Notes on a Recent Donation: Bone Beamers from SH-200

A recent donation to the Castle Museum included dozens of stone artifacts, a few grit-tempered ceramic sherds, and several hundred fragments of animal bones from an archaeological site (assigned the provisional name of SH-200) located along the Shiawassee River in Saginaw County, Michigan. Diagnostic lithic and ceramic artifacts indicate the site was occupied, at a minimum, during the Middle and Late Woodland periods. The large animal bone assemblage includes 22 specimens that were intentionally modified into awls, points, hafts/handles, or scraping tools. The latter category includes 10 fragments of bone beamers.

Beamers are hide-working tools used to scrape hair and tissue from the hide prior to tanning. They functioned in a manner similar to a drawknife. The name “beamer” appears to reference the practice of stretching the hide over a wooden beam during the scraping process. Although other bones were sometimes used, beamers were generally manufactured from the metapodials (cannon bones) of members of the deer family (Cervidae). All of the specimens from SH-200 are derived from White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus).

Lateral and anterior view of beamer from SH-200 made from White-tailed Deer metatarsal.

Beamers were made by removing either the anterior or posterior border of the central shaft of a metapodial (metacarpal or metatarsal) and then grinding the two parallel lateral edges into blade-like forms. The specimens from SH-200 include two metacarpal (front leg) fragments modified on their posterior margin, three metatarsal (rear leg) fragments modified on their posterior margins, four metatarsal fragments (three of which refit – see image above) modified on their anterior margins, and one undetermined metapodial modified on its anterior margin.

Additional beamer fragments from SH-200.

Over time the blades would dull, necessitating occasional re-sharpening. Eventually the tool would become too thin to support the stresses of use and it would fracture. The specimens from SH-200 were likely used to this point and discarded. In 2002, a nearly complete example (after refitting) was excavated by the Castle Museum archaeology team at the nearby site 20SA1251 (Sommer 2007:4-5). This specimen was made by modifying the posterior border of a White-tailed Deer metatarsal. Two additional bones, the naviculocuboid and cuneiform pes, were found in articulation with proximal end of the metatarsal indicating either this end of the beamer was wrapped in some manner during use, or that connecting ligaments/tissues remained intact during what must have been a relatively short use-life.

Lateral and posterior view of beamer excavated at site 20SA1251. Made from White-tailed Deer metatarsal.

Compared with stone and ceramic artifacts, bone tools are relatively infrequent in prehistoric archaeological assemblages from the Great Lakes region. This is especially true of surface-derived collections. The beamer fragments (and other modified bones) from SH-200 bolster our inventory of what is likely an underrepresented technological aspect of local material culture.

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Michigan Archaeological Society Meeting Thursday, 7 February 2019

The February meeting of the Saginaw Valley Chapter of the Michigan Archaeological Society will be held Thursday, 7 February 2019, at 7:00 PM, here at the Castle Museum of Saginaw County History. Robert Thaler will be the featured speaker with a presentation entitled –  Were there native buffalo (bison) in Michigan and the Saginaw Valley? As always, the public is invited and encouraged to attend.

I will update with the official program announcement from the Chapter if one is forthcoming.

Edit – the official program announcement is copied below.

Archaeology Meeting, 3 January 2019

Please join the Saginaw Valley Chapter of Michigan Archaeological Society for their first meeting of 2019. The meeting will be held Thursday, 3 January 2019 at 7:00 PM here at the Castle Museum,  500 Federal Ave., Saginaw. Chapter president Don Simons, who always provides an interesting program, will be the featured speaker. As always, the public is invited and encouraged to attend. The meeting notice is copied below.

img014 MAS Jan Notice

Michigan Archaeological Society Annual Potluck Thursday, 6 Dec. 2018

The December meeting of the Saginaw Valley Chapter of the Michigan Archaeological Society will be held Thursday, December 6th, here at the Castle Museum. The meeting will be the group’s annual potluck. Though there will be no formal presentation, members and visitors are encouraged to bring in artifacts to show and discuss. All are welcome. The informational flier is copied below.

Archaeology Meeting Thursday, November 1, 2018

Please join us for the November meeting of the Saginaw Valley Chapter of the Michigan Archaeological Society to be held next Thursday, November 1st, here at the Castle Museum. Dr. Scott Beld will present a wide-ranging talk covering 50 years of archaeological work at Chippewa Nature Center in Midland County. The sites he will discuss span the Archaic through Historic periods so there will be much of interest for everyone! And, there will be treats! The program is free and, as always, the public is invited and encouraged to attend. The official announcement from the chapter is copied below.

