New Archaeology of the Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge Video

For those interested in the Castle Museum’s archaeological work in the Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge, I put together a brief video introduction to the project. A link to the video on youtube was posted on the museum’s facebook page today. Below is a photo of Ken and Monte digging shovel-tests at one of the sites in the refuge in 2015.

Ken and Monty digging STPs at 20SA315

Ken and Monty digging STPs at 20SA315

Lab Update 14 April 2020

Hello all! Just a quick note to let you know the short video I referred to in the previous post is now up on the Castle Museum’s Facebook page. The video shows the types and amount of material recovered from a single square meter excavation unit from our work in the Swan Creek area last fall.

Lab Update, April 2020

Hello All, I hope you and your loved-ones are safe and healthy and are making it through the current upheaval in the best ways possible. The Castle Museum family is well and looking forward to reopening the museum and reconnecting with all of our friends and visitors. As the museum is closed, so too is the archaeology lab. However, I still have remote access to my computer and direct access to much of the material from our fall 2019 excavations in our Swan Creek study area. So, Castle Museum Archaeology continues!

Prior to the cancellation of classes and subsequent closing of the museum, we were fortunate to have Dr. Brad Jarvis and several of his Saginaw Valley State University history students working in the lab on a weekly basis. They made much progress on the initial processing of the 1/8″ screened samples from our Swan Creek excavation. Sorting the samples is a slow process with each containing hundreds (1000+ in most samples) of small bone fragments along with numerous brick fragments, cinders, ceramics, nails, window glass, and other artifacts. A short video showing a sample of the bone material has been posted on the museum’s facebook page and youtube channel. An additional video showing the range of artifacts recovered in one excavation unit should be posted soon.

Brad, Zach, and Mitch sorting 1/8″ screened samples.

Even while we are still in the preliminary sorting and processing stage, we have managed to begin a bit of analysis. Despite the extremely small size of most of the artifacts, we have, courtesy of local ceramics expert Tim Bennett, been able to come up with tentative identifications of two of the transferware patterns found at the site. The two charming sherds below depicting cows appear to be from a “Union” pattern plate. This pattern was first registered in 1852 and was likely manufactured by Edward Challinor.  He was in operation from 1842-1867.

Probable “Union” pattern sherds.

The second tentative identification is of the chinoiserie style transfer printed sherd pictured below. [Chinoiserie style refers to the imitation of Chinese motifs in Western art.] The pattern appears to be “Canton” by Charles James Mason & Co. (1826-1848).

Probable “Canton” pattern sherd.

Both of these identifications are consistent with our general impression that the site was primarily occupied during the mid-19th century. As the processing, cataloguing, and analysis continues, there is sure to be much more to share. So, stay home, stay healthy, and stay tuned for future updates!

Michigan Archaeological Society Meeting Thursday, 5 March 2020

The next meeting of the Saginaw Valley Chapter of the Michigan Archaeological Society will be held here at the Castle Museum on Thursday, March 5th, at 7:00 PM. As always, the public is invited to attend. The following description (with minor modifications) was provided by Chapter President, Don Simons:

The Saginaw Chapter meeting will feature a slide program by Don Simons spotlighting a culture called “Mississippian” circa, AD 700-1500. The focus is ceramic technology from the Middle Mississippi Valley. The images are exceptional as taken from the 1898-9 report on the “Aboriginal Pottery of the Eastern U.S.” by W.H. Holmes, published by the Smithsonian Institution. The ceramic technology and artistry is considered to equal or exceed in sophistication any found in North America.

Also: chapter member John White will present information passed down from his grandfather in Arkansas – a resident near the mound excavations. He will also present his artifacts from that area.

Related cultural manifestations, sometimes referred to as Upper Mississippian, are poorly known in Michigan. Thanks to excavations conducted by the Castle Museum, the Clunie site in Saginaw County has been shown to contain a significant Upper Mississippian component, making a major contribution to the state’s and especially Saginaw County’s prehistory.

Many thanks to Don for the the shout-out regarding the Castle Museum’s work at the Clunie site! Here are a few images of some of the “Upper Mississippian” pottery from Clunie and other sites in the Saginaw Valley. Note: this pottery is much different than the Mississippian pottery that will be highlighted in next week’s program!

A shell-tempered vessel from the Clunie site.


A grit-tempered vessel from the Clunie site.


A shell-tempered vessel from the Stadelmeyer site.


A shell-tempered vessel with a strap handle from the Stroebel site.

