Saginaw Valley Chapter meeting
October 6, 2016
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.
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.
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?
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Work on the Steltzriede Farm site in Saginaw Township continues. In the previous update (here) I described a potential feature we encountered in shovel-test pit (STP) 33. We have spent the past few weeks opening up a 1X2 meter excavation unit over STP 33 in hopes of determining what the feature might be. After working through the upper levels of clay and gravel fill and fighting through the abundance of roots from the nearby maple tree, we are now well into the “feature”, but the mystery is yet to be solved.
The feature consists of mottled and intermixed lenses, or layers, of sandy fill, sometimes including ash and charcoal, but relatively few artifacts. The deposit covers the entirety of the 1X2 meter block, so the overall size and shape is unknown. An STP dug two meters north of the excavation block contained the clay and gravel fill layer, but had no indication of the feature-like deposits below. And, just to keep things a little more interesting, there is a utility trench running north/south through the excavation block.
Although artifacts are not abundant, the deposits are not devoid of cultural material. In addition to the objects described previously from STP 33, we have found small fragments of at least three additional ceramic vessels including a blue-edgeware vessel with a scalloped rim and impressed straight lines, a blue-edgeware vessel with a moulded beaded design, and a red transfer-printed vessel – all of which are consistent with a pre-1850 date. Other items include several animal bone fragments, part of a slate writing board, two or three white clay pipe fragments, a few pieces of flat (window) glass, square nails, several brick fragments, one lead shot, and a percussion cap. Percussion caps are part of the gun-firing mechanism that replaced flint locks. Beld (2002:35) notes that the first known use of a percussion gun in the Saginaw Valley was the one carried by Alexis de Tocqueville during his visit from France in 1831 and that by the 1840s the percussion mechanism had become popular in the Saginaw Valley.
None of the large mammal bone fragments from the feature fill have cut-marks from a saw. Rather, the animals appear to have been butchered/dismembered with an ax, or hatchet.
We have also begun excavating additional units closer to the reported location of the 1838 cabin. Our 2015 tests in this location revealed a number of probable early to mid-19th century artifacts, but no direct evidence of the cabin itself. Our first 2016 unit in this part of the site yielded a few ceramic sherds (including a blue-edgeware vessel fragment with a scalloped lip and impressed lines and part of an annular, or dipped-ware, vessel), square nails, and the top and neck of a bottle with an applied lip. A second unit in this location is just getting underway.
Finally, with all the excitement and notoriety generated by the excavation, it’s good to know the site is being protected by our new mascot… the Reddish-brown Stag Beetle (Lucanus capreolus), also known as Pinching Beetle. This ferocious-looking creature is sure to intimidate even the most stout-hearted ne’er-do-well!
(Don’t tell any would-be invaders of the site, but these are actually quite harmless!)
Over the past few weeks the Castle Museum archaeology crew has been busily working at the Steltzriede Farm site in Saginaw Township. Followers of this blog may remember that the Steltzriede family reportedly settled at this location in 1838. According to family history, their initial dwelling was a log cabin, in which they lived until constructing a frame house in 1848. We began our archaeological work in 2015 with the goal of locating the cabin and associated features. While we didn’t find the cabin itself, we did find some interesting material including a cobble and mortar foundation of another building probably unrelated to the cabin. You can read about some of our 2015 work here.
This year, we are renewing our efforts to locate the 1838 cabin and we’ll also further investigate the stone foundation found in 2015. Our efforts so far in 2016 have included digging shovel test pits (STPs) and conducting a magnetic susceptibility survey over the project area. The magnetic susceptibility survey is a remote sensing technique that uses a machine to determine the relative magnetism of the soil across the site. These data can then be depicted on a map that shows how the soil magnetism varies. This can be useful information because human activities and objects can have long-lasting effects on the magnetism of the immediate area. For example, metal objects and burned materials tend to have higher magnetism. By examining the maps, we may be able to identify activity areas, structural remains, or other objects on the site. Patrick Lawton, a CMU graduate student, is heading up the magnetic susceptibility survey. He has posted several maps from Steltzriede Farm on his blog.
Because we did not find the 1838 cabin in 2015, this year we are digging STPs over an extended area to narrow down its possible location. I am pleased to say we are having great success in identifying cabin-free zones! Unfortunately, this means we have been digging lots of STPs containing little to no cultural material. We have found a few things… In our first STP of the year, dug because of a very high magnetic reading, we found a gardening tool, probably dating from the mid-20th century. Coins are always fun, so it was a nice surprise to find an 1865 3 cent “nickel”. A brass button was found in the same level as the nickel. In one of our STPs, thought to be near the location of the cabin, we found an embossed bottle fragment and a few sherds of a blue edgeware plate with an impressed and scalloped rim.
And finally, in the last STP we dug yesterday, Patrick and I found a feature containing ash and charcoal buried below 40+ cm of hard-packed clay and gravel fill and about a million tree roots. There were several blue transferware sherds, a few square nails, a couple of bottle fragments, and a pig tooth in, or immediately above, the top of the feature. At the 70 cm floor the feature appeared to cover at least the west half of the STP. I returned to the site this morning and used a coring tool to assess the depth of the feature below the 70 cm floor. It extends at least another 40-50 cm down and covers the entirety of the STP, not just the west half. The top of the feature probably coincides with the bottom of the clay and gravel fill zone, but it is hard to tell given the numerous roots and the small exposure in the STP.
And now for what may be the best news… I sent a picture of one of the sherds to 19th century ceramics guru Tim Bennett and, in his opinion, the rim design is at least consistent with material from the early 1840s. More of the design is needed to be certain, but there is at least a good chance this sherd, and therefore the feature, is associated with the 1838 cabin occupation. We will definitely be uncovering more of the feature in the future!