 

Saginaw Valley Chapter of the Michigan Archaeological Society

November meeting notice

Thursday November 1, 2018

At the Castle Museum of Saginaw County History

7:00 p.m.

50 Years of Archaeology at Chippewa Nature Center 1968-2018

Dr. Scott Beld will present an overview on various sites they’ve excavated at the nature center (Naugle, Sumac Bluff, Cater, Ponton, Sias East)

Dr. Beld is the staff archaeologist at the Chippewa Nature Center in Midland and the Research Assistant to Dr. Daniel Fisher, Paleontologist at the University of Michigan, Museum of Paleontology, Ann Arbor.

Bring an artifact to share with the group.

Steltzriede Farm Site – End of 2018 Field Season Wrap-Up

Well, we’ve wrapped up another field season at the Steltzriede Farm site in Saginaw Township and, in terms of area excavated, it was the biggest one yet! This year, the Castle Museum archaeology team excavated 13 1X1 meter excavation units. This compares with 11 in 2015, 10 in 2016, and six in 2017.

During the 2018 field season, we worked in two areas of the site. We spent the first part of the field season expanding our excavation in the “cabin area” where we had previously found the cellar of the Steltzriede’s original house/cabin. You can read updates from the first part of the field season here, here, and here.

Kiersten and Andy excavating at the Steltzriede Farm site.

The second half of the field season was spent excavating a 2X5 meter excavation block in yard area between cellar and the still-standing 1848 frame house. Shovel-testing in 2017 indicated the presence of early to mid-19th century (and more recent) material in the general area. We were hoping to find midden deposits or a well, privy, or other feature associated with the early-mid 19th century period of the Steltzriede occupation. In addition, we were hoping to learn more about the timing and extent of landscape modification / fill deposition across the site. We were only partially successful in meeting these goals.

Nick excavating at the Steltzriede Farm site.

Unfortunately, features and dense midden deposits were not to be found. Instead we uncovered a light scatter of mid-19th through 20th century debris across the area. Bricks and nails were especially common, but we also found ceramics, bottle fragments, lead shot, a slate pencil, a button or collar  stud, and lots of bone fragments from cows, pigs, and even a cat! Ceramics included a few red paste and yellow paste earthenware sherds, but most were white paste wares. Decorative types present in the white paste ceramic assemblage include blue and green shell-edged, painted polychrome floral, dipt/annularware, and transfer printed.

Slate pencil and button or collar stud from the Steltzriede Farm site.

Ceramics from the Steltzriede Farm site.

In terms of identifying changes in site’s landscape during the 19th and 20th centuries, we had some success – assuming our current interpretations prove correct. Wall profiles in the yard area show the extent of a probable mid-20th century deposit of clay and gravel fill that appears to have been used to level the yard. Immediately below the clay and gravel fill layer is thick layer of sand, possibly derived from digging the basement under the frame house in the mid-late 19th century. The surface of this second fill layer was stable long enough to begin forming an A-horizon (a dark, organic-rich zone in the soil). The bottom of the second fill layer merges with what is probably the disturbed (plowed?) early to mid-19th century surface over a natural, relatively undisturbed, soil profile.

East Wall Profile of units 522-523N 501E.

Our attention now turns to the lab where we have already begun processing artifacts from this year’s excavation. We have many hours of sorting, washing, cataloguing, and analysis ahead of us. A lot to look forward to!

Michigan Archaeological Society Meeting Thursday, 4 October 2018

The October meeting of the Saginaw Valley Chapter of the Michigan Archaeological Society will be held this Thursday, October 4th, here at the Castle Museum. As always, the public is invited and encouraged to attend! The official announcement from the Chapter is copied below.

SAGINAW VALLEY CHAPTER
OF THE
MICHIGAN ARCHAEOLOGICAL SOCIETY
OCTOBER MEETING NOTICE
When:       Thursday – October 4, 2018
Where:      Castle Museum of Saginaw County History
Time:        7:00 p.m.
Program:  Don Simons will present a slide program of artifact
collections and single finds, several of which were made by 19th
and early 20th century farmers.
Bring recent finds to share & discuss during the meeting.