Well, 2020 has certainly been an interesting year! Amidst the general upheaval of normal operations, somehow I’ve allowed this blog to go dormant for several months. I’m hoping to change that and return to more regular posting. Towards that end, a summary of the 2020 field season seems apropos. The areas of highlighted text below are links to videos – short clips taken at the various projects, or more in depth discussions, or previous posts about related topics.
Among the casualties of the necessary social distancing protocols put in place this year has been the Castle Museum’s volunteer program. Volunteers have always been a vital component of the Museum’s archaeology team and their absence had a profound affect. Still, despite the temporary cessation of our regular volunteer program, the Castle Museum was able to conduct a productive field season.
Field work kicked off this spring with an inadvertent discovery of several flakes (the waste product from making stone tools) while hiking in one of our county parks. After securing permission from park officials, we (my son was drafted into volunteer status) returned to the site to map in and collect the artifacts that were exposed on the surface.
Selection of flakes from surface.
In addition to numerous flakes, we found a projectile point (arrowhead), a broken biface fragment (stone tool fragment), two tiny pieces of pottery, and several fire-cracked rocks. A short video made in the field can be viewed here – fair warning it’s a bit shaky – you might get seasick!
Another project conducted off and on throughout the field season was a continuation of our site monitoring efforts in the Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge. This project, which has been ongoing in one form or another since 1999, currently involves monitoring known archaeological sites and mapping the locations of any artifacts or features that may be exposed through erosion or other natural processes. These processes were exacerbated this spring when excessive rainfall upstream led to dam failures and severe flooding. As a result, increased erosion occurred at several sites within the refuge, exposing several historic and prehistoric artifacts and features.
Butchered (saw-cut) cow scapula from base of eroding riverbank.
Eroding hearth feature.
The flooding also resulted in the deposition of sediment on the surface (alluviation) to an extent not previously seen during the course of this project.
Alluvium on floodplain.
The majority of our field time this summer was spent at the Spencer Woods locale of the Spencer Farm site in Bridgeport Township. Shovel-testing in 2019 revealed a small scatter of Late Woodland ceramics at this site. A previous post about our 2019 work at the Spencer Woods locale can be viewed here. We returned to the location this year to see if we could find any material to go with the ceramics that might give us a better idea of what activities may have been conducted at the site and what time of the year it was occupied. The project was marked by an ongoing dispute with a local woodchuck about the proper way to excavate a test unit!
Excavation unit prior to woodchuck visit.
The same unit after a demonstration of the woodchuck’s excavation prowess.
We ended up excavating 19 square meters, finding more Late Woodland ceramics and a few non-diagnostic flaked stone artifacts. Unfortunately, we did not find any trash pits, hearths, or other features. Short video clips taken during the course of the project can be viewed here, here, and here.
In early July, test excavations at the Spencer Woods site were paused while we conducted a shovel-test survey in Frankentrost at a site thought to be the location of the log structure that served as the original Immanuel Lutheran Church building. We found many artifacts dating from the mid-19th through the early 20th century, which is not surprising given the site has been continuously occupied since 1848.
One of the shovel-test pits (STPs) at the Frankentrost project.
Unfortunately, we found that the ground in the area where the original structure is thought to have been located has been plowed, thus likely destroying any trace of the building. A short video about the project can be viewed here.
Finally, the aforementioned dam failures on the Tittabawassee River upstream from Saginaw resulted in the exposure of several archaeological sites that had been inundated since the construction of the dams. One of the sites, located in Gladwin County, contains remnants of a late 19th century, steam-powered lumber mill. I had the opportunity to spend a couple of weekends surveying and mapping the site with colleagues from Central Michigan, Oakland, and Saginaw Valley State universities and the Gladwin County Historical Society – all the while masked up and socially distant! The site contained remnants of brick and timber foundations, a brick chimney, a wood dam/log boom, and artifacts related to the structure and operation of the mill.
Remnants of lumber mill.
So, despite the limitation of not being able to field a full archaeology team, the Castle Museum still managed to have a productive season. Now our attention shifts to processing, analyzing, writing up, and sharing the results of our fieldwork. As 2021 approaches, I am looking forward to reopening the lab to volunteers as soon as conditions allow. In the meantime, I hope everyone is staying healthy and safe!