? Was all food grown/raised on site, or was it brought in from elsewhere? Were wild foods important in the early years? These and many other questions will guide our research as we continue to work to understand the Steltzriede family and their place in the early development of the Saginaw community.


HSSC Archaeology Update July 2016

Throughout July, the Castle Museum Archaeology crew continued working at the Steltzriede Farm site (20SA562), in Saginaw County. In the June update (here) I described our excavations that were getting underway in two areas of the site: 1) a 1X2 meter excavation block over a possible feature (dubbed Feature 2); and 2) a 1X1 meter unit near the area where oral history suggests the 1838-1848 log cabin was located. During the month of July, we continued working in both of these areas.

Your's Truly, plotting artifacts.

Your’s Truly, plotting artifacts in Feature 2.

In order to avoid damaging (and constantly tripping over) an as yet unidentified utility line we found running across the center of unit 530N 505E (the west half of the 1X2 meter excavation block), we halted excavation at 70 cm below the surface. While this made excavation of unit 530N 506E more difficult, as we got deeper it did provide a way to climb out of the hole! Excavation of unit 530N 506E progressed slowly as we carefully troweled out one five centimeter level after another until we finally reached the bottom of Feature 2 at 128 cm below the surface. Our understanding of what Feature 2 represents continues to evolve. At this point, it appears most likely to be a midden and/or fill layer resting on what is probably the original land surface. Because of rather extensive mixing (bioturbation) at the base of the deposit, this conclusion remains tentative.

Ashleigh excavating Feature 2.

Ashleigh excavating Feature 2.


530N 506E East Wall

530N 506E East Wall

Cultural material was present throughout the feature/fill matrix, but at a rather low density. Artifacts include brick fragments, two lumps of malleable red clay that may be unfired (or very poorly fired) brick fragments, a few nails, animal bone fragments, two “eyes” from hook-and-eye closures, a few pieces of window glass, a white clay pipe stem fragment, and several white paste earthenware sherds.

Pig teeth, ceramic sherds, and tobacco pipe fragment from Feature 2.

Pig teeth (molar and incisor), ceramic sherds, and tobacco pipe fragment from Feature 2.

Decorated ceramics include blue transfer and red transfer-printed vessels, at least one sherd with a hand-painted polychrome design, blue-edgeware with a scalloped lip, and one sherd with a thin green line around the rim. The white clay pipe stem is decorated with a peculiar scale-like pattern. It appears to be from a “Sir Walter Raleigh” pipe. If so, the complete specimen would have depicted a bearded man being swallowed by a crocodile, toothed whale, or similar creature. There are several variations, but a nearly complete example from England and stories about the origin of the style can be seen here. The story involves Raleigh falling overboard and being latched onto by a crocodile. However, Raleigh is so completely imbued with foul-smelling tobacco smoke that the reptile immediately spits him back out! Walter Raleigh pipes were first made by the Dutch in the 17th century and the style was copied by English pipe makers in the 19th century “but the inferior moulding is usually easily recognizable” (Oswald 1975:116). We found a similar pipe fragment several years ago in our excavations at site 20SA1251 in the Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge, so the style may have been popular in the Saginaw Valley.

Travis excavating Feature 3.

Travis excavating Feature 3.

We expanded our work in the reported cabin area from one square meter to three. This part of the site continues to produce nails, ceramic sherds, window glass, and brick fragments.  The white paste earthenware assemblage includes fragments of blue-edgeware with impressed and scalloped rims and a vessel decorated with a thin green line around the rim. Both of these styles are matched in the assemblage from Feature 2. One of the units, 535N 489E, contains the rotting remains of two or three wooden posts and evidence of another feature, Feature 3. The feature is a small stain on the east edge of the NE 1/4 of the unit extending into the wall. The angular shape suggests a square or rectangular hole, but not enough is exposed to be certain. The posts are parallel to the driveway, but appear too close together for a typical fence. Their function is currently unknown.

Feature 3.

Feature 3.


Artifacts from unit 535N 489E.

Nail, ceramic sherds, and window glass from unit 535N 489E.

At this point it is too early to speculate about the identity of Feature 3, or its relationship, if any, to the rotting posts in the same unit. In the coming weeks we will continue to investigate Feature 2 and Feature 3 and expand our excavations in both areas of the site.