An Atypical Early Late Woodland Sherd from Saginaw County

Interior cord-marking is a trait typically associated with Early Woodland ceramics in Michigan and elsewhere in the region. This is certainly true for local Early Woodland wares such as Schultz Thick and Shiawassee Ware, which date from ca. 700-400 B.C. and ca. 400 B.C.- A.D. 1 respectively (Fischer 1972; Garland and Beld 1999; Halsey 1976). However, “typically” doesn’t mean exclusively!

Wayne Punctate sherd with interior cord-marking.

The rimsherd pictured here, with obvious cord-marking on the interior surface, is an example of early Late Woodland Wayne Ware and likely dates between ca. A.D. 600 and A.D. 1100 (Lovis 1990). Although the interior cord-marking is atypical, everything else about the sherd (paste, temper, thickness, exterior surface treatment, decoration, method of manufacture) is consistent with the punctate variety of the type Wayne decorated. This sherd was found in 1999 at site 20SA1254 during the first year of the Castle Museum’s archaeological survey, testing, and monitoring program in the Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge – right here in Saginaw County!

Michigan Archaeological Society Meeting Thursday, 6 Feb. 2020

Please join us for the Saginaw Valley Chapter’s first meeting of 2020! The meeting will be held here at the Castle Museum at 7:00 PM. Dr. Scott Beld will be the featured speaker. He will be discussing late Middle Woodland occupation sites at Chippewa Nature Center in Midland County, Michigan. The official notice is copied below. As always, the public is invited and encouraged to attend.


SVC Feb. 2020 Meeting Notice


Archaeological sites dating to the late Middle Woodland period are also present in Saginaw County. One artifact sometimes recovered at sites from this period is a type of pottery called Reuben Linear. The exterior rim of these ceramics is often decorated with horizontal cord impressions or with a similar horizontal design created by dragging a cord-wrapped stick or dentate tool around the rim. The lower edge of this decorative zone is often bounded by a row of punctates. Interior surfaces, at least in the upper neck/rim area of the vessel, are often deeply striated. In order to whet your appetite for Dr. Beld’s presentation, here is a photo of a Reuben Linear rimsherd recovered several years ago by the Castle Museum’s archaeological work at site 20SA1251, located on the Shiawassee River near Saginaw.


Reuben Linear rimsherd from site 20SA1251.

2019 Fieldwork Summary

For the Castle Museum Archaeology team, 2019 proved to be a decidedly unusual year for fieldwork. Uncooperative weather in the spring and fall impacted both ends of the field season. Still, we managed to accomplish much.


The cold and wet spring kept us out of the field entirely until mid-May. Our first foray out of the lab was a guided visit to a pair of sites in Bridgeport Township (20SA604 and 20SA605) with local avocational archaeologist, Bernie Spencer. We were able to record the locations of several important finds at both sites and make a small collection of artifacts from 20SA605. Later, Mr. Spencer generously donated his collection from 20SA604 to the Castle Museum.


20SA604 selected 2

Selected artifacts from 20SA604.


Also, in mid-May, we resumed our annual monitoring of archaeological sites in the Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge. This primarily entails walking over known site areas and noting the presence and extent of any erosion or other surface exposures, and documenting and collecting any archaeological materials that are found. Generally high water levels made this a challenging endeavor this year!


In early July we were back in Bridgeport Township to begin the first of our two major field projects this year, a shovel-test survey of a portion of the Spencer Farm site (20SA1374). Once again our friend, Mr. Spencer, was the catalyst for the project. Spencer’s collection from this site contains artifacts spanning much of the prehistoric period including several projectile points dating from the late Paleo-Indian and Early Archaic periods (roughly 8,000-10,000 years ago!). Intact archaeological sites from these early time periods are exceedingly rare in Michigan. Unfortunately, much of the site area where the earliest artifacts were found was destroyed by sand mining in the 1950s. The location we tested, dubbed the Spencer Woods locale, is a relatively undisturbed area on the edge of the sand mining operation. We excavated 84 shovel-test pits (50 cm square holes), on a five to ten meter grid, over approximately two acres. Although we did not find any diagnostic artifacts from the late Paleo-Indian or Early Archaic periods, we did find evidence of Early Woodland (ca. 700-200 B.C.) and early Late Woodland (ca. A.D. 600-1000) occupations.


Andy Ken and Kiersten 3

Andy, Ken, and Kiersten digging an STP at Spencer Woods.

Spencer Woods artifacts 3

Selected artifacts from the Spencer Woods locale.


In early September, as we were finishing up our work at the Spencer Woods locale, we learned that one of the survey locations in our Swan Creek study area had not been farmed this year due to the cold and wet spring. The survey area contains a concentration of habitation debris possibly associated with a 19th century Methodist mission. After contacting the landowner and finding him generously amenable to our plans, we re-surveyed the area, mapping in all of the artifacts we found on the surface, and commenced working on what ended up as a two meter wide by seven meter long excavation block. Nearly from the start, we struggled with the weather. In fact, we spent most of September, October, and early November rained out, flooded out, or, at the very least, dealing with excessively wet and muddy conditions.


working in the mud 2

Brad enjoying the conditions at Swan Creek.


Despite the difficulties, our excavations produced a wide array of 19th century material including among other things domestic debris such as dish and bottle fragments, structural materials including nails and window glass, personal items such as buttons and smoking pipes, and subsistence remains, mostly in the form of burnt animal bone fragments. Unfortunately, our hopes of locating a cellar, or other structural features, were not realized.


Swan Creek Artifacts 2

Selected artifacts from the Swan Creek excavation.


Looking forward, we will now settle in to a winter of lab work – washing, sorting, cataloguing, and analyzing the material recovered during the 2019 field season. And, of course, we will begin planning more archaeological adventures for 2020!

Archaeology Meeting Tonight!

Please join us tonight at the Castle Museum for the November meeting of the Saginaw Valley Chapter of the Michigan Archaeological Society. Following the business meeting, we will be heading downstairs to view the museum’s new exhibit “Our Foundations: Origins of Saginaw County.” Other exhibits in the lower level of the museum will also be open, including our archaeology exhibit, and the Archaeology Lab will be open for a “behind the scenes” look! As always, the public is invited and encouraged to attend. The official announcement is copied below.

Michigan Archaeological Society Meeting Thursday, 3 October 2019

Please join us for the October meeting of the Saginaw Valley Chapter of the Michigan Archaeological Society this Thursday, 3 October 2019, at 7:00 PM, here at the Castle Museum. As always the public is invited and encouraged to attend! The meeting notice is copied below.

September 2019 Fieldwork Update

Summer is now officially over, but, for the Castle Museum, the archaeology field season is still going strong! In early September, we finished up the shovel-testing project in Bridgeport Twp. described in the previous post. Unfortunately, we did not find any evidence of the late Paleoindian or Early Archaic occupations we were looking for. We did, however, find numerous additional ceramic sherds similar to the one described previously. The sherd assemblage now includes several decorated neck and rim sherds that confirm our initial assessment of the material as early Late Woodland Wayne Ware.

Rim and Neck Sherds from Wayne Ware Vessel.

Long-time followers of Castle Museum Archaeology will recall that in 2015 we initiated a survey project in the Swan Creek area as part of our ongoing effort to find early to mid-nineteenth century sites related to the origin and initial development of the City of Saginaw and surrounding communities. From 2015 through 2017, we were successful in locating several clusters of mid-19th century artifacts, which may represent the beginnings of a permanent settlement at Swan Creek. You can read about our earlier work here, here, and in the links contained therein. In late August we learned that this year’s cold, wet spring prevented many of the agricultural fields in the area from being planted, including a field containing two of our most promising artifact clusters. After consulting with the landowner, who kindly gave us permission to work in the field, we picked one of the artifact clusters for additional testing. We began by flagging and then shooting in GPS points for all artifacts observed on the surface of the chosen cluster. We then collected the flagged artifacts and, based on the locations of plotted artifacts from this and previous years, we laid out an east/west oriented 2X10 meter trench across a portion of the artifact cluster. The trench is being dug as a series of 1X1 meter excavation units starting at the east end of the trench and working towards the west.

Getting Started at Swan Creek (photo by Brad Jarvis).

Five square meters have been completed so far. Recovered artifacts include ceramics (red, yellow, and white paste earthenwares), flat glass, bottle glass, nails, cut scraps of brass and iron, pipe fragments, brick fragments, three lead shot, and a French gunflint. Decorative techniques present in the white paste ceramic assemblage include transfer printed, hand painted, and sponge decorated. In addition, numerous small fragments of animal bones, many of which are burnt, and charcoal fragments are present in the 1/8th inch screened samples.

Gunflint, Ceramic Sherds, and Clay Pipe Fragment.

We intend to remain the field this year as long as the weather permits, so here’s hoping for a long, warm, and dry fall!